A Servant of Two Masters

An 18th century comic romp

By Alec Clayton on July 6, 2017

A hallmark of New Muses Theatre is adapting old plays for modern stages. The company's founder, Niclas Olson, writes the adaptations and usually both directs and stars in the shows - a heavy load for anyone to carry, but one he shoulders well.

Written in 1753 by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, A Servant of Two Masters is a madcap comedy in the commedia dell'arte tradition. Modern audiences will see in it reflections of comedies by Moliere and Shakespeare, as well as some sly pokes at current-day absurdities.

In wild dashes through scene after scene, characters pretend to be people other than who they are and people who know each other keep barely avoiding running into each other - a well-worn comic bit that never gets old.

Beatrice (Mehra Park) disguises herself as her recently murdered brother Federigo and travels to an inn in Venice in search of Federigo's killer, Florindo (Olson), who also happens to be her lover. Beatrice and Florindo get rooms in the same inn, but neither knows the other is there.

Try to keep up. Before he was murdered, Federigo was betrothed to Clarice (Jenna McRill), and by pretending to be Federigo, Beatrice expects to collect his dowry from Clarice's father, Pantalone (Paul Sobrie). Meanwhile, Pantalone has agreed to marry Clarice to Silvio (Sara Geiger in a cross-gender role). As if this were not confusing enough, Beatrice's servant, Truffaldino (Andrew Yabroff), sees a chance to make extra money by also serving Florindo, thus becoming the "servant of two masters" of the title. He has to go through incredible machinations to keep each of his masters from discovering he is serving the other. To even further the confusion, people keep giving him things to deliver to his master and, naturally, he never knows which master they mean. In a scene worthy of the Marx Brothers, he has to serve a multi-course meal to each of his masters without either of them or the cook catching on - and being gluttonous, Truffaldino eats most of both meals himself.

The acting style is a parody of the declamatory acting popular when the play was first presented. The actors must appear stiff and falsely histrionic without actually being stiff and falsely histrionic. That's a tough tight rope to walk. Olsen, Geiger and Yabroff do it well. Eric Cuestas-Thompson as Silvio's father and Sobrie as Pantalone come close.

As originally written, the playwright left a lot of room for improvisation. In this adaptation, nearly all the characters make snide asides to the audience, which might or might not be improvised.

A Servant of Two Masters is funny, but it does not quite come up to New Muses' usually excellent standards.

Note: The part of Silvio will be played by Xander Layden July 7-9.

A Servant of Two Masters, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday, through July 9, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, newmuses.com