Constellation Theatre Company ScapinBy Bob Ashby • Jan 22nd, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Constellation Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Source Theatre, Washington DC
Through February 16th
2:00 with intermission
$15-$45 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed January 19th, 2013
Oh my, but this is a funny one. Adapted by Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell from Moliere’s Les fourberies de Scapin, which itself has roots in the commedia dell’ arte tradition, Constellation Theatre company’s production of Scapin misses no opportunity to combine visual, physical, verbal, and musical humor to produce one of those roll in the aisles sort of evenings. Well, not literally, perhaps, as a sign on the entry door cautions patrons against leaving their seats, lest they interfere with the play’s “incredibly active action.”
After passing that sign, the audience sees A.J. Guban’s largely pastel-colored set, involving the residences of two readily-gulled tyrannical fathers, Geronte (Ashley Ivey) and Argante (Carlos Saldana). The houses are a cross between Mediterranean and playhouse styles, backed up by narrow, variegated vertical panels depicting an Italian-style town coming down to the sea. On a stage right platform perches a white grand piano, which Travis Charles Ploeger uses for his musical accompaniment of the proceedings. At center of the playing floor is a fountain, which spurts suggestively on cue (and even gets its own curtain call), from which radiates a web of LED light strips that change color from time to time. Banners unfurl from the ceiling, for example to announce an “incredible coincidence” in the plot.
Ploeger, who plays a character called “George,” interacts with other cast members and tosses them props on occasion. He has created a musical score that responds to and interacts with the script and characters in various appropriately ironic and silly ways, for example including a snatch of “O Canada” when a reference is made to a character coming from Toronto. He complements scenes with a potpourri of popular, jazz, and classical tunes, or, more often, sendups of the tunes.
The central character, Scapin (Michael Glenn) is the classic trickster servant, smarter than his master, and master of the clever lie. He deceives to help the young Leander (Manu Kumasi) and Octave (Matthew McGee) find the money they need to unite with their lovers Zerbinnette (Nora Achrati) and Hyacinth (Megan Dominy), respectively — they of the chronically mispronounced names — but also just for the sheer deviltry and joy of putting one over on his supposed betters. As played by Glenn, Scapin is the most rational of the entire menagerie, save for his somewhat obsessive desire for revenge against Geronte for a supposed slight, which he carries out in part by literally bagging his prey, who he, his much put-upon fellow servant Sylvestre (Bradley Foster Smith), and an audience member drafted from the first row get to whack with a padded cudgel. Scapin is wont to make knowing, wink-nudge contemporary references as part of his shtick, and at a couple points appears as a “subscriber” in drag, complete with red dress and bright pink wig.
Smith’s highlight moment occurs when he enters as a shoulder-padded, gangster movie-like tough guy, greatly changing his voice and demeanor, to intimidate other characters, complete with a fake beard of the sort that cropped up in alarming numbers at Fenway Park last fall. (In fact, the only missed opportunity for a joke I noted in the performance was that Smith wore a plain baseball cap in this scene, when a Red Sox cap would have been perfection.) As Octave, McGee is excitable and hyper-adolescent, while Kumasi’s Leander is all ardent, trying hard to be suave, dash. Dominy’s Hyacinth is given to loud, copious weeping, which quickly changes to sunshine and smiles when she gets her way, while Achrati’s Serbinette spoofs the sexy Gypsy type of all too many operas and operettas (Ploeger garnishes some of her scenes with tunes from Carmen). As servant woman Nerine, Vanessa Bradchulis wears her exaggerated sexiness well, as well as wearily traipsing about with her mistress’s luggage in most of her entrances.
