The Amorous Servant is an excellent example of what makes Odyssey Theatre’s Theatre Under the Stars program so enjoyable. Besides high artistic quality on stage, the company itself does an admirable job of anticipating patrons’ needs in an outdoor performance environment.
The Amorous Servant is an 18th century comedy by legendary Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, best known today for The Servant of Two Masters. Amorous Servant (in the original Italian La putta honorata, or The Honourable Maiden) tells the story of Corallina, a sensible and complacent servant who takes it upon herself to reunite her foppish master Florindo with his father Ottavio after Ottavio’s gold-digging new wife Beatrice has Florindo thrown out of the house. It’s one of Goldoni’s lesser-known works, but with veteran Odyssey performer Attila Clemann taking on the role of director and a talented cast the play seems more like a lost masterpiece than an exceptional production of a decent script.
The acting is high-calibre across the board, but my own favourites are Abraham Asto as Beatrice’s own son Lelio, who updates the stereotype of the wannabe ladies’ man with a Long Island/Jersey Shore persona that I could watch for hours (and also works perfectly with the exaggerated Italian accent that the cast speaks in); David Warburton as Ottavio and Joshua Browne as his put-upon servant Arlecchino for their physicality (Warburton’s motions with his hands in the first scene especially are mesmerizingly puppet-like and Browne’s hunched posture combined with his jumpy movements is like watching a nervous Mexican jumping bean onstage, and it’s fantastic); and Lise Cormier as Corallina, who has the unenviable job of playing the straight man character to all the over-the-top personalities that make up this cast, as well as moving the plot along. Cormier’s focus mirrors Corallina’s however, and though she may not get as many laughs as the other characters, her seriousness is the perfect tonic for the buffoonery brought to the table by everyone else.
The technical elements in this production are also high-quality, particularly John Doucet’s set (the wooden shingles on the turret are an especially nice touch), Jerrard Smith’s masks, and Vanessa Imeson’s costumes. Clemann has also designed the sound, which relies heavily on Danish band Analogik and uses stereotypical Italian-sounding music with a remixed twist, which provides a lovely musical analogue for Odyssey’s style of remixing the classics with a modern take on commedia dell’arte, mask, and dance. Besides the plus of having a Canadian translation on which to base this production, John Van Burek’s rendering of the text in English flows beautifully and avoids both misplaced fidelity to the original Italian and overly colloquial English, resting in the sweet spot of ‘just right’.
No production is perfect, but there’s not much to critique with this one. The 75-minute first act comes as a bit of a surprise given that the programme mentions a 15-minute intermission but not a running time for the show (more theatre is never a bad thing, but after the first 60 minutes you do start to wonder). As regards the script: the characters of Florindo and Rosaura (the daughter of a wealthy neighbour and Corallina’s pick for Florindo’s bride) are played well by Christopher Allen and Tiffany Claire Martin, respectively, but the actual characters are hard to connect with given that they seem incapable of doing anything themselves.
Given that social values have changed quite a bit since this play’s first performance in 1749, it stands up surprisingly well in modern production (Corallina’s moralizing on how men underestimate women’s abilities contributes greatly to this), with the exception of the ‘devoted servant’ trope that unfortunately rather informs Corallina’s character. Corallina’s desire to get things back to the way they should be in the face of a greedy interloper is admirable and topical, but the social order she wishes to return to is a class-based society with rigidly-defined boundaries between men and women and rich and poor, which when we consider what larger statement this production might be making about current events should give us pause (in his director’s note Clemann explicitly mentions that this play “puts to the test the theory of where nice guys (and gals) always finish; something we might need reminding of when looking South of us”, so hopefully I’m not reading too much into this).
The show is enjoyable and gives food for thought, and Odyssey itself does a terrific job of making the experience as enjoyable and accessible as outdoor performance can be. The complimentary bug spray and dirt-cheap folding seat rentals ($2 a pop) make sitting on bleachers at the wooded end of Strathcona Park a much more pleasurable experience than it otherwise could be. The various fundraisers are well-thought out and executed, like the raffle for the “Best Seats in the House” at the beginning of every performance and the silent auction with some really great prizes including packages of theatre tickets, museum passes, and restaurant gift cards (conversely, if you’ve ever seen the Friends of the National Arts Centre Orchestra hold one of their silent auctions on a performance night, you’ll see a much drearier assortment of goods up for bids).
The Amorous Servant is yet another feather in the cap of a company that chooses quality over quantity with their productions. Running until August 20th, I highly encourage everyone to see it.
The Amorous Servant
An Odyssey Theatre production
Written by Carlo Goldoni
Translated by John Van Burek
Directed by Attila Clemann
Stage Management by lindi g. papoff
Set Design by John Doucet
Costume Design by Vanessa Imeson
Mask Design by Jerrard Smith
Lighting Design by Ron Ward
Sound Design by Attila Clemann
Starring (in alphabetical order): Christopher Allen, Abraham Asto, Joshua Browne, Lise Cormier, Tiffany Claire Martin, Chris Ralph, Suzanne Roberts Smith, David Warburton
In Strathcona Park (the north end, near the Russian embassy)
July 20-August 20, 2017
Running Time: approx. 120 minutes plus one 15-minute intermission