At the beginning of California Theatre Center’s production of The Servant of Two Masters, cast member Stefan Fisher provided the audience with a few helpful announcements: turn off your cell phone, note the location of the nearest emergency exit and remember that this is living, breathing theatre—anything can happen. At which point he was delivered an engagement ring with an attached note “from Leslie, sans love.”
Before the show even started, the cast demolished the fourth wall separating the 21st-century audience from the 18th-century Venetian setting. Upon hearing about Fisher’s faux breakup, cast member Justin Karr crept offstage, whispering, “Awk-ward.”
Though the antics of the pre-show performance were obviously less than spontaneous, the cast demonstrated that they were not ones to take themselves too seriously. Throughout the show, they jived about everything from day jobs at Burger King to underappreciated acting roles. The small dose of campiness freshened up the 350-plus-year-old play.
Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters (now rotating with three other plays in CTC’s summer repertory season) is a comedy centering around Truffaldino, an ever-hungry servant looking to fill his pocketbook and his appetite by serving two masters at the same time. His first master is a woman named Beatrice, who disguises herself as her dead brother and travels to Venice to collect the dowry money from the father of her brother’s betrothed. Beatrice is also attempting to reunite with her lover Florindo, who fled to Venice after killing her brother. Truffaldino becomes the servant of the two lovers, unaware of their history together.
Much of the humor comes from situational absurdity in the vein of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. But the cast enhanced the otherwise predictable escapades with exaggerated physical humor that seemed to make fun of not just the characters but of the actors themselves. A series of grandiose bows between Daniel Joyce, who played Florindo, and Michael Detmer, in the role of Silvio, produced quite a few veritable laughs. Moments like these punctured the fourth wall just enough to afford a peek at what these actors might really be like. More realistic than high-def TV, The Servant of Two Masters is living, breathing theater.
The Servant of Two Masters
Runs through July 23
Sunnyvale Community Center, 550 East Remington Dr., Sunnyvale