In a clownish show of this kind — and Bill Irwin is perhaps the most renowned clown of the past several decades — costumes and makeup necessarily play major roles. Kendra Rai’s costume designs are consistently wild and colorful, carefully individualized for each character. Scapin’s brown suit, for example is a thing of shreds and patches, while Argante’s costume (and some of Saldana’s characterization) might well have wandered in from Constellation’s recent production of Zorro. Leander wore a natty blue-dominated, 20s-influenced ensemble. Zerbinette, not surprisingly, had an operetta Gypsy costume, while Hyacinth was dressed as an over-the-top ingénue, with poofy white chiffon. Nerine’s costume comically overemphasizes her cleavage and (as one of the character’s puts it) her trunk in a way that underlines the reaction of other characters to her. A complete accounting of the colors and shapes on display would make a very long list; suffice to say, the impression is a match for variety and mood of the entire show. The makeup, uncredited in the program, draws the production’s concept for all the characters together, involving for everyone black line designs around the eyes and red rouge patches of various sizes and shapes on the actors’ cheeks. The design goes just far enough in the direction of clown makeup without going to the point of an all-out circus look.
In a show that is simply this much of a hoot to watch, it is easy to overlook the detailed theatrical planning and preparation that underlies it. Director Kathryn Chase Bryer and choreographers Matthew R. Wilson and Kelly King deserve strong praise for the intricate movement, specificity, and precise timing that characterize the production from start to finish. Nothing this free-flowing and spontaneous-looking happens without a lot of good work in rehearsals, and, as enjoyable as it was to watch the finished product, it might have been even more fun to be a fly on the wall during the rehearsal process.
The height of the incredibly active action is the show-ending chase scene, in which characters pursue one another through every available entrance, complete with sword fights and costume changes. Concluding the play with the entire cast lining up for a photo and saying “Cheese” is only fitting after the delightful cheesiness not only of the chase but of the entire performance.
The clown. What a wonderful avenue by which to revisit this classic story in a way that is fresh, new and accessible to us today. I love the idea that Moliere wrote this play in order to celebrate the theatre and all of its conventions by poking fun. Actor, clown, director Bill Irwin has taken this idea one step further by asking us to find our inner clown as we watch his adaptation. The characters in this play are singularly selfish and they want what they want, when they want it. Oftentimes, when I see this trait in the humanity around me, it makes me crazy! And yet, when I come to the theatre and see these same people running around on stage in the characters that are in Scapin, I am able to laugh. And thank goodness we can laugh at those around us and at ourselves because otherwise, I think we’d cry. I hope these crazy zanies make you laugh and that in doing so, you too recognize a bit of yourselves. Please laugh hard, laugh often: it’s good for you. Cheers.
Photos by Stan Barouh
- Sylvestre, servant to Octave: Bradley Foster Smith
- Octave, son of Argante: Matthew McGee
- Scapin, servant to Leander: Michael Glenn
- Hyacinth, beloved of Octave: Megan Dominy
- Argante, father of Octave: Carlos Saldana
- Geronte, father of Leander: Ashley Ivey
- Leander, Son of Geronte: Manu Kumasi
- Zerbinette, beloved of Leander: Nora Achrati
- Nerine, a servant woman: Vanessa Bradchulis
- George, at the keyboard: Travis Charles Ploeger
- Director: Kathryn Chase Bryer
- Set & Lighting Designer: A.J. Gruban
- Costume Designer: Kendra Rai
- Properties Designer: Samina Vieth
- Musician & Composer: Travis Charles Ploeger
- Fight & Movement Choreographer: Matthew R. Wilson
- Dance & Movement Choreographer: Kelly King
- Production Stage Manager: Cheryl Ann Gnerlich
- Assistant Director: Nick Vargas
- Technical Director: Jason Krznarich
- Shop Carpenter: William Klemt
- Charge Artist: Marisa (Za) Jones
- Installation Carpenters: Chris Banks, Dan Carter, William Klemt, Nate Kurtz, Russell Sunday
- Assistant Stage Manager: Lauren Klamm, Kara Sparling
- Master Electrician: Alex Keen
- Electricians: Paul Callaghan, Derek Jones, Sarah Mackowski, Brandon Roe, Eliza Walker, J. Cody Whitfield
- Assistant Costume Designer: Courtney Wood
- Sticher: Sandy Smoker
- Publicist: Emily Morrison
- Development Associate: Sarah Anne Sillers
- Audience Services Manager: Lindsey Ruehl
- House Manager: Erin Gifford, Ginny Page
Disclaimer: Constellation Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10067.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.