27 AUG 2008  •  by Zack Smith

The Servant of Two Masters
Deep Dish Theater
Through Sept. 13

Commedia dell’arte is one of the most influential forms of stage comedy, but be forewarned—anyone who’s complained about the two-hour-plus running times of Judd Apatow’s comedies has never sat through an 18th-century farce.

Such is the case with Deep Dish Theater’s production of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, directed by Derrick Ivey. Masters is a classic of Italian theater that employs many of the tropes associated with classic farce—lots of slammed doors, mistaken identities, threats of tragedy and a resolution that brings everyone together in the end. However, the farce is structured in such a way that it sometimes slows down the overall plot—while the plot sometimes threatens to drag the farce to a halt.

The play’s titular servant is Truffalindo (a male role played by veteran Laurie Wolf), a servant of Beatrice (Susannah Hough), who has disguised herself as her deceased brother, who in turn was promised to Clarice (Flynt Burton), who is now engaged to Silvio (Lance Waycaster). Adding to the confusion, Truffalindo decides to moonlight for Florindo (Hampton Rowe from Dearly Beloved and Orson’s Shadow), who also happens to be Beatrice’s lover. Additional complications ensue.

The play is at its best in the scenes where Truffalindo struggles with his double-duty—there’s some impressive physical comedy from Wolf, and also from Lamont Reed as the ambidextrous Portino. However, this particular translation often feels like two plays, with the various relationships existing separately from Truffalindo’s antics. It might have helped the production if they’d focused more on the servant part, which has been highlighted in their promotions. With intermission, the whole play runs about two hours and 20 minutes, resulting in funny scenes that drag because they have no purpose in moving the plot forward.

Masters clearly has a few updated touches—characters regularly sing 20th-century songs as they head in and out of scenes—so it might have been nice to trim much of the mistaken-identity plot and focus on Truffalindo’s tumbling. The play has an undeniable energy and good cheer when it emphasizes the physical hijinks, but as a whole, it might tend to wear an audience down. —Zack Smith