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
   
   

 

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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

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REVIEW: The Analytical Engine (Circle Theatre)

Steampunk gone silly

 

Patricia Austin, Denita Linnertz, Eric Lindahl and Catherine

 

Circle Theatre, Forest Park, presents:

The Analytical Engine

By Jon Steinhagen
Directed by
Bob Knuth
Through March 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Don’t be afraid of the scientific history implied by the title of Circle Theatre’s world premiere The Analytical Engine — little math or science actually surfaces. A frivolous, Harlequin romance of a play, The Analytical Engine takes a promising concept, a bluestocking American heroine who has actually built the steam-powered calculating machine that mathematician Charles Babbage only imagined, and utterly trivializes it.

Patricia Austin and Denita Linnertz Although he never actually created it, Babbage’s machine forms an important basis in the history of computers, due in no small part to the writings of his disciple Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who wrote extensively about how it might be put to use. That’s the only piece of scientific background you need.

Set in 1850 Connecticut, Jon Steinhagen’s play, which won first prize in the 2009 Julie Harris Playwright Awards, centers on Hippolyta Powell, a mathematically minded young lady who’s constructed the huge, clanking computer in her family barn, much to the consternation of her sardonic, novelist sister and dizzy, artistic mother. Having achieved the technological triumph of her era, Hippolyta does not set it to calculating Bernoulli numbers or composing scientific music, uses proposed by Lady Lovelace, who appears in the play as a haughty and curious visitor, but instead feeds it punched cards delineating hundreds of local bachelors with the aim of finding her perfect mate. Love does not enter into her equations.

If you can get past the utter silliness of the concept, Bob Knuth stages the story with great charm on his absolute dream of a Victorian-era drawing room set (though I’m told it’s virtually identical to the one the theater used for "Little Women"). Gorgeous period costumes by Elizabeth Wislar add still more eye candy.

Catherine Ferraro, Mary Redmon and Patricia Austin Jon Steinhagen and Eric Lindahl
Jon Steinhagen, Mary Redmon and Patricia Austin Patricia Austin and Jon Steinhagen (2)

The pacing could be zippier, but Patricia Austin bubbles as the bouncy, enthusiastic Hippolyta. Catherine Ferraro is wonderfully arch as her literary sister, Marigold, and Mary Redmon shines as their ditzy but sometimes down-to-earth mother.

Denita Linnertz adds elegance as Lady Lovelace. Eric Lindahl seems a bit miscast — too good-humored and fresh-faced — for the role of Nathaniel Swade, the somewhat shady dandy whose card the Analytical Engine chooses a Hippolyta’s top match, while the playwright, Steinhagen, does a perfect job as Eppa Morton, her bumbling teddy bear of a rejected swain.

Yet for all the heft of the never-seen Analytical Engine, this is one fluffy story.

Rating: ★★★

 

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