Wednesday, December 19, 2007

PLAY: "Scapin"

Set in San Piccolo, of festive "Itty Bitty Italy," Scott McCrea's new translation of Moliere's Scapin is a spry salute to the brio of commedia. But as flailingly directed by Shawn Rozsa, this is more an act of improvimisia dell'arte than anything: more a throwback to the ragtag street performers trying to out-lazzi one another than to the troupes who performed complete, scripted works (in other words, if you didn't like The Glorious Ones, you really won't like this). That doesn't mean it isn't funny, just wildly so: Scapin! with an exclamation mark. And perhaps I'm expecting too much from this lesser work of Moliere's (The Misanthrope it ain't): the plot is as simple as this:

Octave and Leandre (Matt Luceno and Nico Evers-Swindell) love Hyacinte and Zerbinette (Maya Rosewood and Catherine Wronowski), which requires their servants, Silvestre and Scapin (Jonathan M. Castro and Spencer Aste), to fool the money out of their controlling parents, Argante and Geronte (Roger Grunwald and John Freimann). (What can I say, comedy comes in pairs: there's even two dim-witted porters, played by Emile Nebbia and Jay Painter.) After much running around, Scapin, the smartest of the lot, tricks everyone into a happy ending.

Despite the emptiness of the plot, Rozsa stretches the action across two acts, adding unscripted entertainment before the show and during intermission, a choice that successfully evokes a clowning atmosphere that makes it OK to laugh, but hard to laugh for long. He's helped by Keven Lock's colorful set, a brightly painted series of backdrops and doorways that help to make the Turtle's Shell Theater seem larger than its name. This backfires on Rozsa, and that's what hurts this production: it's more escapinism than Scapin, and the show is stolen before it even begins by Jay Painter's hyperactive Italian braggadocio: Scapin may be crafty, but I'll bet he can't pull an inflated balloon through one nostril and out of his mouth. The ice is successfully broken (always important for period comedies), but under the global warming of Painter's sunny performance, it continues to melt until it has submerged the text of the play itself. Furthermore, Rozsa's attempts to compete with Painter's talent as a performer causes him to overdo a lot of the comedy, stretching out jokes beyond their expiration date, as with Silvestre's spork-wielding appearance as a would-be mobster.

By playing so many things over-the-top, Scapin loses itself as a farce and just becomes a series of jokes tenuously tied together by the most basic of plots. At best, it proves that happiness is not always boring (just exhausting!); at worst, it isn't funny (and that's something that Scapin can't pin on fate).

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