‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ a wild ride 

click to enlarge Dan Donohue’s delightful physical comedy lights up “One Man, Two Guvnors” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. - COURTESY MELLOPIX.COM
  • Dan Donohue’s delightful physical comedy lights up “One Man, Two Guvnors” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
At a certain point during “One Man, Two Guvnors,” the side-splitter now at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, I put down my pen. I was laughing too hard to take notes.

Besides, the play, Richard Bean’s modern adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century Italian comedy, is full of hilarious surprises that should not be revealed.

Re-imagined in the seedy English seaside resort Brighton in 1963 (fine indoor-outdoor rotating set by Hugh Landwehr), the play first opened at London’s National Theatre in 2011.

It’s a wildly chaotic, Monty Pythonesque farce, full of nitwits, con artists, slamming doors, mistaken identities, slapstick, lust, improv, witty dialogue, asides to and occasionally interaction with the audience and music — there’s a live skiffle band that plays Grant Olding’s original songs (pre- and post-show and during set changes), conjuring the Beatles as well as the wonderful old English music hall genre.

The story, drawn from the Goldoni classic, centers on one hapless but endearing nincompoop, Francis (the hands-down brilliant Dan Donohue, an Oregon Shakespeare Festival vet as skilled in physical comedy and ad libs as in classic drama).

Francis hires himself out as servant to two bosses at the same time and tries, in idiotic ways, to hide that fact from each “guvnor.” Confusion inevitably ensues. But the two bosses, unbeknownst to him, are in fact . . . well, never mind. The plot is confusing but it doesn’t matter.

Based on the commedia stock character Arlecchino, the ravenous Francis also spends all of Act 1 trying to feed his face. The way he fusses over rearranging platters of delicacies for his bosses is simply inspired. (In a metatheatrical moment at the beginning of Act 2, satiated, he wonders what his primary objective will be for the rest of the play.)

Standouts among the ensemble are the statuesque, no-nonsense Claire Warden as a sexy bookkeeper; Sarah Moser, wonderfully ditsy and dimwitted as Pauline, who’s in love with a wannabe angry-young-man actor (Brad Culver, darkly smoldering and posing); William Connell as the self-important Stanley; and two local comic geniuses as waiters: Danny Scheie, shrill and smarmy, and a fright-wigged, doddering, stone-deaf Ron Campbell, who can fall down a staircase and slide off a chair in ways that you can’t even imagine. Meg Neville designed the quirky costumes.

The cast, under sharp-eyed director David Ivers, finesses the comic timing every second. Two and a half hours go by too quickly.


One Man, Two Guvnors

Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre/South Coast Repertory

Where: 2015 Addison St., Berkeley

When: Tuesdays-Sundays; closes June 21

Tickets: $29 to $89

Contact: (510) 647-2949, berkeleyrep.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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