It is advertised as Theatre Under The Stars, but when Barbara and I went to see the play in Strathcona park last night we had a moon too. During the intermission we could see it shining on the Rideau River that flows past that outdoor theatre. We were lucky not to have the play interrupted by a thunderstorm: Ottawa being very hot and humid just now (feels like 40 during the afternoons).
The Odyssey Theatre production of Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters, translated into modern English and set in 1950s rather than 1740s Venice, is a brilliant success, true to the farcical spirit of the original. The same company had in fact put on a performance of this same comedy, years ago; I remember going to see it, also at Strathcona Park. This year's director had played the part of the servant in that former production and had been inspired to come up with his own version.
Last night's performance began 15 minutes late, a decision made by the stage manager to avoid some of the extreme heat that was starting to diminish; the actors had to engage in plenty of physical action, some of them in several layers of clothing as well as Venetian masks with big noses. Barbara and I had climbed up to the back row of the rickety scaffolding to which the audience's benches were fixed, to sit just in front of the lighting crew. From there, we had an excellent view, with my bottles of water to keep us hydrated. Two lucky raffle ticket holders got "the best seats in the house" as a prize (comfortable patio chairs) while the rest of us had to make do with cushions we had brought along or padded MEC camping chairs with backs, a good idea for the theatre company, MEC and the people who rented them for the evening, we thought.
The stage set, designed by the same man who'd created the masks, included a scaled down canal full of water, from which objects were fished and the characters splashed water around from time to time, to hilarious effect. It was proper slapstick farce, stylishly done, and sometimes in slow motion. To match the exaggerated speeches and asides, every gesture was ridiculously over-the-top and mime techniques were lavishly used. The main character, the servant of the title, Truffaldino, was played by a professional clown, Jesse Buck, who had previously worked for 5 years in the Cirque du Soleil. The actor who played Brighella, the portly but sprightly landlord of the tavern, also happened to be a magician, who showed off his conjuring skills during this production. All the characters danced, the maid Smeraldina particularly well. The girl in drag, Sarah Finn as Beatrice, did an excellent job pretending to be a twin brother. The two young men in the play, Silvio and Florindo, leapt around admirably, Florindo vaulting over the theatre's fence at one point, and lamented the downturns in their fortune with ludicrous gestures. There was a wild scene where both Florindo and Beatrice tried to stab themselves, Brighella frustrating the thrusts of their shared dagger with a broom, a breakstick and a long sausage. Great use of the props, here!
Some ad-lib lines crept in, Brighella telling everyone in the feasting scene that he'd arranged for fireworks when the noise from the Sound of Light show on the Ottawa River threatened to upstage the drama by the Rideau River; the audience got the joke.
We'd been warned not to sit on the front row for fear of getting wet. This turned out to be when Truffaldino spat out his "wine" to a great distance. He spat bits of soggy bread all over the stage too: deliberately disgusting, but very funny at the time. The children in the audience loved all this, of course, and appreciated the complicated story and the leaping around. A little girl sitting a couple of rows in front of us asked her parents in an excited voice, at the end, "Can we see another one?"