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Two things stand out about Perchance Theatre’s 2019 comedic offering, “The Servant of Two Masters.” One is its physicality, and the other its quick banter.
Imagine the Three Stooges performing a Monty Python skit in the style of Codco, and you might be getting close.
Director Perry Schneiderman has taken full advantage of Newfoundland’s colourful language and the actors’ improvisational talents to create a theatrical experience that is truly playful.
There are misidentifications, hidden identities, cross-dressing, actors cast in dual roles and a character who does not actually exist.
On top of all this disorder, many of the actors wear masks throughout the play.
The stage is chaos, the audience is roaring and it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the audience or the actors who are having the most fun.
If you saw last season’s run of “Our Eliza” you might recall Evan Mercer’s heartbreaking performance of outport fisherman Hank. Mercer takes the opportunity this year to showcase his comedic skills as he utterly owns the 18th-century character of opportunistic, perpetually hungry Truffaldino from Burgeo, Italy.
Given how much Mercer moves about the theatre, I doubt his hunger is entirely an act. In one scene he simultaneously serves dinner to both his masters while preventing them from discovering each other and his deception. He is back and forth across the stage, jumping, rolling, running, crawling between his masters and the kitchen staff, pausing only to sample the dishes for himself before delivering them to their rightful destinations.
The only thing that moves faster than Truffaldino is the dialogue. These players speak faster and faster when they are agitated, which seems to be most of the time.
They move deftly between script and improv, amending lines by using Newfoundland references and turns of phrase. At some points there are eight people on the stage arguing and bargaining. Hilarity ensues, but viewers are never lost in the melee.
Absurdity and confusion do not run the play off course because the cast is so masterful at improvisation and at reading their audience. They know exactly when to toss in some Newfoundland vernacular, to give a viewer a mischievous wink or, if necessary, to hop into the stands and pet someone’s dog.
I am not exaggerating when I say there was uproarious laughter from beginning to end at Sunday night’s staging. It must have sounded like pandemonium to any hikers walking on the Burnt Head Trail outside the theatre, but inside it was comedy at its best.
This cast does not hesitate to break the fourth wall, occasionally addressing theatregoers directly or running amok through the stands.
It all adds a participatory quality to the production that draws on the Italian play’s origin, which itself draws on the tradition of commedia dell'arte, including pantomime.
I would not be surprised to hear about Perchance’s audience members shouting responses, clapping and singing along with the characters at some performances of “The Servant of Two Masters.” It all makes for a rollicking good time that you should not miss.
“The Servant of Two Masters” continues until Sept. 1. For more information, visit www.perchancetheatre.com or phone 1-709-771-2930.