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The Rousuck Review: "The Servant of Two Masters"

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Joshua McKerrow
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Double-dealing, misunderstandings, disappearing funds, important papers lost or shredded – and a little romance. Could be a typical day at any state capital (give or take the romance).

You can see it all right before your eyes in historic Annapolis thanks to Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s delightful production of the commedia dell’arte classic, “The Servant of Two Masters.”

An 18th century Italian comedy might seem an unusual choice for a Shakespeare company, but this comedy is a good fit for its setting – Annapolis’ Reynolds Tavern, which opened in 1747, a year after Carlo Goldoni wrote “The Servant of Two Masters.”

Director Sally Boyett – Annapolis Shakespeare’s artistic director – dresses her actors in pre-Revolutionary costumes: Tri-corner hats for the men and cotton dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts for the women.

Plus, Goldoni’s play is about, as the title says, a servant. So what better place to see it than a restaurant – specifically, the outdoor courtyard at Reynolds Tavern – where patrons are being served.

The title character, a servant named Truffaldino, is constantly hungry. Patrick Truhler, as Truffaldino, at times seems too smooth to be this perpetually bumbling servant – a man so famished and in need of funds, he simultaneously hires himself out to two masters, with comic consequences.

But Truhler is at his funniest when he’s handed a bowl of pudding to serve. He takes a taste, and then another, throwing his head back in ecstasy, hair flying, in a goofy manner reminiscent of “Seinfeld’s” Kramer.

Goldoni’s convoluted plot concerns not only Truffaldino’s secret dual employment, but also one, two and eventually three sets of lovers. The third consists of Truffaldino and a maidservant, played by an amorous Amy Pastoor.

Annapolis Shakespeare’s production is the world premiere of a swift, lively, rhymed adaptation by Timothy Mooney, a Chicago-based writer. Mooney humorously weaves some modern phrases into the text. For example: “We were to rendezvous in the Piazza.” “That’s crazy.” “That’s messed up.” “I see; I got ya.”

Director Boyett lets her cast have fun with some of the near rhymes, deliberately forcing them. She also makes ample use of sound effects –wooden slapsticks, a kazoo, a bicycle horn… And she assigns identifying sound effects to several characters, heard whenever their names are mentioned. The first few notes of the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” are associated with one character; a tiny, ringing bell and swooning women are associated with another.

The director has assembled a close-knit cast of eight actors who keep the tempo and the humor brisk. She and writer Mooney even work some Reynolds Tavern menu items into the script – baked brie, rockfish, fried green tomatoes.

You can enjoy these dishes while you’re enjoying “The Servant of Two Masters” – and trust me, this relatively new Shakespeare Company is so carefully honed, you won’t be tempted to throw even one tomato.

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years. Her feature coverage for The Sun included a comprehensive series chronicling the development of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray.” Judy got her start at The Cleveland Press and at Cleveland’s fine arts radio station, WCLV. Her broadcasting experience also includes a year as an on-air theater critic for Maryland Public Television.