A gleeful ‘Servant’ at GWC

By Tom TitusFrom the L.A. Times Huntington Beach Independent
March 21, 2012 | 4:02 p.m.

Golden West College’s rollicking comedy “The Servant of Two Masters” is credited to playwright Carlo Goldoni and adapters-translators Jeffrey Hatcher and Paolo Emilio Landi, but director Tom Amen’s name should be included among the other creative artists for his work on a semi-modernization of the commedia classic.

Amen, in structuring the piece as a modern-day staging of an 18th century comedy, has added chunks of modern dialogue in the opening segment, as well as laugh-inducing asides during the production itself. He’s also dispensed with the traditional masks, allowing his actors’ expressions to convey volumes.

The result is a thoroughly enjoyable evening that should elicit laughter even from those who might have caught Vanguard University’s more traditional production of the show a few weeks ago in Costa Mesa. Imagine the Marx Brothers in Venice of the late 1700s and you’ve got a fairly good idea of what to expect here.

Better yet, imagine Chico Marx pulling off a scam by becoming, as the title states, the servant of two masters. Tony Torrico exhibits particularly accurate Marxmanship in the title role of an avaricious (and perennially hungry) con artist doing double duty for two demanding masters — one of whom actually is a mistress, though her “disguise” is quite transparent.

Veteran character actor Michael Bielitz, a frequent occupant of the GWC stage, revels in the traditional Pantalone role of an elder citizen who has promised his daughter to one suitor and finds himself faced with another. Bielitz’s acting skills, at times almost improvisational, propel the early moments of the show.

The young lovers — Devon Sucaro and Lauren Cicerone — play their heart-rending plight for all its melodramatic value, particularly Cicerone, who overplays her part like an actress in old “The Carol Burnett Show” sketches. Roberto Ferreras oils his way around the stage as the young man’s scheming lawyer father.

As the disguised “master,” whose flowing red hair isn’t even shielded by a hat, Raven Aurora Hild renders a stately demeanor, while Alex Vazquez as the other employer is more down to earth. Rio Magdaleno functions effectively as a restaurant proprietor.

One of the most memorable performers — due largely to the constant mispronunciation of her character’s name — is Kim Brown as the maid, Smeraldina (often called “Smelardina”), who sets her cap for Torrico’s scheming servant. Brown clearly knows her way around stage comedy in an impressive performance.

Bringing the show back to the 21st century is the appearance of a patent medicine huckster (an angular Cody Pionke) who pitches for product placement and the last-minute prompter (Brandon Eddy), who happens to be deaf and mute. Laurie Reynolds keeps the audience up to speed by popping on with a sign reading “exposition.”

With Walter Huntoon’s classy multi-level setting as an atmospheric backdrop, this satirical “Servant” serves up laughter in generous portions at Golden West College.

TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Independent.

If You Go

What: “The Servant of Two Masters”

Where: Goldenwest College Mainstage Theater, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach.

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $14

Call: (714) 895-8150, or go to gwctheater.com.