A word of advice: If your plans ever conflict with those of Corallina, you may as well just give way because she’ll best you every time.
Corallina — a firecracker with an intense sense of honour, an estimable loyalty to those who merit it and an ingrained understanding that women’s second-class citizenry needs to be rooted out like a nasty bit of poison ivy — is the glue who holds together Carlo Goldoni’s rarely produced 1752 commedia dell’arte creation The Amorous Servant.
Played by the tirelessly excellent Lise Cormier in Odyssey Theatre’s robust outdoor production, Corallina serves in the household of the wealthy but aging Ottavio (David Warburton). When Ottavio is convinced by his conniving second and younger wife Beatrice (Suzanne Roberts Smith) to disinherit his mate-less son Florindo (Christopher Allen in hilarious drama queen mode), Corallina swings into action. And when Corallina swings, she almost never misses.
The ensuing action is, as you might guess, riddled with twists and turns, comeuppances, hopes held high and dashed, and all the other stuff that makes for theatre that’s at once sheer entertainment and an always-timely reminder that the ruling class rules not because it deserves to but because it’s adept at holding on to power and wealth.
Corallina navigates this world of class and entitlement like a pro, gulling her superiors with ease (isn’t it delightful when servants are so much smarter than those they serve?) and sticking always to her motto, “Nothing means more to me than honour.” And don’t expect her to bite her tongue when she spots foolishness. “Don’t be such a sap,” she fires at a hapless Florindo at one point (John Van Burek’s unfussy translation of Goldoni’s original is peppered with such nuggets).
There are, of course, a gaggle of other characters on hand. Chris Ralph plays Pantalone, the moneyed father of Florindo’s love interest Rosaura (Tiffany Claire Martin). But Goldoni, who didn’t hesitate to rework commedia dell’arte conventions, turns the stock character of Pantalone from a cunning man into a waffler, a depiction Ralph handles with likeable humour. That change is one of many that keep Goldoni’s story ticking along at a mostly lively pace.
Also on board are Abraham Asto and Joshua Browne in double roles, including Asto as Beatrice’s son Lelio, a none-too-bright fellow in vain, swaggering pursuit of Rosaura. Late in the play, Goldoni again surprises us by having Lelio reveal a deep vulnerability beneath his bravado.
This being commedia, The Amorous Servant is performed in mask. Jerrard Smith designed the masks, and they’re a treasure trove of arched eyebrows, youthful ardour and long noses predaceously hooked or tipped with a set of spectacles. Especially wonderful is the way they, like the characters, take on deeper life as the sky darkens in Strathcona Park and Ron Ward’s lighting design grows stronger.
With costumes by Vanessa Imeson and a very workable set by John Doucet, director Attila Clemann invests the show with a physicality that outpaces even Odyssey’s usual standard. There are occasional arid spots in Goldoni’s script, but Clemann, who, like Corallina, has a clear idea of exactly what he wants and how to get there, keeps us visually occupied as he steers through them.
Just remember: Don’t ever try to steer through Corallina.
The Amorous Servant is an Odyssey Theatre production. It was reviewed Thursday. At Strathcona Park until August 20. Tickets: odysseytheatre.ca, 613-232-8407.