Also see Sharon's review of Like a Dog on Linoleum
At the center of the action is Matt Ryan as Scapino, the servant smarter than everyone around him. Ryan's Scapino is a quick-thinking fast talker. He's at his funniest when tossing off an unexpected aside or a quick bit of physical comedy. But Ryan's Scapino doesn't quite have the presence necessary to control the play. Even when Scapino's machinations go awry, he must still be the dominating force - everyone's eye must always look to Scapino to see what he'll do next. Ryan's Scapino is likeable enough, and even tricky enough; he's just not magnetic enough. This may come with time. At the performance reviewed, Ryan tripped over a few lines (as did the rest of the company) and he frequently seemed a little uncomfortable with the language. If he ultimately develops a greater facility with the dialogue, Ryan might have a Scapino to contend with.
The rest of the company is a mixed bag. Among the best is Philip McKeown as Argante, one of the wealthy misers Scapino must manipulate. McKeown rages on stage when Argante has learned his son has married without permission, and he carries that anger into an adorable argument with Scapino in which the two men stand, quite literally, nose to nose. McKeown and Ryan manage to make an argument in which each man simply repeats the word, "no" into an extremely funny scene, suggesting to viewers that there might be other comic opportunities in the script that are not being exploited to their full potential.
One such opportunity is lost by Bobbi Stamm, in the role of Geronte, Scapino's master. When Scapino tells Geronte she must pay some money to ransom her son from a kidnapper, Geronte repeatedly asks Scapino why her son got into the situation. It should play funny - the idea that Geronte is more concerned with blaming her son than freeing him is comical - but it doesn't. Stamm's Geronte whines about her son, but she isn't able to crank her annoyance level up to the heights necessary to get laughs with every repetition. There is another issue with Stamm's Geronte. The role is written for a man, but The Company Rep has altered the script so the part is female. (The Company Rep has cast another male role with a woman, but she still plays that part as a man.) The alteration allows an added element to the play, in that Argante now takes an interest in Geronte which is somewhat more than friendly. But it is also problematic in that Scapino obtains revenge on Geronte by beating Geronte mercilessly. Under the best of circumstances, the scene requires a delicate directorial touch so that Geronte doesn't come off as sympathetic. With Geronte now a woman, and a somewhat frail one at that, the beating - although funny - is a little uncomfortable to watch.
Accents are all over the map. The show takes place in Italy, but only a few actors essay Italian accents. One, Mykel Lawson as Geronte's son, plays his first few lines with a heavy accent, then completely dispenses with it, as though he had momentarily forgotten he had decided to play the character without one. It is ultimately a wise choice; keeping the obviously fake accent out of his work keeps Lawson's character real. He gets many more laughs playing straight than others who try for more by going over the top. But the initial presence of his accent is somewhat troubling.
The set changes are provided by an ensemble of five "waitresses," who do energetic dance numbers while sweeping, clearing tables, and performing other "housekeeping" tasks. It's a cute concept, but it sometimes stalls the comedy. Scapino! runs without an intermission, presumably to allow the comedy to build. But it doesn't build so well when it keeps stopping for dance breaks between scenes.
Many of the other directorial choices are good ones. Brad Shelton has his company use the entire set as well as parts of the theatre that generally aren't reserved for actors. It's a playful production that knows how to involve the audience without getting too close. It just doesn't quite come together.
Scapino! runs at The Company Rep in North Hollywood through December 11. www.thecompanyrep.org
The Company Rep - Hope Alexander, Artistic Director - presents Scapino! by Frank Dunlop & Jim Dale. Directed by Brad Shelton. Producers Bobbi Stamm and Donna Moore. Choreographer Melanie Stephens; Dramaturge Chris DiGiovanni; Set & Lighting Designer Lew Abramson; Sound Designer Steve Shaw; Costume Designer Esther Blodgett; Production Stage Manager Naoko Inada; Sound Operator Africa Boyd; Scenic Artist Delphia Hewitt-Niklaus.