‘The Servant of Two Masters’ at Polonsky Shakespeare Center offers comic relief for the post-election blues
Laughter is the best medicine sometimes.
This is one of those times.
New Yorkers, who voted overwhelmingly for defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, need some comic relief for the post-election blues.
Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center is a prime place for them to find it.
The Brooklyn Cultural District playhouse might not be the first spot they’d think of when seeking out raucous entertainment. After all, it’s a venue devoted to the Bard’s plays and other works of classical theater, not a Brooklyn version of Carolines on Broadway.
But “The Servant of Two Masters” has taken over the Ashland Place theatre.
Director Christopher Bayes and actor Steven Epp in the lead role of Truffaldino make this commedia dell’arte work, which was written by Carlo Goldoni in the 1740s, come alive with hilarious, rowdy energy.
This is the New York premiere of an adaptation by Constance Congdon from a translation by Christina Sibul. Bayes and Epp further adapted the script.
They previously collaborated on this version of “The Servant of Two Masters,” starting with its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2010. The play’s run in Washington, D.C., won Epp a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Play and garnered a directing nomination for Bayes.
A whirlwind of comic delirium
“The Servant of Two Masters,” which opened on Nov. 16, is probably the most famous work by prolific Venetian-born Goldoni. The only previous English-language production in New York City was staged Off-Off Broadway in the 1970s.
The play involves star-crossed lovers, mistaken identities, cross-dressing and buoyantly silly slapstick in 18th-Century Venice.
The man at the center of the craziness is Truffaldino, a supremely inept indentured servant who decides to work for two bosses simultaneously so he can get paid twice as much and eat twice as much.
Epp, who spent 25 years as an actor, writer, director and Co-Artistic Director of the Tony Award-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis, stirs up a whirlwind of comic delirium in this role. He’s a big goofball who causes chaos at every turn — the kind of chaos that includes flinging a cauldron of soup and a hefty cooked turkey around the stage during a dinner scene.
The play has been larded with up-to-the-minute jokes. Epp’s magic touch as a comedian enables him to provoke laughter with quips about the recent election — which is a sore subject in New York City, where 79 percent of the presidential votes cast were for Clinton.
He even gets the audience to laugh at a joke about circumcision.
Epp is supremely gifted with physical comedy — AKA clowning — which is a good thing since he can’t make faces to be funny. In accordance with the theatrical conventions of commedia dell’arte, his character wears a mask.
By the way, Bayes, the play’s director, is also an expert on clowning. He is Professor and Head of Physical Acting at the Yale School of Drama.
Eyebrows made of goat hair
The cast is full of talented comic actors including Allen Gilmore, who plays Pantalone, another mask-wearing character.
The looong, protruding eyebrows on his mask are made of goat hair. Gilmore gets them to move around like living creatures.
Loopy, luminous Adina Verson plays Pantalone’s daughter Clarice, who is in love with Silvio (a fearlessly funny Eugene Ma). There are complications with this relationship, to put it mildly.
An equally loopy, luminous Emily Young plays Clarice’s maid-servant, Smeraldina, who captures Truffaldino’s heart.
Truffaldino’s two masters are played by hilarious, charming Liz Wisan and Orlando Pabotoy.
She’s Beatrice, who is pretending to be her dead brother Federigo. He is Florindo. They’re in love — and there are complications with this relationship, too. In the end, though, All’s Well That Ends Well. (Woops. Wrong playwright.)
The comedy in “The Servant of Two Masters” is enhanced by catchy tunes by composer and music director Aaron Halva and composer Christopher Curtis, who both serve as musicians for the show.
Theatre for a New Audience’s production of “The Servant of Two Masters” runs through Sunday, Dec. 4 at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, located at 262 Ashland Place in Fort Greene.
See tfana.org for tickets or call 866-811-4111.
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