Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Scapin
Ten Thousand Things Theater Company
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of The Last Schwartz, Oleanna, I Come from Arizona and Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn


Kimberly Richardson, Karen Wiese-Thompson,
Elise Langer (in front), Sarah Agnew, Ricardo Beaird

Photo by Paul Keller
Ten Thousand Things Theater Company has new leadership, with Marcela Lorca taking the reins from Founding Artistic Director Michelle Hensley who retired last year, but it has the same quality of pared down theater that delivers what is essential about a piece, relying on the invention of actors willing to give their all, wildly creative costuming, and the gifts of music and sound director Peter Vitale to bring a story to life. For their first 2018-2019 outing, they have chosen Scapin, a loose adaptation of the French classic Les Fourberies de Scapin (Scapin the Schemer) by French playwright Molière, which has been provoking guffaws since 1671 when it first played at the Palais-Royal in Paris.

A loose adaptation of the original Scapin is hardly breaking news. The farce is a footloose affair, pumping out fun through physical comedy and battles of wit between starched bourgeois gentlemen against Scapin, a servant with the guile of Br'er Rabbit, a breed of entertainment that seems born to be recast to play to the talents of each successive company. Ten Thousand Things has drafted Randy Reyes to adapt and also direct their rendition. Reyes, the versatile Artistic Director of Theater Mu, has a proven ability to handle a wide range of material, including such adventurous fare as Purple Cloud, Two Mile Hollow and The Korean Drama Addict's Guide to Losing Your Virginity.

Reyes' Scapin is a mashup of original and contemporary sensibilities, keeping some of the original character names while updating others—Géronte becomes Mr. Gary, Léandre becomes Leo, and Argante becomes Madame Arlene, switching both the name and gender). Molière's three acts are boiled down to 90 rollicking minutes, with no intermission. The basics of the narrative are intact, but with a generous serving of amusing anachronisms and local references, always good for a laugh (like "a fate as bad as living in Coon Rapids"). It trades a bit too often on jokes referring to poop for my taste, but that is in keeping with the general tone: anything that makes us laugh is good.

So, you may wonder, what is Scapin about? Two youths from well-off families have fallen in love with maidens beneath their class. Octave not only is in love with Hyacinth, but married her while his mother Madame Arlene was away. Leo, whose father Mr. Gary is also away, has fallen in love with a circus performer, Zerbinette, and must pay $5,000 to the circus master for her release. Leo appeals to his servant Scapin to help both him and Octave drum up the money they need, sidestep their parents' scorn, and remain forever with their true loves.

Scapin is clever, quick, and shameless in devising schemes to satisfy his master's requests. He draws Silvester, Octave's hapless servant, into the plot to assist in his pursuit of honorable mischief. Meanwhile, Madame Arlene and Mr. Gary are laying plans for Octave to marry Mr. Gary's long-lost daughter from Toronto: a "good match" between two "good families." Madame Arlene is pleased at the prospect of a daughter-in-law, as she has yearned for a daughter since her own daughter vanished as a child, never to be seen again.

All of this transpires in a most ridiculous manner, a breed of ridiculousness that prompts a constant flow of laughter. From the opening scene, a musical welcome from the entire cast, we know that nothing we will see should be taken seriously. As is typical of Ten Thousand Things productions, most of the actors are double cast, with quick changes that are part of the merriment. Sonya Berlovitz has given them hilarious costumes that draw from fairy-tale whimsy, Elizabethan drama, circus pizazz, and working-guy grunge. The entire cast is on comedy overdrive, and if I am not mistaken, they are having every bit as much fun as the audience—perhaps even more.

Sarah Agnew stands out as Scapin, a comic master of mayhem. Agnew—the same actor who is so compelling in serious work, such as the Guthrie's Enemy of the People last spring—is a non-stop gyroscope, tossing off bon mots as if feeding the ducks at a pond, prancing and leaping and gesturing in eight directions at once (so it seems), and rattling through her witty patter with the pacing of a 17th century Groucho Marx. Somehow, her energy never flags and her good will raises a high pennant that everyone else in the cast salutes with their own galloping giddiness.

Kimberly Richardson is perfection as Madame Arlene, making her iciness, vanity and greed hilarious, pinching her voice into an affected screech and carrying her garish costume like a runway model. Karen Wiese-Thompson depicts the officious Mr. Gary as a strutting blowhard whose dim mind allows him to be easily deceived. Elise Langer is delightful both as the slovenly youth Leo and the fluttery bride Hyacinth, eager to be united with her young husband. Ricardo Beaird makes Octave an ardent groom, over his head in love without a safety line. Kris Nelson is earnest as faithful Silvester, ready to give his all for his master. Kimberly Richardson and Sarah Agnew play the role of Zerbinette in different scenes, the circus clown face and costume making it hard to discern which actor is behind the bright red nose.

The other player, though never setting foot on stage, is music and sound director Peter Vitale. Vitale's one-man band of instruments and sound effects contributes mightily to the upbeat tempo that accompanies the show. Without Vitale, Scapin would be a blur of motion and speech with no context. His soundscape provides an environment that keeps the show, buoyant as it is, from losing contact with the ground.

There are wonderfully realized bits that come, more or less, straight from Molière's pen, such as the yarn Scapin spins about kidnapping pirates to deceive Mr. Gary into dispensing a large sum of cash, in the form of ransom. There are also delightful inventions inserted by adapter Reyes, such as the juvenile theme song Octave and Leo sing as they enter or exit together, fancying themselves a pair of super-hero bros together on a path to adventure. All of it passes quickly before your eyes, a non-stop marathon of laughter, with Scapin the sly trickster gliding above the foolishness and vanity of everyone else.

This company is known for performing with all the lights on, a practice that allows them to bring their productions into spaces not equipped with stage lighting, such as community centers, shelters and churches, as well as corrections facilities where security requires the lights to be left on. As they perform in a compact central square with the audience surrounding them on all four sides, part of the fun is watching audience members across the way express their delight in the brazen merriment.

Ten Thousand Things excels at all dramatic genres—from tragedy to comedy, histories to musicals—with their unique stripped-down process that hits the nerves of widely diverse audiences. In the case of Scapin, the nerve they hit is in the funny bone, provoking shrieks, not of pain, but of laughter, Scapin is a welcome and potent prescription that provides comic relief from the dark-edged world outside the theater.

Scapin, through November 4, 2018, at The Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $30.00, Pay what you can, $10.00 minimum, for those under 30 with ID. For tickets call 612-203-9502 or go to www.tenthousandthings.org. Also check on line for any remaining free tickets to performances at community locations.

Playwright: Molière; Adapted by: Randy Reyes and the cast; Director: Randy Reyes; Composer, Sound and Music Director: Peter Vitale; Costumes: Sonya Berlovitz; Sets: Erica Zaffarano; Props: Abbee Warmboe; Production Manager: Nancy Waldoch; Assistant Director: Christian Bardin; Production Intern: Sam Weisberg; Directing Intern: Katie Maise.

Cast: Sarah Agnew (Scapin /Zerbinette), Ricardo Beaird (Octave /Mary), Elise Langer (Hyacinth/ Leo), Kris Nelson (Silvester), Kimberly Richardson (Madame Arlene/Zerbinette), Karen Wiese-Thompson (Mr. Gary).


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