One Man, Two Guvnors
By Richard Bean
Based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
With songs by Grant Olding
Directed by David Ivers
A co-production with South Coast Repertory
Main Season · Roda Theatre
May 8–June 28, 2015
West Coast Premiere
Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission
Welcome to swingin’ England. The disarming and doltish Francis Henshall finds himself trapped by farce into working for two bosses—who are connected to each other in wildly improbable ways. He just has to keep them from discovering each other. Easy, right? Inspired insanity, high-low antics, and nimble wordplay ensue—all backed by live musicians paying homage to rockabilly and a certain Fab Four. Join Francis in the fun as he leads you through this topsy-turvy world of love triangles and mistaken identities. It’s more than a sassy update of Carlo Goldoni’s classic knee-slapper, The Servant of Two Masters. It’s a brilliantly delicious mash-up of splendid comedy, British pantomime, and music-hall revues.
Richard Bean · Playwright
Grant Olding · Songwriter
David Ivers · Director
Gregg Coffin · Music Director
Hugh Landwehr · Scenic Design
Meg Neville · Costume Design
Alexander V. Nichols · Lighting Design
Lindsay Jones · Sound Design
Gerry McIntyre · Musical Staging / Dance Captain
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Joanne DeNaut · Casting
Michael Suenkel · Stage Manager
Karen Szpaller · Assistant Stage Manager
Rob Salas · Assistant Director
Anshuman Bhatia · Assistant to the Scenic Designer
Lynne Soffer · Dialect Coach
Dave Maier · Fight Director
Ron Campbell · Alfie
William Connell · Stanley
Brad Culver · Alan
Dan Donohue · Francis Henshall
John-David Keller · Harry Dangle
Becca Lustgarten · Ensemble
Gerry McIntyre · Lloyd Boateng
Sarah Moser · Pauline
Todd Pivetti · Ensemble
Daniel Redmond · Ensemble
Helen Sadler · Rachel
Danny Scheie · Gareth
Steven Shear · Ensemble
Robert Sicular · Charlie Clench
Claire Warden · Dolly
Casey Hurt · Lead Vocals & Guitar
Mike McGraw · Lead Guitar
Marcus Högsta · Bass
Andrew Niven · Percussion & Drums
“The skiffle band music is so joyous that you’re smiling before the comedy at Berkeley Rep even begins. The farce that follows, Richard Bean’s madcap One Man, Two Guvnors, is a near fail-safe recipe for hilarity. Best of all, the entire cast, under the scintillating direction of David Ivers, keeps the theater rocking with laughter for more than two hours. It’s a triumph…an anything-goes combination of high, low and just plain bad-taste humor executed with pinpoint precision and a generous looseness. Dan Donohue embodies all those approaches in a full-scale expect-the-unexpected performance as the servant of two masters…Donohue fills the role as if born to it…But he’s supported by such a deft and nimbly comic ensemble that it’s impossible to give due credit to all…”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Loosen your belts. While Berkeley Rep’s One Man, Two Guvnors won’t bust your sides, the West Coast premiere of this play based on an 18th-century classic will keep you laughing on three levels for 2.65 hours. When was the last time the numbers added up like that? Directed with marvelous madness by David Ivers…Operating at full throttle from high- to low-brow comedy, a superior cast crushes it—like a baseball player’s grand slam…The collective genius—which made the production a hit on Broadway, and set a high bar for Ivers’ California version—is undeniable. Let’s just say the sum of the parts is so good you forget just how good it is, and just give in to the frivolity.”—SF Weekly
“Berkeley Rep in a co-production with South Coast Repertory Theatre closes out their 2014–2015 season with an unqualified hit of Richard Bean’s adaptation of Carlo Goldini’s 17th century masterful farce The Servant of Two Masters. Every creative aspect of what makes theatre great is on display…Every one of those actors earn accolades, along with the star of the show Dan Donohue whose mobile body, expressive face and perfect comedic timing are hilarious and a joy to watch. It is certain that parts of those routines are aided by the fantastic direction of David Ivers, keeping the nonstop action in sync with the hysterical entrance and exits needed for farce with the obligatory slamming of doors and pratfalls.”—For All Events
“Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte classic, The Servant of Two Masters, gets a ditsy spin in this smash hit English adaptation of the 18th-century rib tickler…This lively take on Guvnors is thoroughly amusing…a loopy homage to pratfalls that ricochet from giggles to groans with zany panache…Doors are slammed, identities mistaken and wits scrambled in this full-throttle knee slapper…The most hysterical bits are usually [Dan] Donohue’s ad-libs, and there are some delectable rounds of audience participation…Suffice to say that there’s a rollicking sense of fun from start to finish…[Director David] Ivers…makes sure the production matches the energy and verve of the onstage skiffle band, a Fab Four facsimile…Perhaps the most effective musical number is the closing song, in which each character regales us with a part of the story we’ve just seen. Not that the plot or theme matters a whit in this goofy fable. The laugh’s the thing here.”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group
“Oh, if only all adaptations could be this fun. When playwright Richard Bean decided to pull Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century comedy into a specific time and place in the 20th century—Brighton, England, 1963—he did so with an eye to heightening and broadening the comedy from its Venetian origins…At the center of the party is Oregon Shakespeare Festival staple Dan Donohue as Francis, the hungry clown who finds himself working for two masters…Donohue is part Conan O’Brien (the ginger part), part Peter Sellers, part VW full of circus clowns (all of them). He’s adept at the physical comedy…but he’s also a wonderful actor and makes Francis endearing in his stupidity and hunger…Though Donohue offers a dynamic star turn, he’s really part of an intricate, carefully calibrated comedy machine. The whole cast…works effectively as a team to bust guts and keep the momentum rolling to the clap-along, sing-along ending.”—Theater Dogs
“The entire theatrical patchwork quilt—and 15-member acting ensemble—made me grin, smile, chortle and laugh—from beginning to end…as Francis Henshall, [Dan Donohue]’s what I’ll describe as a farce of nature. He’s as skilled, exquisitely timed and rubber-bodied a clown as Pickle Family grads Bill Irwin or Geoff Hoyle, which is high praise indeed.”—Marinscope
Prologue: from the Artistic Director
There are many theories of comedy, all of them fantastically un-funny. There’s the Relief Theory, the Superiority Theory, and the Incongruity Theory. There are theories based on sexual selection, mistaken reasoning, misattribution, and benign violation. You can probably figure those out just from the titles. But then there’s the Computational-Neural Theory, which I recommend as a sleep aid, and my personal favorite, the Ontic-Epistemic Theory, which sounds like a medical procedure related to colon cancer. One thing is clear: many people have tried to explain why we laugh.
It’s a tough one to figure out, precisely because we laugh a lot, for different reasons, about lots of stuff. When you watch a group of people at a comedy, for example, it’s fascinating to see their reactions. What one person finds hilarious, another finds dull. One person is giddy, another insulted. One delirious, another miserable. Comedies are controversial because laughter provides an index of our values; it reveals a deep part of who we are as individuals, families, communities, and countries. And as often as we share a laugh, laughter can also divide us.
So it is a rare thing indeed when a comedy comes close to universal acclaim. Such is the case with The Servant of Two Masters, written in 1743 by Carlo Goldoni. Using a staple of comic characters inherited from commedia dell’arte, the play uses relief, incongruity, superiority, mistaken reasoning, sexual selection, misattribution, and not-so-benign violation to provide Big Relief and even bigger laughs. It’s been translated countless times, adapted for film, and transposed to many different historical periods, most recently by Richard Bean for the National Theatre of England. Hence, One Man, Two Guvnors, set in 1963 in Brighton, a declining seaside town filled with a raucous array of con-men, servants, nitwits, and lovers. They’re all thrown together in a chaotic comic dance, set to the music of a skiffle band with decidedly rock-and-roll tendencies.
Of course, you need the right creative team to unlock the joy of the play. It gives me the greatest pleasure to introduce director David Ivers to you, a gifted maestro whose brains are big and whose pockets are lined with lazzi. Along with his longtime friend and collaborator, the astonishing Dan Donohue, and a large ensemble of co-conspirators, we bring you the grand chaos of Goldoni’s masterpiece, re-imagined for our time. I don’t know if it will validate the Ontic-Epistemic Theory of Humor, but I have a hunch that it will be greatly entertaining.
