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The current Towne Players of Garner community-theater presentation of Scapin, which continues Oct. 20-22 on technical director Scott Honeycutt’s clever set at North Garner Magnet Middle School, is a mixed bag of commedia dell’arte, slapstick, and vaudeville. When Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell’s mid-1990s adaptation of Les Fourberies de Scapin by 17th century French playwright Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Molière soars, it is on the wings of the veteran performers in the cast. When this madcap comedy falters, it is usually the fault of the game but inexperienced novices in the cast.
Michael Armstrong tackles the role of Scapin, the constantly conniving servant of young Leander (Robert Boland) and his father Geronte (Rusty Sutton), with great gusto. To help his young master marry saucy Zerbinette (Janet Doughty), a beautiful but brash gypsy girl with a mysterious past, the master manipulator Scapin pulls the wool over more than a few eyes. At one point, Scapin even convinces Geronte to climb into a big burlap sack, so that he can beat him with a stick and then blame the beating on someone else.
Michael Armstrong, Rusty Sutton, and Janet Doughty all contribute delightful comic characterizations, and so do Towne Players veterans Maggie Cochran (Sylve), Meg Dietrich (Nerine), Don Howard (George), and Frances Stanley (Argante). Sutton plays Geronte as a grouchy old bear always looking to squash the busy, busy bee (Scapin) that stings him when he’s not looking, and Doughty is irresistible as the woman of mystery Zerbinette.
Cochran and Dietrich put lots of personality into their crowd-pleasing performances as Sylve, the spunky servant to Argante’s son Octave (Joshua Hamilton), and Nerine, another upstart servant of the town. Stanley is good as Argante, and Howard provides some sprightly accompaniment as George, the onstage piano player who takes the Towne Players audience on a trip down Memory Lane by underscoring the action with a series of themes from old television series and vintage motion pictures.
Although they try gamely, the less experienced farceurs in the cast — Robert Boland (Leander), Joshua Hamilton (Octave), Anne Patterson (Octave’s beloved Hyacinth), Alisa Cox and Rebecca Little (two local Grand Dames), and Ian O’Gorman (a Messenger and a Policeman) — never make quite as vivid an impression as the seasoned scene-stealing veterans. Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt sets a brisk comic pace, and the newcomers cannot quite keep up.
The Towne Players of Garner presents Scapin Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 20-22, at 8 p.m. at North Garner Magnet Middle School, 720 Powell Dr., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors). 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner: http://www.towneplayers.org/. North Garner Magnet Middle School: http://northgarnerms.wcpss.net/ [inactive 12/07].
The Towne Players of Garner will present Scapin, a wild-and-crazy contemporary romantic comedy based on a 17th century comic masterpiece by legendary French playwright Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Molière (1622-73), Oct. 14, 15, 20, 21, and 22 at North Garner Magnet Middle School. Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt will stage Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell’s adaptation of Les Fourberies de Scapin, which was first produced in 1994-95 by the Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle, WA.
In reviewing a subsequent New York production, The New York Times claimed that this adaptation of Scapin “would probably have gone over big with the same audience who first saw Molière’s Fourberies de Scapin … in Paris in 1671.” Variety raved, “Commedia dell’arte and vaudeville have at least two things in common: baggy pants and Bill Irwin. All make for a natural fit in the celebrated clown’s entirely unconventional adaptation of Molière’s Scapin.”
“Two people I trust and respect immensely, Michael Armstrong and Janet Doughty, both suggested the show,” Beth Honeycutt recalls. “When I read it, I fell in love. I’m a big Bill Irwin fan, and I felt our audiences would get a huge kick out of the show.”
She adds, “I’ve always been interested in commedia, and this adaptation offers a blend of commedia, slapstick, and vaudeville that I found very accessible for most audiences. It’s just a fun genre in which to experiment, and these actors are giving it their all. I don’t think there’s been a single rehearsal in which I haven’t laughed until I cried.”
When the curtain rises, says Beth Honeycutt, “Dashing Octave (Joshua Hamilton) and brave Leander (Robert Boland) have fallen in love with the wrong girls in the absence of their parents (Rusty Sutton and France Stanley). One of the girls (Anne Patterson) is penniless and homeless; the other (Janet Doughty) is a lusty gypsy.
“Knowing their parents will never approve,” Honeycutt explains, “the young men seek help from Leander’s crafty servant, Scapin (Michael Armstrong), and Octave’s stage-struck maid, Sylve (Maggie Cochran). In an effort to make all right, Scapin sets in motion a series of wild and silly events which lead to the revelation of a few unbelievable coincidences. George, the piano player (Don Howard), a few grand dames (Rebecca Little and Alisa Cox), a policeman (Ian O’Gorman), and a French maid (Meg Dietrich) add to the generally wackiness.”
Beth Honeycutt claims, “My biggest challenge [as director] is to capture the zaniness of the genre without going overboard. I hate slapstick used in the wrong places, so I am trying to be very careful to push just far enough without overdoing. It’s a little scary.”
Her husband, Scott Honeycutt, is the Towne Players’ technical director. Beth Honeycutt reports, “The two of us worked together on the set design. He handles lighting all by himself. Don Howard came up with the music for this show. He uses old television and movie themes throughout.”
She adds, “We wanted the set for this show to be very unrealistic. It is as though this traveling troupe of actors has set up in the theater to present the show. (Oh wait, I guess we have!) The idea is that the set pieces look almost like a black-and-white comic.”
Beth Honeycutt says, “I wanted this show to be all about the liveliness of the actors, so they are dressed in the ragtag costumes of the traveling troupe only with loads of color. I wanted them to be explosions of energy when they walk onstage.”
The Towne Players of Garner presents Scapin Friday, October 14, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 15, at 2 and 8 p.m., and Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 20-22, at 8 p.m. at North Garner Magnet Middle School, 720 Powell Dr., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors). 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner: http://www.towneplayers.org/. North Garner Magnet Middle School: http://northgarnerms.wcpss.net/ [inactive 12/07].