Commedia dell'arte (comedy of art) is one of those theatrical forms that seems to have been around forever. It's actually about 500 years old and its influence on comedy and theater is far-reaching.

Commedia dell'arte (comedy of art) is one of those theatrical forms that seems to have been around forever. It's actually about 500 years old and its influence on comedy and theater is far-reaching.

Back in 1745, playwright Carlo Goldini was asked by a famous commedia actor to write down the story of "The Servant of Two Masters."

The show at that time was simply a collection of comic bits or lazzi. Goldini turned the improvised sketches into a full-length play that was published in 1753.

Odel Gross and Tracy Young have adapted Goldini's script for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival based on Beatrice Basso's literal translation.

"The Servant of Two Masters" opens at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 28, in the New Theatre at OSF, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. Young directs. The choreographer is Ken Roht, the scenic designer is Richard L. Hay. Costume designer is Christal Weatherly and lighting designer is Lap Chi Chu. Composer and sound designer is Paul James Prendergast. Voice and text director is Rebecca Clark Carey. Dramaturg is Lydia Garcia and assistant director is David Salsa.

The servant Truffaldino, played by Mark Bedard, madly fibs his way through a day of near-disasters in Venice as he attends to not one, but two masters — without either knowing. Truffaldino improvises to keep both masters satisfied. His reward? A hearty meal, some extra pocket change and the satisfaction of outsmarting his "betters." In the process he manages to create a number of near-disasters for his masters, their lovers and others.

Commedia dell'arte started in Italy and was usually performed by a company of actors who were used to working together improvising shows that featured a cast of regular characters that were always in the story. Company members typically played the same character. The company would come up with different situations for the cast of stock characters to be involved in.

There were about 10 actors in the company, which included women, and they played their roles with half-masks that let the audience know what character they were. Other ways to identify the character were physical traits such as poses, voice and gestures.

Stock characters included Arlecchino or Truffaldino, a male servant; Arlecchina or Smeraldina, a female servant; Il Dottore, a master who considers himself an expert; Pantalone, a master who is a miser; Brighella, a master who is an innkeeper; and the young lovers, who are often the sons and daughters of Il Dottore and Pantalone. And of course, plenty of lazzi.

In the cast are David Kelly (Pantalone, Ensemble), Richard Howard (Doctor, Ensemble), Juan Rivera LeBron (Silvio, Ensemble), Elijah Alexander (Florindo, Ensemble), Eileen DeSandre (Brighella, Ensemble), Kate Mulligan (Beatrice, Ensemble), Kjerstine Rose Anderson (Clarice, Ensemble), Elisa Bocanegra (Smeraldina, Ensemble), Todd Bjurstrom (Waiter, Porter, Ensemble), B. Trevor Hill (Waiter, Ensemble) and Samuel D. Dinkowitz (Waiter, Ensemble).

For a schedule of performances and ticket information, see osfashland.org or call 482-4331