Prologue: from the Managing Director
Is there anything better than a good endorphin-inducing belly laugh? It is right up there at the top of my “must have” list. One of the great pleasures of being human has got to be that absolutely satisfying experience of laughing so hard that all your muscles get a workout! And we think that is just what David Ivers and his team have concocted for you tonight.
This has been a season that has taken you from the bittersweet melancholy of An Audience with Meow Meow, through the activism of Party People, the wry wit of Molly Ivins, the urgency of X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story), the profound cynicism of Tartuffe, and then the deep tragedy of Head of Passes. And now we just want you to exhale and enjoy the unrelenting inventiveness of this classic turned upside-down. It is our end-of-season gift to you.
Although it is, technically, the end of the season, we do have one more treat in store for you. Anna Deavere Smith, a woman who always seems to have her finger on the pulse of America, is coming back this July for just a three-week run. Anna’s new piece, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, will premiere here at the Roda Theatre. (This is a special presentation and not part of the 2014–15 subscription season, so call the box office to reserve your seats.) Anna has been exploring the pipeline from school to prison for a few years now. She’s been interviewing educators, judges, people from corrections, and all the myriad players who have something to say about the systems we’ve created that have contributed to our astronomically high rates of incarceration. She has explored the lost generation of men and boys (and girls, too) who have ended up in our prisons rather than in our schools, and she has brought her considerable powers of insight and observation together for this new piece.
We don’t want you to miss her new work. Anna has given us some of the most memorable evenings in our theatre: the aftermath of the Crown Heights riots in Fires in the Mirror; ruminations on race relations in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992; her meditation on health and mortality in Let Me Down Easy. With Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education she brings her fierce curiosity and virtuosic skills back here for this very special event.
I’m looking forward to seeing you one more time this summer.
Under the boardwalk
By Julie McCormick
Carlo Goldoni’s comedic masterpiece The Servant of Two Masters has delighted audiences with its twists and turns, cases of mistaken identity, and no-holds-barred slapstick since its first performance in 1743. Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors updates and reimagines the main events of this story from Goldoni’s 18th-century Venice to 1963 Brighton, England. It’s a surprisingly appropriate move—there’s more in common between 18th-century Venice and 1960s Brighton than one might think.
The island city of Venice, “The Queen of the Adriatic,” perches atop the waves just off of mainland Italy. By the second half of the 1700s, Venice’s glory days as a thousand-year-old republic and international trading hub were coming to an end, but it was already the bustling tourist destination we know it to be today. The romance of crumbling palazzos, glittering gambling salons, winding canals, and Carnival drew in travelers from far and wide looking to escape from the tightly regulated social hierarchies of daily life.
For much of its history, the seaside town of Brighton has also been an escape from the grind of reality. Since the early days this erstwhile fishing village has been a point of embarkation between Britain and the Continent for both business and pleasure. In the 18th-century, popular wisdom espoused the salutary powers of sea air, and tourists flocked from around the country to take in the briny breezes and soak in newly opened spas. When the railway between London and Brighton opened in the 1840s, day-trippers from the big city poured into the seaside town on sunny days, and the regular population boomed.
Just as the idea of Venice is inextricably linked with the masks of Carnival, nothing captures the spirit of Brighton in all of its sandy, cotton-candy glory more than the glittering Palace Pier. Spindly pylons race down the sand and skip through the surf, jutting out 1760 feet into the waters of the English Channel. The pier sits on top like a magnificent birthday cake: its soaring confectionary Victorian architecture gleams a bright white against the waves and sky.
The first pier at Brighton Beach was built in 1823 and used primarily for off-loading passenger ships from France. The owners encouraged stalls featuring snacks, souvenirs, and portrait artists to set up along the boardwalk and began charging admission. A series of bad storms eventually damaged the pier beyond repair, and in 1889, the Brighton Marine Palace & Pier Company bought out the old pier and began construction on a new one. The company spared no expense for the grandest entertainment and most cutting-edge technology. A concert hall, theatre, bandstand, and pavilions for eating and smoking sat along the boardwalk and were lit at night with 3,000 lightbulbs, a newly available invention. Some of these constructions, like the bandstand and the elegant iron and steel arches at the entrance of the pier, remain standing today.
By the 1960s, however, some of the shine on the Palace Pier had faded. Sections that were shut down during World War II for fear of invasion had fallen into disrepair. Many of the same games that had been up since the turn of the century were still there—these weren’t replaced with more modern arcade games until the 1970s. Major structural and aesthetic renovations were still decades off, so by 1963, the pier had become a bit dilapidated and slightly seedy.
