Thursday, January 18, 2007

Review - The Servant of Two Masters (The New Globe Theatre, Inc.)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

When adapting a piece of classic theatre, many writers tend to modernize the play, either by cutting it mercilessly to better suit those with short attention spans, or by filling it with contemporary language and references for fear the audience might be too dim to follow slightly archaic language. It is a great pleasure to discover that Anne and Stuart Vaughan, in adapting Carlo Goldoni’s masterpiece, The Servant of Two Masters, decided that Goldoni knew what he was doing and left the play virtually intact.

Admittedly, there are times when the overwrought language makes the audience groan, but the characters are groaning right along, because this Servant is performed with a wink and a nod to an audience that is meant to be in on all the jokes.

The linchpin of the play is the wily, and perpetually hungry, servant Truffaldino (Steve Campbell), who signs on as the servant to two gentlemen, hoping to double his wages without either of them figuring out what’s going on. One these gentlemen is, in fact, a woman named Beatrice (Jana Mestecky) disguising herself as her dead brother. “His” arrival in Venice disrupts the engagement of Clarice (Alessandra Ziviani) and Silvio (Grant Kretchik), and kicks off a series of events that lead to wild misunderstandings, secret meetings, curses, a dual, a handful of attempted suicides, and, of course, the inevitable happy ending.

Campbell, as Truffaldino, handles the farce, wordplay, and physical humor well - imagine Matthew Broderick channeling Groucho Marx and you’ll get the idea. Also noteworthy are Gray Stevenson as Clarice’s flirty maid, Smeraldina, Rich Hollman, who gleefully mugs and preens as Beatrice’s lover, Florindo, and Ziviani and Kretchik as the interrupted lovers. Ziviani, in particular, has some wonderful scene-stealing moments.

The production did have a few flaws. Some of the slapstick bits went on too long and started to become stale. At several points, the play seemed to sputter and stall; scenes that should have been fast and frantic were instead filled with pauses and stage business that slowed them down. Mestecky’s Beatrice made no attempt to appear or sound masculine, other than by wearing men’s clothing and pulling her hair into a ponytail. This removed any possibility of exploring the frustration Beatrice must have experienced trying to pass, as well as the liberation the masquerade could provide. But generally speaking, these problems didn’t take too much away from the production.

On the technical side, the show featured a bright and versatile set designed by Bart Healy and some wonderful costumes from designer Martin A. Thaler. Fight director Craig Rising did a marvelous job as well, especially with a humorous swordfight between Beatrice and Silvio.

Despite its minor flaws, this is a generally strong production of a remarkably funny play. If you like classic farce, The Servant of Two Masters is well worth seeing.

Written by Carlo Goldoni
Adapted by Anne and Stuart Vaughan
Directed by Stuart Vaughan

Theatre 33
11 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor

Through January 21st
Tues.-Sat.: 8 pm
Sat.: 2 pm
Sun: 3 pm