From the Everything But The Kitchen Sink Department comes New Village Arts Theatre’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 commedia dell’arte piece The Servant of Two Masters. For two and a half unbridled hours, the NVA stage in Carlsbad features: slapstick, actors in drag, one-liners of the “And Don’t Call Me Shirley” variety, fart jokes, sight gags, a chase to the old “Benny Hill” TV theme song, contemporary references to pop culture and icons, puns, pratfalls, double entendres and more. Much, much more.
This adaptation must have been a blast to write or co-authors AJ Knox, who directs, and Samantha Ginn, who stars as the eponymous servant doing double duty. The sessions had to have been something like “Let’s try this!” “Yeah! Then let’s do this!” “And then how ‘bout this?!”
Fact is, not everything works in a show this long and rambling. How could it? There’s enough material for two “Naked Gun” movies and a Monty Python sketch or three thrown in for good measure.
What does work is Ginn’s performance. Her ferocious energy, lightning-fast wit and breathless physicality make The Servant of Two Masters watchable, even in its excess, every second she’s onstage. Robin Williams would be proud of a performance as frantically creative as Ginn’s.
Never mind the original Goldoni story of disguise, romance and the machinations of Truffaldino the servant on which this adaptation is based. That narrative, deconstructed for modern-day relevance and hipness, is just a pretext for the many characters to frolic and have fun, often at each other’s expense. Besides Ginn, there are worthy performances from fellow cast members Tony Houck (like Ginn and Knox an NVA artistic associate) as a spurned bridegroom with a pink bicycle, and gruff-voiced Max Macke, who’s dressed up as the unlikeliest female in creation as Truffaldino’s love interest Smeraldina
Cast members repeatedly remind the audience in wink-wink fashion that this is a play and certainly not one to be taken very seriously. Going into The Servant of Two .Masters expecting a courtly costume comedy would be a grave mistake indeed. This is escapist entertainment of the wackiest kind.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 4/24/19.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.