TR Robertson — NVA’s latest production is a fast paced, witty, hilarious, gag filled, physical, in-your-face adaptation of a classic Italian comedy, “Il servitor di due padroni” (“The Servant of Two Masters”, closely following the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte. What makes this play even more unique is it was adapted for the NVA stage by NVA Director of Connectivity AJ Knox and NVA actress, writer, teacher and outreach leader Samantha Ginn. Knox also directed and translated the play and Ginn is the lead actor, the off-the-wall servant Truffaldino. The original play was written in 1746 by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. The basic premise behind commedia dell’arte is improvisational style of theatre. On the Italian stage, many of the actors would be masked and the theatre would be performed outdoors using simple props. Many of the characters were stock characters, always appearing in the play, but not necessarily saying the same lines. The plot of each play verged on the absurd, and the NVA performance certainly falls into that category. If you have ever attended an outdoor Renaissance Faire you may have seen performances similar to the style shown on the NVA stage.
Photos by Daren Scott
The plot of the play centers around an upcoming marriage and a party, a woman whose brother was killed by her lover, the woman’s search for her lover as she pretends to be a man, a jealous fiancé, and a servant’s plot to earn two wages as the servant of two different masters (hence the title).
I encourage theatre goers to see this most unique play, but you should know a little about what you are in for, as is the case for many plays you take in. As the play begins, we see an appearance of an actor playing the original playwright, Goldoni, telling us we are in for a funny experience and trying to tell us what the play is about. Goldoni will appear again at the beginning of Act II asking if we are following what is going on. I have reviewed and taken in many, many plays over the years. I have occasionally witnessed some people in the audience either walking out during the performance or not returning after Act I. This is certainly their right, but I am also a little concerned that these people did not do their due diligence and find out a little about the play they were to see. I saw a number of people walking out of Moonlight’s production of “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, years ago, right after the first throat slitting and the body being dropped into the basement for cooking. Did you not have a clue what this musical was about when you chose to attend? Such is the case for “The Servant of Two Masters” Several folks left in Act I and several did not return for Act II, maybe thinking the play was not their “cup of tea”. If they had stayed they would have witnessed a masterful and very funny dinner scene performance involving Truffaldino and Karen; as well as a memorable dance routine, involving the entire cast, dancing to Andrea Bocelli’s “Con Te Partiro” (“Time to Say Goodbye”).
You need to know this play is silly, slap stick, the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek, there are puns on top of puns, it is a bit bawdy – probably not for most children (but there were some in the audience and they loved it), and there is an abundance of physical comedy. All of this is what makes this adaptation fun and a most unique theatre experience. It certainly has all the qualities of a Marx Brothers or Stooges comedy, all of which I love and remember watching with eager anticipation for the next silly occurrence. The actors on stage also bring the audience in on the fun and have them take part in some sing-a-longs and answering questions the actors pose. At one point in Act II, members of the cast join us in open seats with a curt comment about those people who had chosen not to return for Act II, bringing a laugh and round of applause from the audience. There are also some inside comments, put in for “locals”, such as a reference to Carlsbad’s recently approved change in outdoor dancing restrictions, also bringing in applause from some of those in attendance.
The majority of cast members are returning veterans of a number of NVA performances. Playing the lead, Truffaldino Gelato is Samantha Ginn. As well as helping put this play together, Ginn is a veteran actress and director and has helped create theatre programs for neurodiverse performers. Ginn must be physically exhausted at the end of each performance as her role as Truffaldino requires her to constantly be in motion trying to cover up her ruse. The role of the father of the bride, Pantalone Calzone, and as the playwright Carlo Goldoni, is played by Dallas McLaughlin. Pantalone lets nothing bother him and is a straight faced as possible, which is hard to do in this play. He walks through life stating the obvious. The flighty bride-to-be is played by Amara Young. Tony Houck plays the immature, pampered fiancé Silvio Pepperoncini. Tony is very funny as Silvio, especially when Silvio doesn’t get his way. Durwood Murry is wonderful as the protective father of Silvio. He has a powerful outburst in one scene when he thinks his son will not be able to marry Clarice.
The talented cast continues featuring Eliana Payne, making her NVA debut, playing the sister (Beatrice Ravioli) looking for the killer of her brother, the killer who is also her lover, Florindo. Eliana pretends to be a man, which works to Truffaldino’s advantage as he is also Beatrice’s servant. Florindo Alfredo, played by Skyler Sullivan, arrives in town, looking for a servant and Truffaldino rises to the task. Florindo is Beatrice’s lover and has accidentally killed her brother, but feels Beatrice will not forgive him. Florindo is equally pompous and self-centered, attitudes Skyler presents with ease. Max Macke draws some of the loudest laughs from the audience, portraying Pantalone Calzone’s servant, the female Smeraldina Haggis. Smeraldina is a bass voiced, cigarette smoking lady and dresses in a classy black outfit and heels, which Max wears with ease and sexy attitude.
Two additional common folk round out the NVA cast, Gerilyn Braullt and Sherri Allen. Gerilyn plays the owner of the Inn, Brighella Boyardee, a tell-it-like-it-is lady, and Sherri is hilarious as the poor servant, dressed like a Phillip Morris bellman, who will be battered and bloody by the end of Act II. Karen is part of the dinner scene where Truffaldino is trying to serve two masters, only everything Truffaldino does ends up costing poor Karen physical injury. One other amazing cast of actors and actresses who take part in “The Servant of Two Masters” involves the “Mainstage Players”. Each performance, one of the members of this professional training program gets to take part in a scene with Truffaldino involving bananas, a fruit Traffaldino hates to the point of stomach turning nausea. The opening night performance saw Rachel Ford, as the Banana Salesperson, as she did not miss a beat as she spoke with the crazy Traffaldino. Other members of this group of actors and actresses who will appear throughout the run of the play include Kenton Makings, Ethan Marr, Reid Moriarty and Liam Porter.
The Creative Ensemble for NVA includes Sound Designer Violet Ceja, Stage Manager Emily Dragon, Choreographer Jenna Ingrassia-Knox, Properties Designer Cassie Langan, Costume Designer Keira McGee, Lighting Designers Chris Renda and David Romero Christopher and Set Designer Scott Murillo.
NVA asks you to let your hair down a little and to have fun and experience a rollicking good time at a play flashing back to classic Italian comedy, NVA style. “The Servant of Two Masters” will be on the NVA stage, at 2787 State Street in Carlsbad, until May 5th. Tickets can be purchased at www.newvillagearts.org or call 760-433-3245.