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Gods of Autumn: Let's start with the plot, which can best be described as "Tony Soprano, Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada and ... I don't know, one of the nuns from Doubt, all get cancer."

The Servant of Two Masters; Gods of Autumn 

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The Servant of Two Masters
Deep Dish Theater
Through Sept. 13

Commedia dell'arte is one of the most influential forms of stage comedy, but be forewarned—anyone who's complained about the two-hour-plus running times of Judd Apatow's comedies has never sat through an 18th-century farce.

Such is the case with Deep Dish Theater's production of Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters, directed by Derrick Ivey. Masters is a classic of Italian theater that employs many of the tropes associated with classic farce—lots of slammed doors, mistaken identities, threats of tragedy and a resolution that brings everyone together in the end. However, the farce is structured in such a way that it sometimes slows down the overall plot—while the plot sometimes threatens to drag the farce to a halt.

The play's titular servant is Truffalindo (a male role played by veteran Laurie Wolf), a servant of Beatrice (Susannah Hough), who has disguised herself as her deceased brother, who in turn was promised to Clarice (Flynt Burton), who is now engaged to Silvio (Lance Waycaster). Adding to the confusion, Truffalindo decides to moonlight for Florindo (Hampton Rowe from Dearly Beloved and Orson's Shadow), who also happens to be Beatrice's lover. Additional complications ensue.

The play is at its best in the scenes where Truffalindo struggles with his double-duty—there's some impressive physical comedy from Wolf, and also from Lamont Reed as the ambidextrous Portino. However, this particular translation often feels like two plays, with the various relationships existing separately from Truffalindo's antics. It might have helped the production if they'd focused more on the servant part, which has been highlighted in their promotions. With intermission, the whole play runs about two hours and 20 minutes, resulting in funny scenes that drag because they have no purpose in moving the plot forward.

Masters clearly has a few updated touches—characters regularly sing 20th-century songs as they head in and out of scenes—so it might have been nice to trim much of the mistaken-identity plot and focus on Truffalindo's tumbling. The play has an undeniable energy and good cheer when it emphasizes the physical hijinks, but as a whole, it might tend to wear an audience down.


Gods of Autumn
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy
Kennedy Theater, Progress Energy Center
Through Aug. 31

With a script and direction from Tony winner Jack Murphy and another Tony winner, Jarrod Emick, in the lead role, a certain amount of excitement swirled around Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy's world premiere of Gods of Autumn. That excitement, unfortunately, soon evaporated over the course of a play that employs seemingly every pretentious cliché known to theater.

Let's start with the plot, which can best be described as: "Tony Soprano, Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada and ... I don't know, one of the nuns from Doubt, all get cancer."

At a hospital, mob fixer Jimmy (Emick), fashion magazine editor Evelyn (Dorothy Recasner Brown) and shy Mary (Broadway actress Jessica Phillips) regularly find themselves in the same room awaiting treatment while a black-clad gentleman called "The Other Part" (Holden Hansen) wanders about, interacting with each in the form of their internal monologue. Jimmy, who's tormented by an earlier incident involving his girlfriend Bernadette (also Phillips), finds himself drawn into a relationship with Mary, while Mary hides a secret and Evelyn deals with her abandoned rural roots in the form of her mother (Gilly Conklin, who plays two other roles).

Where does this go wrong? For starters, there's Jimmy and Bernadette's Long Island accents, Evelyn's hackneyed character, the voiceover that awkwardly announces the flashbacks, the rear-projection that even more awkwardly introduces the flashbacks, the absolutely painful moment where The Other Part wanders into the audiences as he explains his true nature, and the lame running gag about Indian doctors.

Emick and Phillips give their all to their parts, and an extended sequence in a vertically mounted bed set actually works well as a short play on its own. But they can't overcome the shortcomings of a script and direction that substitute broad stereotypes for perspective and insight. If the play were rewritten to focus on the relationship between these people from different backgrounds who bond over impending death, then you might have a sensitive, powerful story. Gods has potential, but it desperately needs to trim its fat.

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