Synthetic Unlimited once again achieves success with its creative presentation of “The Servant of Two Bosses,” a play written by Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni in 1743.
Here, Goldoni’s version has been excellently translated and adapted by Grace Fae, who is also the play’s director.
Fae, who is fluent in Italian, interestingly has chosen to keep a number of Italian words and phrases in the play. I very much liked the sound and rhythm of the language, and it never interfered with understanding since she directed her players to amplify their actions to make clear what their Italian words signified.
And since she set the play within Chicago’s 1930s Italian mobster families, the elaborate characterizations fit nicely.
In the classic Italian Renaissance commedia dell’arte tradition, which is comprised of much physical clowning, there are basic stock characters who are amusing, predictable and two-dimensional.
The spectrum of emotions demonstrated reflects a childlike range from giddy joy to tantrum-throwing rage. A commedia actor uses highly stylized, exaggerated mannerisms to portray his chosen character. In this play, most of the stock commedia characters are present — the master, doctor, young lovers, prankster male servant and impudent but charming female servant.
This farce follows Truffaldino, a minion who tries to double his earnings and his feedings — he is always hungry — by working for two bosses, attempting to keep each from knowing his connection to the other. Of course, things don’t go as planned.
Mistaken identities and missed connections lead to all manner of tomfoolery, complete with clowning, slapstick (you’ll see how this term was coined when a large, hinged paddle is used to beat on another character), juggling, cross-dressing, melodrama and star-crossed lovers.
Fae’s direction of her cast, including the nuanced timing necessary to make the fast-paced production work, deserves commendation, as does the actors’ execution of that fine timing. And while all of the actors contributed skillfully to the whole, I especially liked Marcus Arellanes’ charmingly sly but sweet Truffaldino, the servant of the play’s title; Erin Cummisky as his saucy inamorata Smeraldina, a servant; and Scott Young as Pantalone, the witless “don” who never seems to fully comprehend what’s going on.
Adding to the production’s success were the colorful and, at times, outrageous costumes designed by Fae and the stylized and humorous makeup by Annie Friedman and Sierra DeReose. Original music by Craig Palmer and the overwrought fights, coordinated by Nick Fedoroff, also helped set the proper tone.
Although I have previously written that slapstick and farce do not top my theatrical list, when they are well done, they can be visually and humorously entertaining. This production was done well and is to be admired — it provoked repeated laughter from the audience. It is definitely a nice evening’s entertainment.
“The Servant of Two Bosses” continues at The Stonehouse in Nevada City for only three more dates — Thursday (Aug. 29), Friday and Sunday. And be sure to go early to have a drink and dinner and to listen to the lively duo of Beaucoup Chapeau perform in The Stonehouse’s attractive bar.
Hindi Greenberg commends the combination of dining, drinking, music and theater that Synthetic Unlimited has put together for each of its Stonehouse productions. The entire package makes for a full, enjoyable evening.