Wheaton’s production of ‘The Servant of Two Masters’ is a treat to behold

Masks, stilts, juggling, and slide whistles combine forces in this fast-paced piece of slapstick.
Masks, stilts, juggling, and slide whistles combine forces in this fast-paced piece of slapstick.

The light– literally and figuratively– never dims at Wheaton’s interdisciplinary production of The Servant of Two Masters. Every performance is different, as actors use audience participation to improvise on a plot that already features estranged lovers, impersonation of a dead brother and a foiled double suicide. A kick-off to the 25th academic festival, The Servant of Two Masters shows at Weber Theatre on April 7-9 and 14-16 at 8:00 p.m. and tickets cost $5.

This play, written by Carlo Goldoni in the 18th century is in the style commedia dell’arte which means ‘comedy of the professional artists.’ This style features improvisation, acrobatics and ensemble characters wearing masks. Traditionally, actors learn a stock character and use a basic plot called canovacio to improvise dialogue and perform physical comedy acts known as a lazzi.

According to the Wheaton website, this production is the culmination of nine weeks of work in the courses Ensemble Experiments, Introduction to Lighting Design, Stagecraft, and Costume Construction. “The extensive collaboration was a joy…nearly 50 students contributed with taste, industry, and imagination to Opening Night. I have never directed a more ensemble-oriented show,” said Professor of Theater and Director David Fox.

Fox said that the presence of Chris Truini ’16, who co-directed the play and acts as the servant Truffaldino, was a reason for putting on this production. “Chris is a gifted actor, an inspiring collaborator, a true leader, and recently completed a Study Abroad program in Italy devoted to commedia dell’arte. He, along with five other fellow Dimple Divers, infused the production with improvisational merriment,” said Fox.

Truini, a theatre major, said that Fox approached him about doing this project last spring. During his semester abroad, Truini studied the masked styles, unique form and physicality of Truffaldino. “We worked differently than we normally would for a play, it wouldn’t make sense to sit down and read it without knowing what the physicality is going to be… I had just come back from Italy, I had a lot of knowledge [to share],” said Truini on co-directing this production.

Music director Meghan Dorian’16 who also played Clarice said that the senior theatre majors jumped on board when Fox proposed that this semester’s Senior Seminar class serve as members of the production team. The seminar class was made up of Dorian and Truini, along with makeup designer Anastasia Tammen ’16 playing Smeraldina and Joshua Hong ’16 playing Silvio.

“The show’s non-committal setting allows us as actors and designers to pull inspiration from many time periods and genre’s, so I could show many different ideas,” said Dorian on her role as music director. “I would say that much of my work was about spinning and weaving together numerous strands of material from different people and sources.”

To set-up the carnival-esque atmosphere of the stage, associate professor of theater design Clinton O’Dell approached Liz Broski ’18 as possibly the first ever student scenic designer. “You are responsible for creating the world that the actors participate in. You have to know what everything down to the fine details looks like and be able to create that in some way,” said Broski. As costume designer, O’Dell and students of his costume construction class created the sumptuous clothes, wigs and accessories used in the production.

Shruti Sudarsan ’19 who watched the play said she was initially surprised by the unorthodox way that the actors interacted each other and the audience. “Initially it was jarring. The actors didn’t leave to go backstage and frequently broke the fourth wall. It broadened my idea of what a play should be,” said Sudarsan. On the almost three hour running time she said, “They needed to do justice to the play and I would even watch it again to see how it changes.”

Fox said that so far reception to the production has been nothing but favorable. “My only concern going into the second weekend is running time. Improvisation eats up minutes but they’re [the actors] a great bunch of clowns, let them talk,” said Fox. Truini added that the collaborative nature of the play was “Unique to the college experience, you wouldn’t ever do that in the real world.”