By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
Hey! Who wants to see a play written in 1671?
Normally my answer would be a mumbled: “Ah, sorry, I’m out of town that week.” But Kinetic Theatre decided to stage Scapino, based on Moliere’s 17th-century comedy Scapin the Schemer and because of the gross injustice of my not being allowed to review plays I haven’t actually seen, off I went.
Which just shows you how much I know since, as it turns out, I had a pretty good time.
To be clear, Scapino is based on Scapin in the same way that West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. In other words Zeljko Djukic and Jeffrey Binder conceived of a very updated version of Moliere’s original which Binder then turned into a script. The play now takes place in present-day Naples, Florida and it’s about two warring Mafia families, headed by rivals Don Albert and Don Jerry. But now Albert has decided it’s time to make peace between the factions and promises that his son Octavio will marry Jerry’s daughter.
Scapino continues through July 28. Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre, Oakland. 888/718-4253. www.kinetictheatre.org
This comes as a bit a shock to Octavio who has just spent a wild weekend in Boca Raton with Jerry’s son Leo and – you’ll never guess – Octavio has married a young woman of fiery temper named Chloe. (And Leo has himself hooked up with a patchouli-scented hippie called Feather.)
Word gets back to the fathers and it looks like new romance is off the menu and turf wars are back on. So the young lovers turn to family consigliere Scapino, a man of many wiles and no virtue, to help make everything right.
There is a proper “classical comedy” shape to this retelling, but Binder’s sensibility and language are fast, furious and refreshingly contemporary. Since the ending is obvious at the beginning there’s really no comedic tension or surprise, so Binder creates a free-for-all explosion of comedy gags and situations. He’s done great work updating these 350-year-old characters, providing them with enough quirks to move forward such a hoary plot. Interestingly the least successful character adaptation is Scapino himself – for reasons I puzzled over but which never came into focus – Scapino feels superfluous to the action. His machinations and duplicity, which I think should be the point of the play, seem pedestrian and simplistic. To be fair, the fault of that could be Moliere’s and as this is only the play’s second production maybe Binder is still rewriting.
It’s doubtful, however, that any future production will feature the high, HIGH energy and complete commitment as has been stuffed into every available crevice of this Kinetic production. Director Andrew Paul and his company blast this show off the ground at lights up and keep it hurtling through the theatrical stratosphere until the final curtain.
It’s an impressive cast of clowns and comedy cut-ups and I want to make special mention of Ethan Saks and Morgan Snowden as funny, if toxic, love birds, Phillip Taratula and Jack Lafferty and their physical comedy chops and David Whalen as the thuddingly dim but wonderfully smug Don Albert.
Hats off to costume designer Kim Brown’s colorful costumes (particularly Chloe’s sprayed on pants and gold heels) and Johnmichael Bohach’s sunny, seaside set.
1671 never felt so fun.