Slapstick comedy is often thought to be void of intelligent discourse but on the stage of the Lansburgh Theatre a talented ensemble of actors meticulously blend “Three Stooges”-style physical humor with quick-witted dialogue in “The Servant of Two Masters”. Christopher Bayes seamlessly directed this buoyant production of Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte masterpiece, originally staged at Yale Repertory Theatre and is now currently playing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. The play tells the story of a servant named Truffaldino, played by the unparalleled Steven Epp, who hatches a wild scheme to double his wages (and his meals) by serving two masters at once.
“The Servant of Two Masters” employs the usual plot conventions found in commedia dell’arte (meaning “comedy of craft or improvisation” in Italian)- a woman dressed as a man, mistaken identities, broken engagements, and lovers who are reunited. Constance Congdon’s adaptation of the 18th century text not only updates the play for modern audiences but also leaves room for improvisation by the performers. The actors take full advantage of this format by inserting pop culture references and ad-libs throughout the play (Sunday night’s audience was treated to an impromptu rendition of a Whitney Houston ballad). Steven Epp and his cast-mates take turns breaking the “fourth wall” to address the audience directly, often making the production feel more like a stand up routine rather than a play.
Steven Epp is simply magical as Truffaldino. Epp masters the exaggerated mannerisms and zany physicality familiar to this genre of comedy. Epp’s execution of the final scene of Act I in which Truffaldino serves both masters dinner while feeding himself is an impressive balancing act that should not go unnoticed.
Jesse L. Perez shines as Latin heartthrob Florindo, one of Truffaldino’s two masters. Another standout performance is Liz Wisan as Smeraldina, a squeaky voiced servant girl who often serves as the voice of reason amidst the chaos of the plot.
Valerie Therese Bart’s whimsical costumes are a throwback to the masked actors of Carlo Goldoni’s era and complement Katherine Akiko Day’s enchanting, almost Disney-like sets.
The production runs two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. The production contains mature subject matter and adult language and is recommended for patrons 14 years and older.
WHEN: Playing through June 24th, 2012
450 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20004
TICKETS: Purchase tickets online or by calling 202-547-1122.