Review: The Servant of Two Masters (Piccolo Theatre)

  
  

Piccolo keeps tradition alive and lively

  
  

Servant 300x250

   
Piccolo Theatre presents
  
The Servant of Two Masters
  
Written by Carlo Goldoni
Directed by
John Szostek
at
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main Street (map)
through April 9  | 
tickets: $25  | more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There’s something refreshing about returning to good, old, broad physical comedy and farce. No jaded irony or hipster coolness impedes its sheer enjoyment; mad-dash energy and pure silliness carries the story along to its positive, if predictable, end. Piccolo Theatre does The Servant of Two Masters the old-style way, with all the Arlecchinotraditional bells and whistles. Take that literally, since benches line the wooden stage, loaded with noisemakers to amplify exaggerated gestures, body movement and wild slapstick typical of commedia dell’arte.

Under the tight direction of John Szostek, Piccolo is determined to give audiences as authentic and bawdy an old-world experience as possible, contrasting charming Italian song from the elegant innamorati (lovers) with the bawdy songs and acrobatic comedy of Truffaldino (Omen Sade). The entire cast acquits their roles with energetic teamwork and enthusiasm, which includes a certain improvisation with Carlo Goldoni’s text. Yet, none are put to the test like Sade–his put upon, wily servant is basically a non-stop cartoon through two vigorous acts. If there is anything to appreciate about Piccolo’s production, it’s the marathon of physical action the players go through for the audience’s enjoyment.

Pantalone (Kevin Lucero Less) is about to marry off his daughter Clarice (Deborah Craft) to Silvio (Glenn Proud), the foppish son of Dottore Lombardi (Joel Thompson). But Truffaldino arrives to interrupt their engagement with news that his master, and Clarice’s original betrothed, waits downstairs. Actually, it is really Beatrice (Denita Linnertz) in men’s dress impersonating her brother, who was betrothed to Clarice before he lost his life in a duel with Beatrice’s lover, Florindo (Tommy Venuti). ArlecchinoDisguised, Beatrice simply hopes to complete a business transaction with Pantalone so that she can use the money to find and assist her lover, who fled after the duel. Cross dressing is only one of the delights of The Servant of Two Masters; mistaken identity galore drives most of the plot as Truffaldino signs on to serving none other than—guess who–Florindo when he arrives in town.

Piccolo’s production exults in these old formulas and executes them with verve. Szotsek has obviously encouraged a take-no-prisoners approach to the playing out the various dinner service sketches, swordfights (fight choreography David W. M. Kelch), and a boffo, knock-down-drag-out wrestling match between Pantalone and the Dottore. However, the production delivers charm as well as energy. The simple pleasure of buffoonery – that is the hearty spectacle that Piccolo achieves in its economically tiny space. In doing so, they enliven a great tradition for future audiences.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

 

Check out more Piccolo Theatre videos

  
  

REVIEW: Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry (Piccolo Theatre)

A royal cat fight

 

Amy Gorelow as Catherine of Aragon Denita Linnertz as Catherine Parr Brianna Sloane as Jane Seymour
 
Piccolo Theatre presents
 
Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry
 
Created by Foursight Theatre, UK
Devised by the Women of
Piccolo Theatre 
at the
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St. (map)
through June 5th | tickets: $15-$20 | more info
 

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Though its been more than 500 years since his rule, England’s King Henry VIII still ranks in the minds of many as one of the most boorish and misogynistic men to ever hold the title of head of state. That’s saying something considering we live in a world that brought us the likes of Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible and Adolph Hitler. Yet unlike these other wretched men, there’s always been a bit of a whimsical fascination with Bluff Harry from Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” to Piccolo Theatre’s production of Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry.

Dani Bryant as Anne Boleyn Originally created by the women of Foursight Theatre in the UK, Six Dead Queens is one part cabaret, one part biography and a whole lot of comedy. It stars the six unfortunate wives of King Henry VIII all forced to spend eternity at a sleepover. Like school-age girls at an overnight, they talk about boys—or rather one particular boy—while poking each other with catty jabs—sometimes in the form of words and sometimes in the form of swords.

The opening scene sets the tone perfectly. As all the women lie concealed under the covers, the silence of the moment is broken by a well-paced series of flatulent outbursts. This dashes any worries that we’re about to be bored by a heady academic romp through history.

Next, each queen is introduced through song. There’s the spicy Spaniard Katherine of Aragon (Amy Gorelow), the beheaded Anne Boleyn (Dani Bryant), little-miss-perfect Jane Seymour (Brianna Sloane), dumb and ugly Anna of Cleves (Leeann Zahrt), the promiscuous Kathryn Howard (Nicole Keating) and the motherly Catherine Parr (Denita Linnertz). The actresses’ multi-part harmony is impressive as is their adeptness with instruments. This talent enhances the humor. What could be funnier than watching the very serious Katherine of Aragon bang out a bass line on an upright?

