Christopher John Falcioni ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
When we go to a play, we often want different things. We might want to be enlightened, we might want to cry, we might want a catharsis or to be amazed by the spectacle of it all. But often when we go to a comedy, the main thing that we want is to be transported for a while, and experience a little bit of magic to escape from our lives into theatre.
This is exactly what The Servant of Two Masters, expertly directed by Christopher Bayes, does in a grand way.
It’s hard to make a comedy enjoyable for everyone. There’s always a risk of relying too heavily on one aspect comedy: focus on plot, pop culture references, gimmicks, music, singing and dancing, love, improvisation, or sentimentality singularly might let the rest be forgotten or left to dry. Not so here, as you get all of this and a LOT more packed into the seemingly brief two-and-a-half hour extravaganza. The story, an excellent classic farce by Carlo Goldoni, involves star-crossed love, mistaken identities, and tons of improvisation. One of the best things about the show is that it never stays in one place for too long a time, but doesn’t feel rushed. It’s an incredibly well-paced work and the cast’s improvisation (as Goldoni reserves giant spaces in the text for improvised events) brings our world into theirs and allows us to laugh at everything and anything we can laugh at. Nothing is off limits, from Beyoncé to the Green Line to Emerson itself. Saying too much about the jokes might ruin the surprise, but it’s safe to say that the show feels just as risqué as the show might have been in 1743.
At the same time as the show is well-timed and improvised, it’s also fast-paced and incredibly choreographed. Christopher Bayes, director of The 39 Steps, brings his tight choreography and his take on “Comedia Dell’Arte” to a new level, with blink-and-miss-it moments, gags only previously seen in cartoons, and impeccable timing with the insanely talented musicians Carolyn Boulay and Aaron Halva. It is nearly impossible to single out a single actor in this show as the true strength in it comes from the sense of ensemble. There is hardly ever a beat missed, a jump untimed, or a note missed – Yes, there is singing here, too, and it’s fully sung opera that often stops the show. But don’t be mistaken, there are some pretty incredible singular performance. Watch out for Allen Gilmore as Pantalone made one of the actors break character after a particularly ridiculous improvised moment during the night I saw the show, and though Clarice has a relatively small role, Adina Verson savors her moments and delights with endless energy. Of all the characters, it’s obvious that Steven Epp’s Truffaldino (The Servant) is a major part of the show, and unlike many other characters he is allowed several precious moments on stage alone to steal the show. Like a speaking Dopey from Snow White, Epp brings out the very best in all of his scene partners and brings a little bit of sympathy to his comedy and eventually makes the entire theatre smile.
Lighting and set design is just as smart and lightning-paced as the directing, actors and musicians. It’s incredible to see how everything just clicks together to create a truly transformative theatre experience. The show opens with the magic of the theatre literally escaping into the theatre, and by the end of the night it’s clear that the magic has certainly touched the actors onstage and much of the audience, too.