It’ll be slapstick comedy Italian-style this summer – with music on the side – when Beach House Theatre bounces back with its first live on-stage production in two years, The Servant of Two Masters, Aug. 9-14 at the company’s temporary semi-open air tent space at Blackie Spit Park, Crescent Beach.
It’s based on a play originally written by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni in 1746 with its roots in Commedia del’Arte tradition – but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s anything like a stuffy historical piece.
As adapted for modern audiences by Oded Gross and Tracy Young, it’s a zany, witty romp involving mischief, mayhem, lost loves, murder plots and even pen fights, co-artistic directors and Beach House Theatre founders Candace Radcliffe and Rick Harmon explain.
At its core, it’s still the story of the eponymous servant Truffaldino (who already has one employer, but thinks that by taking on another he will get “more pay and more food,” said Harmon).
But it’s been updated to the stylish and sexy ambience of 1960s Italy – with a play-within-a-play structure.
“Because it’s set in Venice, and we like the 1960s period, we thought about Fellini movies,” Harmon added.
The result? Think of the stylized satire of La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 crossed with European farce, with a smidgen of Austin Powers thrown in for good measure, they said.
And – because Christmas pantomimes have also borrowed from the stock characters, situations, and improvisational, in-joke nature of Commedia – there’s also a little bit of panto feel in there, too, Radcliffe observed.
“It’s every bit as silly as a panto, and we’ve put in a lot of local references,” she said, noting that this version of The Servant of Two Masters, penned in 2009, was the hit of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in that year.
Goldini’s original plot traces the absurd complications keeping two pairs of separated lovers apart, and the role of the opportunistic Truffaldino (Steven Masson) in resolving the situations happily.
Featured are some returning stalwarts of past Beach House productions, including Janine Guy, Aran Davidson, Michelle Collier and Elliott Figueroa, along with new faces Alex Chan, Lois Warwick, Chris Nash, Erik Kavanagh, Kelsey Ranshaw and Gabrielle Demastis – all of them delighted to be involved in live theatre again.
“There was such a joyful feeling at the first read-through – they just nailed it,” Radcliffe said. “It was such a joy and relief to have that.”
“They all have a great feel for the characters – rehearsals are so much fun,” Harmon said.
Adding to the fun is Gross and Young’s framing device, in which we are first introduced to the players as a troupe of actors bemoaning the harsh economic times that have forced them to try to stage Goldini’s play on a strict budget, with props and costumes borrowed from other productions.
There’s a certain irony in this, Radcliffe and Harmon note, since they and the Beach House board have faced many challenges getting back into a full-scale production after two and a half years of pandemic restrictions.
“This was originally going to be our summer production for 2020, but we had to put it off for two years,” Radcliffe explained.
“We didn’t realize how relevant to these times it was going to end up being!”
Inevitably, Beach House’s volunteer base – so important in mounting the elaborate Beach House seasons – shrank during the pandemic, they said.
At the same time production costs – including set construction materials – have skyrocketed, forcing a blanket $5 increase in general admission prices to $34.99.
“The set budget went up by $30,000 alone,” Harmon said.
“We’ve been slashing and cutting from all sorts of areas of the budget, to keep it achievable for the board.”
“Unfortunately, we had to cut the children’s show this year,” Radcliffe noted (family-friendly daytime shows, often featuring plays derived from the books of Robert Munsch, have been a staple of past Beach House seasons).
Happily, the volunteer base is building again and Radcliffe and Harmon have put together an ace production team for The Servant of Two Masters.
Well-known and appreciated behind-the-scenes talents include Linda Weston as costumer, Omanie Elias as set designer, Kerry O’ Donovan as musical director, Carol Seitz as choreographer, Adrian Shaffer as stage manager and Ben Stone as poster artist.
Blackie Spit Park is located at 3140 McBride Ave., Crescent Beach.
All performances are at 8 p.m.
Tickets ($22.50 preview on Aug. 8, general admission $34.99, general admission with prologue, Aug. 10 12 13, $44.99) are available now from the company website, beachhousetheatre.org