School of the Arts

Servant of Two Masters

Servant of Two Masters logo

California State University, Chico’s School of the Arts presents a modern translated version of the 18th century classic, A Servant of Two Masters. Performances take place Wednesday–Saturday, March 4–7 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday–Sunday, March 7–8 at 2 p.m. in Wismer Theatre. Purchase tickets at the University Box Office or by calling 530-898-6333. Seating is limited and purchasing tickets in advance is recommended.

The translated version by Edward J. Dent contains all the charm of the original work by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. Beatrice, along with her quirky servant Truffaldino, has come to Venice disguised as her dead brother. She is searching for the man who killed him, Florindo, whom she is also in love with. She is disguised as her brother, Federigo, so she can collect his dowry from the father of Clarice, to whom he was betrothed. But since his death, Clarice has fallen in love with Silvio. Beatrice’s servant Truffaldino, the main character of the play, is always complaining of an empty stomach and eats everything in sight. He accepts a job to be a servant to another master, Florindo, since it is an opportunity to have an extra dinner. Truffaldino struggles with balancing his work without arousing the suspicions of either of his masters.

The play was written by Goldoni by request of Antonio Sacco, the first actor to play Truffaldino. It was first performed in 1745, likely in Venice, with the title Il servitor di due padroni. As it was a commedia dell’arte, Goldoni wrote only an outline of the play and the actors improvised the dialogue. In later performances, he transcribed and edited the dialogue. The script he came up with in 1753 is the version still used today. 

The popularity of the play has encouraged many translations and adaptations over the years. This production’s version was translated by Dent for a performance by the A. D. C. Cambridge in June 1928. There are adaptations in other languages as well, including plays in Dutch and Scottish and a TV movie in Russian. In 1966, it was made into an opera by Vittorio Giannini. Mozart also considered turning the play into a comedic opera but never completed his idea. 

A Servant of Two Masters is now considered a standard in the tradition of commedia farce (a comic dramatic piece with exaggerated, unlikely situations and stereotyped characters). The double banquet scene is the most famous of the play. Truffaldino has to serve a banquet for each of his masters at the same time without either banquet party finding out about the other, resulting in Truffaldino not getting a bite to eat.

Commedia Dell'Arte

zanni mask
Illustration used courtesy of Wikipedia

California State University, Chico’s School of the Arts will be presenting Edward J. Dent’s translated version of Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte, Servant of Two Masters. Performances take place Wednesday–Saturday, March 4­–7 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday–Sunday, March 7–8 at 2 p.m. in Wismer Theatre. Purchase tickets at the University Box Office or by calling 530-898-6333.

Servant of Two Masters is the epitome of the Italian artform of commedia dell’arte,” said Erin Horst, director and Department of Music and Theatre faculty member. “The style of acting is physical, quick-witted and larger than life based on commedia stock characters.” 

Commedia dell’arte, or Italian comedy, is a form of theatre originating in Italy. It was popular in Europe from the 16th to 18th century. Commedia dell’arte performances are improvisation based on sketches or scenarios and emphasizes ensemble acting. There is a written outline for the production with scripted entrances and exits for the characters. The dialogue of the characters is mostly improvised. 

There are a few different characteristics common to commedia dell’arte. Because performances took place on temporary stages, staging was minimalistic. For this reason, props are significantly utilized. Performances also included music and dance. Another characteristic is the lazzo. A lazzo is a rehearsed comical routine that is inserted into the performance at a convenient point to enhance the comedy. Finally, commedia dell’arte makes great use of pantomime and physical theater. Because most characters are wearing masks, the actors make more use of their body to communicate the characters’ emotions.  

The exact origin of commedia dell’arte is unknown. Others say it is related to the carnival in Venice. Others that it originated in the Roman Republic or Roman Empire. However, the first recorded performances came from Rome as early as 1551. These performances took place outdoors in temporary venues with professional actors. The publishing of the scenarios of commedia dell’arte was first done by Flaminio Scala during the start of the 17th century. Scala’s purpose in publishing these scenarios was to legitimize the theatrical form of commedia dell’arte and ensure its legacy.

About the Director

Erin Horst headshot

Erin Horst is the co-founder of Legacy Stage, a lecturer at CSU, Chico and a teacher at Inspire School of Arts & Sciences. She holds an MA in theatre history from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a BA in acting from Chapman University. She has done a variety of work in the field of theatre, ranging from acting to dramaturgy to directing to teaching. In 2019 alone, Horst wrote and directed an original theatre adaptation of Anne of Green Gables for young audiences, directed the world premiere of Witches?! In Salem!? by Matt Cox at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, launched the nonprofit professional theatre company Legacy Stage, and performed the role of Lady Macduff in Macbeth.