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From Paper to the Stage: the Servant of Two Masters

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From Paper to the Stage: The Servant of Two Masters

Carlo Goldoni's 18th-century comedy about a cunning servant epitomizes Italian theater as one of the most classic works of commedia dell'arte. The plot is simple yet entertaining including weddings, duels, dances, pursuits, a food toss, and of course a love scene. In this play, Arlecchino's sly tricks and disguises cause a chain reaction of mistaken identities, betrayals, confused lovers, and, finally a happy ending for the lovers. Giorgio Strehler's production of Goldoni's written work features the classic commedia dell'arte actor Ferruccio Soleri, who inhabits the role of Arlecchino. He perfectly plays this role with his performance, pouring his forty five years of commedia dell'arte knowledge into the role. This comedy of manners, shaped by a prominent playwright and a celebrated director, perfectly intertwines the elements of commedia dell'arte through its simple plot, improvisational stock characters with classic use of masks, and unadorned scenery.

The plot of Servant of Two Masters is simple but Arlecchino's mix of stupidity and shrewdness causes the events of the plot to occur with great comedy between characters yet effortless movement of the scenario. As the play opens, Pantalone and the Doctor are discussing the wedding preparations for their children, Clarice and Silvio. Clarice's former betrothed, Federigo, was reported killed in a duel. Here begins the confusion because when Arlecchino appears, he introduces himself as Federigo's servant and announces that his master is alive. Arlecchino says, "The devil! My master dead? Why, I left him alive downstairs" (Goldoni 85). But in reality it is only Beatrice, Federigo's sister, disguised as a man to search for her lover Florindo in Venice. Beatrice claims she is Federigo, and for monetary reasons demands that Clarice fulfil their engagement. Soon the anxiety and confusion are amplified, when Arlecchino acquires Florindo as another master. As the plot progresses, the characters get closer to discovering the truth. But in the mean time the audience is entertained by lazzi, food tossing, and more mistaken identities. Finally, as always in commedia dell'arte, everything comes to light and the happy ending is obtained.

In the sense of plot, the text and staging are very similar. Strehler uses the additional elements of lazzi, the prompter, and Pantalone as the capocomico to create a unique presentation of Goldoni's classic work. The lazzi include Arlecchino as he follows and swats at an erratic fly. Once he nabs and de-wings it, the starving servant eats it. Another consists of Arlecchino desperately searching for a letter that's stuck to his rear end. These add nothing to the plot itself but heighten the entertainment of the audience with a comic interruption. Similarly so does the element of the prompter, an old man, who sits on the left of the stage that acts as director and criticizes. This component is not written in the original play yet with the flexibility of commedia dell'arte Strehler is able to include this in the production. The prompter does not do or say much but it is enough to add a laugh in points of fatigue within the play. The last element that strays from the text is that of Pantalone as capocomico. As a main actor, he leads the commedia troupe which you can see through his directions on the stage. Oddly enough, he still listens to the prompter and takes on the directions given by him for comic relief. Within the text, there is no mention of which character should be the capocomico but the staging of the play makes it evident that Pantalone should fulfil this role of head comic.

Following the elements of commedia dell'arte, the importance of stock characters is essential to this work. Both within the text and to the stage, each character of commedia dell' arte was preserved and exemplified. Giorgio Strehler even changed the name of his production of Goldoni's classic work to Arlecchino, Servant of Two Masters, to celebrate the inventive and sly servant. Arlecchino is one of the best-known characters in commedia dell'arte, with his black cat-shaped mask, multicolored costume, and constant scheming. Although in Goldoni's text, he uses the name Truffaldino, akin to Arlecchino. At age 75, Ferruccio Soleri embodies the scheming servant Arlecchino with dynamic movements, even after 45 years in the role. Each role belongs to one person alone. Each character is played perfectly with its particular Italian dialect and accent, voice and movement characteristics. In this production each actor has mastered their roles as the bumbling servants, Arlecchino and Brighella, or their pompous and foolish superiors, Pantalone and Dottore. Case in point, Giorgio Bongiovanni's Pantelone, the greedy father of a marriageable daughter, is as self-serving as he ought to be. He is adorned in the classic mask and costume, having red legs, loose black cape, woolen bonnet, Turkish sandals and a brown mask surrounded by gray hair and a mustache. Paolo Calabresi as Doctor Lombardi, the would-be bridegroom's father, is a monument of overbearing arrogance. Like his counterpart, he too is also dressed in his classic costume made entirely of black fabric with a black mask covering only his forehead to expose his rosy red cheeks. Enrico Bonavera's Brighella, the innkeeper slash cook, is slender with a green and white costume that consists of a jacket, full trousers and a purse with his mask having sloe eyes and a hooked nose. Georgia Senesi gives her performance as Beatrice in disguise as her brother, yet as a woman remains unmasked. The rest of the cast is similarly given embellished stock guises and stock situations of the plot with many expressive physical and vocal mannerisms. They never break character, even on the area on the sides of the actual stage where they are coming and going, sewing, and having side discussions while they wait for their next moment on the main stage.

Another ingredient, that stresses commedia dell'arte both amongst the text and the production, is the scenery and stage movements. Being set in Venice and taking place in one day, this play follows Aristotle's unities of time, place and action. The text provides a very structured plot with arrangement of incidents presented in a significant manner. Within this structure, scenery and props become key interactive



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