‘Servant of Two Masters’ makes for foolish, frivolous fun

By Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ –Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters,” in a rousing translation and adaptation by Bonnie J. Monte, has the outdoor audience at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey laughing and clapping all the way through.

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The yearly production, held at the amphitheatre on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth, is always a great way to merge an evening of theatre with a picnic supper and moonlight.  When a couple of planes fly overhead, the actors freeze, dash or dance as incidental music breaks in to create a pause.

James Michael Reilly is the constantly frenetic servant, Truffaldino, who thinks he can serve two masters for twice the money and twice the dinners, too. Reilly never lets a moment go by that he doesn’t try to manipulate the situation, usually with muddled results. He often engages the audience in his efforts to extricate himself from all this mayhem. The action is fast and furious, as misguided lovers and complicated goings-on carry the tale.

It seems Clarice (Miranda Rizzolo) is engaged to Silvio (Russell Sperberg) and they are very much in love. But her father, Pantalone (Jay Leibowitz) has received information that a former suitor, who he thought was dead, appears to be alive. So now he decides his daughter should marry him.  Silvio’s father, Dottore (Ralphael Nash Thompson) is furious at this change in the wedding plans. Sperberg as Silvio is especially over-the-top in his determination to avenge whoever stands in his way to win back Clarice.

But the former suitor who appears is actually the dead man’s sister, Beatrice (Izzie Steele). She has disguised herself as her brother to collect the dowry that had been promised him. (Beatrice knows that the money would never be given to a woman.)  Steele is effective as the disguised suitor, although at times her voice doesn’t project as much as it could.  She brings along her just-hired servant, Truffaldino. He is immediately smitten with Smeraldina (Aurea Tomeski), the flirtatious maid in Pantalone’s house.

Unknown to Beatrice, Florindo Arestusi (Tug Rice) has just appeared on the scene. They are in love, but through one complication after another, mainly due to that rascally servant, they each think the other is dead.

Connor Carew as Brighella is the chef at the inn and an especially hilarious scene ensues when Truffaldino attempts to serve dinner to his two masters in two different rooms. The porters/waiters, Alexander Emond and Benjamin Lang, are equally hilarious in their pantomimed reactions. Abby Carroll is the maid who seems to be about the only level headed person around.

Doug West has directed this free- for-all, which zips right along. With actors running up and down stairs, vivid costumes by Paul Canada and a versatile set of a Venetian courtyard by Jonathan Wentz, the audience can’t help but be engrossed in the outlandish scrapes and stories. The musical interludes have their own appeal, with audience members clapping along.

 “The Servant of Two Masters” continues through July 29. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.