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Venetian Bind

Towson Players Navigate a Complicated Comedy Through the Canals of Venice

Stranglers, But Not Stragglers: Candice Zent, Jürgen Hooper, and the rest of the Towson Players cast face a lot of challenges, but they never choke.

By Josephine Yun | Posted 3/12/2003

The Servant of Two Masters

Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters, currently in production at Towson University's Center for the Arts, is a laugh in two acts. This past Saturday, the undergraduate cast gave a successful performance to a near-full house, proving that the play, written more than 250 years ago, is still funny.

Venetians Clarice (Candice Zent) and Silvio (Jürgen Hooper) are engaged. They're in puppy-eyed love, but Clarice had originally been slated to marry Turin native Federigo. That is, until Federigo was killed in a duel by Florindo (John Marcus Pruitt), his sister Beatrice's lover. Post-duel, Florindo and Beatrice (Cindy Madden) become understandably estranged. So to get out of Turin, Beatrice disguises herself as her dead brother and arrives in Venice searching for Florindo, who is rumored to be there. Since one of Federigo's connections in Venice was Clarice's father, Pantalone (Nicholas Williams), the man everyone thought dead shows up at the Pantalones with letters of credit to prove his identity. Meanwhile, Beatrice's servant Truffaldino (Ian Christopher Belknap) almost instantly gets the hots for Clarice's maidservant Smeraldina (Jill Olson). Pantalone, dazed, re-engages Clarice to Federigo/Beatrice, nullifying her promise with Silvio. Clarice is crushed.

At the local inn, the servant Truffaldino stumbles upon another servant who can't do his job. The servant is that of Florindo, who is, it turns out, indeed in Venice, pining for his beloved Beatrice (who herself is disguised as her dead brother Federigo, whom he killed in a duel, right?). Hungry for more than food, Truffaldino grabs the unwieldy opportunity to serve two "masters" at once: Beatrice and Florindo. That means two sets of tips and two salaries. To keep the double luck flowing, he can't let either master know that the other one exists. Simultaneously, Beatrice needs to pose as Federigo long enough to find Florindo, but not so long that she will actually end up married to Clarice. At the inn, Truffaldino mixes up Florindo's and Beatrice's luggage. When confronted separately by each, he says the questionable items were from a former master who died. Florindo and Beatrice scram to the inn's kitchen for suicide butcher knives, each thinking the other is dead.

The roles are exaggerated, yes, but the acting is spectacular. Pruitt is haughty and imposing as the wickedly snobby Florindo, hilarious in his sniveling love for Beatrice. Paul Jerue's Il Dottore--Silvio's flatulent father--has the audience giggling and bracing themselves each time he walks onstage. Olson shines as Smeraldina, particularly in her monologue and imitation of Pantalone; Zent is comically love-struck, wretchedly miserable, and offended as Clarice. Madden seems more comfortable acting Federigo than Beatrice, but she also could have been given a more flattering dress. Hooper and Williams play pansy Silvio and doofy, slightly senile Pantalone well, and Belknap is dauntingly, near-obnoxiously gregarious as a coarse and grungy, quick-thinking, but not terribly bright Truffaldino.

The costumes have a 1920s flapper/vaudeville twist, which accents and adds further gaiety to the production. Platinum blonde Clarice's getup is especially stunning in turquoise and pearls. Performers actively engaged the audience with stage mistakes (maybe planned, who knows?), a bit of pre-act schmoozing, and candy-throwing, along with solo turns by Truffaldino and Smeraldina. The consistency with which actors play their parts is remarkable and comic (particularly with Florindo and Il Dottore), though Smeraldina seems more a servant's type than Truffaldino.

The audience knows this play can't end in tragedy; it's a comedy. Still, the cast skillfully manages to bring them along for the crazy ride, keeping them fixed in laughter and suspense. Throughout the show, one is unsure about rooting for the duplicitous Truffaldino, but in the end, it all comes down to love. Everyone in this production obviously relishes their parts, and their combined talent carries the show, causing an old script to naturally bloom in new times. The resultant revamp is seemingly effortless, infused with enthusiasm and simply delightful.

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