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‘Servant’ Attends to Details With Energy

TIMES THEATER WRITER

Theatrical sound designers are usually little noticed, but take a look at John Zalewski in International City Theatre’s exceedingly lively “A Servant to Two Masters” in Long Beach.

You can literally take a look at him, for Zalewski--best known for his behind-the-scenes work at the Evidence Room and Actors’ Gang--is on stage throughout, dressed as a Venetian gondolier. From his “gondola” console at the side of the stage, he produces a stream of clever aural punctuation marks. A new one emerges every few seconds.

Whenever the big-bellied Pantaloon Parsimoni (Edmund L. Shaff), the father of the bride, worries about money, Zalewski brings on a clanging cacophony reminiscent of a horror film. When the buffoonish lovers get mushy, we hear a snatch from the second movement of Dvorak’s “New World” symphony. A parade of vaudevillian pops and rim shots accompanies the production’s abundant slaps and bumps.

Fortunately, Jessica Kubzansky’s staging isn’t only about the sound effects. Every aspect of this production snaps to quick attention and works on the same level as Zalewski’s foley artist exhibition.

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Kubzansky uses an adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century script that Lee Hall wrote for an English production in 1999, but it has been Americanized here and there as well. The script is replete with such words and phrases as “kaput” and “I got no problem with that,” such pop cultural signposts as “talk amongst yourselves,” and occasional raw anatomical references.

When Beatrice, who’s posing as a man, shares the secret of her gender with Clarice, the two young women take a “Friends Forever” pact, complete with patty-cake gestures--which neatly emphasizes the gulf between Beatrice’s real personality and her manly facade. Beth Kennedy is superb on both sides of the gender gap in this classic “pants” role, altering her voice and posture radically enough to create a precise delineation. Clarice, the moping would-be bride, is brought to hilarious life by Evie Peck (also of Actors’ Gang), and J. Michael Ross is equally funny as her klutzy, mop-topped swain.

The title character is in the smoothly manic hands of Michael David Edwards, who has mastered Truffaldino’s tough-guy bravado, as well as his frantic bumbling, with equal pizazz. Morgan Rusler, as Beatrice’s lover Florindo, gets the fine-tuned opportunity to run out of his lodgings in the middle of the night, his face covered with a bluish skin cream.

Jennifer Taub’s maid swaggers in Mae West-Bette Midler style. Shaff and Bruno Oliver sputter and seethe as the fathers, and Darren Martin Kelley’s innkeeper oozes reptilian appetites.

The characters wear makeup masks, which allow their features to remain elastic while still honoring their commedia forebears. Susan Gratch’s bright set, lit by Rand Ryan, serves many locations and includes a painted Venetian “canal” around the perimeter.

“A Servant to Two Masters,” Center Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Thursdays to Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 30. $27 to $35. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Michael David Edwards: Truffaldino

Edmund L. Shaff: Pantaloon

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Evie Peck: Clarice

Bruno Oliver: Dr. Lombardi

J. Michael Ross: Silvio

Jennifer Taub: Smeraldina

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Darren Martin Kelley: Brighella

Beth Kennedy: Beatrice

Morgan Rusler: Florindo

Written by Carlo Goldoni. Adapted by Lee Hall. Directed by Jessica Kubzansky. Set by Susan Gratch. Costumes by Alexa M. Stone. Lighting by Rand Ryan. Sound by John Zalewski. Makeup-hair by Douglas Noe. Stage manager Kevin Carroll. Commedia workshop: Ron Campbell.

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