SALT LAKE CITY — A British play based on Carlo Goldoni‘s classic The Servant of Two Masters (an Italian commedia dell’arte play), One Man, Two Guvnors is a comic play about love and its obstacles. Richard Bean’s particular retelling is set in Brighton, England, in 1963 with two different sets of young lovers. Their romances face increasing difficulty because of the wishes of family and others. The name itself is drawn from the central character, Francis, who works as a servant to two guvnors in order to care for his basic necessities.
Director David Ivers opened Pioneer Theatre Company’s production with music played by “The Craze,” consisting of Patrick Neville, Jimmy Lauscher, Max Muscolino, and Eric Stoye playing a variety of 1960’s music during most scene intervals of the play. I enjoyed their harmonies and found bluegrass infused renditions of each of the numbers to be catchy and entertaining.
The beginning of the show was a bit slow. As each of the characters was introduced, I found their portrayals amusing, but none of the supporting actors captured my attention. However, all of that changed once the lead character of Francis, played by Christopher Duval, entered the stage. Francis is is governed by his stomach throughout the first act, and as one who shares a passion for food, I found myself empathetic to his plight of having to work while hungry. As Francis continued his antics in taking more than one job in order to get the food of his desire, I could again empathize, having also found myself multiply employed in order to afford the luxury of a full stomach. Duval excelled at comic timing. There were several moments of breaking the fourth wall and entering into improvisation, and I felt that these were some of the best moments of the evening. I also truly enjoyed his physical comedy, being able to manipulate his body in order to bring a higher level of amusement to the audience. However, in regards to physical comedy the champion was Jared Collins, who played an elderly waiter with physical limitations, hearing difficulties, and a pacemaker that would be used for the benefit of everyone except, it seems, himself. Collins had such a command of his body that he readily and hilariously fall flat on his face in addition to consistently falling down a large flight of stairs.
All of this physical comedy was matched with very witty writing and commentary. In the second act, the best of the witty material seemed to be developed in the dialogue between Francis and his new found love interest, Dolly, played by Susanna Florence Risser. Having fulfilled his character’s nutritional needs in the first act, Duval was now able to turn to matters of the heart. As a single woman, I now find myself empathizing with Dolly, as she proceeded to deliver a lovely speech regarding the plight of the single woman. I also felt that the chemistry between Risser and Duval was impressive.
The interior of the apartment from the opening scene and the backdrops portraying the streets of Brighton were outstanding due to the attention to detail paid by set designer Paul Tate Depoo III. I was especially taken by the row of townhomes in the scene outside of the pub and their intricately detailed windows and home exteriors.
I haven’t laughed more at any other show in recent memory. Some of the subject matter and material in the plot is for mature audiences, so readers should be advised when considering this play. But for an evening of fun, light hearted laughter, and surprises that I will not divulge, I would highly recommend heading to Pioneer Theatre Company to see this production.