Vanguard University is offering its playgoers a theatrical history lesson along with its robustly comical production of Carlo Goldoni's "The Servant of Two Masters."
The play dates back to 1743 and features characters popular in the Italian commedia dell'arte style of largely unscripted farce. Sort of what might happen if the Three Stooges met the Marx Brothers 400 years ago in Venice.
Broad, physical comedy abounds in director Susan K. Berkompas' rollicking production, with its servants and fools wearing masks in the traditional style of 18th century commedia. And one scene — in a restaurant late in the first act — is alone worth the price of admission.
Berkompas skillfully weaves this difficult and demanding play with its myriad plot lines, making full use of a revolving set which serves multiple functions at a frantic, often dizzying pace.
In the center of all this nonsense is an avaricious servant (Jordan Laemmlen) who seeks to double his income by working for two masters simultaneously. Little does he know that he's working for both a master (Vincent Catalina) and a mistress (Rosalyn Brickman, disguised as a man). Naturally, his problems multiply as well.
Then there are the young lovers (Nick Lazaris and Mary Tandy-McGlasson), callow youths who turn their thwarted romance into high melodrama. A pair of old fogies (Luke Rhoades and Michael Fidalgo) contribute their share of outrageousness.
It's Laemmlen and the other servants — a sultry Jessica Mogi, a dull-witted Cody Nunes, a lusty Katie Thornberg and a remarkable tumbler, Joey Sims — who really grease the wheels of this ancient comedy. Guitarist Josafat Valle and sultry Flamenco dancer Charis Medina-Meyer provide pleasing musical accompaniment.
Laemmlen, only a freshman, excels in the multiple demands of his double-duty lackey.
His employers are properly haughty — Catalina adopting a particularly patrician attitude, with Brickman bristling with energy (she's double cast with Sarah Maresh in the role).
Rhoades shuffles his way across the stage as the hapless father of Tandy-McGlasson's delectable character while she and Lazaris play out their soap operaish affair. Fidalgo's officious attorney is a proper fool, playing with his left arm extended like a falconer who's lost his falcon.
Of the other servants, Thornberg stands out in her quest for Laemmlen's favor. Mogi, of Indonesian descent, delivers a clever, anti-PC Japanese character. Rhoades is clumsy and oafish, while Sims draws applause for his gymnastic skills.
The aforementioned restaurant sequence is a superb bit of staging, reminiscent of the backstage scene in "Noises Off." Characters and dinner courses come onstage and off at minuscule intervals, along with flying plates, while the turntable spins almost perpetually. It's exhausting, for actors and audience members alike.
Paul Eggington's multi-functional setting works exceptionally well for this project, while the period costumes of Lia M. Hansen contribute immeasurably, especially the commedia masks.
"The Servant of Two Masters" raises silliness to an art form in this colorful and quite enjoyable production at Vanguard University.
TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "The Servant of Two Masters"
Where: Vanguard University Lyceum Theater, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.
When: Closing performances at 8 p.m. on Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Call: (714) 668-6145