by Michael Meigs
I always enjoy watching the handsome and talented Penfold Theatre folk. Not only onstage in their accomplished presentations, of which The Servant of Two Masters directed by Beth Burns is only the latest shining example, but also as with considerable skill they build their presence and reputation.
Austin attracts graduates of theatre programs the way that Nashville attracts banjo pickers, and with not much effort I could name you half a dozen groups of friends who are putting their work up in dusty rented venues throughout this town. Talent is not lacking, and there's plenty of courage and ingenuity.
The Penfold team is grouped around funnyface Ryan Crowder, playing the leading rascal in this show, and Nathan Jerkins, who gives his self-assured ironic humor to the stock role of Brighella the innkeeper. In 2007 they founded the company with their Abilene Christian University classmate Sean Martin, at about the same time I arrived in Austin.
Penfold formed an early alliance with St. Ed's musical jack of all trades Dr. Michael McKelvey (director of their sparkling chamber musical theatre pieces The Last Five Years, John and Jen and I Love You Because). Company members' work with Austin Shakespeare and with recent arrival from California Beth Burns helped build networks including many of the liveliest and most dedicated theatre folk in Austin. They won B. Iden Payne awards.
And unlike most other young devotees of the theatre, they looked around for a promising home in the greater Austin area. Penfold made friends in Round Rock, the rapidly growing community just north of Austin, and has secured support from businesses, the municipality and potential arts patrons for their vision of a resident theatre company in that town.
Their summer shows at the Round Rock amphitheatre, open to all without charge, are splendid marketing devices, making Round Rock residents aware both of their talents and of their intentions to put down roots in that town. Last summer they put on the frantic crowd-pleaser The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and through most of this month they've been performing this late classic of the Italian commedia dall'arte by Carlo Goldoni. In addition to the Penfold founders the cast of The Servant of Two Masters features lively character actors familiar to Austin audiences from many venues (for example, Robert Deike, Alejandro McDonald-Villarreal, Griçelda Silva, Andréa Smith and the recently arrived Toby Minor).