“The Servant of Two Masters, which premieres with a preview show tonight at First Presbyterian Theater and runs through Oct. 27, is a madcap comedy that may provide the perfect distraction from all the political turmoil caused by the upcoming presidential election.
The play, written in the 18th century by Carlo Goldoni, tells the story of a servant named Truffaldino who comes up with a way to double his earnings by serving two masters at once.
Little does he know that one of his masters is actually a woman (Beatrice) disguised as her dead brother. Her brother was killed by Beatrice's lover, whose name is Florindo, who was defending her honor in a duel with her brother.
Florindo ends up being Truffaldino's other master, who hires him when he comes to Venice with Beatrice (in disguise) who is seeking money from her brother's dowry so she can buy Florindo's freedom and marry him.
Thom Hofrichter, who directs and produces this version of the play, couldn't stress enough that audiences will be seeing a very good comedy fueled by outrageous circumstances.
“Over-the-top comedy, ridiculous comedy. Did I mention it's a comedy?,” Hofrichter said in an interview via email.
Seriously, the play comes from the long tradition of the Italian commedia dell'arte, which comes from the wandering players of Rome as far back as 600 B.C.E. There are stock characters and situations, and then the players would go off on contemporary people and events.
“Knowing we were coming into a presidential election, I was quite sure that current events would offer up material to incorporate,” Hofrichter added. “And as usual, our politicians don't disappoint us when it comes to doing things that comedians can make fun of. Unlike the way they disappoint us when it comes to just doing things.”
Hofrichter said he enjoyed working with Jack Cantey, who adapted this version of the play. He convinced Cantey to do the adaptation by himself and then after the play was cast they worked together editing and adjusting, thus coming up with the final version audiences will see.
“I always love working with Jack,” Hofrichter said of their collaboration. “Originally, the plan was to write the first several drafts together. But at our first meeting in June, Jack came incredibly prepared, doing all the things that I had planned to do, but didn't.”
“At first, Thom and I discussed some of the broad actions and themes of the plot,” Cantey said via email. “Then I went away and worked on several drafts. I took basic elements from the original Goldoni script and reshaped them.
“My primary goal was to create a lean, mean plot stuffed with as many jokes and gags as possible,” Cantey said.
“As a rule, I do not write slapstick comedies, but this project was a hell of a lot of fun,” Cantey added. “Thom has a keen sense for stage comedy, so I trusted his insights greatly.”
Both Hofrichter and Cantey believe this play stands the test of time because the characters are timeless.
They say audiences will be able to relate and laugh along with the outlandish situations because, no matter how long ago the play was written, people's foibles are still the same.
“People are every bit as stoopid (yea, I spelled it that way) today as they were 250 years ago when Goldoni wrote this,” Hofrichter said. “And by the way, I'm a person, so I don't exempt myself from the stoopidity.
“Greedy men, silly fathers, pompous blowhards, clueless young lovers, clued-in hormone raging lovers who are a little less young, unhappy workers, etc, are characters that I run into on a daily basis in my life — and, to be honest, that I behave like on (hopefully only) a weekly basis,” he added. “So, the characters are timeless, and we've worked hard to put in some timely gags as well.”
“I think the reason this play is still regularly produced is due to the classic character of Truffaldino,” Cantey noted. “He is kind of like all the Marx Brothers mashed up into one body and one-half a brain.
“I'm excited to see how the actors have made the language their own,” Cantey said of what he is looking forward to seeing on opening night. “Really, though, since this is such a big, brash comedy, I'm most looking forward to hearing the (presumed) laughs from the audience — and to laughing some myself.”