SRJC Servant of Two Masters PosterBy ROBERT DIGITALE

There’s a slapstick story holding together Santa Rosa’s Junior College’s latest production of “The Servant of Two Masters,” but at times it feels as if it’s wedged in the middle of a comedy workshop.

Primarily the production is a tale of a not-too-clever servant trying to improve his fortunes by secretly working for two separate gentlemen (or so he thinks). The story itself has plenty of madcap scenes. But wrapped around it are comic moments from stage hands who enter from offstage or actors who step out of character, such as the one who confesses that after rehearsing the play for weeks “I still don’t get the plot.”

The combination of the play and the seemingly extraneous comedy bits add to the experience. Indeed, at times the two come together for some of the evening’s more memorable moments.

As to the story, the playbill comes with its own block diagram showing the connections between the characters. And an actor at one point halts the production to quiz the audience on what’s been happening. The main thing to remember is there is a young woman, Beatrice (Katie Wigglesworth), who dresses up as her dead brother in order to advance her plans to find and marry her lover Florindo (Alex Jimenez). Both coincidentally show up in Venice and unknowingly take on the same fellow as their servant.

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Actors (left to right) Carlos Gallegos, Ryan Sayler, and Roberto Perez Kempton. Photo by Tom Chown.

The servant, Truffaldino (Ryan Sayler), combines self-assuredness, hunger and a touch of cluelessness. When asked if a particular woman would want to marry him, he responds, “Who wouldn’t?”

Another couple in the story also wants to marry. But the young woman is the former fiancée of Beatrice’s brother. So when Beatrice shows up impersonating her seemingly revived brother, the wedding plans are thrown into jeopardy.

At Friday’s opening, the cast attacked with gusto Carlo Goldoni’s 1746-era play (translated and adopted by Jeffrey Hatcher and Paolo Emilio Landi). When it came to pratfalls, some of the seeming head knocking moments had audience members gasping for fear that someone really had gotten hurt. Alas, the actors did the stunt twice more to relieve such worries.

The entire cast each had moments of winning laughs. But the main scene-stealer was Carlos Gallegos as the stage manager/second waiter. A trained actor who has performed his own one-man mime/comedy show, Gallegos on Friday displayed a deft touch, whether he was playing charades with the actors, juggling or facing rejection from a female cast member.

When Beatrice and Florindo needed water beneath a bridge in which to drown themselves, the way that stagehands Gallegos and Renaud Ducom provided it had the audience howling. Actors Wigglesworth and Jimenez soon added to the zaniness. The scene helped explain the lobby signs about a “splash zone” covering the Burbank Auditorium’s first three rows.

A tip of the hat to Director Reed Martin and cast members Michael Temple, Brett Mollard, Jolie Santos-Ramsey, Jim McFadden, Chelsea Beyries and Haley Rome. Also cast member Roberto Perez Kempton did double duty by adding some nice solo guitar flourishes in between scenes.

The simple set by scenic designer Peter Crompton includes four handsome columned doorways set off by a blue sky background.

The production continues through March 19. For show times and tickets, click here.

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