The Spanish Springs High School student and his fellow thespians know how to put on a show that engages and amuses their audiences and once again they prepare to open on Thursday week with a new production, but this time it’s a little different than what they’re used to – and yet familiar in theme.
“It’s a great look at how things don’t change that much,” Armstrong said.
“The Servant of Two Masters” is an adaptation of a work written by 18th century Italian attorney Carlo Goldoni, whose correspondence with a comedic actor inspired the play.
Goldoni’s piece became an iconic representation of a genre called commedia
dell’arte. Literature of this type depends greatly on the actors’ abilities to be witty, quick with improvisation and able to tell a story with simple props and costumes.
Commedia represents everyday life and what happens in the present is the muse for cultural foibles. Troupes were always short on time and money but adept at acting out essential human needs, like food and love.
The play is a stretch for the students, who saw a version of it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore. months ago, the event at which they saw “Servant” for the first time.
All the students forewarn that the plot is full of complexities.
Matt Bidart plays central character Truffaldino, constantly hungry for food and seeking to fulfill the orders of two masters without letting each one know what’s happening.
“It’s a classic kind of thing with commedia
dell’arte,” Bidart said. “Every sitcom is probably based on commedia where you have to hide the other one’s stuff. There’s one scene when they’re both at lunch and I’m trying to serve both of them their lunch and I’m running around. The audience is really involved.”
Haley Gardner plays Beatrice, one of Truffaldino’s masters and who has a complicated plot line of her own.
“I’m disguising myself as my brother, who is dead, to get money to save my lover Florindo because he’s accused of murdering my brother,” Gardner said. “I’m actually probably the cause of all the drama because I come in and take Sylvio and Clarice and split them apart and it just gets really confusing.”
Armstrong, who plays the lover Sylvio in “Servant,” said many archetypes are represented in the play from the lover to the greedy villain. With a smile, he said he always gets the “goodlooking, stupid person” parts. He said he spends a lot of time explaining to fellow students what the production is about.
“It’s awesome because people who see the posters and the promotions think it’s by Shakespeare, but ... it’s more modern,” he said. “It’s been modernized and we modified that version to relate it to other schools, like Hug High (School) or McQueen (High School in Reno). We make a joke for everybody.”
What will be noticeably different for most theater goers will be the teens going out into the audience, running, playing and evoking laughter.
Sara Bogard, the drama teacher, said performing this kind of production is different than anything they’ve done in the past.
“We’re launching into different territory with it,” she said. “Moving the cast out into the house as a place to perform is breaking proscenium (when the performer directly addresses the audience). I love that the theater is beautiful but it’s sometimes fun for a director to get out and connect with the audience.
“For the actors, too, it’s a different way to work with your public,” she continued. “What really caught me is that audiences need to be fully engaged. They don’t want to just sit back and watch from a distance. They want to be tactile, feeling it, close up and kind of personal, even if you’re not comfortable with somebody asking you a question and shaking your hand.”
Bogard said it takes a certain type of group to pull off commedia, which some classes she’s had in the past were not quite as suitable for it as this year’s students.
“It’s a lot more mature work than they have done,” she said. “They have to work comedy in a different way. ... It feels like it fits them well. The chemistry of this group and this play go together well.”
Armstrong said one of the prominent themes to come out of “Servant” touches generally upon having a great time.
“The last line of the play is, ‘All we need is you,’ ” he said. “We don’t need money, we don’t need food. It’s very ‘Kumbaya.’ ”
The play opens in the SSHS theater on Thursday and runs nightly through Sunday. Curtain goes up at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5 for students and seniors and $10 for general audiences.