Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Scapin Theatre Review

Michael Glenn delights in the titular role

Better Wed, Than Dead

Leave sensibility at the door, and prepare to have a blast at the Constellation Theatre Company's presentation of Scapin, directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer, and adapted from Molière's Les Fourberies de Scapin by Bill Irwin & Mark O'Donnell. The name of the game here is fun, and there's plenty of it. Clowns, outrageous costumes, deception, greed, revenge and marriage (wanted and not) take turns on the Source's center stage... often with hilarious (always lighthearted) results.

Easy to digest, Bryer's Scapin clocks in at about two hours with a 15-minute intermission (when we're instructed by the show's main character to, "Go you now, and urinate." Given the number of laughs already had, this makes for sound advice. A strong ensemble cast, spearheaded by Constellation veteran Michael Glenn takes great lengths to avoid taking anything too seriously, least of all themselves.

Matthew McGee, Michael Glenn & Bradley Foster Smith (r)

The story begins with music, then disaster. "The worst thing that's ever happened," in fact. Turns out that Octave's dad is coming to town. Cue dramatic meltdown. Octave (Matthew McGee) doesn't exactly set the world on fire, so he secures the help of town savant (and friend Leander's servant) Scapin (Glenn) to help him out of a sticky situation (one that involves marriage... or two (marriages) for that matter.)

Scapin proceeds to wiggle his way into everyone's business... en route to settling a score with Leander's father Geronte (Ashley Ivey.) The resourceful Scapin devises multiple ruses to extort money out of both Geronte and his partner in crime Argante (Octave's dad) in order to get their kids hooked up with the women they love. Don't feel badly if you're confused: The play is a lot clearer than my description could ever be.

Nora Achrati & Megan Dominy (r)

What ensues is pretty darn funny. Scapin and his jittery pal Sylvestre (Bradley Foster Smith) juggle lies with deft precision, until the sheer number of characters makes hiding the truth no longer possible. Once Argante & Geronte catch on, all heck breaks loose.

Glenn, a dead ringer for Mike Douglas (with a touch of Tom Arnold for good measure) controls the bulk of the action on stage. His cheerful disposition, and ability to engage/incorporate the audience (even in drag) is a joy to behold, as is Foster-Smith's unique ability to switch on with a myriad of famous characters from cinema (Howard BealeTravis Bickle, Hannibal Lecter & Ratso Rizzo to name a few) that had the audience in stitches. Each are more than capable as physical comics, and I look forward to seeing more of both.

Glenn, McGee & Smith (r) All photos: Stan Barouh

Ivey and Carlos Saldaña (Argante) are fine villains, such as they are. Truth is, their characters are like most wealthy fathers... they want to hang on to their money, and make sure their sons don't make a mess of their lives. Of course, this story will have none of that... placing countless obstacles in the path of each of its characters. Geronte gets the lion's share of blame for most of the ill-will throughout the production. His constant whining, "Why did the boy get on the boat?" becomes quite irksome (I'm sure, by intention) so much so, that you root even harder for Scapin to "set him straight."

The remainder of the cast is fine. I could do without McGee's Jeff Spicoli-routine, but someone has to play the goofball. Manu Kumasi brings plenty of energy; and Megan Dominy & Nora Achrati fill in the blanks (Achrati's gypsy accent is a bit thick, while Dominy cries & smiles just enough to get noticed.) Vanessa Bradchulis (Zorro) is strong as Nerine, a busty servant... but this play hardly recognizes the three female roles in any other capacity but supporting. I know, I know... Change is coming: Is it any wonder that women still make about about ¾ of what a man does, for the same job?  End of editorial. My apologies to any readers who think I'm no longer sexist.

Kudos to A.J. Guban for transforming the Source into a colorful, magical wonderland. Guban maximizes the heck out of a relatively small theater... so much so, I barely recognized the place since last September's Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio. P.S. Bonus points for numbering the seats in the audience. Muchas gracias! Tiny houses (complete with working doors & windows) offer all kinds of possibilities, such as Scapin's resourceful method of extracting $$$ from tight-fisted Geronte in one of the play's many scams.

Bradley Foster Smith and Michael Glenn (r)

Pianist George (Travis Charles Ploeger) rattles off an assortment of popular soundtracks (The Godfather, Rocky, Titanic,) from high atop his perch on stage... Even lowering himself to the occasional television track (The Incredible Hulk, Law & Order.) Poor George. His musical accompaniment is pivotal to the play... akin to the days of silent movies (and live music backgrounds.)

You won't find brilliance per se; but if you're open to good cheer, and silly slapstick... Scapin may be just what the doctor ordered. Sylvestre tells Scapin, "It's a servant's nightmare out here," which could easily refer to the show's Keystone Cops chase finale that runs up, down and around the theater for way, way too long. Other than that, it's hard to find fault with a jolly, good time had by all.

Grade: B