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Adults acting childish

Molière’s Scapin,’ by the Lantern

In
3 minute read
Lloyd and puppet friends: Sorting out the wives.
Lloyd and puppet friends: Sorting out the wives.
There is little to criticize and much to praise about the Lantern Theater Company's production of Molière's Scapin. Although Scapin was first staged in 1671 in Paris, the English adaptation of this archetypical French farce by Bill Irwin and Mark O'Donnell not only retains much of its original structure but also thrillingly engages a 21st-Century audience, adults and children alike. If you're looking for a holiday outing for the extended family, forget about that budget-breaking excursion to a Broadway musical. Instead get tickets to Scapin and roll in the aisles with laughter.

Along with adaptors Irwin and O'Donnell, credit for this delightful evening of theater goes to director Aaron Cromie, who imaginatively combines elements of classical French farce with the slapstick humor of vaudeville, the magic of puppetry and the nostalgia of silent films.

Secret marriages

The plot is thin and insignificant. Two adult yet infantile sons of bourgeois fathers secretly marry when their elders are away on business. The sons are unaware that both fathers have different wives in mind for their offspring. The sons and their fathers are also unaware that the freshly married wives are in fact the sisters (and daughters) of the intended family.

The task of sorting out the confusion, extorting the money that will allow the two young couples to remain married, and seeing that all live happily ever after falls to two valets, Silvestre and Scapin, of the two families. These two are the heart and soul of the play, and the superb Dave Johnson (Silvestre) and Benjamin Lloyd (Scapin) do not disappoint.

Human puppets


The key to the success of this production is its use of puppetry. French farce calls for a proscenium stage, and scenic designer Nick Embree has created a version of such a space as a puppet theater within the restricting confines of the Lantern.

Other than Scapin, who is the sole character to appear as fully "human," only Octavo (played by Bradley Wrenn) and Leandro (played by Dave Johnson) appear as partly "human." That is, we see their heads, but the rest of their bodies are represented by puppets with children's arms and legs and dress that's appropriately infantile. (Kudos to costume designer Mary Folino.)

All other roles are performed by puppets, with the female voices provided ably by Leah Walton. The musician, who creates the silent movie backdrop, is Matthew Wright.

Hand signals

Because the plot is irrelevant, the individual performances and the dialogue carry great weight. Especially noteworthy is a scene in the first act when Scapin convinces Octavo of his clairvoyant powers by describing Octavo's first meeting with and marriage to Hyacinthe (of which Scapin had no prior knowledge) by aid of wonderfully clever hand signals from Silvestre.

Scapin also delivers memorable quips like, "It's better to be married than to be dead" and "While one might desire a smooth marriage, it's the bumps that make it interesting." These lines may suggest content appropriate for an adult audience, but parents shouldn't worry about taking their children to this production.

A few quibbles

The only off-putting features of this otherwise brilliant production are self-referential lines about the Lantern Theater, its artistic director Charles McMahon, and working conditions for the company's actors. The inclusion of such audience-friendly material (the sort of happy-talk you might expect from a community theater) detracted from an otherwise excellent script and professional production.

On the other hand, the presence of lines famously associated with screen actors Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson as well as the adaptation of a no less famous scene from the 1933 movie King Kong only add to the inventiveness of this very funny play.

What, When, Where

Scapin. By Molière; adapted by Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell; directed by Aaron Cromie. Lantern Theater Co. production through January 10, 2010 at St. Stephen’s Theatre, 923 Ludlow St. (215) 829-0395 or www.lanterntheater.org.

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