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A CurtainUp NJ Review
The Servant of Two Masters
It's not possible to contemplate happiness when I'm enveloped in so much pain— Clarice
James Michael Reilly as Truffaldino and Aurea Tomeski as Smeraldina. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia)
It was one of the more recently beastly hot nights in the old town of Convent Station. But the challenging comfort level didn't stop the earnest, heavily-costumed cast of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's out-door production of The Servant of Two Masters  from racing up and down the stone steps of the amphitheatre on the beautiful grounds of the College of St. Elizabeth. Rigorous romping and racing about are among the more essential elements deployed to keep director Doug West's staging of Bonnie J. Monte's adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's classic farce on its designated course.

  Reconsidered from the last time it was seen in this accommodating venue where many attendees choose to include a pre-show picnic on the great lawn as part of their pastoral experience, this entirely new production boasts flurries of post-classical vernacular such as "What the hell is going on here." That, of course, is the whole perspective behind the farcical and more often facetious doings that remain fixated with 18th Century Venice. The handsome multi-hued setting designed by Jonathan Wentzy is notable for the way it facilitates the numerous exits and entrances in this kind of freewheeling farce.

  While one has to admire director Hughes' decision to flavor Monte's broadly modernized text with its obeisance to Commedia dell-arte accompanied by dollops of pure slapstick, the result is too often overkill. If timing is famously a key to the success of this genre, it was yet, at the performance I attended, to be integrated with either pace, grace or style. As led by the usually excellent farceur James Michael Reilly as the titular and most prominent clown Truffaldino, the entire company can be seen making a gallant effort to embrace and sustain all the prescribed posing and posturing imposed upon them by the director. In other words, the seams are showing.

  Missing most in this staging is the element of spontaneity and surprise. Because of this, all the action looks studied. The result is that most of the antics are not as funny as they should be. The forgivably silly plot revolves around the wily Truffaldino's plan to get an extra meal and double pay if he serves two masters. But dinner is delayed quite a bit as he finds himself navigating a course which involves the fate of mismatched and separated lovers. Throw in a couple of mistaken identities and you have all that you need to know.

  The biggest laughs occured whenever a plane flew overhead prompting the players to stop dead in their tracks and position themselves as on a gondola and to start rowing until the noice abated. On a positive note, Paul Canada's costume designs were pleasingly whimsical. All technical aspects were in keeping with the STNJ tradition of excellence. Despite its flaws, this shtick-stuffed comedy does contain the ingredients of family entertainment.

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The Servant of Two Masters by Bonnie J. Monte. Translated and Adapted from the play by Carlo Goldoni Directed by Doug West

  Cast: Jay Leibowitz (Pantalone de Bisognosi), Miranda Rizzolo (Clarice), Raphael Nash Thompson (Dottore Lombardi), Russell Sperberg (Silvio), Issie Steele (Beatrice Risponi), Tug Rice (Florindo Aretusi), Connor Carew (Brighella), Aurea Tomeski (Smerladina), James Michael Reilly (Truffaldino), Abby Carroll (Maid), Alexander Emond (Porter/Waiter), Benjamin Lang (Porter/Waiter)
  Scenic Designer: Jonathan Wentz
  Costume Designer: Paul Canada
  Lighting Design: Rachel Miner Gibney
  Sound Design: Warren Pace
  Production Stage Manager: Christine Whalen
  Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes including intermission
  Outdoor Stage: The Greek Theatre at 2 Convent Road (Convent Station), Florham Park, N.J. (located on the campus of Saint Elizabeth)
  Tickets: $38.00 Call 973 - 408 - 5600
  Performances: Tuesday through Sundays at 8 pm; with a special twilight performance on Sundays at 4:30 pm.
  From 6/20/18 Opened 06/27/18 Ends 07/29/18
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 06/27/18

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
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