Opening Nights: The Servant of Two Masters

The Servant of Two Masters

Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 443-2222, $12–$80. Wed.–Sun. Ends Oct. 20.

In this rendition of Carlo Goldoni’s mid-18th-century romp (adapted by Constance Congdon, directed by Christopher Bayes), the plot exists mostly as an excuse to get a bunch of toy-like commedia dell’arte characters together to let rip. Two couples—one thwarted by parental tyranny, the other by a disguise and logistics—have to sort things out with the questionable assistance of free-agenting servant Truffaldino, whose single true loyalty (to filling his belly) provides many of the laughs and whatever tension there is. Bayes has assembled a large, crackerjack cast of able improvisers—some of whom appeared in the original Yale Rep production. All are more than capable of executing the shticky lazzis (gags), slapstick, and rhythmic accidents that become dances. The timing of these bloopers-by-design is crucial, as many are coordinated with sound effects (some provided by a live onstage duo) or with multiple actors who can’t see one another.

There’s much to admire in the craftsmanship here, but the two-and-a-half-hour show still drags. (At Intiman three years back, Bayes’ pithier A Doctor in Spite of Himself ran only 80 minutes.) Even Truffaldino, lithely played by Steven Epp in three-quarter mask and baggy harlequin pajamas, complains about this repeatedly. Fortunately, as per commedia tradition, the performers ad-lib local and contemporary references (including the viaduct-replacement tunnel, “that fucking government shutdown,” and the Heart song “Barracuda”). This helps goose the centuries-old stock characters and plot machinery.

If you’re going to theater to forget you’re at theater, forget it. Katherine Akiko Day’s lovely crumbling marble proscenium and a stage curtain on the stage make that impossible. The point here is frank, savvy artifice, presented in a long barrage. Still, there are memorable pieces: Comic killjoy dad Pantalone (Allen Gilmore) jiggles to get out of a pretzel pose; the sky lights up with Chuan-Chi Chan’s fireflies and stars. If you love light and zany more than dense and intense, this mostly-peanuts nut mix may be for you.

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