In Mitchell Thomas’s new production of The Servant of Two Masters, the action begins outside where dramaturge and outdoor-show director Jessie Drake sets a half-dozen or more small, circus-style acts going, much to the delight and loud acclaim of a mostly student crowd. At the box office window, spinning Halloween noisemakers are issued along with the programs, and the tickets are actually metallic gold masks, many of which get worn immediately and throughout the show by the enthusiastic crowd. It’s all part of the festivities, a perfect late-harvest spectacle with roots in the medieval celebration of the seasons. A full moon completes the scene outdoors while the performers slowly gather inside, awaiting their slapstick cue to begin the craziness.
Having put on a fascinating and antic version of the absurdist farce The Bald Soprano around this time last year, the Westmont theater department now turns to the original absurdist movement in theater for inspiration. Commedia dell’ arte trades in physical comedy, mistaken identity, and the hysterical monologue or tirade, and Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters provides every element in abundance, putting significant demands on the cast, who must caper and tumble as they cajole, connive, and canoodle. As the star of the show and the “servant” of the title, Truffaldino, Reyn Halford gets the job done right and has a great time doing so. From advancing in a lecherous swagger toward the servant girl Smereldina (a hilarious Heather Ostberg) to miming various bodily functions in disgusting detail, to cartwheeling and somersaulting into a full split, Halford goes until he is stopped, and he is not stopped. Reminiscent of a young Jim Carrey at times, Halford nevertheless manages to inhabit the world of 16th-century Italy effectively enough, even when diving for thrown rubber chickens.
Unlike its Elizabethan equivalents, commedia dell’ arte never went in for boys playing women’s roles, and the result is a far more genuine and vigorous form of theatrical cross-dressing, as in the role of Beatrice, played by an energetic Felisha Vasquez. As her lover, Florindo, Sam Martin gets some of the biggest laughs, as do Nolan Hamlin as Pantalone and Ben Offringa as the fop Silvio. As Clarice, Paige Tautz more than holds her own against a swarm of scene-stealers. If you are ready for a theatrical circus this Halloween, then this Servant is for you.