Pratfalls and Proust, Anderson Cooper and bathroom humor, games with words and Game of Thrones: this is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink version of Molière’s Scapin, as adapted by Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell, and mounted in a frenetic, hyper-stylized production by Matthew Byron Cassi. A mash-up of commedia dell’arte, vaudeville, and South Park, this Scapin simply aims to please, though that impulse occasionally comes at the cost of richer characterization. Still, energetic cast members give it their all — and they end the evening drenched in sweat and not just a little glory. After all, dying is easy — comedy is hard. (And two hours of madcap comedy is just about impossible.)
Fortunately, Cassi is blessed with a pair of servant-clowns in Brendan Spieth (Scapin) and Dru Barcus (Sylvestre), each of whom receives a set-piece of comic virtuosity. Barcus’ turn — in which he impersonates a sociopathic cowboy — is somewhat over-the-top, even for a city weaned on the lunacy of Cornyation; Spieth’s more successful set-piece involves a manic sprint through a few European stereotypes, including the French, which is ironic considering the original authorship of the play. The evening works best, though, when the clowning Spieth and Barcus simply bounce off each other — they’re a sort of diabolical Laurel and Hardy.
The deception-filled plot is the standard stuff of New Comedy — things haven’t much changed since the days of Menander and Plautus. There are the miserly old men (Wade Young and John O’Neill), the lovesick swains (Tyler Keyes and Rusty Thurman), the bombshell babes (Christie Beckham and Julya Jara), and a handful, so to speak, of boob jokes. (A City of San Antonio Public Advisory, hanging in the lobby, sternly warns that this production contains adult material and that viewer discretion is advised. Thank God that City Hall is shielding impressionable young minds from Molière, instead of, say, fixing the fucking potholes everywhere.)
In keeping with the goofy, go-for-broke tenor of the evening, the production features a live, running soundtrack, courtesy of keyboardist and music director Darrin Newhardt. (At one point, the tramps even quit their tramping in favor of vamping — to Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret.) Aaron Aguilar’s costume design — featuring the latest in bright, postmodern clownwear — suits the production’s anarchic tone, while Lucy Petters’ set design is simple and functional. I appreciated the production’s occasional forays into contemporary satire: a pointed jab at developer James Lifshutz — who just booted the Classic Theater from its current digs in Southtown — decries the increasingly artless Blue Star Complex, a development distressing enough to make anybody blue.
Cassi’s choice to direct the entire evening fortissimo means that the second act actually plays better than the first — because it’s a little shorter, and therefore a bit less exhausting for both cast and audience. But it also means that some of the situational humor is lost: it’s telling that the biggest laugh of the evening goes to Keyes, whose dopey, modulated take on Octave taps into the story itself rather than the production’s metatheatrical chatter. The ending — in which Spieth performs a melancholy, Chaplin-esque routine involving a magic light bulb — seems tagged on, partly because there’s been no melancholy to tag it on to.
And in a sense, that’s OK: not every production of Molière needs to be an examination of violence (though there is that, especially in Scapin) or of the inequities of social class (ditto). After all, it’s May; the flowers are blooming (and the potholes are widening); and sometimes you just want to laugh. The Classic’s zany version of Molière might not be nuanced, but it’s sure to send patrons home happy, with a skip (or a scap?) in their step.
Adapted by Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell
8pm Fri-Sat, 3pm Sun and Sat, May 25
Classic Theatre of San Antonio
Sterling Houston Theater at Jump-Start
108 Blue Star
Through May 25
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