The Servant of Two Masters
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
December 27, 2006
The Servant of Two Masters is Carlo Goldoni's 18th century farce involving mistaken identity, gender masquerading, star-crossed lovers, deceit, and all the usual farce goodies. This presentation offers good-looking sets by Bart Healy and coordinating costumes by Martin A. Thaler.
The story begins at a party in Venice for the engagement of Clarice and Silvio. In walks impish Truffaldino (played by a muggy and playful Steve Campbell), who announces the arrival of his master, Federigo. This is a surprise to everyone as Federigo is reputed to have been killed dueling with Florindo, the lover of Federigo's sister Beatrice. We quickly learn this is Beatrice disguised as Federigo, who has come in hopes of marrying Clarice and collecting the dowry owed to her brother.
There is of course a lot more that goes on here, but I don't want to give it all away.
The main problem with this adaptation by Anne and Stuart Vaughan is that there is way too much expository dialogue and reminding the audience what just happened. It's not only annoying, but it slows down the action. A farce should have the audience in constant laughter and anticipation of what will happen next. When a character reminds us, "You see, I'm now the servant of two masters" or points out, "See, I did serve them both dinner and neither of them knew about each other," all it does is interrupt the action.
Another issue here is the interpretation of Beatrice masquerading as Federigo and then coming back to being Beatrice. From the moment the actress, Jana Mestecky, walks out, we know she is a woman dressed in men's clothing. The choice of an actress who is convincingly androgynous would have been helpful, so that the audience would at least buy that everyone around believes this is a man. Added to that, the moment when Beatrice reveals herself to be a woman involves nothing but taking her hair out of a ponytail holder; there is no feeling of revelation, and the actress continues the same mannerisms (which seemed to have been chosen for the masculine role) for the duration of the play. Some kind of change in manner would have helped the moment and the rest of the play regarding this character.
Beatrice's pompous lover, Florindo, is played by the excellent Rich Hollman. I'd been sitting in the audience watching Hollman, thinking, "This guy's good, he looks so familiar." Upon checking my program I discovered this is the same fellow who'd delivered a sensitive, convincing performance in this summer's terrific musical Lunch. Hollman's performance as Florindo is a mixture of elegance and silliness that's well-suited to this play.
Overall this is a well-produced experience which could benefit from cutting out much unnecessary text and keeping the otherwise fast pace going.