Michael Erickson as Stanley, left to right, Gabriel Simms as Francis and Elizabeth Girvin as Rachel in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre production of "One Man, Two Gunners". Credit: Courtesy of Matt Hazard

Michael Erickson as Stanley, left to right, Gabriel Simms as Francis and Elizabeth Girvin as Rachel in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre production of “One Man, Two Guvnors”. Credit: Courtesy of Matt Hazard

Ohio State’s Department of Theatre will show audiences its comedic side with “One Man, Two Guvnors.”

The show is an adaptation of the classic Italian comedy “A Servant of Two Masters” by Carlo Goldoni. It premiered in April of 2012 had runs on Broadway in New York City and London’s West End, with a Tony Award-winning performance from comedian James Corden before OSU decided to take on the production.

“One Man, Two Guvnors” tells the story of Francis, a hapless servant who finds himself working for two different criminals. Francis soon gets in over his head as he tries to keep each of his employers from finding out about the other.

The production is co-directed by theater professors Ian Pugh and Shilarna Stokes, and is strongly influenced by Commedia dell’arte. Commedia dell’arte, or “Comedy of Art,” is a form of theater that became popular with traveling theater troupes in Europe in the 16th to 18th centuries. The style is notable for its heightened comedic situations and silliness.

Audiences might be more familiar with the style than they think.

“In some ways (the audience) will see a familiarity to traditional sitcoms,” Pugh said. “Sitcoms are a direct descendant of this.”  

Pugh said the play has a different style of acting than most students are used to performing, requiring high energy and exaggeration. Rehearsals began in September and focused on getting actors to capture the sillier exaggerated style of acting the play demands.

“We had a long rehearsal process,” Pugh said. “We had a lot to teach them as well as movement skills and style skills. There was a long time before the script was in their hands and they were learning the story in a different way than they’re used to.”

Actor Gabe Simms, a second-year in theater, said the long rehearsal helped him portray Francis, who he said is the most difficult role he’s ever played.

“I have a dialect plus physical comedy,” said Simms. “I’m flying across stage, running a mile and a half. I’m playing instruments too and singing. A lot was self-taught, a lot of stuff that we just had to do.”

The physicality of the play was a challenge for the actors, including Tony White, who plays the role of Alfie, an elderly, senile man who is the brunt of many jokes.

“He’s an old man in an exaggerated world,” said White, a first-year in theater. “I’ve never done anything as dramatic as him, never anything as physical. We had to really commit.”

The exaggerated acting style required an exaggerated world to match. That was the goal for Justin Miller, a graduate student studying scenic design, who designed the sets. Miller said the sets are inspired by comedies from the 1950s and ‘60s, as well as animation such as “Looney Tunes”.

“Basically, what we are shooting for is a cartoon-world environment,” Miller said.

Miller said the design supports the actors’ styles. “We’re really allowing them to play around in (the set). It’s an open playground, if you will.”

The production also sets the mood with bright and colored lighting provided by the lighting crew.

“Part of a lighting designer’s job is, certainly, to light actors but also to enhance the visual environment around the actor,” said Mary Tarantino, a theater professor and resident lighting designer for the department. “There are other ways to support that in light, like fast changes of light help the performance style and design.”

Pugh said audiences will enjoy the play’s themes beyond the comedy aspect.

“This type of comedy is subversive,” Pugh said. “It’s a social commentary and a broad comedy attack that should resonate with audiences today.”

Simms said the show has appeal for everyone.

“If you like sitcoms, if you like ‘Spongebob (Squarepants)’ or ‘The Simpsons’ you’re going to love this show,” Simms said. “It’s basically all those modern sitcoms, except this is live. We specifically interact with you. It’s fun and a great laugh.”

“One Man, Two Guvnors” will be performed in the Drake Performance and Event Center’s Thurber Theatre from Thursday to Nov. 20. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with Sunday shows at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for the general public; $18 for OSU faculty, staff, Alumni Association members and senior citizens; and $15 for students and children. Tickets are available through the OSU theater box office and Ticketmaster.