by Jenni Morin
Many theatres tend to shy away from the classics in fear modern audiences will have trouble relating to the stock characters, the archaic language, the foreign setting or contrived and all too convenient or poetic conclusions. Then there is The Classic Theatre and the adaptation of Moliere’s Scapin by Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell, which opened Friday, May 10, at The Sterling Houston Theatre at Jump Start.
The Classic Theatre’s production of Scapin is a no holds barred onslaught of comedy complete with throw backs to commedia dell’arte and vaudeville and references to today’s comedic successors. Scapin’s name comes from the term “escape” and is based off of the commedia dell’arte character Zanni, an astute servant and trickster with a tendency to flee, hence the “escape.” The Classic’s production even integrates the traditional Zanni mask in keeping with the adaptation's loyalty to Moliere's 1670s structure.
Scapin is the story of a servant’s meddling to trick fathers and help sons with their secret marriages. In the end, as go the rules of comedy, everyone gets married and all of the confusion of long lost daughters is resolved. While the plot is compelling, this production focuses on the characters, the physical comedy and the frantic integration of pop culture references.
Octave, son of Argante, is a great Napoleon Dynamite voiced representation of the self-centered sweep-banged emo teenager of today played by Tyler Keyes. His servant Sylvestre is described by the title character as awkward and bug-eyed and he dons several disguises as an accomplice to Scapin’s schemes. Dru Barcus is committed, sharp and unstoppable as Sylvestre in a truly exemplary performance. Scapin, played by Brendan Spieth, is every bit the archetype of conniving, flittering, conspirator embroiled in all the play’s exploits. Scapin’s master, Leander, son of Geronte, played by Rusty Thurman, is a welcome addition to the plotting foursome. The remaining cast members contribute to the zaniness of the play with caricatures of busty and ditzy love interests and gullible fathers. Musical director Darrin Newhardt, or George the onstage pianist, is a great narrative note lending a rhythmic soundtrack to keep the production on point. While the set is rather traditional, and very well designed, the lighting provides a modern splash, psychedelic at times, which compliments the style of the show.
In addition to some not so far-fetched pop culture references—some surprisingly subtle—there are a few distasteful jabs and irksome stereotypes. The easily offended may also avert their eyes at some bawdy hip thrusting displays characteristic of this sort of physical comedy. That being said, the show makes several metatheatrical references to the play’s action, the audience, the coincidences in plot and the ever popular deus ex machina. It's a fitting combination of what Moliere's audiences would have raved over and what modern audiences wouldn't expect.
Director Matthew Byron Cassi offers San Antonio a faithful and entertaining production of this apropos work. The Classic Theatre’s Scapin is a tribute to its theatrical roots and witness to the evolution of comedy.
Scapin will run at The Sterling Houston Theatre at Jump-Start through May 25, 2013 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays and a 3 p.m. performance on Saturday, May 25. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.theclassictheatre.org.