Sunday, September 20, 2009

OSF: Servant of Two Masters (STOS)

I'm in a little bit of theater heaven. Forget naturalistic acting psychological realism proscenium arch fourth wall bullshit. Give me a talented clown and stock characters in outrageous makeup and a theater in the round romping their way through a silly story and messing with the audience and I'm a happy girl. The theater gore was a bonus!

Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of The Servant of Two Masters was produced in the New Theater. I love the New Theatre. In this little black box the action took place on a simple platform, in and out of four identical entrances, up and down the aisles, and on platforms above the entrances in the four upper corners of the theatre. Turns out there was plenty of space for throwing food around in the meal that Truffaldino has to serve to two masters. Oded Gross and Tracy Young did a smart, up-to-date adaptation that added a whole new layer of self-referential funniness to Carlo Goldoni's chestnut.

Since I have often dissed OSF's costume design (always beautiful, not always relevant), let me start by congratulating costume designer Christal Weatherly for very smart and witty, delightful costumes. I mean, any time you can work an old LP cover of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass Whipped Cream & Other Delights into a costume appropriately, it deserves special mention! They clearly had some fun shopping at Zappos, too, and sewing in lots of inside OSF/Ashland jokes. A brassiere cup as a pocket was a nice touch. And congratulations on designing the quickest costume change in the history of theater for Beatrice to get into a dress.

One of the delights of this particular Saturday matinee performance of OSF's Servant was the tension between players and audience. Actors have for centuries competed for our attention and appreciation with side conversations, coughing fits, nose blowing, altercations between audience members, flash photography, drunkenness, food being unwrapped, food being eaten, food being thrown, people getting up and leaving, cell phones, heckling, upstaging, inappropriate laughter, and stony silence. Actors (and theatre and set designers) fought long to define a distinct playing space and reduce distraction and competition (and in the old days, patrons fought back) before we arrived at the theater etiquette of modern times...and still someone's damn cell phone is going to ring.

We had bad audience behavior this Saturday afternoon as well as some planted and planned audience interaction, and the cast--especially Mark Bedard, very fast on his feet as Truffaldino--was equal to and above it all and turned it into smiles and laughter. To the lady in about the third row: don't take pictures of the performers, even when they're playing with you. They really mean it about no photography and recording. To the high school student with the seat at the end of the row over the entrance/exit ramp: dropping your cell phone onto the playing space is such a loser thing to do. To Gene: don't try to upstage the actors. They're funnier than you are. But you're very cool for being a good sport! To the little girl in the very back row who was so agitated by Truffaldino's candy being stolen and told him about it: I hope you get that excited about theater for the rest of your life. To Mark Bedard: You rock.

The whole cast was strong; Kjerstine Rose Anderson is acrobatic and hilarious (as she was also in All's Well), David Kelly delights and his trumpet playing is pretty good!, I'm increasingly impressed with Todd Bjurstrom (one of three porters), and I hope Kate Mulligan really was having as much fun as she seemed!

To director Tracy Young and the entire cast and artistic team: thank you for being so talented and skilled, so light and fast on your feet, for pleasing us even when we're boorish, and for making us laugh.


John said...

Really, I think Servant of Two Masters could be declared "Winner of OSF" and they start all over with a new concept next year. Holy cow is it entertaining! Your audience sounds amazingly unruly, though. :( I've suspected that as the year went on and word spread at how interactive the production is, some people might get it in their head to screw with the show, but I also hoped I'd be wrong...

Did you hear about the night Dee Maaske came down with food poisoning mid-show and they just vamped around her not being there anymore?

Sweetie the Official Scorer said...

Wow, we hadn't heard about Dee Maaske! The show must go on...
Interesting observation about people sort of taking advantage of the audience interaction. I like to think that if audience interaction was a more typical part of the theater experience that an appropriate audience etiquette would grow up around it and theater would be less stuffy and more fun.