“The Servant of Two Masters” at Seattle Rep

Mayhem, slapstick, and low-brow comedy are cleverly combined in “The Servant of Two Masters.” What you have here is Constance Congdon’s translation of Carlo Goldoni’s 1745 adaptation of 16th C. commedia dell’arte, further adapted and directed by Christopher Bayes, Director of the Yale Drama School. With ad libs, improvisations, and wry comments on today’s news provided by the cast.

That’s a mouthful! But it suggests the long theatrical roots of this play as well as its pertinence to Seattle audiences today. This production moves along with the speed of a bullet. Once it gets going there’s no stopping it, and if you like raw humor, whimsy, and physical comedy you’ll be laughing uproariously as love struck, befuddled, and wily characters seek to satisfy their not always noble ends.

At its center is Truffaldino, the conniving but not too smart guy who tries to serve two masters. Steven Epp (who collaborated with Bayes on this adaptation) is clown, dunce, and hungry fool as Truffaldino. He just wants enough to eat but winds up wrecking havoc in his quest. With comic ineptitude, in his tricornered hat and mask he’s the imp at the center of much of the action. Masks are worn by many of the players, a tradition that date backs to the 16th C.

Most of the actors have worked with Mr. Bayles in productions of this play done in other cities. How nice that Seattle locals, Julie Briskman playing the maid, Smeraldina, and Allen Galli as the enormously fat father, Il Dottore are perfectly integrated into the agile and clever cast where gestures speak volumes and the timing is everything.

Aaron Halva and Carolyn Boulay, the onstage musicians, add enormously to the frivolity. The set has a simplicity that speaks to the ancient roots of this play, but, when combined with the lighting and sound effects, this is a production for today.

The ad libs with current national and Seattle references are sometimes a bit flat but most are deliciously on target. If you’re a fan of the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, “I Love Lucy,” even “South Park,” you have been enjoying some of the modern descendants of the Renaissance comedians who wowed their long ago audiences with commedia dell’arte. It’s a form that has persevered because it’s just so, so satisfying.

Through Oct. 20 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).

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