There were a lot of laughs in Strathcona Park on the opening night of Odyssey Theatre’s fantastically funny The Servant of Two Masters. The 18th century Italian play, by Carlo Goldini, is full of huge comedic moments that came to life brilliantly, in the outdoor setting of Strathcona Park’s Theatre Under the Stars program.
The Servant of Two Masters is traditionally performed by actors wearing masks, drawing upon the style of Commedia dell’arte. But director Andy Massingham adapted the play choosing to mix masked and bare-faced actors, and reimagining the story in the 1950s. There’s lots of music from the era and taking inspiration from film, Massingham is using spot-on musical cues to underscore the humorous moments.
In an interview ahead of the show, Massingham compared the structure of this play to a Shakespearean comedy, such as Twelfth Night. It’s full of secrets, lies, disguised identities, and misunderstandings, which are eventually untangled in dramatic fashion, but not before a lot of amusing antics play out.
The show is very rooted in physical comedy, which was performed to impressive levels from the whole cast, but especially from the star of the show, Jesse Buck. Buck is an Odyssey Theatre veteran and Cirque de Soleil clown who plays the titular servant, Truffaldino. His character gets caught up in one lie after another throughout the play, and he juggles his tasks as the servant of two different masters, attempting to keep his double-duty a secret from them both.
To add to the confusion, Truffaldino’s two masters are a pair of lovers who’ve been separated. They’re both searching for each other with no idea that they happen to be staying at the same Venice inn. Truffaldino’s first master is Beatrice (Sarah Finn), a young woman who happens to be in disguise as her deceased brother, Federigo… who was actually killed by her lover Florindo (Joshua Wiles) – Truffaldino’s second master.
Beatrice arrives in Venice hoping to regain the debt owed to her family by her brother’s former business partner, Pantalone (Sean Sullivan). In her disguise as Federgio, she ends up trapped in a marriage promise to Pantalone’s daughter, Clarice (Maryse Fernandes), who is devastated that she won’t be able to marry her own love, the hot-headed Silvio (Adam Sanders), the son of the very amusing Dr. Lombardi (Lynne Griffin). This web of complicated relationships between all the characters successfully creates high stakes for everyone, and it’s delightful to watch it unravel through all of the mischief that’s carried out. Dana Fradkin also shines as the sassy maid Smeraldina, with whom Truffaldino falls in love.
The humour and energy was well kept through the play, but the most standout scene by far was the play’s famous dinner scene. It was a masterful display of organized chaos: Truffaldino gets stuck serving both of his masters at once and must run around to keep them from finding out – still trying to get their dinner courses on time.
Buck was incredible, running back and forth and around the stage, switching props, mixing them up, and sorting them back out in a well-practiced routine. He played the scene frantically, looking like he was barely scraping through it all, and it was terribly fun to watch someone able to act so close to having everything spiral out of control and manage to nail it so perfectly. It was a credit to the coordinated efforts of Buck, Finn, and Wiles, as well as Zach Counsil, playing the innkeeper Brighella, and Jay Maniloff, in the role of the frustrated young waiter Truffaldino gets tangled up with. Everyone hit all the right moments for the perfectly chaotic results.
It started to rain heavily and for a few minutes, the performance was stopped to cover the lighting equipment and to evaluate whether it would be safe to continue.
When the rain slowed, Massingham came out to give a rousing cry of encouragement to the cast and they finished off in a truly triumphant manner, snapping right back into the action so that the audience could see how the tangle of drama onstage would be resolved. This impressive rally, despite the rain, lent a frenetic whirlwind energy to an already energetic cast. It was a great way to finish off the evening.
All in all, everyone involved gave spectacular efforts and this was a truly entertaining show from start to finish – worth the rain and all. I’d highly recommend The Servant of Two Masters to anyone after a good laugh.
The Servant of Two Masters runs until August 21 at Strathcona Park. Tickets are $25 for adults or $10 for children. Pay-what-you-can weekend matinees and $13 for students on Sundays. Tickets are available at odysseytheatre.ca.