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The Servant of Two Masters

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The Servant of Two Masters, SummerNITE, at the Theatre Building Chicago. The "anything goes" attitude characteristic of commedia began as a reaction against the strict theatrical conventions of the time. With this 1743 play about pompous fathers, befuddled servants, and two pairs of lovers--one traveling incognito--Carlo Goldoni attempted to rein in some of the form's slam-bang humor. But SummerNITE's production acknowledges commedia's original spirit, playing squarely to contemporary sensibilities. Thus suitors in knee breeches and tricornered hats court a miniskirted, Walkman-toting, Britney Spears look-alike. Truffaldino's motley garb includes red sneakers and a Cubs hat. The play's setting is now Venice Beach, the shingle on Brighella's inn looks remarkably like that of Starbucks, and the text alludes to Star Wars.

Amazingly, most of it works. For every cheap visual pun and gratuitous topical gag ("He's dead as Mariah Carey's film career"), there are passages of precisely timed repartee--usually delivered by some combination of Alan Ball and David Frutkoff as the dithering daddies and Justin Ivie as the placating hotelier. Cheryl Caplinger offers a heartstring-tugging performance as the cross-dressing heroine. Front-row audience members might be pressed into service during this giddy carnival romp, a true crowd pleaser that needs only to sustain its opening-night ebullience.

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