A SERVANT TO TWO MASTERS
by Carlo Goldoni
Directed by Sheila Kay Sly
The play opens with the introduction of Beatrice, a woman who has traveled to Venice disguised as her dead brother in search of the man who killed him, Florindo, who is also her lover. Her brother forbade her to marry Florindo, and died defending his sister's honor. Beatrice disguises herself as Federigo, (her dead brother), so that he can collect dowry money from Pantaloon (also spelled Pantalone), the father of Clarice, her brother's betrothed. She wants to use this money to help her lover escape, and to allow them to finally wed. But thinking that Beatrice's brother was dead, Clarice has fallen in love with another man, Silvio, and the two have become engaged. Interested in keeping up appearances, Pantalone tries to conceal the existence of each from the other.
Beatrice's servant, the exceptionally quirky and comical Truffaldino, is the central figure of this play. He is always complaining of an empty stomach, and always trying to satisfy his hunger by eating everything and anything in sight. When the opportunity presents itself to be servant to another master (Florindo, as it happens) he sees the opportunity for an extra dinner.
As Truffaldino runs around Venice trying to fill the orders of two masters, he is almost uncovered several times, especially because other characters repeatedly hand him letters, money, etc. and say simply "this is for your master" without specifying which one. To make matters worse, the stress causes him to develop a temporary stutter, which only arouses more problems and suspicion among his masters. To further complicate matters, Beatrice and Florindo are staying in the same hotel, and are searching for each other.
In the end, with the help of Clarice and Smeraldina (Pantalone's feisty servant, who is smitten with Truffaldino) Beatrice and Florindo finally find each other, and with Beatrice exposed as a woman, Clarice is allowed to marry Silvio. The last matter up for discussion is whether Truffaldino and Smeraldina can get married, which at last exposes Truffaldino's having played both sides all along. However, as everyone has just decided to get married, Truffaldino is forgiven. Truffaldino asks Smeraldina to marry him.
The most famous set-piece of the play is the scene in which the starving Truffaldino tries to serve a banquet to the entourages of both his masters without either group becoming aware of the other, while desperately trying to satisfy his own hunger at the same time.
Artsbeat Review by George Gunby
Instead they chose to celebrate with a play written by an Italian some 270 years ago. Carlo Goldoni’s comedy ‘A Servant To Two Masters’ is his most popular play. Based upon the Commedia Dell’Arte style of theatre, it has been translated and adapted internationally with at least nine versions in circulation. This version was translated by Lee Hall, best known as the writer of Billy Elliot.
The plot revolves around Truffaldino, a man who is constantly hungry. When the opportunity presents itself, he becomes a servant to a second master, guaranteeing himself two dinners every day. Food is at the centre of his life as he races around Venice trying with increasing desperation to fulfill both masters wishes .
To get the most out of this production I have three suggestions. Firstly, I’d suggest that you forget you are in a ‘theatre’ and imagine that you are in Venice watching theatre on the street. Secondly, do not expect subtlety. These are larger than life characters from a different age. Thirdly, expect to laugh… a lot. The atmosphere is helped when you are greeted by ‘masks’ as you enter the hall and the music adds autheticity.
Director Sheila Kay Sly has assembled a highly talented cast who obviously share her vision of the piece. She should be applauded for undertaking it. Equally, Belper Players deserve plaudits for backing the play. The Players have access to a rich vein of performers and this has been reflected in the quality and divergence of productions during the past few years. It is a golden period for them and A Servant To Two Masters continues the excellence.
Larry Waller is in his element as Truffaldino. He revels in the role which is both wordy and physical. His involvement with the audience certainly adds to the feel of street theatre. I’m also going to single out Megan Gibson (Clarice) for a special mention. Her scene with the excellent Kay Swann (Smeraldina) in the First Act was a comic masterclass. And it’s worth the price of admission to see Sarah Holme as the constantly chuntering Waiter.
The cast features Ben Turner, Paul Davies, Jeremy Crane, Alyson Koe, Keren Adler, Josh Sly and Roger Whiting.
Jamie Vella is to be congratulated on the excellent lighting and sound with Alan Kennedy supplying the original music.
In conclusion, I’d urge you to go and see A Servant To Two Masters. It is a glorious way to celebrate the Players birthday.