The piers at Brighton Beach have always been a place where all sorts would meet, play, relax, and sometimes clash: tourists and townies, old and young, rich and poor, English and foreign. In 1964, the year after One Man, Two Guvnors is set, this came to a head in the battle between the mods and rockers, two youth gangs out of London. The mods rode mopeds, wore skinny designer suits, and listened to skiffle. The rockers revved their motorcycles straight out of a James Dean movie, leather jackets and all. Thousands of teenagers brawled on the waterfront, upsetting sand castles and picnic baskets until police hauled them away. In some ways, their summer battles were symbolic of greater cultural changes yet to come.
So many of our greatest stories and biggest laughs arise out of the moment where one unexpected thing runs into another. Alien meets earthling, high meets low, pie meets face. In Goldoni’s Venice and Richard Bean’s Brighton, where the land meets the sea, one era meets another, and the corny and magnificent collide, a sense of holiday abandon rules the day. Anyone might be there, and anything is possible.
By Julie McCormick
Before Beatlemania swept the land, there was skiffle. A type of music that blends elements of folk, blues, country, and jazz, skiffle is largely played on homemade or improvised instruments and inspires the score for this show. Skiffle rose from the same rich, musical soup that exhaled blues, jazz, gospel, and the precursors to swing, rock, and funk, and was first played by informal jug bands in the early 20th century American South. These “country blues” ensembles blew into and slapped glass or stoneware jugs to create bass lines and rubbed washboards to keep time. Guitars, banjos, and fiddles harmonized with spoons, kazoos made out of a comb and a piece of paper, and whatever else musicians could find in their kitchens and junk drawers.
The origin of the name is a bit of a mystery, although it’s certainly onomatopoeic. Both “skiffle” and “boogie” were slang for rent parties in the 1920s, where musicians passed the hat at house parties to help “make the rent.” The first recordings of skiffle were made in Chicago in 1925, with Jimmy O’Bryant and his Chicago Skifflers. After a brief waltz in the public eye, this “poor man’s jazz” faded from popularity after 1940.
In the 1950s, skiffle made its way to England in the fingers of Lonnie Donegan, a jazz musician who cut his teeth on swing, country, and blues. Inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, Donegan picked up the banjo and started playing “skiffle breaks” in between sets with some of his fellow band mates in Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen. His recording of Lead Belly’s “Rock Island Line” shot to the top of British and American music charts in 1956, and soon Donegan was releasing full albums of skiffle and playing on The Perry Como Show.
The popularity of this musical form cannot be overstated: it is estimated that there were 30,000–50,000 skiffle groups in Britain during the late ‘50s. Why this sudden interest? Certainly, there was an appetite for musical styles originating in the African-American South which was whetted by access to American radio during World War II and musical-variety television shows of the ‘50s. Some suggest it had something to do with skiffle’s playful informality: the lyrics are often simple, the music has room for improvisation, and the instruments aren’t expensive or hard to come by. In a Britain still recovering economically from a devastating war, it was appealing to use simple instruments like kazoos, washboards, or harmonicas, and to construct “tea box basses” and “cigar box fiddles” with cheap materials close at hand. Skiffle exploded the idea of what music is and who could make it at a moment in history when people were ready for change.
Though the mania for the form ended with the ‘60s, many of the 20th century’s most popular musicians got their starts in a skiffle band. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, The Spinners, Alex Harvey, and Mick Jagger all began in skiffle, as well as a little group called The Quarrymen. In 1956, a teenaged John Lennon learned how to play the banjo from his mother, and started practicing skiffle songs with a few other boys from “Quarry High School” in his backyard air-raid shelter. After moderate success at a few neighborhood gigs, Lennon convinced budding guitarist Paul McCartney to join the band, and brought in a 15-year-old George Harrison in 1958. By 1960s, The Beatles were born and the British Invasion was in full force. You can still find skiffle in its pure form today in living rooms, back porches, and street corners, but its playful, creative spirit lives on in the DNA of modern pop, rock, and jazz.
Leather masks and cartoon anvils
Commedia’s stock characters and comedy today
By Lexi Diamond
1615: On a busy street in Italy, Arlecchino finishes an enormous meal and—somehow still famished—begins to devour himself, starting from the feet and working his way up.
