One Man, Two Guvnors is a comedy with the legacy of the theatrical tradition behind it, from Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni, 1746) in the Italian commedia dell’arte style to Richard Bean’s 2012 Tony Award–winning adaptation. Produced by the SBCC Theatre Group, and featuring a cast full of Santa Barbara’s comedic performance talent, One Man, Two Guvnors brings music, farce, and a porous fourth wall to the Garvin Theater stage, October 13-28.
Commedia dell’arte is a style of theater that was popular in Europe in the 16th–18th centuries. In these productions, masked performers playing an established roster of characters based on common social stereotypes presented semi-improvised sketch comedy. These character types included, for instance, an old man, a miser, and, in the case of Il servitore di due padroni, a comically gluttonous servant. The analogous character in One Man, Two Guvnors, which takes place in 1960s England, is out-of-work musician Francis (Michael Bernard), who takes gopher-style jobs with two men: mobster Roscoe Crabbe (Shannon Saleh) and Roscoe’s nemesis, Stanley Stubbers (Dillon Yuhasz). Francis, who is insatiably food-motivated, tries to simultaneously serve the interests of Stubbers and Crabbe, a task complicated by the fact that “Roscoe” is actually Rachel Crabbe, who donned her brother’s identity after his death — at the hand of her lover, Stanley. A farce in the ancestral line of commedia dell’arte gives actors a chance to play the humor in caricature, a task this cast has embraced: “Stanley is your typical British ’60s male chauvinist who also went to boarding school,” said Yuhasz of his role. “Nearly everything he says is wrong, severely dated, and offensive. I love playing him.”
One Man, Two Guvnors, directed by Rick Mokler, is more modern theatrical experience than commedia dell’arte. “In commedia, the characters remained constant, but much of the plot and performance was improvised,” said Saleh. “That element looks a little different in today’s show since most of the script is constant. But it differs from many shows, even farces, in that there is audience interaction, and surprises throughout for both the cast and the audience. Every show will have its own flavor based on not only audience repose, but Francis’s and Dolly’s (Tiffany Story) interaction with volunteers.” Saleh was drawn to this unique show because she wanted to try her hand at a farce. “An extra bonus was getting cast with a very gifted ensemble in an awesome role that allows me to play both genders and experiment with the physicality of that. It is also a great surprise to see the musical gifts of Jay Carlander, Paul Canter, Ivan Pelly, and the rest of the guys. We’ve done straight theater together before, but not skiffle band music!”
Introducing your main character as a musician is like showing a gun in the first act — it’s absolutely going to pop up again at some point, and One Man, Two Guvnors uses music throughout to set the mood of the scene. “The biggest challenge for me has been the music,” said Justin Stark, who plays Alan Dangle, an aspiring actor who spends life in character. “The difficulty of playing a simple instrument and singing at the same time has humbled me! [The show is] full of very addicting tunes, but I’m not classically trained in music, so I’m having to learn quickly.” Stark has enjoyed playing a role that lets him make fun of actors. “Rick has really allowed the cast to explore the comedy from rehearsal to rehearsal with his awesome tutelage. I play the role of Alan Dangle as though he takes himself too seriously and always believes he’s onstage. He is a ‘true actor.’”
One Man, Two Guvnors runs Friday, October 13-Saturday, October 28, at SBCC’s Garvin Theatre, 721 Cliff Dr. Call 965-5935 or visit theatergroupsbcc.com.