A Servant of Two Masters Brings Italian Comedy to Smith

Camilla Skalski ’15
Contributing Writer

Slapstick comedy, sexual puns, outrageous accents and artful masks fill the Commedia dell’arte play A Servant of Two Masters, which is coming to Smith, and features a new translation by visiting director Vernon Hartman. The play, originally written by Carlo Goldoni in 1743, is a written representation of the traditionally improvised Commedia dell’arte style of theater.

The tradition of Commedia was developed in Italy during the height of the Renaissance. Within the style there are a host of stock characters, caricatures with extreme and specific characteristics. One of the most essential characters was the “Zanni” or clown. The Zanni usually took on the role of servant and over time there have been many famous Zanni characters with names like Arlecchino and Brighella.

In A Servant of Two Masters, the action centers around one such Zanni, Truffaldino and his attempt to fill his belly by serving two masters simultaneously. Although Commedia was improvisational, actors did work within a framework or outline of established scenes. Goldoni took some of those tropes and developed them into a full-length dialogue play.

The plot twists and turns, and moments of comedy and excitement are rife throughout the play. Commedia was traditionally performed with masked actors, so the acting style is incredibly physical. Physical comedy is one of the driving forces of Commedia and it has continued on through the ages, influencing some of the greatest comic film actors like Charlie Chaplin. In Hartman’s production of Servant, a number of the actors perform with masks. Each mask was custom made for each actor.

Not unlike Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the play opens with the main ingénue disguised as a man in order to accomplish her goals; she wants to run away with her star-crossed lover. The moments of mistaken identity infuse the plot with rich comedic elements. As with all Commedia plays, there are young lovers, but Servant goes beyond the par and adds a number of different couples all trying to navigate their way through the tricky waters of love.

When asked about the rehearsal process, Assistant Stage Manager Mehr Kaur ’16 said, “Though many of the actors were new to the style of rehearsal that this play demands, watching them bring their characters to life through lively physical choices lined with an Italian flair (with help from Vernon) has been exciting. The energy that this troupe of actors brings to the stage shines through all three acts.” Since Commedia is such a specific and rarely taught theatrical style, much of the focus of the rehearsals was on bringing the technique alive within the actors.

For those who are overwhelmed by work as the semester comes to a close, Kaur offers the perfect solution. “Servant of Two Masters helps complete a diverse main stage season at Smith. Students can escape the end of year stress with an evening of pure comedy right on campus,” Kaur said.

A Servant of Two Masters will open on April 19 with performances on the 20th and the 25th through the 27th. All performances will be at 8 p.m. Smith students can buy tickets for $3 online or at the box office in Mendenhall.

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