My wife and I attended the Saturday, Sept. 19, evening performance of “The Servant of Two Masters” and were delighted with the creative interpretation you and your talented crew gave the work. We were also sad to hear at the end of the play that it had suffered from low turnout in the current flu outbreak.
The play is important to us because, in the fall of 1976, it was the reason we met. We were performers in a production of the work at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. I played Silvio, and my wife played Brighella, a part we were told at the time was usually played by a man but could be a woman, just as in your show. Our script was not nearly as topical or imaginatively embellished as yours, and we had no music or costume changes, except for Beatrice, as needed. St. Lawrence at that time had no theater major, so any student could try out for and get a part in a play. The Mummers, a student group, put on the show themselves in our Black Box theater. There was no stage per se, just a series of risers and ramps going off in various directions. The only scenery consisted of colorful checked banners hanging from the ceiling. The costumes were all 18th-century period material. The translation was horribly stilted, which helped draw some laughs; it shared almost no lines with yours, except maybe the part about Clarice no longer being able to “stand the light of day.”
Our productions were similar in that we were both fortunate to have a natural-born comedian play the lead, coincidentally both named Jeff and both good with the physical humor needed in the role. Both shows also shared some of the raucous spirit of commedia dell’arte, where perhaps we had the advantage of a large, boisterous audience made up mostly of students out for a good time. In our version of the swordfight, I was supposed to fall off a riser backward and land in the lap of some sturdy patron in the front row, and one night several people picked me up and threw me back onto the riser, really getting into the spirit of it.
We make it a point to see “Servant” if we ever hear of it playing in the area and saw a student-run production at Le Moyne College in Syracuse several years ago, where they did it in a cramped, converted firehouse that was then used to house small productions; they had interludes of period music on lutes and worked hard to inject some contemporary humor, with Florindo pretending to be a sort of movie action hero, for example. A few years ago, Kitchen Theatre in Ithaca did a version where, to give it an Italian flavor, the cast spoke in a sort of New Jersey mafia accent, as if they were characters on “The Sopranos.” We can’t say that twist succeeded.
After seeing those four versions over the years, we must say your production is by far the best. It’s amazing what some professional talent, on and behind the stage, can bring to a show, but your student actors also show great talent and even more potential, and they are lucky to have the chance to work with veteran actors. I hope everyone realizes they have put on a superior production and that it is the flu outbreak and its related fears, not the quality of their work, that is keeping audience levels down. Two friends of ours who also saw the play and are longtime theater patrons said it easily surpassed in quality and entertainment what we normally see at Syracuse Stage, our local professional theater. Your production very much carries on the spirit of a long-ago troupe of wandering actors setting up its tent in a new town and doing everything it can to bring in an audience and keep it entertained. We hope that jaunty, upbeat spirit can help carry you all through the lean times that are part of an acting career.
To all of you, well done, and break a leg!
Jim Howe and Karen Heitzman
PS: Myles Rowland is a much better Silvio than I ever was, although he got more lines and I didn’t get to use a skateboard.