2015: On a television screen in an American living room, ever-hungry Homer Simpson awakes from a nap to find a hotdog bun placed on his hand, and instinctively begins chomping away at his own fleshy limb.
This kind of comedy brings us a visceral satisfaction. We long to see the hungry fool messily dive headfirst into a plate of food, or the blustering blowhard humiliate himself in front of those he’d most like to impress. Conventions like these spring up time and again in contemporary popular culture because they have been deeply engrained in our collective sense of humor for centuries. Many of today’s most familiar comedic tropes can be traced back to the 1600s, where they were born from commedia dell’arte. Though commedia as it was once practiced has largely fallen into obscurity, the broad comedic archetypes it established continue to make us laugh every day in sitcoms and cartoons.
The basis for One Man, Two Guvnors lies in Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, arguably the most famous play from the tradition of commedia dell’arte. This late-Renaissance Italian theatrical form relied on an arsenal of stock characters whose stories changed from play to play, but whose personalities and behaviors stayed the same. Each character was performed with a signature costume, mask, and physical vocabulary, making the role instantly identifiable to onlookers who came to the public squares where commedia troupes performed their shows. For the most part, the plays themselves were loosely plotted stories, strung together by improvisation, audience interaction, songs, and lazzi, or comedic bits that served to demonstrate each character’s archetypal personality.
The stock characters belonged to one of two classes: masters or servants, and status factored heavily into each character’s persona. The stories themselves usually took place in the house of a wealthy family and involved a marriage plot gone wrong. The Masters, or Vecchi (Italian for “old men”), were usually the lovers’ respective fathers. Their stories usually involved them getting in the way of the young people’s happiness in favor of their own gain. There was Pantalone, a miserly, lecherous old coot who cared more for money than people, and Il Dottore, a bumbling academic who was easily befuddled by his own academic pretense. Il Capitano, a swaggering, macho show-off, also belonged to the upper class, as did the lovers. The Lovers, or innamorati, went by many names, but were always unmasked and wholly ridiculous. They existed to be in love: in love with the other innamorato, in love with themselves, and in love with love.
There were many stock characters of the servant class, called Zanni, the most famous of whom was Arlecchino. Arlecchino was a silly, mischievous servant who was forever in search of his next meal. He constantly created chaos, his talent for acrobatics and physical comedy coming out as he tried to dodge the mix-ups he himself often stirred up. His female counterpart, Smeraldina, was a clever, saucy maid who often figured things out several steps ahead of the others and had to set them all straight. Brighella, a slightly higher-class Zanni, was a crude, low-level merchant or tavern owner who willingly bent the rules to make a profit. Brighella and the Masters often employed a number of additional, unnamed Zanni, each one more foolish and scrambled than the next.
Because these recognizable characters were ruled so heavily by their foibles, audiences could anticipate that the humor would come from seeing them thwarted by their signature imperfection, be it greed, lust, or plain old stupidity. This created a sense of suspense for the crowd of onlookers, a balance between familiarity and surprise: they knew what would bring a character’s downfall, but eagerly awaited the fresh how. Think Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner around a bend—we know that an anvil meant for his foe has been laid on the cliff above, and we know that obsessed Wile E. Coyote isn’t nearly as clever a planner as he fancies himself. The comedy, then, comes from waiting to see his plans foiled once again as the object of his fanatical hunt outsmarts him.
The archetypes put into motion over 400 years ago on the street corners of Italy are still essential to our comedy vocabulary today. When sweet, dimwitted Gilligan of Gilligan’s Island gets underfoot and causes a ruckus, we see shades of Arlecchino. When Owl from Winnie-the-Pooh delivers a pretentious lecture to the others but confuses the facts amidst his self-importance, Il Dottore rears up. From Charlie Chaplin to Sponge-Bob SquarePants, and from The Cosby Show to Monty Python, these clowns are all around us.
David Ivers on comedy, classics, and cooking
By the Berkeley Rep Literary Staff
Director David Ivers is a man of many talents. He originally cut his teeth as an actor, eventually transitioning into a career as a director and artistic director of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. His work was recently seen at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where his production of the Marx Brothers’ musical The Cocoanuts brought down the house with spot-on slapstick and unrepentant improv. From his home in the Utah mountains, David Ivers took a few minutes to speak with the Berkeley Rep literary staff about One Man, Two Guvnors and his approach to comedy.
