by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant.
There’s a lot going on in Carlo Goldoni’s “A Servant of Two Masters.” It’s a big, bold plot for a comedy. The 18th century play was adapted in 1999 by Lee Hall and it has a few modern twists, but the plot remains the same.
Pantaloon (Bill Buell) has promised his daughter, Clarice (Erin Lindsey Krom), to wed Federigo, but when Federigo dies in a duel, she is free to marry her true love, Silvio (Patrick Cannon). Unfortunately, the dead Federigo shows up to make a claim for the money Pantaloon owes him, part of that agreed sum includes Clarice. However, Federigo is not really Federigo. He is Beatrice (Jessica Wortham) in the guise of her dead brother. She seeks the fortune and her lost love, Florindo (David Whalen).
Meanwhile, Truffaldino (Jimmy Kieffer) has a pretty simple plan: become the servant of two masters, double his pay and feed his face…twice as often. Things go wrong almost immediately since his two masters are Beatrice and Florindo. He’s working extra hard to keep them from meeting because he wants to keep both paychecks. Both Beatrice and Florindo are staying at the same inn, owed by Brighella (Bob Walton). Obviously things go awry pretty quickly for Truffaldino because he can’t keep his masters straight. He mixes up his duties for one with chores for the other.
At Pantaloon’s house, Truffaldino falls for Pantaloon’s maid, Smeraldina (Daina Michelle Griffith). Of course, there are several additional complications. It’s a long, circuitous route to the happy ending, but you know they’re going to get there eventually, even though the play starts with Beatrice’s lover murdering her brother. Family reunions are going to be awkward. Imagine going to Thanksgiving at their house!
There’s a lot of satire and silliness in the play, and the slapstick is played out with a cartoonish flair. The violence is punctuated with sound effects straight from the Looney Tunes vault.
It’s clear to see the actors are having the time of their lives up on stage. Who could blame them? They get prance, preen, scream, shout, punch, gouge and make a plethora of silly faces. It’s more than a little over the top. They took over the top to Pluto.
When it works it’s brilliant. Wortham is terrific as a woman pretending to be a man.
One of the best moments of the play comes from Griffith’s Smeraldina. To call it a feminist rant would only belittle it. It was a moment of female empowerment and it was joyous, marvelously preformed by the recent winner of The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Carol R. Brown Award for Creative Achievement.
Ted Pappas directs it big and broad, giving everyone a moment to chew the scenery. The audience was eating it up.
Buell’s voice has the right amount of rasp to be humorous and not annoying.
When Clarice believes her marriage to Silvio is doomed, she wails to comic effect. Krom pours it on like she was in a Carol Burnett sketch. Similarly, Cannon pouts and moans to equal measure, and Whalen contorted his face in odd shapes and patterns.
Even though it’s a show about a group of Italians, Keiffer has a Cockney accent. It’s an odd and distracting choice, but it takes the show from sitcom to Britcom.
James Noone’s scenic design accentuated the cartoonish feel of the production. Costume designer Amy Clark adorns the cast in amazing apparel.
It’s a very stylized play and that will appeal to slapstick lovers.
“A Servant of Two Masters” runs to December 6 at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.