There are, like, 5 different flavors of ice cream frozen into layers. Cookie crumbles. Whipped Cream. Chocolate drizzle. There’s a whole lot going on, all of it creamy and delicious, to the point that it’s almost too much in all the right ways. That’s how I felt about UND’s latest production, Scapino!
The Scapino character comes from the commedia dell’arte tradition, a type of theatre that features specific “types”; the character of Scapino, playing off the word “escape,” is usually some sort of sly servant who uses his wits and clever trickery to outwit those who organize against him. In this version, written by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale, Scapino (Joe Bussey) must help two young men, Leandro (Joe Picardi) and Ottavio (Brandon Wetch), defy their fathers and pursue the loves that their hearts desire.
Ottavio has fallen in love with and married Giacinta (Ashley Restemayer), but knows that his father Argante (Daniel Johnson) is returning to finish the preparations on an arranged marriage. Leandro’s love is a gypsy girl named Zerbinetta (Daniella Lima) who is going to be spirited away by her people – unless Leandro can pull together a ransom of 500,000 lira. Leandro’s father Geronte (Nick McConnell) has the money, but is known far and wide as the “meanest miser” in all of Napoli. Both young men seek the aid of Scapino and his accomplice, the good-natured, bumbling Sylvestro (Zack Lee), to outwit their fathers, get the money they need, and secure the love of their chosen ladies.
The plot sounds simple enough, but be prepared to remain on your toes: the show is always moving and the fourth wall is all but nonexistent in this energetic production. Characters routinely run up and down the aisles – and sometimes through the rows of patrons! – and circle about the many levels and platforms of the set in a dizzying display of unstoppable energy. In addition to the characters already mentioned, there are a few stock characters who exist to provide additional visual interest and sometimes tactical support, but offer little or nothing to the story itself: Carlo (Chris Fixen), a buffoonish character who seems to exist primarily to terrorize the frantic Head Waiter (Tyler Folkedahl) and flirtatiously pester the 4 vintage-styled Waitresses (Julia Amundson, Michelle Stahlecker, Rachel Clarice Perry, and Jacqueline DeGraff), and the Nurse (Hannah Diers) who appears late in the second act to occasion a plot twist that helps Scapino achieve his goals and allow Ottavio to keep his chosen bride.
Director/Choreographer Ali Angelone ensures that no one ever stands still for long, and the action even spills out of the confines of the performance itself: before the show starts Carlo enters to play a violin, followed not long after by Sylvestro who spends at least 5 solid pre-show minutes pantomiming fishing from one of the downstage docks and napping on the boards; during intermission, Leandro and Ottavio sit in a small boat fishing and drinking (the boat is named the Angel One, an homage to the director). With the exception of a few calmer moments, there are always people one the move, circling, climbing ladders and slamming in and out of doors, entering and exiting at a frenetic pace. As one thing happens down right, three other characters may be playing out their own little drama up left. The movements are fluid and acrobatic, often bordering on slapstick, and this integration of joyful movement with action and dialogue is Angelone’s calling card (she directed last season’s production of A Chorus Line).
The cast all work together to create a coherent and exciting show. Bussey’s ability to be rubbery and cartoonish is used perfectly to polish this play into a comedic gem. McConnell and Johnson do a great job of infusing the father characters will the right balance of malice, decrepitude, and gullibility to make the show work, and Lee’s lanky charm as he pretends to be a menacing villain is pitch perfect. As for the romances, there is very little heft to them. Anyone who saw last fall’s production of Into the Woods knows that Wetch can smolder (his Big Bad Wolf had me ready to hop the Express Train to Cougartown! Those leather pants though…) but here he and Picardi are better served as lovesick goofballs than as romantic leads, and Restemayer and Lima join in the fun as a sort of besotted schoolgirl and giggling free spirit respectively. The crew at the restaurant are goofy and stylized but add a certain light-heartedness to the production that helps keep the energy up and the audience laughing.
The technical aspects of this production were, as usual, deftly handled and it’s nice to see so much student involvement in the technical side of recent productions. Jacqueline DeGraff designed the costumes for Into The Woods and brought a fresh new perspective to that show; for Scapino!, costumes were designed by Rachel Perry. All of the costuming worked well, but I thought that Scapino’s red zoot-suit inspired outfit and the uniforms for the waitresses were particularly inspired. Restemayer’s green and yellow floral print dress was playful and helped keep her character breezy and sweet. The one slight misstep was Lima’s Zerbinetta: the outfit flirted with the cliche of gypsy girl, but it either needed to go further or move in a different, unexpected direction. The flowing skirt and excessive bangles didn’t really do much for the character and the makeup design (credited to Julia Amundson, which overall was done quite well) was too severe, working against the joyfulness of the character. Brad Reissig’s set design is definitely within the realm of his usual aesthetic (after a few productions, you’ll begin to notice his specific style: lots of steps and odd platforms, balconies with rails) and the buildings look a little like a scaled down revamp of the set from Much Ado About Nothing, but the topography works well with the movement and action of the show, and I am continually amazed by Reissig’s masterful manipulation of light.
Sadly, Scapino! is Angelone’s final production with the UND Theatre Arts Department. Her strength in choreography was a strong asset to a department that has increasingly embraced musical theatre as a core of its program over the years and it will be quite a challenge to find someone to fill her petite dancing shoes. You still have one night left to see the show: Saturday, April 25 is closing night, with the show starting at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15 for Adults, $5 for Students, and all the action happens on the UND Burtness Theatre main stage.
Tags: Ali Angelone, Ashley Restemayer, Brad Reissig, Brandon Wetch, Burtness Theater, Burtness Theatre, Chris Fixen, Commedia dell'arte, Daniel Johnson, Daniella Lima, Hannah Diers, Jacqueline DeGraff, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Joe Bussey, Joe Picardi, Julia Amundson, Michelle Stahlecker, Miss Jaye, Nick McConnell, Rachel Clarice Perry, Rachel Perry, Scapino, Tyler Folkedahl, UND Theater, UND Theater Arts, UND Theatre, UND Theatre Arts, World of Champagne, Zack Lee