“If I talked I would become like any other comedian.”
The Servant of Two Masters at Synetic Theatre is a true phenomenon, combining the best of comedy with an undertone of deeply human emotion. Director and Adaptor Vato Tsikurishvili cites the inspiration of great silent film comedians: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and most of all Charlie Chaplin. Their influence is present throughout this visually and aurally magical production. Based on one of Carlo Goldoni’s most beloved plays, this adaptation without words brings us all the joy of the original, while transmuting it into something entirely new.
The signature athleticism, visceral excitement, and international flair we expect from Synetic are all present in full force. Vato Tsikurishvili’s achievement is to maintain the larger-than-life nature of the characters while enabling us to see them as authentic human beings.
Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793), a highly prolific playwright, is credited with innovations to the Commedia dell’ Arte, which was popular in Italy until the 18th century. The scenario was put up backstage, with an outline of the characters and action. Actors were free to insert their own material, speeches, routines, or sight gags, known as lazzi. Goldoni’s innovation was to incorporate the lazzi into the drama itself (which had a written script) and to make the characters more rounded and sympathetic.
Crafty servants, overbearing fathers, pairs of lovers, complicated intrigues — The Servant of Two Masters, has many features of the traditional Commedia dell’ Arte while reflecting Goldoni’s greater sophistication and talent for construction.
We first see Tsikurishvili, who also enacts the servant of the title, Truffaldino, alone, in a meditative mood. He is tapped on the shoulder by Beatrice (Nutsa Tediashvili) in disguise as her brother Federigo. She has come to Venice to find her beloved, Florindo (Jacob Thompson), whom the Cop (Delbis Cardona) mistakenly believes killed Federigo because he disapproved of their relationship. A wild chase ensues, Truffaldino and Beatrice misdirect the Cop, and Florindo escapes.
Beatrice hopes, disguised as Federigo, to retrieve her late brother’s dowry. Clarice (Irene Hamilton), daughter of the local rich merchant Pantalone (Philip Fletcher), was engaged to Federigo before he was unfortunately killed. Clarice is determined to marry her true love Silvio (Pablo Guillem) instead.
Truffaldino offers Beatrice, still disguised as Federigo, his assistance as a servant. When Florindo arrives, still on the lam, Truffaldino offers his services to him too.
Tsikurishvili embodies perfectly the paradox of Truffaldino: it is difficult to tell if he is really, really smart or really, really dumb. He falls for the maidservant, Smeraldina (Maryam Najafzada). Triffaldino and Smeraldina make a captivating pair of lovers. Smeraldina is played by Najafzada with a roguish grin, balletic artistry, and scintillating charm. Tsikurishvili’s performance as Truffaldino, besides being astonishingly athletic, is delightfully comic. It is a joy to watch him jumping, leaping, cavorting, and lifting Smeraldina to the skies. There is a lovely scene in which Smeraldina is hanging up clothes and Truffaldino joins her, putting his hands in one of the shirts. She puts on one of the dresses. Their flirtation ends with a surprising twist as he helps her put away the clothing lines.
Another appealing pair of lovers, Beatrice (Nutsa Tediashvili) and Florindo (Jacob Thompson), execute spectacular duets. Both in black, they dance romantically with underlying serious emotion. Tediashvili is particularly effective in her dual role as Beatrice and Federigo. A kind of Italian Rosalind in As You Like It, she has agency and the ability, despite many obstacles, to get what she wants.
Throughout, Truffaldino struggles hilariously to serve his two masters, whether carrying wine between Beatrice (as Federigo) and Florindo, who ring for him incessantly, or preparing dinner with Smeraldina, in the perpetually short-staffed inn.
Philip Fletcher as Pantalone has some fine scenes with his daughter Clarice (Irene Hamilton), a strong-willed ingenue, dressed in pink, who meets her opposition with spirit. As her lover Silvio, Pablo Guillen moves with catlike elegance and provides glimpses of the fiery temper he displays in the Goldoni original. He also does fine work as Federigo, Beatrice’s brother, in a flashback full of surprises. Delbis Cardona as the Cop, whom we first see chasing Florindo, handles the transition well when we realize that he too, like the other characters, has a touch of compassion.
The choreography of Maryam Najafzada is dazzling throughout. The scenic design by Phil Charlwood is magnificent, as is lighting by Brian Allard. Costume designer Aleksandr Shiriaev’s costumes are elaborate, full of telling detail, and fascinatingly revealing of character.
Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze has designed a score with breathtaking variety and scope. I heard in the last love scene a bar or two of the music from Zeffirelli’s film Romeo and Juliet.
The Servant of Two Masters is suffused with joy. It is a real joy to see Synetic in performance once again.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
EXTENDED: The Servant of Two Masters plays through May 1, 2022, at Synetic Theater in the underground Crystal City Shops, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA. Tickets are $10–$60 and are available online, at the theater box office (open an hour before showtime), or by phone at (703) 824-8060 ext. 117.
The playbill for The Servant of Two Masters is online here.
COVID Safety: All guests must provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test along with their ID prior to entry. Masks are required at all times. See Synetic Theater’s complete COVID Safety Protocols here.
Synetic Theater has announced Synetic Supports Ukraine, a special benefit performance of The Servant of Two Masters on Friday, April 29. All proceeds from the event will benefit United Help Ukraine, a 501(c)(3) that provides humanitarian aid to those affected by the war in Ukraine. See “In support of Ukraine, Synetic Theater to host benefit April 29.”
THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS
by Carlo Goldoni at Synetic Theatre
Vato Tsikurishvili – Truffaldino
Delbis Cardona – Cop and Chef
Philip Fletcher – Pantalone
Pablo Guillen – Federigo and Silvio
Irene Hamilton – Clarice
Maryam Najafzada – Smeraldina
Nutsa Tediashvili – Beatrice
Jacob Thompson – Florindo
Justin Bell – Understudy
Joshua Cole Lucas – Understudy
Nicole Jones – Teen Company Apprentice
Vato Tsikurishvili – Director and Adaptor
Maryam Najafzada – Choreographer
Konstantine Lortkipanidze – Resident Composer
Nathan Weinberger – Dramaturg
Phil Charlwood – Scenic Designer
Aleksandr Shiriaev – Costume Designer
Emily Carbone – Props Designer
Brian Allard – Lighting Designer
Yaritza Pacheco – Sound Designer
Briana Padgett – Stage Manager
Natalie Wagner – Stage Manager (Rehearsals & Student Matinees)
Ariel Medley – Assistant Stage Manager/Wardrobe
Paata Tsikurishvili – Founding Artistic Director
Irina Tsikurishvili – Founding Associate Artistic Director/Resident Choreographer