Servant of two masters, Goldoni
Staatstheater Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany
„The world is a beautiful book, but of little use to him who cannot read it and has nothing to eat.“
Goldoni wrote the scenario to "Servant of two masters" commissioned by the famous Arlecchino actor Antonio Sacchi and his acting troupe. He wrote it at night while working as a lawyer in Pisa during the daytime. Only concidering the plot on the surface, the play seems tragic. One almost feels reminded of Shakespeare: the story is about a forbidden love between Beatrice and Florindo. The girl's brother is murdered, the lover has to flee the city, she still loves him and is ready to follow... But in Goldoni's version the play seems to be less about love than about Truffaldino's hunger. The subplot of the ever-hungry servant even threatens to dominate the actual main storyline of the "Amorosi".
Truffaldino's hunger is more of the humoristic kind than it is for real. In his never-ending fight for the next little bite the cunning servant more resembles a cartoon character like Obelix, than a realistic personage, and by that enables the audience to laugh at him with no hard feelings. The difference to the high bourgeois drama of the enlightened 18th century is clear: plot and characters in the Commedia dell'Arte's theater cosmos are exaggerated. Since no servant like Truffaldino would ever keep a single job longer than five minutes.
The average drama of Goldoni's epoch of course often introduces servants, but mostly they do not stay longer on stage, than necessary. Usually they just enter to hand over a letter and then immediately leave. And if Goldoni's "Il servitore du due padroni" would be a classical tragedy, it probably would be the same with Truffaldino and Smeraldina. But in Goldoni's world the servants voluntarily and involuntarily step into their masters' limelight and drag the audience's attention on themselves. Not only do they deliver letters, but also open them, mix them up or also re-seal them with chewed bread, always following their own interests on the hunt for food or simply to escape punishment, instead of fulfilling their masters' orders.
For Truffaldino his hunger is a much more serious issue than the troubles of his masters – and according to that his story more and more takes over the play and captures the spectators' interest and empathy, slowly causing a shift of importance inside the dramatis personae. In opposite to the contemporary European drama of its time the Commedia gives the masters the equal or even less importance than it gives to the servant-roles and by that also underlines the social themes they represent, giving its plays almost a social-revolutionary touch.
The play's key-quality is to create simple, but powerful situations on stage. Just as Truffaldino, who does not think much further then the next snack, Goldoni's comedy develops from scene to scene, seemingly without any great interest in drawing complicated psychological portraits or constructing a philosophical superstructure – and probably this is more of a quality than it is a deficit. Martin Heckmanns, the German translator of our stage-version wrote in the foreword of his edition: "Like puppets, the characters stand out because of their anachronistic lightness. To their own benefit, they are not particularly interested in their inner lives: joy without self-reflection." Heckmanns refers to the thoughts of the French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg: "Today's depressed is exhausted from the effort to become himself."
"Against depression and the terror of intimacy of our time we recommend Goldoni.", Heckmanns concludes. One thing is for certain: Life as well as theater nowadays is mostly about identity. For many people it has become exaggeratingly complicated to "become themselves", spending hours in shops or on social media in search of the one true expression, which defines their uniquness in times of mass culture. Goldoni's comedy characters are different. They know who they are, and they are direct, active and only existing in the moment - it seems that they might be able to teach their contemporary spectators a lesson.
starring: Robert Lang, Judith Niederkofler, Mathias Znidarec, Jörg Zirnstein, Erwin Aljukic, Katharina Hintzen, Hans-Christian Hegewald, Alisa Kunina
stage design: Jan-Hendrik Neidert
costume design: Lorena Díaz Stephens
dramaturgy: Karoline Hoefer
photos: Nils Heck