The Servant of Two Masters at the Alley: A World Premiere Comedy Adaptation

Christopher Salazar as Truffaldino in Alley Theatre’s The Servant of Two Masters.
Photo by Lynn Lane
Christopher Salazar as Truffaldino in Alley Theatre’s The Servant of Two Masters.

One thing that Artistic Director Rob Melrose has determined is that "the Alley audiences really love comedy." Couple that with his love of one of the oldest theater forms — Commedia dell'arte — as well as his impressive abilities as a translator and voila, you have The Servant of Two Masters about to open at the Alley.

The two-act play, translated, adapted and directed by Melrose is a world premiere, based upon the original play in Italian set in Venice by Carlo Goldoni.

"I always like translating the plays that I direct," he said. "It gets me closer to the text, the original, the ideas. By taking the painstaking time of choosing the right sentence for each sentence. It's also Venetian . So it's half in Italian and half in Venetian and my Italian is very good, my Venetian is only okay but I used a dictionary and scholarly editions give you a lot of notes about the Venetian parts.

"It also gives me a lot of freedom in rehearsal because we can cut where we want, we can adapt where we want. Once I've translated a work in the public domain, legally it's my play at that point. We can make it work for an audience today."

That's been great, he said, because "We've got a great company of inventive actors and they've come up with a lot of wonderful comedic bits that are really going to surprise our audience."

The main character is Truffaldino, played by Resident Acting Company member Christopher Salazar. "He’s the servant of two masters. The comedy comes from  on one hand he’s not very well educated. He can't read. He doesn't have the learning that all the other characters have, but with the limited learning he has he’s able to be very clever." Melrose said.

"A lot of the pleasure is he’s trying trick two people who are, in some ways, smarter than he is but he's more clever. He's trying to make double his money by tricking these two masters into paying him and he's trying to serve them both at the same time without the other's knowing that he's got a second master. His mind works in such an unconventional way. He always gets out of trouble. He always gets himself out of his difficult situations when he's getting caught, with a very convoluted, very funny, very comic ruse.

"Of course the big scene is when both masters decide to have dinner at the same restaurant and he has to serve both of them."

If all this brings to mind something akin to a Shakespeare comedy, Melrose said they are alike in that  "Both Shakespeare and commedia dell'arte drew from Roman comedies which have mistaken identities, master-servant relationships, love intrigues and physical comedy.

"It's very like Shakespeare in terms of its plotting and its intrigues. How it's not like Shakespeare is the language is much more simple and is much easier to adapt or go off script with than the perhaps more revered Shakespean lines.

"The other thing which is very Shakespearean, is the play starts with an engagement but it’s interrupted" by someone disguised as her dead brother, Melrose said

Melrose said he fell in love with the form about 20 years ago, although he'd been exposed to it earluier and points out that our modern day sit-coms and cartoons has their roots in the genre's stock characters, the slapstick, the physical comedy. Masks play a vital role as the play unfolds.

"I know that our resident acting company, they feel like comedy is really their strength," he said. Besides Salazar as Truffaldino, the  cast includes Alley’s Resident Acting Company members Elizabeth Bunch as Beatrice, Dylan Godwin as Silvio, Shawn Hamilton as Ensemble, Chris Hutchison as Brighella, Melissa Molano as Clarice, Melissa Pritchett as Smeraldina, David Rainey as Pantalone,  and Todd Waite as Dottore Lombardi.

Rounding out the cast is Zachary Fine (Edward Albee’s Seascape) as Florindo Aretusi and Brandon Hearnsberger (Sherlock Holmes and The Case of The Jersey Lily, Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Soprano) as Ensemble, as well as musicians Mark Danisovszky and Mike Whitebread.

"It really is kind of non-stop comedy. It's meant to be super popular," Melrose said. "It’s a classic comedy really build to last."

Performances are scheduled for June 9 through July 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and  2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For more information, call 713-220-5700 or visit $26-$69.