VIEWPOINTS – Two piercing revivals spark downtown Brooklyn: THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS at TFANA and THE WINTER’S TALE at BAM

There’s something to be said about the mounting excitement over downtown Brooklyn’s Cultural District. Indeed, this fall, New Yorkers were treated to two highly theatrical revivals of well-worn classics that were simultaneously true to the spirit of the original yet piercingly, often disorientingly (high praise), contemporary.

Orlando Pabotoy and Steven Epp in "Servant of Two Masters" at Theatre for a New Audience

Orlando Pabotoy and Steven Epp in “Servant of Two Masters” at Theatre for a New Audience

First up is Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte classic The Servant of Two Masters (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) as adapted by Constance Congdon at Theatre for a New Audience – lovingly referred to simply as TFANA (pronounced “te-fa-na”). The production originated in 2010 at Yale Repertory Theatre and has since toured the country (I had caught it previously during its stop at Washington, DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company). The production most recently found itself at TFANA after the controversial last minute cancellation of Sam Gold’s anticipated take on Hamlet. Lucky for local theatergoers. Although the physical production – directed by Christopher Bayes – is aesthetically traditional, the adaptation by Ms. Congdon audaciously pushes the boundaries of commedia dell’arte by incorporating manic contemporary references and styles and by being unstintingly fearless when it comes to going for the cheapest of laughs. Yet it astonishingly remains irrepressibly true to the joyous underlying spirit of commedia dell’arte. The raucous cast was led, as in DC, by Steven Epp as Truffaldino and Allen Gilmore as Pantelone, arguably two of the most gifted and inspired practitioners of commedia dell’arte this side of the pond (I’m still in stitches over Mr. Gilmore’s turn as Argante in Court Theatre’s production of Scapin nearly 15 years ago in Chicago, also directed by Mr. Bayes). There’s a sense of things just being on this side of running amok, as if the audience was aboard a runaway train, and boy was it thrilling.

Orlando James and Natalie Radmall-Quirke "The Winter's Tale" at BAM Harvey

Orlando James and Natalie Radmall-Quirke “The Winter’s Tale” at BAM Harvey

Just a block away at the BAM Harvey Theater was Cheek by Jowl’s jarringly bitter but theatrically potent production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) directed by Declan Donnellan. If this isn’t the most transcendent revival I’ve seen of the Bard’s expansive late career romance (that distinction would have to go to Marti Maraden’s sterling 2010 Stratford Festival production), Mr. Donnellan’s chilly interpretation certainly highlights the “winter” of the play’s title. Although the production is full of Mr. Donnellan’s trademark brute physicality and muscular elegance, they’re deployed in the service of exploring the darker side of humanity. Indeed, in this production, you can tell that something’s off with the Leontes from the get-go; he’s mentally unstable and a bit of a controlling bully. It’s no stretch, therefore, that he would quickly turn on his Hermione. At the same time, this depiction of Leontes makes him a thoroughly distasteful character (even Hermione in this production doesn’t quite seem to be free of guilt), somewhat diminishing the impact of the final reconciliation scene – one of the most powerful that Shakespeare has penned.  The cast is excellent all around, with each company member fully committed to Mr. Donnellan’s darker-hued vision of Sicilia/Bohemia. In the central roles of Polixenes, Leontes, and Hermione, respectively, Edward Sayer, Orlando James, and Natalie Radmall-Quirke are all first rate, creating complicated portraits out of potentially two-dimensional characters.


Off-Broadway, Play
Theatre for a New Audience (in conjunction with Yale Repertory Theatre)
2 hours, 25 minutes (with one intermission)

Off-Broadway, Play
Cheek by Jowl at BAM Harvey
2 hours, 40 minutes (with one intermission)

Categories: Off-Broadway, Theater

Leave a Reply