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The Servant of Two Masters

A straight-up goofball comedy makes an ideal outdoor summer show

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Aug. 12, 2011

Arts Review

The Servant of Two Masters

Round Rock Amphitheatre, 301 W. Bagdad Ave., Round Rock, 512/850-4849,

www.penfoldtheatre.org

Through Aug. 21

Running time: 2 hr.

It's a wonder more theatre companies don't produce commedia dell'arte plays for their outdoor summer shows. Sure, the Italian terminology might seem imposing and highbrow, but a

play like Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters is pretty much the opposite of highbrow. It's straight-up goofball comedy, with a simple story and lots of slapstick.

Fortunately, in the hands of a company of well-trained artists like Penfold Theatre Company, it can also be good theatre.

As in any good summer show, a romance (or two) is at stake in The Servant of Two Masters. The engagement between Clarice (Gricelda Silva) and Silvio (Alejandro McDonald-Villarreal) is endangered by news that Clarice's former fiancé did not die in a duel after all, as was previously thought. Enter Beatrice (Katie Blacksmith), who is in fact the deceased's sister. She has dressed up in his clothes and taken on his identity so she can go searching for her true lover, Florindo (Joseph Garlock), who also happens to be the man who killed Beatrice's brother. To aid Florindo and Beatrice in their quest to find one another, the clownish Truffaldino (Ryan Crowder, also Penfold's producing artistic director) hires himself out to both parties, thinking that if he can just manage a little double employment, he might finally get ahead in life.

If that was confusing, don't worry about it. The story is fun, but it's not really the point. The point is to give a troupe of good actors the opportunity to show off their comedic talents. By and large, Penfold's actors do this quite well under the direction of Beth Burns. Plays like Servant are a rare opportunity for actors to ham it up for all it's worth – play gags directly to the crowd, run wild, and insert as many jokes about bodily functions as they can reasonably fit into a two-hour play.

This production isn't as polished as most of Penfold's other shows, and it might have been helped by a little more precision and focus in the staging. Comedy like this requires huge stores of energy, but it also needs a teaspoon of discipline to create a memorable performance – as when Nathan Jerkins, playing the innkeeper Brighella, finds those rare moments of calmness to deliver a quick and surprising quip. More of that balance would help.

Yet it's a small complaint, especially when measured against the audience's response. As I sat on my blanket on the lawn during the second act, I happened to look over to see a family sitting together. In front, the two school-age daughters watched the show with rapt attention, smiling in the way you do when you've forgotten where you are. To that end, Penfold's show is a success and a treat for the community they are looking to serve.

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