Carlo Goldoni’s Il Servitore di due padroni (The servant of two masters) rewritten by Ken Ponzio (Teatro Bonci, Cesena)

Spot the difference! The classic Harlequin and Roberto Latini as the post-modern version.

Spot the difference! The classic Harlequin and Roberto Latini in the post-modern version.

Prepositions have never been my strong point. The consequence of this is that I failed to appreciate the significance of the fact that this Venetian theatre company’s production was ‘da’ and not ‘di’ Carlo Goldoni. The first means ‘from’ the second means ‘by’.

The distinction is crucial because the only connection Ken Ponzio’s version had to the original play from 1743 is in the character names and token references to the plot.

In the programme notes Ponzio seeks to justify his presumptions act of literary terrorism: “Our way of perceiving comedies and tragedies has changed. Today’s expressive methods are radically different from those of Goldoni since we have experienced two world wars, been to the moon and we’ve read Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Heiner Müller; our way of seeing has fundamentally changed”.

When the curtain  rose my heart sank. The set was a characterless hotel hall with three doors on each side. A pot plant, some chairs, a telephone and a TV (tuned to American shows) are the only props.

The barrenness suggests a world of material comfort but emotional poverty.  Only one of the nine actors wears anything resembling a ‘Commedia dell’arte’ costume. Harlequin, normally lively and colorfully dressed, slumped around sadly wearing plain white.

servitorePonzio is following in the footsteps of German playwrights Bertolt Brecht and Heiner Müller who regarded writing by others as convenient prompts for their own ideas.

Müller, for example, in his 1977 play Hamletmachine, reduced Shakespeare’s Dane to a state of total negation: “I am not Hamlet. I play no role anymore. My works have nothing more to say to me. My thoughts suck the blood of images. My drama is cancelled”. 

Ponzio’s work seemed burdened by a similar aura of pessimism with characters so weighed down that there was no space even for irony or humour.

He even exposed the artifice of it all by having the players take down the scenery during the second act. By stripping the play of its theatricality he seems to suggesting that all the ills of society lie hidden behind masks.

With no comic respite, we , the captive audience, are subjected to preachy monologues and over-long scenes of post-modern pomposity.

What might be interesting in theory was one of the worst pieces of modern theatre I have had to misfortune to witness.