Freely adapted from Molière
Book and Lyrics by Rick Lombardo
Music and Lyrics by Haddon Kime
Directed by Rick Lombardo
New Repertory Theatre
54 Lincoln St, Newton MA / (617) 332 - 1646
through May 30

Reviewed by Will Stackman

"Les Fourberies de Scapin" by Molière is not one of the master's major works. The script was written late in his career, harking back to juvenile works such as "Sganrelle", ostensibly as a simple entertainment--unlike "Tartuffe" or "The Miser" which had had difficult receptions. The play shares some of the same comic plot devices, young lovers at odds with wealthy parents needing aid from wily servants, a formula stretching back to antiquity. While its social criticism is muted, all the implications are there, waiting to be sprung.

The New Reps Artistic Director, multiple IRNE winner Rick Lombardo, who produced a masterful "Tartuffe" last season starring Richard McElvain, has taken the challenge head on. Together with IRNE winner Haddon Kime he's fashioned a music theatre piece entitled "Scapin" from Molière's text. Lombardo has had singular success with music theatre recently, including the operatic "Moby Dick" two season's ago; a multiple award winning "Sweeney Todd" a year ago this May; and a well-received "Threepenny" this winter. Drawing on these achievements, he's assembled a sprightly cast, talented designers, and a first-rate collaborator to reinvigorate this classic. They've ostensibly set the show in Naples, Texas, which allows IRNE winning costumer Frances Nelson McSherry to dress the two old men in comic Western garb. The two pairs of young lovers, however, appear in versions of French costume from Molière's day. The two clowns wear traditional Commedia garb with modern touches. The messenger arrives on a tricycle dressed as a hotel page a la Phillip Morris. Haddon's trio, with himself upstage center at the keyboards, wear vaguely Mozartian garb.

In the title role, playwright/actor/solo performer John Kuntz, seen last season at New Rep in "Waiting for Godot" opposite Austin Pendleton, uses his entire repertoire of comic skills and characters to keep the show rolling along. Award-winning designer Janie Howland has created a simple set for Club Scapin, where Kuntz, topped with a Red Sox baseball cap, wearing red and blue diamonds, engages the audience immediately in the action in his lounge singer act. Lombardo has taken advantage of this performer's particular strengths to define his trickster. As Scapin's foil, big Bates Wilder, seen as Lucky in "Godot", is Sylvester, a boob in a floppy white blouse, pointed hat and high water pants, which everyone knows will come down at some point. His young master is tenor Brett Carr's Octavio, fopped to the nines carrying a shepherd's crook, whose mincing style and pretty makeup occasions the usual jokes as the young sissy explains his martial predicament in a rock and roll ballad, one of the show's recurring themes, "Boo Hoo". His new wife, Hyacinthia, played by an aptly namely comedienne, Jennifer LaFleur, combines the traditional ingenue with a touch of Valley Girl. Of course the problem is that Octavio's father expects him to marry their rich neighbor's daughter , who is due to arrive any day now. And of course, the latter's son Leandro, played by IRNE winner Miguel Cervantes in dashing garb, has taken up with a gypsy girl.

The two pantaloons, Argante and Geronte, played by IRNE winner Steven Barkhimer and veteran actor Ken Baltin, who appeared as Pozzo in "Godot", are wonderfully satirized Texans wearing rubber noses who introduce themselves in a song and dance number, "Back in the Day" explaining their youthful indiscretions. Unaware of their sons' complications the two exit plotting the merger of their portfolios. But then the hyper messenger, Brandeis M.F.A. Mathew J. Nichols shows up for the first time with "Bad News", a singing telegram. Leandro relieves him of the second and third, singing the second "For Love" as the first strong number of the show. He saves the third for the second act. Complications ensue. Scapin has begun to con the fathers out of the money needed for their sons' love affairs, and after a full company reprise of "For Love", it's time for the intermission.

The entr'act involves the whole company as a pickup band, with Scapin playing simple sax riffs, Leandro on electric bass and Octavio on acoustic guitar, Argante on a small accordion, Sylvester on a giant kazoo, and everyone else on assorted percussion. Then Leandro sings the third message "The Generation Gap" and we finally meet Zerbanetta, his gypsy love, played by Bonita J. Hamilton, a Brandeis M.F.A. with an impressive soul sound. We're briefly in the world contemporary musical theatre before Scapin gets to beat Geronte in a sack, introduced as the most memorable scene in the original, a pure Commedia lazzi. Then it's a mad dash for the finale with an extended sequence "What an Amazing Coincidence" in which Hyacinthia is revealed to be Geronte's long lost daughter, and Zerbanetta Geronte's as well. To get there, Nichol's makes a hilarious appearance as Nerine, the nurse, whose mammaries just won't stay put. This versatile performer actually started the show as an annoying patron in the house with a cell phone and showed up briefly in Act II as a Government agent explaining the purity precautions that had been installed in the theatre. These were just part of IRNE winner Karen Perlow's versatile lighting.

And of course the show has to end with "Scapin's Dying Lament" as he wheedles forgiveness out of his two old victims and gets in the last of Molière's digs at the establishment. Lombardo and Kime have fashioned an up-to-the-minute burlesque out of this classic, with no intentions beyond presenting a current entertainment. They've included current references, including comments on the status of women, without becoming preachy. Kime's music is engaging; there are clever lyrics mostly in the service of plot and character. The only problem might be that sometimes the cast is having more fun with it all than the audience, though there were plenty of laughs and appreciative applause. The most telling moments are how certain hot-button issues, like assumptions about foreigners, are dealt with. "Scapin" is a solid end to another successful season for these local stalwarts .

The company, which received ten awards so far this year, will open it 20th season, during which the New Rep will move to a new home at the Watertown Art Center at the Arsenal, with a world premiere of Michael Weller's post 9/11/02 piece "Approaching Moomtaj". In mid season, they've scheduled Austin Pendleton as De Sade in Doug Wright's "Quills". And for a finale, it'll be Sondheim's "Into the Woods", with IRNE winners Leigh Barrett,and Nancy E. Carroll plus Todd Alan Johnson (Sweeney and Mack the Knife) and Evan Harrington (Pirelli) already signed up to appear. They won't be resting on their laurels.

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