Let’s play Master and Servant! Bonnie J. Monte and Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s (STNJ) excellent and timely adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s farce “Servant of Two Masters” is now at the Greek Theatre at the College of St. Elizabeth. When Goldoni wrote his play, it was a refinement of classic Commedia dell’Arte and this 21st century update is brilliant. Grassroots theater at its origin, Commedia dell’Arte was born on the street, yet moved quickly to the conventional theaters, as well-heeled Italian patrons recognized raw talent and director Doug West brings this all to raging life. Archetypes of this Italian specialty hearken to the cast we see before us to create a great comic event.
Gifted STNJ veteran James Michael Reilly is equally adept in serious roles, for this company, and comedy. His work in the recent “Equivocation” was stellar and serious and equally matched by his he-nanigans as the wily Truffaldino, the servant who recognizes that serving two masters means twice the dinners, though not immediately seeing how twice the work might be to his detriment. Reilly is the whole package–his Truffaldino is classically “Arlecchino,” as reflected in his antic physical comedy, with his costume augmenting his words. In one scene, when Brighella (Connor Carew) passes the plate, it will truly take your breath away!
Classically rendered, Paul Canada’s costumes give us the flavor of each stock character, while Jonathan Wentz’ scene design transports us back in time. Rachel Miner Gibney’s lighting gives us the golden glow of yesteryear and Warren Pace’s sound gives us classical guitar music of the time that, before curtain and during intermission, work in concert—pun intended—with the bucolic surroundings. Wealth indeed, to enjoy such riches on a warm Summer night!
Briefly, we have a tale of two lovers, Clarice (Miranda Rizzolo) and Silvio (Russell Sperberg), who are newly-betrothed poppets, crossing into adulthood and acting like two smitten kittens. Literally, kittens! Lovey dovey and cooing one moment, but Clarice has claws and Silvio his sword and they have all the constancy of a weather vane. Pantalone de Bisognosi (Jay Leibowitz)—think about that surname for a moment—is Clarice’s father and, while he initially had her betrothed to another, word of Federico’s untimely demise required a Plan B. Silvio’s father is Il Dottore (Raphael Nash Thompson) and the father is as pompous as his son is incendiary. Leibowitz and Thompson are also long-term company members and have such cleverly nuanced performances, that it is important to watch closely–even if you are lulled by the sultry summer breeze.
Clarice’s maid Smeraldina (Aurea Tomeski) is as much of a schemer as Truffaldino, and like calls to like immediately on a physical and pheromonal level. Smeraldina’s earthy charm and tangible allure draw Truffaldino as much as do the scents of Brighella’s kitchen and sparks ignite when they are near one another.
Rounding out the pairs of lovers are the adventurous Beatrice (Izzie Steele), who travels en masque to obtain her brother Federico’s share of Pantalone’s business, knowing Pantalone would keep it for himself, as her “steward.” She is dressed as Federico since, in the Venice of the time, a woman’s claim to any business would yield her less than nothing. Acting in her brother’s stead as Federico, his clothes literally maketh the Man. She hopes to claim her rightful legacy, even as she seeks to reunite with her lover Florindo (Tug Rice), who is played with verve and a tasty measure of Han Solo-esque flair and a richly figured voice.
You can go to the Outdoor Theatre for the joy of being outdoors and enjoying theatre as the Greeks did, listening to stories of life and love under the stars. With entrances and exits coming through the audience, and actors accented with fireflies and June bugs, the experience is truly stellar or, on the evening that we went, lighted by the rising full Moon. You will adore the w(h)ine of Clarice and Silvio and because you brought a picnic, you’ll have the cheese to go with it! Truffaldino is the hardest working servant in Venice and Reilly’s got him literally leaping off the page. Izzie Steele commands the stage, adjuring Carew’s Brighella to go along with her ruse and in cahootskys together they pull the wool over Pantalone’s and Dottore’s eyes. The players go forth through the fourth wall and the female characters have some memorable words that echo with the zeitgeist of the Women’s March and #MeToo movements. As it was then, it is so today and together we create the change.
Performances on Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m.
, through July 29
, are at the Greek Theater amphitheater on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road in Morris Township. Attention New Yorkers! Take NJ Transit to the Convent Station stop and you are a short walk away–shorter than Penn Station to the Port Authority. Seating is general admission. Come early and bring a folding chair, food and wine to dine under the stars. Do you have children under 18? Tickets are free, sponsored in part by The Merrill G. and Emita E. Hastings Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation. Call 973/408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org
for your tickets today!