If the plot of the Berkeley Reps new show, “One Man, Two Guvnors”, sounds familiar, it should. The story of a man who has two bosses derives from the 17th century Italian commedia dell’arte tradition, specifically, the famous 17th play Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters.”
It’s not so unusual for us to observe people with more than one job. By necessity these people have to juggle bosses’ demands, time schedules and temperaments. That is exactly what Francis Henshall (Dan Donohue) has to do, but the time frame is 1963, the place is Brighton, England, and the people range from the lower to the upper classes.
Typical for this kind of theater are two couples wanting to marry, two fathers, two boy friends, and twins. The entertainment on stage before the show begins—Beatlesish pop music of the era— is lively and fun. All through the play they perform, rotating instruments.
The play opens at an engagement party between an airhead with a teased bouffant hairdo Pauline (Sarah Moser) and an aspiring thespian who overacts at any opportunity Alan (Brad Culver). They want to marry but the two fathers the pedantic lawyer Harry Dangle (John-David Keller) and Charlie Clench (Robert Sicular) introduce the standard complications that would prevent the marriage.
And in comes Francis Henshall who has to find a job. He finds two in fact. One for Rachel disguised as her dead twin brother Roscoe (Helen Sadler) and one with the boarding school upper-crust Stanley (William Connell). They are the other couple in love, but estranged from each other.
Francis has to find a job because he is hungry. The scenes where he tries to find food and drink are brilliant, as are those with his running back and forth to fulfill his duties. He is also in pursuit of Dolly (Claire Warden) the busty bookkeeper. Francis is the typical commedia dell’arte character albeit in 60s style, with delightful slapstick movements. He wears pants that are too short, has a mop of red hair and his hands never stop twitching.
The two waiters, Alfie, (Ron Campbell) 89 years old, hard of hearing and prone to falling down the stairs, and Gareth (Danny Scheie) are key. Before the play begins, Gareth comes to the stage and makes mandatory announcements: His high pitch and British accented shouting at full volume is intended for those who might be hard of hearing and make a hilarious scene in itself.
This show originated in London, came to New York and now is in California. Everyone in the production is top-notch from the actors to the technicians, the adaptor of the script Richard Bean, the director David Ivers and Grand Olding who contributed his songs to the oldies, The music is defined as “Skiffle,” a mixture of jazz, boogie and pop, and it predates The Beatles, but not by much. Sets by Hugh Landwehr, costumes by Meg Neville, sound by Lindsay Jones and lighting by Alexander V. Nichols also make this a superb production.
“One Man, Two Guvnors” is laughs from beginning to end. It runs through June 21; over two hours with one intermission. Tickets from berkeleyrep.org or 510 647 2949.
© Carol Benet 2015
Carol Benet is a regular theater reviewer for artssf.com.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly)focus on theater, dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into recordings by local artists, and a few departures into books (by authors of the region)as well.