Odyssey Theatre’s The Servant of Two Masters a rolicking good time

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

First published on: July 22, 2016  in the Ottawa Citizen. 

Zach Council and Sean Sullivan from Odyssey Theatre perform for the media at Strathcona Park in Ottawa Friday July 15, 2016. Odyssey Theatre is performing The Servant of Two Masters under the stars at Strathcona Park from July 21 to August 21.

Zach Council and Sean Sullivan from Odyssey Theatre perform for the media at Strathcona Park in Ottawa Friday July 15, 2016. Odyssey Theatre is performing The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, directed by Andy Massingham. at Strathcona Park from July 21 to August 21.  Photo: Tony Caldwell

You’d be hard-pressed to find profound insights in it, but Odyssey Theatre’s production of Carlo Goldoni’s 1745 comedy The Servant of Two Masters sure is fun.

Jesse Buck plays the titular servant Truffaldino, a wily and perennially famished fellow who lands himself in the absurd situation of serving two masters at once. One of them is the stylish, self-admiring Florindo (Joshua Wiles). The other is Beatrice (Sarah Finn) who is Florindo’s lover and has come to Venice to be with him.  Except Beatrice is disguised as her pompadour-proud brother Federigo. And Federigo is actually dead, killed by Florindo. Beatrice, meanwhile, is owed money by a wealthy miser, whose daughter …

You see where this is going, right? Down the rabbit hole of a plot so deliciously convoluted that to summarize it would leave your head spinning faster than governor Chris Christie trying to defend Melania Trump’s plagiarized convention speech earlier this week.

Goldoni’s tale brims with the kind of colourful commedia dell’arte characters that Odyssey, when it’s at the top of its game as it is here, plays so well. Time and again, the production takes commedia dell’arte’s tradition of stock characters and finds unexpected richness in them.

Sean Sullivan does a fine turn as Pantolone, the miserly patriarch. He attempts to force his daughter Clarice (Maryse Fernandes) to marry his old business partner Federigo (yup, actually Beatrice in disguise) rather than Silvio (Adam Sanders), the dim-witted, hot-tempered man she loves. Those attempts – no surprise here — are failure-bound and play into the comedy’s theme of the older generation yielding to the younger one.

Zach Counsil, wearing one of Jerrard Smith’s clever commedia dell’arte masks, is light-on-his-toes Brighella, the owner of the waterside inn where the action takes place. Like others of his profession, Brighella has been witnessing the grasping, self-involved ways of humanity for decades and simply gets what he can out of the situation.

Also on hand: Silvio’s Latin-spouting mom Dr. Lombardi (Lynne Griffin) and Smeraldina, the mouthy servant of Pantalone who savours liquor as much as she relishes striking a blow for women in a male-dominated world. She’s played with flirtacious audacity by the excellent Dana Fradkin.

Truffaldino, of course, is at the heart of the story. Buck is terrific in the role, bringing but never overplaying the clowning skills he developed during five years as principal clown in Cirque du Soleil’s international touring show Alegria. His Truffaldino is craven, inept, charming. He’s an opportunist and a liar who we can’t help but cheer on as he forges his way through a world that’s neither more nor less self-serving than he is. And Buck is a hoot in the play’s famous dinner party scene, a frantically farcical segment in which Truffaldino, in split-second, dance-like movement, simultaneously attends to the needs of his two masters.

Director Andy Massingham, who also did the adaptation of Goldoni’s play, has set the show in 1959. That’s given costume designer Vanessa Imeson licence to create some dandy outfits, including the patterned, fitted suit in which Florindo, ever melodramatic, loves to emote and the crinoline-lined dress that so suits Smeraldina’s provocative flounces.

Music designer Steven Lafond has also maxed out the 1959 Venetian setting, underscoring the action with well-placed snatches of traditional Italian folk tunes, bits of rockabilly and funny blasts of cinematic orchestration at camped-up moments.

The production, including a dance scene with Truffaldino and Smeraldina, could use a bit of trimming, but that’s about it for beefs. Even the rain that briefly halted the show on opening night did little to interrupt the momentum of this well-oiled and vastly entertaining production.

The Servant of Two Masters continues until Aug. 21.
Tickets/information: 613-232-8407, odysseytheatre.ca


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