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Photo by Andrew Alexander.

Odyssey Theatre debut the modern retelling of a classic masked comedy

By Kabriya Coghlan on July 19, 2016

Odyssey Theatre is kicking off the 31st season of Theatre Under the Stars in Strathcona Park with a brand new imagining of a classic comedy, The Servant of Two Masters. Opening night is this Thursday, July 21 at 8pm and the play is set to run throughout the summer until Sunday, August 21.

The Servant of Two Masters was written by Carlo Goldini in 1746. It was based on the tradition of Commedia dell’arte, an Italian style of comedic theatre in which the actors wear masks.

This play follows the adventures of a servant, Truffaldino, who winds up serving two masters at once, running back and forth between the two while trying to keep each unaware of his two positions. One master is a woman who has disguised herself as her dead brother, and the second master is in fact her lover, which leads to a tangle of confusion and mayhem for the servant caught between them.

“It’s a whirlwind two hours of slapstick and knockabout high opera, with huge emotions,” said director Andy Massingham. He explained that the structure of the play is similar to a Shakespearian comedy, such as Twelfth Night or As You Like It.

“It’s a classic farce, it’s hysterically funny,” Massingham said. “It’s got that incredible zest for life, you know, mismatched people, lovers who are estranged, mistaken identities, characters cross-dressing, in disguise, and you know, in the end everything’s fine, but it’s a giant map of confusion.”

Photo by Andrew Alexander.

Photo by Andrew Alexander.

The Servant of Two Masters was Odyssey Theatre’s inaugural production when the company opened in 1986. Massingham starred as the servant in that original production, and he is excited to have the chance to return and direct his own re-imagined version of the play.

“I’ve written a brand new adaptation, based on the original, that sets it in 1959 in Italy,” he explained. “The country was going through a huge upswing of culture – sort of like a renaissance was going on. So what we’re able to do is use big Italian music as well as early rock and roll to sort of combine the two worlds, the traditional and… the new. It’s a bit of a passing of the torch between the two eras.”

This new version of the play will feature a mix of masked and bare-faced actors, as part of the effort to combine the worlds of traditional and contemporary theatre. Massingham said he thinks the comedic themes of the play can be universal in any era.

“It’s about madness, it’s about love, it’s about passion, people jumping to conclusions when they don’t know the answer,” he said. “The people onstage trying to untangle all those knots is like life every day.”

Odyssey Theatre perform outdoors in Strathcona Park, and every night will be set like a small carnival. People who come out to see the play can wander before and after the play, as well as during the intermission, to get food at various stalls or participate in a silent auction.

The park is “natural amphitheatre, which is open to the elements and the sky, but also very intimate,” Massingham said. “The actors can play to the stars if they want to, and be really big, but we can also get away with being very intimate onstage, because the audience seat capacity is about 200–300 in the bleachers.

“People bring out lawn chairs and make a picnic, they make an evening of it… It’s really become a great tradition in Ottawa and we are looking forward to being back there again.”

The Servant of Two Masters stars Cirque du Soleil clown and Odyssey veteran Jesse Buck as Truffaldino, the servant. The cast includes Zach Council, Sarah Finn, and Dana Fradkin, who will be joined by Odyssey newcomers Joshua Wiles, Maryse Fernandes, Adam Sanders, Lynne Griffin, and Sean Sullivan. The masks and the set were designed by Jerrard Smith.

The Servant of Two Masters runs July 21 – August 21 at Strathcona Park. Tickets are $25 for adults or $10 for children. The opening weekend special is $13 for adults. There will be pay-what-you-can weekend matinees, and $13 Student Rush Sundays. Ticket are available at the