AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Richard Bean
Based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
Directed by David Ivers
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Roda Theatre
2015 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 647-2949

Reviewed by Judy Richter

The zany "One Man, Two Guvnors" at Berkeley Repertory Theatre traces its roots back to commedia dell'arte in the 18th century with its stock character and often improbable situations.

Richard Bean based "One Man, Two Guvnors" on one of the best known works of that time, the 1743 "The Servant of Two Masters" by Carlo Goldoni.

In Berkeley Rep's production, co-produced with South Coast Repertory, the "one man" is Dan Donohue, familiar to fans of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival since 1994. His roles have ranged from the dramatic, like Hamlet and Richard III, to the comedic, especially the unflappable steward in Tom Stoppard's "Rough Crossing" in 1997.

This time he plays the impecunious Francis Henshall, who finds himself working for two "guvnors" in Brighton, England, in 1963. He believes one to be Roscoe, who's actually the murdered gangster twin brother of Rachel (Helen Sadler). She has assumed her brother's identity to protect his killer, Stanley (William Connell), who's also her lover.

Unbeknownst to her, Stanley is Francis's other guvnor. Moreover, Francis doesn't want anyone to know he's serving them both. Other plot details are convoluted, but all turns out well.

Donohue first displays his unrivaled comedic skills in trying to move Stanley's large trunk. Another comic highlight comes later in the first act when the starving Francis is supposed to serve meals to his two masters, each in a different room in a pub. His ways of helping himself to the food are hilarious. However, this scene could be trimmed as Donohue tends to get carried away in some respects. Both scenes have some audience involvement.

Still, this pub scene also involves some comic pratfalls by Ron Campbell as Alfie, a tottering waiter in his 80s. Alfie is overseen by Danny Scheie as Gareth, the pretentious head waiter.

Everyone in this cast directed by David Ivers contributes to the fun in some way. They include Sarah Moser as the proverbial dumb blonde, Pauline; Brad Culver as her volatile boyfriend, Alan; Robert Sicular as Charlie Clench, her father; and Claire Warden as Dolly, his bookkeeper.

Entertaining the audience before the show and during scene changes is a four-member skiffle band playing songs by Grant Olding, with musical direction by Gregg Coffin. Musical staging is by dance captain Gerry McIntyre, who also plays Lloyd Boateng, a Clench family friend..

The whimsical sets are by Hugh Landwehr with '60s costumes by Meg Neville, lighting by Alexander V. Nichols and sound by Lindsay Jones.

Despite some comic scenes that go on too long -- the show runs more than two and a half hours with one intermission -- the overall production is a lighthearted romp made especially delightful by Donohue.

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