"The Servant of Two Masters" might be one of the few 300-year-old plays that can be enjoyed by all ages, thanks to Glendale Community College and its student cast.
I went three days after the play opened, and although all the jokes didn't register with the adult audience (seeing that this was a comedy), those that did drew big laughs with the 8-year-old girl sitting three rows ahead of me. She seemed to love all of the sight gags, wacky sound effects and Three Stooges-style slapstick comedy that were incorporated into the play. And for a college production, it's a huge bonus to produce a play that is accessible to adults and children.
The play takes place over the course of one day in Venice, Italy, and as it opens, Pantalone (Peter Von Sholly) discusses the upcoming wedding of his daughter Clarice (Edith Kordijan) and her fiance Silvio (Alexis Crisanto). But Beatrice (Michelle Nissing), who has just arrived in Venice, aims to disrupt Clarice and Silvio's wedding.
Turns out that Beatrice's brother was previously engaged to Clarice but died while defending his sister's honor. Now Beatrice is back, disguised as her dead brother, to collect the dowry money from Pantalone, and to reclaim her love for Florindo (Ryan Rogers). As the high jinks between Beatrice, Clarice and Pantalone play out, there's even more comedic relief elicited from Beatrice's clownish servant Truffaldino (Tanner Morse).
Truffaldino is "the servant of two masters," from which the play takes its title, and Tanner Morse brings a refreshing silliness to the character that makes him the loveable underdog you feel you have to root for. When the opportunity presents itself for Truffaldino to serve both Beatrice and Florindo dinner on the same night, he is predictably overwhelmed by the dual responsibilities and mixes up their orders. Sure he's a lousy servant, but aside from some gentle ribbing, Beatrice and Florindo seem to accept Truffaldino, faults and all. And thanks to Morse's ease with the role, so do we as an audience.
Director Jeanette D. Farr made it a point to scatter several improvisational gags and scenes throughout the production, most of which pay homage to Chaplin, the Three Stooges and Vaudeville. Some work wonderfully, as when Florindo punches his servant three times in the gut, with cartoonish sound effects to complement each blow, while others fall flat. It was funny the first couple of times that a confused Pantalone scanned the stage after a duck's quack followed his use of the word "duckett." But after the fourth, fifth and sixth time, the staleness of the joke had me thinking, "Geez, this again?"
Since most of the actors were in their first production, it was almost expected for there to be plenty of mistakes. But in a less-than-perfect world, how many stage actors can put aside the jitters of performing live for the first time and still put on a worthwhile performance? Brando may have been the best actor of the last half-century, but even he had to start somewhere.
JAMES FAMERA is a freelance arts critic based in Los Angeles.
What: "The Servant of Two Masters" by Carlo Goldoni, adapted by Constance Congdon from a translation by Christina Sibul
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday until Nov. 14
Where: Auditorium Mainstage Theatre at Glendale Community College, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale
Tickets: $10; $6 for students and seniors; $4 for groups of 10 or more and children under 12
Contact: (818) 240-1000, Ext. 5612, or visit http://www.glendale.eduCopyright © 2015, CT Now