Master of fun: ‘Servant of Two Masters’ is a glorious goof

At your service: “The Servant of Two Masters,” now playing at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, is a slapstick romp.
for Brooklyn Paper
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It’s a comedic “Master” piece!

Broad, barrel-of-jokes-plus-the-kitchen-sink comedy is the name of the game at “The Servant of Two Masters,” an Italian commedia dell’arte piece, playing at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center through Dec. 4.

This 18th-century comedy by Carlo Goldoni — thoroughly updated by Constance Congdon, Christopher Bayes, and Steven Epp — is delightfully corny, so much that sometimes it can be hard to laugh through the groaning (or groan through the laughing, depending). Think the “Three Stooges” meets “Family Guy” meets a bawdy clown troupe, with a few musical numbers tossed in for good measure and a tendency to beat a dead horse of a joke until it miraculously stands back on its feet and becomes funny again.

The gonzo glee of the performances holds it all together; director Christopher Bayes has done wonderful work with the ensemble. The pacing, as befits classic farce, is blindingly fast; the performers ham it up gleefully without crossing the line into pointless self-indulgence. Steven Epp, as Truffaldino, the titular servant, is a master of both witty befuddlement and physical comedy. Orlando Pabotoy as the foppish suitor Florindo, and Emily Young as the saucy maid Smeraldina, were also stand-out entertainers.

Some of the slapstick bits — particularly an extended banquet sequence involving perfectly choreographed flying food — are screamingly funny. The pop-culture references range from nearly sublime to utterly ridiculous. And though some of the topical humor (e.g. plenty of election jokes) and all of the poop jokes were not to my taste, it all goes by so quickly that it hardly matters how well any individual joke lands — three more will have come along before you’ve caught your breath.

The show packs in an extraordinary quotient of riffs, touching on the popularity of “Hamilton,” the ubiquity of Duane Reade stores, Pokemon Go, and television commercials past and present.

“Servant of Two Masters” is thoroughly enjoyable and deliriously well-performed, though ultimately fairly disposable. I laughed in a lot of spots, and while the whole thing doesn’t add up to more than goofy fun, sometimes that is just what you need.

“The Servant of Two Masters” at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center [262 Ashland Pl. between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street in Fort Greene, (212) 229–2819,]. Playing through Dec. 4, Tue–Fri at 7:30 pm, Sat and Sun at 2 pm and 7:30 pm. $65–$110 ($20 students). No performance on Nov. 24.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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