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: Low Pay? No Pay! (Piccolo Theatre)

The workers’ sweet revenge

 Piccolo Theatre of Evanston - Low Pay, No Pay 001

   
Piccolo Theatre presents
  
Low Pay? No Pay!
  
Written by Dario Fo
Directed by John Szostek
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main, Evanston (map)
through October 23  |  tickets: $15-$25 |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

This may be the worst of all possible times to be a banker, broker, or “master of the universe.” Masters of disaster, more like it, since the economic crisis has revealed as never before what a house of cards our financial system has been, what a gambling den deregulation has turned the stock market into, and furthermore, what a perfidious and ineffectual democracy we have in its wake. Into the fray comes Piccolo Theatre with its ribald production of Low Pay? No Pay!, a slapstick comedy by Italian playwright and Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo. Be prepared for Italian socialism on the rocks. Director John Szostek and cast certainly rock it till it pops.

Of course, if you’re a Tea Partier or Rush Limbaugh or you still think that unregulated capitalism is the only cure for what ails us, this may not be your kind of comedy. No, it’s a play for taxpayers looking for a little comic revenge against the capitalist system, even if they’re not so sure about the alternatives. Come one, come all! –to Dario Fo’s manic festival of jibes against financial shell games, irresponsible political parties, battling ideologies and the hysterically desperate tactics of the working poor trying to survive. Oh, and let’s not leave out slams against religion.

Low Pay Don't PayAntonia (Brianna Sloane) and Margherita (Amy Gorelow) return home to Antonia’s apartment, laden with groceries. Antonia has just stolen them in a shoppers’ rebellion from the local supermarket. Prices have escalated to twice as high as in the last month and the working class Italian housewives aren’t taking it anymore.

Since a riot has broken out and Antonia and Margherita have gotten away with some of the booty, Antonia has to hide her stash before her law-and-order working class husband, Giovanni (Ken Raabe), gets home. Margherita stuffs her share of food under her coat, creating an all-too-noticeable bump that Giovanni can’t help but notice when he comes home. Antonia lies to her husband, telling him that Margherita is pregnant. But Giovanni cannot understand why his friend and co-worker Luigi (Glenn Proud), who is also Margherita’s husband, would not tell him about the coming baby. Antonia covers further, by saying that Margherita has been hiding the pregnancy from Luigi.

And so it goes. The lies build up, both on Antonia and Giovanni’s part, and the hilarity ensues over characters trying to maintain them. Old formulas, tried and true–but, still, congratulations to Szostek’s well-honed cast. Prepare to see pairings as classic as Lucy and Ethel, Rickie and Fred or, for the guys, Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. In American terms, Low Pay? No Pay! is “I Love Lucy” meets “The Honeymooners” meets Inspector Clouseau—only this Inspector (David W.M. Kelch) is Italian, is a bit quick with the handcuffs and his mustache keeps falling off.

Low Pay Don't Pay Low Pay Don't Pay

Ken Raabe reprises his role as Giovanni from Piccolo’s inaugural production. His confidence and expertise with the role shines through. Amy Gorelow’s frustrated and run-around Margherita is a delightful, sweet gal pal to Sloane’s chatty and devious Antonia. Kelch does yeoman-like work in four different roles—my favorites were his Undertaker and Old Man. Proud’s performance as Luigi is as nice a prole as they come. Joel Thompson brings up the rear with his turn as the Inspector’s assistant police officer; only his comic timing could use some refining. Thank goodness he really sells the officer coming out of the closet. Goofy, good-natured fun is the key to Szostek’s direction. As much as upper class institutions and their political lackeys get their comeuppance, the whole cast keeps the comedy light, silly and fast-paced.

Lucky for them, the playwright allows changes in his material in order to keep up with our current events. Only the play’s ending doesn’t translate so well from its Italian origins. That’s because Italy’s social and political reality is not ours; its modern cultural creations could never be an easy fit for Americans who don’t know their history. All the same, these last 10 minutes are more than forgivable for a full two-hours of comic revenge. Piccolo’s revival is well worth that.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

 Low Pay Don't Pay

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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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