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Ready to escape the exasperations of the political season? Longing to ignore the beginnings of the New Cold War? Need to laugh about something? Hie yourself to Chapel Hill’s Deep Dish Theater for the company’s new production of the 18th century classic, The Servant of Two Masters. Carlo Goldoni wrote the all’s-well-that-ends-well comedy in 1743 as a simple format for improvisation by stock commedia dell’arte characters; his later, fully scripted version of Il Servitore di due Padroni is used here (translation by Edward J. Dent). The play is sometimes called Arlecchino Servitiore di due Padroni, which clues us that the servant will have attributes of the harlequin clown, who brings not only happiness but frequent reversals of the standard order of things, for our consternation and amusement.
Laurie Wolf gives a delightful performance of that clowning servant, Truffaldino; and that wonderful performance is the engine that runs the show. The story, such as it is, hangs on the ever-hungry Truffaldino taking on a second master in hopes of eating more. His subterfuges and convolutions become more and more extreme as he struggles to get at the food and not be found out. Luckily, his two masters were looking for each other; and when identities are revealed, all parted lovers are reunited. The moral difficulties of divided loyalty are glossed over, but hey, who cares, when love conquers all?
Out of the pantheon of regional actors, director Derrick Ivey could not have chosen better than Laurie Wolf for this role. No trifling Truffaldino she, despite her consumption of the entire trifle pudding meant for her master (but which?!?). Wolf’s early theater work was all in mime; she brings those skills to this large speaking part with great effect. Abetting Wolf in some classic clowning are the inimitable Lamont Reed as Portino, an inn porter with attitude and ability to do backflips, and Steve Dobbins as the cook/inn owner Brighella. Dobbins brings his comic timing and deadpan antics from his experience in musical comedy; he was very funny. When these three started juggling the dishes, I wanted to stand up and cheer.
The entire production is stuffed with physical comedy and frothy excess — everything is far enough over the top to assure that we don’t ever sink into expectations of naturalism or reality. Flynt Burton as Clarice is, perhaps, a hair too shrill in her repeated tantrums; but they suit her beloved Silvio (Lance Waycaster), who is even more absurd, and contrast with the cool control of Beatrice (Susannah Hough, cross-dressed as her dead brother, Federigo). Dorrie Casey is a hoot as Silvio’s mother, Dottor Lombardi — whirling around in her cloak and whapping everyone in the face with her horizontally positioned hat feathers. Tall Hampton Rowe is convincing as the dashing Florindo, the kind of guy a bold girl like Beatrice would run after, even after he killed her brother. Thom Gradisher as the miserly and opportunistic Pantalone, Clarice’s father, adds just enough weight to the production to keep it from floating away like a cream puff. Much enjoyable by-play comes from Lenore Field, in the role of Clarice’s servant Smeraldina — who is smitten by Truffaldino. Oh, and there’s an invisible character, Pasquale.
The whole thing is a grand piece of silliness, without a mean bone in its body or a dark thought in its mind. Leaving the theater, my companion noted that she hadn’t thought about any of her problems for almost three hours! I’m all for deep and edgy theater, but there are many ways to improve the world: Filling rooms with laughter is one of them. It will be easy to do your part in that respect at Deep Dish’s enjoyable opening production of its eighth season.
Deep Dish Theater Company presents The Servant of Two Masters Thursday, Aug. 21, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, Aug. 22-23, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 24, at 2 p.m.; Wednesday-Thursday, Aug. 27-28 and Sept. 3-4 and 10-11, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, Aug. 29-30 and Sept. 5-6 and 12-13, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 31 and Sept. 7, at 2 p.m. in the space beside Branching Out at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $16 ($12 for students and $14 for seniors), except Cheap Dish Night on Aug. 27th (door sales only). 919/968-1515 or etix through the presenter's site. Deep Dish Theater Company: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/current.htm. Note: There will be post-show discussions on Aug. 24th and 31st, plus a preshow “Meet the Play”talk on Aug. 29th.