Success and failure are magnified under the lens of comedy. If a comedy fails, then it’s a rather boring experience at best for the audience, painful at worst. If it succeeds, however, then it succeeds incredibly well; you can’t say too many bad things about a comedy when all the jokes land and make you laugh.
However, some comedies fall between this extreme gradient, and wind up behind being just an average theatre-going experience, but that somehow makes it worse. It could have been great, but it never got up there and broke that threshold into greatness. With all that being said, Parker Theatre’s production of “The Servant of Two Masters,” adapted from the 1746 Italian play of the same name and directed by Lauren Bone Noble, is ultimately average in terms of comedy, but is elevated by an excellent cast, costume and set production.
“The Servant of Two Masters” tells the tale of Truffladino (Kai Junn Lathrop), a servant attempting to serve, well, his two masters. He travels to Venice with Beatrice (Jillian Feuerstein) who is disguised as her recently murdered brother Federigo. Beatrice travels to Venice to collect dowry money from Pantalone (Brandon Haslam), which Federigo was supposed to collect when he promised to marry Clarice (Grace Sgambettera), Pantalone’s daughter. Beatrice is trying to use this money to exonerate her lover Florindo (Josh Joyner), Federigo’s murderer whom she believes is innocent. Meanwhile, Clarice is set to marry Sylvio (Matthew Moment), the son of know-nothing-know-it-all Dottore (Adam F. Jones). To complicate matters even further, Truffaldino is hired by Florindo while working with Beatrice, and he attempts to juggle the orders that both his masters give. He also falls in love with Clarice’s servant, Smeraldina (Kacie Bocie). On top of all this, the entire cast is in mortal terror of Brighella (Shayla Sullivan), the morbid innkeeper of Venice.
I want to talk about the “gimmick” of the play, in that “The Servant of Two Masters” is actually a play within a play. The actual play is of a struggling theatre troupe producing “The Servant of Two Masters.” The troupe is going through tough times in the midst of an economic recession. Right from the get-go we see failing lighting, mentions of cut scenes and props and even three actors Bob, Jim and Steve (played respectively by Christopher Lunetta, Moses Oscar and Alexander Pronevich) being cast as the porter, Giovanni, due to poor management.
On paper, this is an interesting concept, but I don’t think the play pulls it off well in execution. While the cast frequently mentions the failing economy and lack of support for their play, I never got that impression, at least not completely. While there were other one-off gags, such as Steve getting hit in the head with a falling light off-stage, or Sylvio having to run a concessions stand to cover the costs of the play, it was never really woven too deeply into the story. It all felt very surface level, and I was greatly thrown out of the story when the gags occured. If this aspect of the story had been featured more, I think it would have been less jarring.
I want to talk about tone next, which I think is this play’s double-edged sword. The play is absolutely brimming with energy. The actors are incredibly flamboyant and off-the-wall, every gesture and line is exaggerated to the nth degree. It’s great to watch, but over the course of the near two-hour production, it starts to wear thin. There are moments of calmness for monologues and conversation, but they are few and far between, and even then they’re still slightly exaggerated. As for the jokes themselves, they’re a mixture of word play, absurdity and pop-culture references that hit just as often as they miss, unfortunately. It felt like there was a lot of dead air in the theatre when there shouldn’t have been.
However, there are definite positives to this play. The cast, for one thing, are all excellent. They play their roles with vivacious spirit and gusto, and it’s a testament to their acting ability that they are able to keep up that energy for nearly two hours. Special mention goes to Joyner and Lathrop, who were always a delight to watch when they were on stage, especially when they engaged with one another. In fact, the chemistry between the cast was always interesting to watch, and it really shows that they put a lot of thought and heart into their respective characters. Also peppered throughout the play were brief musical numbers, and they were always entertaining to listen to. The cast got to display both their musical and acting talent.
Another great thing about this play is the costume and set design. The set is incredibly simple; a wooden stage, a few streamers, a row of curtains where people can enter and exit from as well as a sky-blue backdrop. However, it’s all incredibly well made and really sells the fact that this play is a low-budget production. Also, the costumes for each of the actors were excellent. Incredibly bright and flashy, the characters really popped as they moved about Parker Theatre. On a technical level, this play was incredibly well put together.
“The Servant of Two Masters” is a flawed, yet interesting adaptation. While I don’t believe this play has general appeal, if you like this meta-driven, off-the-wall rapid fire style of humor, then it’s definitely worth the admission price.