You know summer has arrived when attending live theater under the stars or—as was the case Wednesday, June 27—under the rain. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s 2018 season, which got underway in May, continues with yet another frothy comedy, this time “The Servant of Two Masters” (1745), by Carlo Goldoni. Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte adapted and translated the Italian play, and Director Doug West led a talented ensemble on the Outdoor Stage at Morristown’s College of Saint Elizabeth. The two-hour caper flashed by, despite a 15-minute delay for rain early in Act I.

Later intermittent showers could not dampen the spirited acting or the audience’s waterproof commitment to the performance. The play dizzyingly pirouettes through a maze of plot twists, the cleverness of which does not diminish by their predictability.

Double trouble

When a certain wise man said, at Matthew 6:24, that “no one can slave for two masters,” Truffaldino Battochio (meaning Little Swindler Blink-of-an-Eye) hadn’t yet been conceived in Italy as a stock figure among mid-16th-century Commedia dell’Arte stereotypes. The title servant, Truffaldino, a variant of Harlequin, is first in service to Beatrice Rasponi, a lady of Turin disguised as her dead brother, Federigo Rasponi, searching for Florindo Aretusi, whom Truffaldino later also serves and with whom Beatrice is in love.

When Florindo needs a new servant, Truffaldino does the math: “Two masters equals two salaries! Two salaries equals double dinners!” Isn’t it so very human to focus on riches with no thought to how such double duty will inevitably complicate things? Yet, where would comedy be without complications?

Secondary busy-ness

A nearly thwarted romance between the families of Pantalone dei Bisognosi and Dr.

Lombardi fuels the action, as the former’s daughter, Clarice, betrothed to the late Federigo, would rather marry the latter’s son, Silvio. Yet a third love interest soon buds between Truffaldino himself and Clarice’s maidservant Smeraldina (Little Emerald). The precariousness of these romances really worries no one in the audience, since it is obviously a foregone conclusion that the comedy will end with a triple wedding, an accepted theatrical convention of the time.

Masters at cross purposes

Izzie Steele and Tug Rice are Beatrice and Florindo, the title’s unwittingly simultaneous masters, both of whom Costume Designer Paul Canada outfits as nearly identical Venetian noblemen. They make an elegant couple. Towering over “her,” Mr. Rice finds himself matched inch for inch by Ms. Steele’s acting chops. Her facial expressions and subtle gestures to the audience nearly upstage him. But Mr. Rice makes an earnest nobleman whose noble intentions keep him from realizing he’s being ignobly duped. During the merry finale, we get a brief chance to see Beatrice dressed as a woman.

Dueling dads

Company favorites Raphael Nash Thompson and Jay Leibowitz are, respectively, Dottore Lombardi, Silvio’s pedantic father, and Pantalone dei Bisognosi (Trousers of the Needy), the worldly-wise merchant father of Clarice.

Both men are in the midst of respectable careers with The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and it is easy to see why. No one has a more pleasing, baritonal voice than Mr. Thompson, and his delivery springs organically from within, so fully does he inhabit his (often silly) characters. Both men’s characters interact extensively, and Mr. Leibowitz very well conveys the less-polished but much more street-smart problem solver.

Misleading ladies

Miranda Rizzolo successfully debuts with the Company as Clarice, betrothed to a dead man, wanting to marry a live one, but having neither father’s approval. Early on, Beatrice lets Clarice in on her secret disguise by placing the latter’s right hand on her left breast—an economical dramatic stroke, which gives Ms.

Rizzolo’s heart-shaped face one of many opportunities to illuminate with wide-eyed amazement. Aurea Tomeski portrays Clarice’s maidservant Smeraldina. She is demure in scenes with Truffaldino and soft-hearted in sympathetic support of her mistress, all the while wily with winning wariness.

Moonlighting manservant

Senior cast member, the lanky James Michael Reilly—comical even before opening his mouth—is the illiterate but ingratiating Truffaldino. He uses his body as a laugh factory, both in plenty of ridiculous postures and in numberless zany moves, particularly during asides, when he quickly jumps from the low stage to the ground in front of first-row spectators to disclose his not-so-secret thoughts before jumping back up to resume the convoluted dialogue.

He makes it look easy, as only the best can.

Tight hold on the reins

Director Doug West keeps everything flowing among his nine speaking and three silent actors. Their timing is impeccable in dialogue delivery. The cast exploits nearly every inch of Scenic Designer Jonathan Wentz’s unit set. Actors often enter and exit through the steeply graded amphitheater, coming into close proximity with audience members, as if to draw them into the action.

A few first-rate facts

In case you didn’t know, here are some more facts.

  • This is Director Doug West’s 17th season with the Company.
  • Sound Designer Warren Pace sets the aural ambiance with Venetian music featuring the mandolin.
  • Actors deploy a code word during jet flyovers that drown out dialogue, signaling inventively silly distractions.

Through Sunday, July 29, “The Servant of Two Masters,” by Carlo Goldoni, translated and adapted by Bonnie J. Monte, directed by Doug West, at The Outdoor Theater, College of Saint Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road, Morristown, N.J.

More plays

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s 2018 season opened with Molière’s "Tartuffe." [VIDEO] Up next is the Bard’s tragic “Titus Andronicus.” In past seasons the Company often collaborated with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra [VIDEO]. #Everything Music and Theatre