The Servant of Two Masters Dishes Out the Absurdity to a Dizzying Degree at Lyric Arts

Production Photo

The Servant of Two Masters adapted by local favorite Jeffrey Hatcher and Paolo Emilio Landi from the original 1789 commedia dell’arte classic by Carlo Goldoni, is a joyfully funny and self aware production. There is no attempt at selling this as realism, in fact the play opens with an apology by the patron of the theater company that the troupe is running late. Once the players arrive we are treated to several minutes of behind the scenes silliness as the stage manager and performers work out what they will be doing. The play reads like a Shakespeare Comedy crossed with an episode of Three’s Company directed by Corky St. Clair. It involves a pair of twins, one of which the male, is dead and the other a female who has taken on the identity of her brother posing as a man. There are multiple pairs of lovers who all seem on the brink of losing their true loves, and at the center is a quick thinking but not terribly bright servant who tries to serve two Masters at the same time in order to get paid and fed by both. This adaptation premiered in 2004, if it sounds familiar, you may have seen a later adaptation from 2011 that starred James Corden titled One Man, Two Guvnors which updated the play from 1700’s Italy to 1960’s England.

What I loved about this production is the constant awareness that these are actors performing in a very stylized manner. They pose, they ham it up for the audience, and they are not above earning a little on the side by participating in some product placement. There is something freeing about a comedy that lets you know up front it’s not to be taken seriously. In some way it loosens the audience up and the laughs flow freely unabated by any sense of self consciousness. The production is directed by Scott Ford who has directed some of the best shows at Lyric Arts since The Stages of MN came into being and before. Here, his playful approach to the staging, the controlled chaos perfectly watch the style of the script. The use of onstage musical accompaniment, which though providing some background music composed by Melissa Bergstrom, mainly serves to provide comedic sounds to emphasize the buffoonery of the characters actions. Nice to see Callie Aho as the Intimacy Director as the show has a fair amount of risque business, and it’s good to know that there is someone making sure everyone on stage is being cared for so we can enjoy the humorous nature of these moments guilt free. Wonderfully adaptive set design by Michaela Lochen and costumes by Samantha Fromm Haddow make for a nice looking and inventive look to the show. Special praise though to Katie Kaufmann’s Mask Design work which is a hallmark of the commedia dell’arte style, they are beautifully realized and amazingly expressive (see the photo at the top for an example).

On stage the entire cast is terrific, with special shout outs to those performing through masks, which results in the loss of an actors eyes, which they say are the windows to the soul. This acting requires a different set of skills an exaggerated movement of the head in order to compliment the masks and make the face seem alive. Kyle Marks and Brendan Veerman excelled in acting through the masks, to the point I almost lost sight of the masks. Loved seeing Nykeigh Larson and Kyler Chase again, both of whom I first discovered on the Lyric Arts stage, they wonderfully played the the Masters of the Servant who are so hysterically hot for each other they can’t barely see the other without trembling all over. And fantastic to finally see what Alex Stokes can do with a good sized role, and it’s as I suspected, comic gold. My advice is for Theater’s to keep finding larger and larger roles for Stokes, he’s proven he’s capable of being much more than the one liner comic relief ensemble player. 

The Servant of Two Masters runs through June 22nd at Lyric Arts in Anoka for more information and to purchase tickets go to

Photo credit by Molly Weibel 

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Headshot of Rob Dunkelberger
Rob Dunkelberger

Rob is a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and their podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat as well as a syndicating contributor to Minnesota Playlist. Read all his content