Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2007
“This is our adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation, related to our own community and circumstances with respect for classic form.”
– Jonathan Croy, Director Scapin
I will entitle this review: “Scapin, or A Whole Lot of Fun for Free.”
Shakespeare & Company has hit on a genius business plan. It has turned itself into a summer destination. At the heart of this is its family-friendly free show on the Rose Footprint Theatre. After a few seasons of fitful experimentation, the Company has come up with the winning formula – an outrageously funny comedic romp offered in two parts. In other words once you have seen Part One, you’ve just got to come back for Part Two, or vice versa. And each time you come for the free show you are that much more likely to buy food at Josie’s Café, goodies from the gift shop, or full-price tickets to Shakespeare & Company shows.
This year’s offering is Scapin, Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell’s 1991 adaptation of Moličre's “Les Fourberies de Scapin” (1671). This is completely immaterial. Like last year’s presentation of Jeffrey Hatcher and Paolo Emilio Landi’s adaptation of Carlo Goldini’s The Servant of Two Masters the script is merely an excuse for lots of Shakespeare & Company stalwarts and students to put on silly costumes and dash about. And like last year’s production the age-old plot centers around a wily servant who dupes everyone. Even though we not longer live in an age of servitude, we get the joke. It is about the little guy versus the establishment, and the little guy wins. Hooray!
Scapino is a stock commedia del arte character. The name is related to our English word “escape” because Scapino is generally depicted as a coward, fleeing from all conflict, even that of his own creation, and indeed there is a fabulous chase scene which makes Part Two of this production a must-see. His traditional costume is green or turquoise and white stripes, a tradition carefully adhered to by costume designer Jenna Ware.
As Scapin, Michael F. Toomey cavorts about in baggy striped pants (all the better to conceal everything from books to thwackers in), lying left and right to get what he wants, which is primarily to stay out of trouble and make us laugh. Usually it is a toss up whether I recommend seeing Part One or Part Two (if you HAVE to choose and see only one part!) but this year it’s a no-brainer because in Part Two you get to see Toomey in drag (I know, I know, it’s a disguise) and that is a very, very funny thing to see. Besides, there is a quick recap of Part One and the delightful song I Wish That She Would Die (music by Christopher Michael Vecchio, lyrics by Jonathan Croy) is reprised, with Marc Scipione on guitar and dazzling vocals by David Joseph who plays Octave.
Scipione plays Scapin’s side-kick Sylvestre, often carting his guitar for musical interludes, except during an hilarious scene in Part One where he pretends to be an Italian thug…come to think of it you had better come see Part One too. There’s just so much good stuff and admission’s free, how can you not find the time?
The aptly named Steve Boss plays Scapin’s master Signor Geronte, father to Leander (James Bocock), and Bob Lohbauer plays Sylvestre’s, Signor Argante, father to Octave. But it doesn’t matter who owns Scapin, he scams them both, and all for the sake of true lover because both sons have fallen for women of whom their fathers don’t approve. Octave has already secretly married his Hyacinth (Gillian Hurst) before learning that his father has arranged for him to wed Sr. Geronte’s daughter from Toronto; and Leander is desperate to ransom his beloved Zerbinetta (Jennie Burkhard Jadow) from the gypsies who have abducted her. Meanwhile a mysterious woman (Dana Harrison) with a nice trunk keeps wandering through looking for a Signor Pandolphe of whom no one has ever heard.
Confused? Never mind. There will be some amazing coincidences (if you see Part Two) to straighten everything out. And if you don’t get to see Part Two, never fear, they all live happily ever after.
I have to say that Hurst, Jadow, and Harrison kept me laughing, even though this is very much a male dominated show, at least as cast (who is to say that Scapin and Sylvestre couldn’t be female?) Hurst is a chipper little bird in her pink “female cummerbund” and little straw hat, while Jadow is all sultry gypsy seduction, and yet she is a virgin (Surprise!) who insists on a wedding ring. The endless mangling of the names Hyacinth and Zerbinetta always caught me off guard, even when it shouldn’t have, and made me smile.
Boss and Lohbauer play the beleaguered and befuddled father’s nicely. Boss gets the worst of it by far, with even young audience members invited on stage to give him a good thwacking, while Lohbauer skirts the worst of Scapin’s schemes and ends up skittering through the audience with glee, Scot free of the chaos that surrounds him.
Director Jonathan Croy and his team of zanies have spared no expense to make you laugh, and laugh hard, at every turn. The actors are all uniformly excellent, even the two young men (Jake Elitzer and Alex Hurst) who get to play every odd extra the show requires, often in incongruously silly costumes. Everything here is for your entertainment, and it works wonderfully well.
While I understand that, as I described above, there are economic advantages to offering Scapin in two parts, I still lament that there isn’t one opportunity to see it in one sitting. The best you can do is what I did, plan to spend a Saturday in Lenox and see Part One at 1:15 p.m. and Part Two at 6:15 p.m. There is lots to do in between – go shopping in downtown Lenox, or, as Scapin himself suggest, hit the near-by Prime Outlets at Lee; take a hike in Kennedy Park, Pleasant Valley, October Mountain, or take a swim in the Stockbridge Bowl; visit one of the area’s many great museums (The Frelinghuysen-Morris House and Studio, the Norman Rockwell, Chesterwood, and the Bidwell House are all closer than you think!) There are plenty of places to grab an early dinner, or bring your own picnic and eat on the grounds at Shakespeare & Company.
But if you can’t manage a whole Saturday, Part One is also presented on Wednesdays at 6:15 and Part Two on Fridays. One of the nice things is that by the time any of the evening performances of Scapin is over there will be a free “Prelude” performance going on outside the Founder’s Theatre. And once you’ve seen that you might as well check and see if there are tickets for whatever is playing at 8 p.m.... You see how it goes.
Tickets are free (but you need to call for reservations) so for goodness sake bring the whole family. This is one show that parents and children and grandparents and in-laws and out-laws and EVERYBODY will enjoy.
The Shakespeare and Company production of Scapin runs through September 1 in the outdoor, tented, Rose Footprint Theatre, 70 Kemble Street in Lenox. The show is presented in two parts, each of which runs 75 minutes with no intermission. Although admission is free you do need to call 413-637-3353 for reservations.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2007