Berkeley Rep: Richard Bean used Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte classic The Servant of Two Masters as a springboard for One Man, Two Guvnors. Can you say a little bit about why you think he might have set his version on the boardwalks of 1960’s Brighton?
David Ivers: There has to be a cloak of anonymity to The Servant of Two Masters. It’s essential to the theme. My theory is that boardwalks—which are prevalent in Brighton—provide a kind of anonymity. They become these sort of microcosms of classless societies because they often attract tourists and visitors, and it therefore becomes very hard to tell where stratification lies.
So I think one of the reasons the play is set in Brighton, in England, under the cloak of this boardwalk is that anyone can just arrive there, you know? It’s like going to an amusement park. You’re just waiting for the nighttime. You just get to be anonymous. It gives you a kind of courage.
Are you using the music from the original National Theatre production, or are you bringing someone in to do your own compositions?
We can’t compose new music for it. We’ll have sound cues like the doorbell; that’ll be original. But we’re not composing anything. As a matter of fact, the score is so amazing in that it provides options in certain sections. Like, if you need an extra 30 seconds to change the set behind that curtain, play this!
And the show is built like a machine: this downbeat drops here into rock and roll for two minutes and 32 seconds, on two minutes and 30 seconds your stage manager is calling the cue out on that drop, lights are bumping up, we’re hoping for applause that will cover that last bit of travel, and then we’re into the scene.
Nothing moves in the play scenically, nothing technical happens without a live band covering it. It’s such a present show. It’s so immediate. The band sits within touching distance of the first row. That means there’s also a fairly loud band that close to the first row, and it means that the energy of the play has to embrace that. There has to be a really wonderful synergy moving in several directions between the music in the show and the audience, the story and the audience, the actor and the audience, the actor and the band, the band and the audience…
How do you go about finding collaborators for this kind of a project?
Give me warm, generous, and funny over everything. I don’t care what you look like—if you’re warm as a person, and you’re generous as a person, and you have a good sense of humor, you can accomplish anything. I believe that in my leadership position, I believe it in my approach to these plays.
I’ve got a bunch of nimrods that I get to work with over and over again—we’re like 8-year-olds! We work more and more together, and we go, “Wow, they’re giving us money to do this again?”
For example, I’ve worked with [costume designer] Meg Neville several times. I loved her from the first time we met, because she showed me a bunch of her drawings that had her lipstick on them. She’s got a million things going on and she always retains this wonderful sense of humor and does everything with a great sense of style. And I really love her sense of whimsy.
I’ve known Gregg Coffin, our music director, since college. We’ve worked together on a ton of stuff. We bonded over Bugs Bunny and an insane appreciation for the math of that kind of work.
Do you find yourself generally attracted to larger scale, multi-piece projects like this?
I find that other people are generally attracted to me doing that for them—I would really love to do a four-person play set in a black box with a couch!
But seriously, I’m a total classicist at heart. I was reared on Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, Moliere, Goldoni…And with anything that’s rooted in classicism, we have to decide for ourselves what it’s about, and then proceed with ultimate clarity.
So I think what that’s come to mean is that I understand structure. Structure reveals itself in a lot of ways, and in classical plays, it tends to reveal itself with a lot of people and a lot of moving parts. So I’m drawn to the challenge of that. It inevitably makes me incredibly nervous. And incredibly humbled. Because it’s like sitting down at the piano to a new Shostakovich composition and going, how are my fingers going to figure this out?
This play is very British—are you approaching it any differently as a piece for an American audience?
If there’s one thing I know about America, it’s that we’re obsessed with British culture. We’re completely enamored by not only the rhythms of the dialect, but also the rhythms of the way in which people there conduct their lives. So for me, I think it adds to the aural composition of the play.
Also, I grew up with a British mother, so that helps in terms of understanding the humor. And a lot of it is cued in visually, and that’s pretty universal. Someone falling down the stairs is someone falling down the stairs. You either have a proclivity towards enjoying that stuff or you think it’s childish. Me, I love it.
