Zach Theatre's One Man, Two Guvnors

In every respect, this production of Richard Bean's updated farce artfully crafts an environment of laughter

Brighton idea: An inspired Francis (Martin Burke, left) with Charlie "The Duck" (Michael Stuart) (Photo by Kirk Tuck)

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Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors, first produced at the National Theatre in London in 2011, is an English adaptation of Il Servitore di Due Padroni (The Servant of Two Masters) that moves Carlo Goldoni's commedia dell'arte play from 1743 Italy to 1960s Brighton.

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As fast and furious as the most basic details of Zach Theatre's latest production are, the play itself ratchets the comedy and complexity to new heights. Fortunately, as staged by Associate Artistic Director Abe Reybold, a mighty cast executes an evening of ribald laughs and theatricality with expert precision.

The show begins about 40 minutes before curtain, with fictional Brit band "The Craze" (Luke Linsteadt leading Eric Gutierrez, Roger Mason, and Zachary Yanez) playing a live rock show as the audience is invited onstage to indulge in a beer and wine bar, all in front of a massive Union Jack. The flag is part of an impressive set by scenic designer Court Watson that eventually opens to reveal a fully realized world; indeed, from start to finish, the set's photo-realistic forced perspective is like nothing I've seen in Austin, creating depth and breadth enough to contain the huge comedy therein.

In this striking environment, Zach regular Martin Burke leads the cast through an irreverent and self-referential romp that includes all the tenets of classic commedia. As Francis Henshall, One Man's version of the traditional harlequin/zanni, Burke manages to ... out-Burke himself, finding new avenues to deploy the impeccable comic timing, improvisational skills, and engagement with the audience that have driven past Zach hits like The Santaland Diaries and Fully Committed. For instance, there are several moments when actors give "asides" directly to the crowd, and Burke frequently demands audience participation in memorable ways. At one point, a hungry Henshall asks if anyone in the house has a sandwich, and sure enough, on the night I attended, someone did. Not one to be caught off guard, Burke wove this joke into various moments throughout the remainder of the show.

His fellow cast members display a like commitment to comedic craft; Amber Quick turns Dolly, the love interest for Burke's Francis, into a sassy, British counterpart to Christina Hendricks' Joan on Mad Men. Amy Downing is delightfully believable as Rachel Crabbe, who spends most of the play disguised as her brother Roscoe, one of Henshall's two "guvnors" who was apparently killed by the other – none other than Rachel's own boyfriend. Adding further complications are Roscoe's engagement to Pauline (Madison Weinhoffer), who really loves Allen (Andre Martin, flamboyant and dramatic), and is watched over by her gangster father, Charlie "The Duck" Clench (Michael Stuart, stoic).

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Solid performances are delivered by Rick Smith, Victor Steele, and Michael Miller as well. However, tough as one might think it is to steal a scene from Burke, Toby Minor pulls it off as Alfie, a doddering old waiter and World War I veteran whose physical comedy must be seen to be fully appreciated. A special nod is due Serret Jensen, whose hair and makeup design fantastically ages Minor and adds a hilarious paunch to Burke.

In every respect, Zach's production crafts an environment of laughter. From the first notes played by the Craze to a curtain call that includes the audience as participants, this One Man, Two Guvnors is an incredible tour de farce.

One Man, Two Guvnors

Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar, 512/476-0541
Through June 26
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

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Zach Theatre, Abe Reybold, Martin Burke, Amy Downing, Amber Quick, Toby Minor, Michael Miller, Luke Linsteadt, Eric Gutierrez, Roger Mason, Zachary Yanez, Court Watson

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