An 18th Century comedy gets some contemporary touches when Youngstown State University Theater stages ''A Servant of Two Masters.''
The Carlo Goldoni play, written in 1753, is considered a classic example of commedia dell'arte, a form of theater that depends upon improvisation, physical comedy and stock characters played by actors who frequently wear masks.
The style continued to influence theater and other art forms long after its debut, according to director W. Rick Schilling, associate staff designer in YSU's department of theater and dance.
''The Three Stooges pulled a lot of their shtick from commedia dell'arte,'' Schilling said.
The English translation by Dorothy Louise of the Italian play maintains the period setting of the original, but it sprinkles a few modern-day allusions (like a reference to President Ronald Reagan) into the farcical tale.
The plot revolves around the always-hungry Truffaldino, who tries to work as a servant to two different masters (with the expected complications) as he pursues his love for the servant girl Smeraldina.
Schilling, who did his thesis project at Kent State University on commedia dell'arte, directed ''A Servant of Two Masters'' about 18 years ago at a high school, and he's taking advantage of working with an adult cast this time to explore the show's full comedic possibilities.
''It's a bawdy, physical comedy,'' Schilling said. ''None of the language is bad, but it's not for children.''
The show also gives theater students at YSU a chance to broaden their educations by working in a style that few commercial or community theaters would attempt.
''If a student is here studying for four years, we want them to have a chance to do Shakespeare, to do comedy, tragedy, a verse play, satire, farce,'' Schilling said. ''We want them to have a chance to experience a wide range of performance styles.''
Last fall students had the opportunity to take part in a commedia dell'arte workshop with Gale McNeeley, who appeared on Broadway with Christopher Plummer in the musical ''Cyrano'' and who was part of the original cast of the rock musical ''Two Gentlemen of Verona."
''We were able to springboard into this production right after that residency,'' Schilling said.
The cast features Rebecca Anderson and Aaron Kubicina, both of Cortland; David Munnell, Girard; Kyle Metzger, Leavittsburg; Jennifer Tomerlin, Niles; Courtney Auman, Calvin Brown and Maggie Gilmore, all of Austintown; Ryan Bissett, Berlin Center; Cheney Morgan, Boardman; Zach Campbell, East Liverpool; Gary Copley, Leetonia; Jake Rafidi, Lowellville; and Dana Chauvin, Youngstown.
''The Servant of Two Masters'' will be staged at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday, Saturday and Feb. 20-21 and 3 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 22 at Bliss Hall's Ford Theater. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, senior citizens and Penguin Club members. For reservations or more information, call 330-941-3105.