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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

A Summer Night Under the Stars with
That Scoundrel Scapin

That Scoundrel Scapin
(Left to right:) Bruce Winant as Argante, James Michael Reilly as the scheming Scapin, Robert LuPone as Géronte, Clark Carmichael as Leander and Molly McCann as Zerbinetta
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has determined that once each summer it will journey a couple of miles down the road from its lovely theatre on the campus of Drew University to the intriguing open-air Greek style amphitheatre (said to have been inspired by the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens) on the top of the hill on the campus of the College of Saint Elizabeth at Convent Station in Morristown

With its current production there, a revised and anachronistic version of Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin presented under the title That Scoundrel Scapin, it is clearly STNJ’s intention to offer its audiences a light and entertaining, family friendly night out under the stars. Some mild caveats not withstanding, I am happy to report that with this Scapin, the goal has been amply attained.

For a summer evening under the stars, Scapin is as close to a slam dunk as any play could be. Still, credit adaptor-director Joe Discher for being true to the commedia del arte improvisational style and plot details of Molière while successfully providing humorous anachronisms and funny business.

Without the knowledge or permission of his father Argante, Octavio has met, been smitten by, and married Hyacintha. Now Argante is returning to Naples with a bride for Octavio, the long lost daughter of his friend Geronte. To further complicate matters, Geronte’s son Leander has fallen in love with Zerbinetta, a gypsy girl of whom his father would surely disapprove. He needs a large sum of money to ransom his love from her gypsy band. Neither Octavio nor Leander have the brains or courage to stand up to their wealthy fathers.

Enter (on a bicycle) Scapin, the clever, scheming servant to Geronte. Largely for the sheer pleasure of exercising his manipulative skills and making the pompous fathers squirm, Scapin schemes successfully to cheat them out of large sums of money for the use of their respective sons.

Joe Discher’s adaptation and direction are closely interlocked here. For example, we hear Argante entering from the rear of the amphitheatre with the words, “You don’t know who I am. I don’t need a ticket.” Anachronisms include cell phones, calculators, airplanes, and Louise Ciccone. All of this provides solid amusement. However, while the individual performances which Discher elicits are praiseworthy, there is a lack of the precision, physical dexterity, and risk taking slapstick complexity which would make for a totally transporting production.

James Michael Reilly makes a delightful Scapin. He is a most amusing, likeable scoundrel who makes us complicit with his schemes. His shenanigans are forerunners to those seen in today’s youth oriented film comedies which sadly have substituted grossness for wit.

Of the supporting clowns, Jay Leibowitz as Scapin's acolyte Silvester draws the biggest laughs when he impersonates a pirate in order to strike fear in the heart of Argante. As foils for Scapin, Robert LuPone (Geronte) and Bruce Winant (Argante) provide a full quota of laughs. Christian Conn (Octavio) is the best farceur among the young lovers. However, Erica Piccininni (Hyacintha) is especially delightful as his balletic love, displaying a radiant quality which hopefully foretells a bright future.

There is much social satire that remains relevant more than 300 years after the play was written. It is presented so humorously that it is easy to overlook the depth present and see Scapin as simply a lighthearted trifle.

Cameron Anderson’s scenic design is outstanding. Her unit set has much to interest and delight the eye. Although she is not the first to depict the deep courtyard setting on a flat in the clean, striking style of Italian pen and ink drawings featuring linear perspective, she adds additional design elements to it. Specifically, she draws her setting on a burnt orange background which changes to a yellow-gold when brightly backlit. She places in front of the flat several rectangular frames which appear to consist of magnifying glass and provide varying degrees of faux magnification which increase with the distance of the perspective behind them. Additional eye candy is provided by bright triangular side panels and colorfully lit lanterns strung over the stage and audience. Her work is strongly abetted by the lighting design of James H. Aitkin. While Steven L. Beckel appears to have overcome many pitfalls in his sound design, some additional volume would be beneficial.

Also praiseworthy is the costume design of Mattie Ullrich. Some are typical of commedia del arte. However, to my eye, they are delightfully and appropriately reminiscent of the costumes of circus clowns. This is so in keeping with the spirit of this Scapin that the costumes set the tone for the entire evening.

Pack a picnic dinner and get on over to That Scoundrel Scapin, an unpretentious and entertaining Molière outdoor family circus. To paraphrase Molière, you will repay this good story by the pleasure which you will get from it.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the Greek Theatre on the campus of the College of Saint Elizabeth at Convent Station, Morristown. Through August 3: Wed.-Sun. 8:15 P.M.; Sun. 4 P.M. Adults and Teens $27 / Age 12 and Under $15. Group Discounts Available. Call 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

That Scoundrel Scapin by Molière; adapted and directed by Joe Discher; scenic design by Cameron Anderson; costume design by Mattie Ullrich; lighting design by James H. Aitken. Cast: Clark Carmichael (Leander); Christian Conn (Octavio); Jay Leibowitz (Silvester); Robert LuPone (Geronte); Erica Piccininni (Hyacintha); James Michael Reilly (Scapin); Bruce Winant (Argante); Molly McCann (Zerbinetta); Jean Walker (Nerine).

Upcoming Events: July 29-August 17. King John by William Shakespeare; directed by Paul Mullins


Photo © Gerry Goodstein




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Bob Rendell



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