"The Servant of Two Masters': Italian commedia comes to mainstage

Posted by Julia Leef

The Mainstage Production at the Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater, Carlo Goldoni's "The Servant of Two Masters," combines traditional Italian commedia dell'arte and postmodern vaudeville to tell the tale of the madcap servant, Truffaldino, and his encounters with masters, mistresses, lovers, lawyers and meatballs.

This fast-paced comedy brings a variety of wonders to the stage, including acrobatics, juggling, audience participation, and adlibs.

The decision to perform "The Servant of Two Masters" came in part as a result of director Alma Becker's commedia class.

Becker had also seen the play in N.Y. with two students, Ilanna Saltzman '11 and Tristan Schaffer-Goldman '11, who both studied commedia in Italy. "It just felt like this was the semester to do this," Becker said.

A lot of direct communication with the audience is necessary for this show and Becker applauded her students' ability to take direction. "Once people know what's wanted, then they really go after that," Becker said.

Saltzman, the assistant director, spoke highly of students' opportunity to work together to bring this play to life. She was able to pass on the experience she had gained in Italy to the other students. Saltzman said that it was a challenge getting the details across, but very rewarding.

In addition to her regular directing duties, Saltzman also organized the pre-show that will take place about half an hour before the actual performance. This pre-show will be performed by another group of actors, and is designed to get the audience into the comedic spirit and generate energy.

Andrea Nice, '11, set designer, remarked on the collaborative creative process involved and how her job was also a lesson in decision making. Nice said that designing a set to convey the "play within a play" aspect of the show was a challenge, which involved a great deal of architecture, geometrics and mathematics.

"It is a comprehensive form of art in that you have to be able to explain your every reason for what you put on the stage. You have to think of composition, balance and light," Nice said.

Nice hopes to pursue a career in set design and said she is pleased with this educational experience that she could not have gotten from a class. She also said she looks forward to seeing the final product and believes that it will be very gratifying.

Much praise for the show came from the actors. Tristan Schaffer-Goldman '11, who plays Truffaldino and the Servant, has enjoyed working with Becker for the first time.

He said that he has been caught up in the many different ways to express the style of the play to a modern audience, and the great enthusiasm exhibited by Becker and the cast.

Schaffer-Goldman was especially interested in the way that wearing a mask shifts the performer's focus from the face to the body. Schaffer-Goldman said that one must work on physical comedy to learn "how to be funny without facial expressions, breaking down what is comedy and how it lives in your body and how you can use your body to tell it."

Although she doesn't wear a mask, Isabelle Russo '11, who plays Beatrice, a woman pretending to be her brother Federigo, faced the challenge of "how to conflate the female and male aspects of the character."

Russo said she must take many things into account including how well Beatrice is disguised and how good she is at it. Russo said this requires her to balance her own acting skills with those of her character.

"The Servant of Two Masters" will be playing at JKB Theater from Nov. 19-21 and Dec. 2-5. All performances are at 8 p.m. except Sunday matinees, which are at 2 p.m.

The cast and crew invite students and faculty alike to play a part in this interactive show and to experience the style of Italian commedia that has played an important part in their education for the past few months.

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