Sunday, November 15, 2015

"A Servant to Two Masters" - A Gleeful Gallimaufry of Merriment

Cast of "A Servant of Two masters" Photo Credit: PittsburghPublic Theater
     Like a plot that sizzles with fast-moving puns, twists and turns through a labyrinth of comic narrative and sparkles with absurdist wisecrackery sprinkled with a generous dollop of slapstick? Oh, and did I mention a bit of lascivious ribaldry thrown in as an erotic tease?
"A Servant of Two Masters" in its original form may date back to 1746 when playwright Carlo Goldoni peppered his script with these potent elements - evidently genuine and time-proven crowd-pleasers. An updated revision by British writer, Lee Hall, seems to have passed on the Italian playwright’s antique comedy to the present generation, all the while keeping its freshness, bite and funnybone tingling humor intact.
Now getting a staging at the O’Reilly Theater, Hall’s play, which premiered in England 16 years ago, is a wild evening of amusing entertainment played with irresistible energy by a pack of impeccable actors.
Set in 1965 Venice, Italy, the play opens on an almost cartoonish black and white set by James Noone that represents the facade of an inn. Into this rather colorless backdrop pours a melange of characters dressed in brilliantly colorful and dazzling outfits by costumer, Amy Clark, each one contributing their own unique splash of visual pizzazz.
    There’s Pantaloon (Bill Buell), an aging curmudgeon who’s daughter, Clarice (Erin Lindsey Krom) is engaged to the brash Silvio (Patrick Cannon), a young man earnestly in love but sadly lacking in emotional maturity. Their impending betrothal is threatened by the arrival of Beatrice (Jessic Wortham) in the disguise of a man who’s seeking her lost lover, Florindo (David Whalen).
The man Beatrice is disguised as is her brother, killed in a duel by Florindo, who was once betrothed to Clarice. Beatrice’s plan is to collect Clarice’s dowry, then use it to run off with and marry Florindo.
    If all this gets a bit confusing, consider the possibilities for even more confusion on the part of the characters as Goldoni/Hall work their narrative magic throughout this 2-1/2 hour romp (including intermission) of comic mayhem.
 
Daina Michelle Griffith and Jimmy Kieffer
  But wait. The best is yet to come with the entrance of Truffaldino, an imposing hulk of a man, gentle in spirit, but with a definite taste for chicanery. As servant to Beatrice, it’s not long before he seizes the opportunity to serve another master simultaneously in the form of Florindo, Beatrice’s paramour. To make things even more deliciously complicated, both Beatrice and Florinda hole up at the same inn, run by the buffonish Brighella (played with delightful panache by Bob Walton).
    Note: Ingeniously, Noone’s set rotates on a track to serve as both the exterior and the interior of the inn.
    The keystone to successfully orchestrating this comedy of mistaken identities and impossible situations is Truffaldino, remarkably played by Jimmy Kieffer with a faultless sense of comic timing and a winning amiability despite his character’s mercenary propensities.
    A hulking jester with an large appetite for both food and the comely Smeraldina, Pantaloon’s sassy and saucy house maid, this Truffaldino  relies more on his quick wit than his imposing physique to juggle his way through  a sequence of impossible quandaries propelled by the impossible task of serving two masters simultaneously.
    His biggest moment of the evening, however, came not with his wily series of stratagems but with a lip-sync rendition of "O Solo Mio," which he belted out seemingly spontaneously with gleeful intensity.
    In the understated role of Smeraldina, Daina Michelle Griffith plays a delightful tart, flouncing her irresistible amorous charms in front of the bedazzled Truffaldino and, judging by the applause level at curtain call, winning her way into the hearts of the audience as well.
    Director Ted Pappas adds plenty of non-scripted comic alchemy of his own to the show, earmarking the characters with gestures, facial expressions and non-verbal hijinks that add even more to the overall levity.
    In short, the play is a "masterful" accomplishment, one sure to bring a chuckle or two from the belly of even the most irascible of sourpusses.
    Pittsburgh Public Theater’s "A Servant to Two Masters" is at the O’Reilly Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh through Dec. 6. For tickets phone 412-316-1600 or visit website www.ppt.org.

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