I think it’s going to be a really visceral, energetic, stupid-in-the-best-way, frolicking mess. With rock and roll supporting this absolutely insane, wonderful, chaotic world. I don’t think we want to approach it differently for American audiences. American audiences were reared on The Three Stooges, Tom & Jerry, and Looney Tunes. So I think we’ll have some intersections.
Can you talk a little bit about some of your personal comedic influences?
Well, The Three Stooges, Tom & Jerry, and Looney Tunes. My father is French-Canadian, and my mother’s British. My father used to bring my brother and me into the living room on the weekends while my mother would cook breakfast. And the reason she’d love to be in the other room was so that she could hear us laughing, because my dad would sit us down and start the weekend watching The Three Stooges.
The world of farce and physical comedy really speaks to me because it marries precision with being a child, with childishness—innocence and purity and total youthful exuberance with a kind of virtuosity. I think it’s one of the only art forms that has the ability to do that.
This kind of work is like cooking. It’s really better when you do it generously and for the benefit of other people. And that’s what will keep heart in this production, and will make it transcend just a bunch of idiots running around having a good time.
Can you remember the time you’ve laughed hardest?
It might have been last night, when my son Elliot—well, I laugh at my kids all the time. They’re young, so I pull up small vignettes of, like, Peter Sellers doing the parallel bar routine and falling down the staircase. And I don’t laugh anymore at the actual video as much as I laugh my ass off watching my kids respond to the same stuff. I tend to get great joy out of creating the work and then feeling other people respond to it.
Rock on with The Craze
Get the skinny on skiffle—and see the band play an extra set Saturday nights!
Dan Donohue stars in this riotous little video.
Official wicked-brilliant trailer
Oy, mate, see for yourself why One Man, Two Guvnors is a “rollicking sense of fun from start to finish!”
Get a sneak peek at One Man, Two Guvnors with director David Ivers and leading man Dan Donohue!
On the telly
It’s 15 seconds of bright color and a smashing British accent for One Man, Two Guvnors!
Photos courtesy of mellopix.com
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Check out this fab list created by our mates in the literary department.
About the play
- Playwright Richard Bean talks about his journey to becoming one of the most important writers in the UK today in this interview with the Wilma Theater.
- For a shorter interview specifically about Bean’s adaptation process for One Man, Two Guvnors, you might enjoy this visitlondon.com blog post.
- This blog post by a dramaturg at the University of York provides a broad and compelling history of British farce and comedy. It tracks the form’s journey from the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte to British musical hall to Alan Ayckbourn and Noël Coward.
- The full text for Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, the source material for Richard Bean’s play, can be found online through Project Gutenberg.
The Comic Mask in the Commedia dell’Arte by Antonio Fava
- In One Man, Two Guvnors Richard Bean pays close attention to spotlighting the stock characters that are so quintessential to commedia dell’arte. This book by Antonio Fava provides vivid descriptions of those archetypes, giving analyses of how each one walked, how they would complicate plots, and even how they compare to modern sports figures.
About the era
- This article takes a nostalgic look back at the glamor, drama, and revolution of the very year and place where One Man takes place: the UK in 1963. With an eye on pop culture and politics, the author takes a close look at what it looked like to be a young man in swinging London.
- This photo gallery includes images from the Brighton Boardwalk in the early 1960s during a famous clash between two youth gangs, the mods and the rockers. The series should provide a sense the energy of the Brighton waterfront where One Man takes place.
About the music
- Grant Olding, composer of the music for the production of One Man, Two Guvnors, discusses writing skiffle songs in the rehearsal room and putting together the band that scores the show, the Craze.
Skiffle: The Definitive Inside Story by Chas McDevitt
- This book tells the story of skiffle from its jazz-blues-folk beginnings in the U.S. to its explosion in 1950s Britain, which led directly to the birth of so many British rock bands and singers. The book also includes photographs and a CD of music that illustrates the evolution of the sound.
- This video recording features a 1961 performance by “King of Skiffle” Lonnie Donegan, the British musician who is credited for sparking the skiffle explosion in the UK.
- This series of compilation CDs highlights the songs and styles that inspired the Beatles in their early evolution from a skiffle band known as the Quarrymen to the rock ‘n’ roll sensation they became. The albums feature some of the biggest names in jazz, rockabilly, Motown, and pop of the 1960s, whose influences are clear in the Beatles and in the One Man band, the Craze.