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Lifestyle

April 17, 2014

'Servant of Two Masters' designed to keep you laughing

The Mainstage Theatre at Salem State, which will shut its doors in June, opened 30 years ago to the sound of laughter.

With performances this weekend and next of Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters,” it’s going to close that way, as well.

“When I got here in 1976, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was already scheduled as the first show,” said David George, professor of theater at Salem State. “We want to go out with a big laugh and a lot of fun.”

Goldoni, whose career spanned most of the 18th century in Venice, was a librettist, as well as a prolific playwright.

In “The Servant of Two Masters,” he was updating the tradition of commedia dell’arte, a form of street theater that improvised plots around a cast of stock characters.

“Goldoni wrote his play in a lot of mockery of what earlier comedy was about,” George said. “He’s mocking the fact that the Italianate characters were so stereotypical.”

In commedia dell’arte, there was one plot line, which usually involved a servant trying to get even with his master or a lover trying to turn the tables on an unfaithful mistress. Goldoni’s play was an advance on this form because it told a unique story that was recorded in a script, where commedia dell’arte was improvised around conventional plots called lazzi.

Goldoni’s work preserves comic devices from the much older form but weaves them into a number of intersecting stories and gives the characters psychological depth by placing them in realistic contexts.

In “Two Masters,” that setting is the last day of carnival in Venice, when people were free to do what they wanted.

“There was revelry, drinking, long nights, getting the demons out,” George said. “Venice was notable for import/export, with a lot of people from foreign countries. Gambling was huge in Venice, and pirating, getting in the canals and hiding.”

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