Former U of O prof directs Odyssey Theatre’s annual show under the stars

Worlds collide in more ways than one in Andy Massingham’s take of The Servant of Two Masters, a classic Italian play written by Carlo Goldoni in 1746.

Performing at Strathcona Park from July 21 to Aug. 21, the show was consistently met with a comfortably full house. Delivering on its promise to be quick witted and packed to the punch with comedic gags, the outdoor Odyssey Theatre production was a delight to watch.

Odyssey Theatre has done productions of this play before, but what makes this version stand out from its predecessors is that it’s set in 1950s Venice as opposed to the 1700s.

Andy Massingham, a former University of Ottawa theatre professor and director of the play, explained that his decision to alter the time period came from his affection for 1950s Italian cinema, especially when it comes to legendary filmmaker Federico Fellini.  

“I was loving his films,” says Massingham,”and (I thought) wouldn’t it be fun if The Servant of Two Masters was set in this kind of sexy, everybody’s high fashion … world of the fifties (where) we have rock and roll music (alongside) traditional music?”

The plot follows Truffaldino, a poor servant who follows his master Beatrice to Venice while she’s disguised as her brother to collect a debt and search for her true love. While there, Truffaldino encounters a young man in search of a servant and decides to take on two jobs.

It’s a classic comedy of errors, and our protagonist is at the center of it all. Working for two masters while trying to balance his love life and satisfy his never ending hunger for a good meal isn’t easy, and Truffaldino’s antics often lead him to trouble—dubbing him the harlequin of the production, and leaving the audience empathetic and entertained.

In the end, Truffaldino learns that you can have too much on your plate without having eaten once.

The actors took it to a whole new level for this production, clearly enjoying themselves as they used the park setting to their advantage, with plenty of fourth wall breaks to engage with the audience. The dramatic acting and the over the top expressions paid off in making the show a huge success.

Despite the roaring laughs and the soap opera-esque acting, Massingham emphasizes that the show doesn’t lack depth.

“It’s not fluffy. It’s very hard hitting, (and) the main character is actually going through a huge emotional crisis. It does speak to people of this age overachieving and trying to make ends meet.”

It’s easy to see that although changes to the script were made, the integrity of the classic play managed to endure.The quick back and forth was sprinkled with interruptions of old Latin, in tribute to the original work.

It was expertly put together, especially with the use of masks for which Odyssey is so well known.

Massingham explains that by having only four of the nine cast members in masks, the audience can make a clear distinction between the opposing worlds and viewpoints in the play.

“The two worlds actually can get along is what we’re going for” he said, pointing out that “after a while we forget the masks are on” and rather than hide the characters, they reveal character traits.

Massingham is confident in the production and for good reason, mentioning that he hopes audience members return to see the gags they missed. “You can’t see it all in one go” he explained, going on to share that this play is exceptionally different from some of the company’s other productions.

True to his word, while the humour, wit, and physical comedy is all attributed to Odyssey, the costume design, set change, and blocking under the stars of Strathcona Park make Massingham’s rendition a wonderfully unique experience.