Steven Epp lives for comedy and is never happier than hearing audiences break into loud guffaws over his antics. His specialty is commedia dell'arte, the physical improvisational style that incorporates topical jokes about the community in question and key contemporary events made all the more enticing by savory scandals.
For the next month, he stars in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's uninhibited production of "The Servant of Two Masters" as Truffaldino, master of mayhem punctuated by music, dance, Washington trivia and delicious rumor.
Written by Italian playwright Carlo Goldini, the romp is directed by Christopher Bayes, Epp's partner in hilarity, who teaches his craft at the Yale School of Drama. In addition to numerous presentations of this gem, they recently were responsible for splitting many sides performing Moliere's "A Doctor in Spite of Himself" in several venues.
|'The Servant of Two Masters'|
|Where: Shakespeare Theatre Company, Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. NW|
|When: Through July 8|
|Info: $30 to $95; 202-547-1122; shakespearetheatre.org|
"Christopher and I met in Minneapolis, where we worked for many years in Theatre de la Jeune Lune," Epp said. "Our shows ran the gamut from Shakespeare, Moliere and opera to dozens of adaptations. We were like two new puppies in theater boot camp. For the first five years, we were on stage together every night. We ran the company doing everything: marketing, making grant proposals and writing scripts. We've always had great rapport on stage, and our wives and kids are close friends."
The story of "The Servant of Two Masters" revolves around Truffaldino's plot to earn two salaries by working for two masters, who are unaware of his scheme. It relies on his ability to move so quickly that onlookers are beset by confusion. Along with whirlwind physical gyrations, the execution depends upon perfectly timed delivery of lines.
"To be true to commedia dell'arte, we have to make each show contemporary by incorporating current references," Epp said. "The timing must be impeccable with little chance for error. We perform in masks that are beautifully made by an Italian mask-maker company. Music is infused like a love note. During rehearsal, we have to plan the timing of every syllable, but we do allow for the danger of accidents. The entire show is one big ride with a wonderful ensemble feel, from the handing of the baton in the first scene to the next character until the final moment."