Reviewed by Judy Richter
One of the most hilarious shows to grace a Bay Area stage in a long time is Molière's "Scapin." Adapted by Bill Irwin and Mark O'Donnell, directed by Irwin and, by the way, starring Irwin in a tour de force, it's a delightful way for American Conservatory Theater to open its 445th season.
Irwin, a consummate clown and an original member of San Francisco's legendary Pickle Family Circus, plays the title character. Scapin is a scheming servant who tries to help his master win his father's permission to marry his beloved. His father, however, wants him to marry someone else. In the meantime, Scapin's fellow servant, Sylvestre (Jud Williford), faces a similar situation with his master except that his master has already married the object of his affection. Sylvester isn't quite as clever as Scapin, but he's a quick study, and both servants are smarter than their masters and their masters' blustering fathers.
This adaptation is written in contemporary English and has several references straight from today's headlines. As director, Irwin has helped his cast hone the comedy with razor-sharp timing. Irwin himself is a marvel of clowning with his baggy pants and funny hat (costumes by Beaver Bauer). Moreover, he must have elastic in place of bones as various parts of his body seem to move in different directions at the same time. More subtle, however, is the way he allows his fellow actors to take the spotlight as needed and the way they all rein themselves in just before the hilarity veers out of control. Some credit is due to assistant director Anthony Fusco, who presumably provided some additional directoral judgment.
Besides Williford, who pairs well with Irwin, the cast features Gregory Wallace as Octave, Sylvestre's master; Steven Anthony Jones as Argante, Octave's father; and Ashley Wickett as Hyacinth, Octave's wife. Another Pickle Family Circus veteran, Geoff Hoyle, plays the father of Sylvestre's master, Leander (Patrick Lane); and René Augesen plays Zerbinette, Leander's beloved. Omozé Idehenre plays Nerine, who catches Scapin's eye. Keith Pinto and Ben Johnson appear as gendarmes and porters.
Adding to the fun is the music composed and performed by Randall Craig and Keith Terry, who sit in a main floor box. Kimi Okada served as movement consultant for the dancing. The set -- a plaza between two homes with shuttered windows -- is by Erik Flatmo, with lighting by Nancy Schertler and sound by Jake Rodriguez.
"Scapin" has been so well received that ACT announced a one-week extension right after opening night. That's wonderful news because a show this funny and this well done deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.