Characters squabble with one another in catfight fashion. Katherine of Aragon and her successor Anne Boleyn, whom the King tried to court behind Katherine’s back, row as do Boleyn and her successor Jane Seymour, whom bore the King his only son, Prince Edward.

Nicole Keating as Kathryn Howard There’s also ample ganging up. Anna of Cleves gets it the worst, bearing the reputation of being ugly and foul smelling. Her marriage with the King lasted a brief six months, which in the judgmental eyes of the other ladies, makes her inferior.

The play lacks any sort of cohesive plot. Instead, it plays as a series of monologues, musical numbers and sketches. It’s effective for about an hour. But by the end, Six Dead Queens runs out of any new ground to cover.

The actresses all deliver outstanding performances. Through vocal inflection, mannerisms and personality ticks, the women bring to life six unique individuals with completely separate personalities. In addition, the roles call for a sweeping spectrum of dispositions from slaphappy to somber. The performers are able to make the switch effortlessly.

Six Dead Queens is an entertaining intersection of academia and vaudeville. At times uproariously funny, at times remarkably sad, the piece successfully explores how competitiveness can make women their own worst enemies, how comfort can make them their own saviors and how men can be pigs.

 
Rating: ★★★
 
Amy Gorelow as Catherine of Aragon Brianna Sloane as Jane Seymour Dani Bryant as Anne Boleyn Denita Linnertz as Catherine Parr Nicole Keating as Kathryn Howard

Continue reading

Review: Piccolo Theatre’s “Perseus and Medusa: Or it’s all Greek to me!”

Children’s play best-suited for adult audience.

Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me! 

Piccolo Theatre presents:

Perseus and Medusa: Or it’s all Greek to me!

by Jessica Puller
directed by Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane
thru December 19th (ticket info)

reviewed by Keith Ecker

Piccolo Theatre’s new holiday panto, Perseus and Medusa: Or it’s all Greek to me!, is a hilarious parody of the well-known Greek myth about a young, boyish hero who must slay the vile Medusa out of a sense of duty. The slapstick-filled production plays like a bawdy cabaret, with sexual innuendo and gender-bending peppering the piece. Adults will definitely get a kick out of the humor, which includes a character whose name sounds like a part of the female Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me!anatomy. However, much to their dismay, their children may also get a kick out of these same antics, which often are too low-flying to be over even an 8-year-old’s head.

This isn’t to say there is something negative about the baseness of the humor of the play. The original script, written by Northwestern alumni Jessica Puller, is self aware enough to make both the blue humor and the eye-roll-inducing puns entertaining. Its brashness itself is a joke, almost nudging the audience as if to say, “Can you believe we just said that?” This is especially true in a moment where the Dame, a clownish character played by a cross-dressing Andrew Roberts, is collecting dragon snot in a bucket with the plan to sell it as a face cream. Once a bucket is full, she remarks, “It would take me a month to fill that myself.” Although children might not understand, the adult’s in the audience know, we have ceased discussing dragon snot.

And although the piece really is a vehicle for a string of off-color jokes, there is a plot. The liberal retelling centers on Perseus (played by female ensemble member Liz Larsen-Silva), a young boy who just wants to fish. The center of town is the bait shop/hair salon, run by juvenile Linus (Dominic Furry) and Evander (Maxx Miller). The evil king (Vic May) and his daughter Andromeda (Laura Taylor) enter the picture, and, upon first sight, Perseus falls for the princess. In an effort to win her heart and at the request of the King, Perseus sets out to collect the head of Medusa, the mythical villainess whose mere glance turns men into stone.

Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me! Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me! Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me!

From here the play becomes a journey story, with Perseus and his band of comical misfits overcoming challenge after challenge. The Greek god Hermes (ensemble member Leeann Zahrt) makes an appearance to assist the hero, and even the magical horse Pegasus has a cameo. Characters directly address the audience at times, and audience members are encouraged to actively cheer for the good guys and boo for the villains. There are a few song and dance numbers throughout, including a loungey, seductive tune by the voluptuous Danae (ensemble member Vanessa Hughes), who could be at home on top of a piano

The play is separated by an intermission, with the first half dragging on longer than necessary. But overall the script’s pacing is good, though it might cause younger children to squirm in their seats.

The acting is solid, with no weak links in the cast. Roberts delivered a stand-out performance in his role as the clownish Dame. His fluctuating falsetto and wild hand gestures were belly-achingly funny throughout.

Ensemble members Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane shared directing duties, balancing the cast of more than a dozen so that the production never felt cluttered. Their talents really shine in the fight sequence between Hermes and the villainess Nestor (ensemble member Deborah Craft), which is a well-orchestrated example of stage combat and puppetry.

Perseus and Medusa is a fun, fanciful play, but be warned: this children’s theater production might be a little too risqué for its intended audience.

 

Rating: ★★★