Carlo Goldoni (1707-93) was considered the founder of modern Italian comedy when he elevated the street humor of traditional commedia dell’arte to the drawing-room sophistication of revered 17th century French dramatist Moliere. Director Beth Milles has gone back into the streets in this irreverent, highly entertaining rendering of Goldoni’s classic, “The Servant of Two Masters.” Though the commedia shtick and slap-stick occasionally cross over into self-indulgence, Milles’ talented ensemble certainly knows where the laughs are.
Tony-winning set designer Richard Hoover (“Not About Nightingales”) has created a wide, obstacle-less platform in the outdoor parking lot area of Santa Monica’s art complex Bergamot Station. Milles (who staged the Broadway production of Julia Sweeney’s “God Said, Ha!”) makes excellent use of the space, allowing her troupe to race with controlled frenzy through Goldoni’s complex plot, while always making sure the audience is clued in on the shenanigans.
Set in Venice, the action hinges on the efforts of merchant Pantalone (Hamilton Camp) to marry off his daughter, Clarice (Lisa Akey). Her original betrothed, Federigo from Turin, is reported to have been killed in a duel, and Clarice happily turns her passionate attentions on childhood love, Silvio (Dean Robinson). This meets with the approval of Pantalone and Silvio’s father, the scholarly Dr. Lombardi (Jeff Michalski).
The night of the betrothal announcement sees the arrival of Beatrice (Alison Tatlock), disguised as her deceased twin brother, Federigo. Complicating matters is her servant, Truffaldino (Daniel Passer), whose good-natured greed and ravenous appetite serve to thwart everyone’s intentions, including those of his second master, Beatrice’s love, Florindo (Alastair Duncan), who has followed his lady from Turin.
For the most part, Passer’s Truffaldino orchestrates the action about him with an appealing mixture of self-serving ignorance and comically inept connivance. He is at his best when attempting to scheme his way out of a lie when he has been found out. Passer’s incorporating the audience into Truffaldino’s schemes doesn’t always service the plot, however. One bit with chewed bread is extended way beyond its comical relevance to the piece.
The supporting cast is superb. Tatlock and Duncan are perfect as the haughty but clueless foils who cannot begin to keep up with Truffaldino’s double-dealings. Camp and Michalski offer hilarious, dead-on portrayals of commedia stock characters, the pugnacious, miserly merchant and the over-educated pedant, respectively.
Akey has a marvelous, cat-like presence as the hot-to-trot merchant’s daughter, Clarice. Also lending solid support are Regan Forman as Clarice’s liberated maid Smeraldina, and Douglas Weston as the temperamental, knife-wielding innkeeper.