‘Scapin’ brings hijinks to Hauck Auditorium

UMaine production awash in laughter, music

One of the best parts of academic theatre is the opportunity it presents to mount productions that the average audience member likely hasn’t seen before. The enthusiasm and passion for the art is readily apparent, charged with the energy of youth. Collegiate theatre has a lot to offer a patron of the arts, and the University of Maine School of Performing Arts has produced just such a worthwhile offering with their production of Moliere’s “Scapin,” running through November 16 at Hauck Auditorium on the Orono campus.

Moliere, best known for such classics as “Tartuffe” and “The Misanthrope,” gives audience members yet another comedic tour de force with “Scapin.” It’s the story of two young men who fall in love. However, they have fallen in love with women other than those picked out by their respective fathers. Upon the fathers’ return, the young men must find ways to both keep their lovely ladies and avoid being disinherited. Enter Scapino, servant and mischief maker. It’s a story filled with lies, schemes and mistaken identity – and, lest we forget, comedy. Lots and lots of comedy.

Dress rehearsal of ‘Scapin’, University of Maine
Theater Department, Hauck Auditorium.
(Photo by Bill Kuykendall)

Suffice it to say, hijinks definitely ensue.

UMaine’s production is a good one. The cast appears to have gelled nicely, with actors in roles both large and small having found a cohesiveness of ensemble. That cohesiveness is key to the success of any farce, especially one as fast-paced and physically demanding as this one. The high energy and fast pace are what really make this show pop.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and more than a few in-jokes. Director Julie Goell has done a fine job of mining the comedy from the script. Of course, there are plenty of laughs on the surface, but Goell leaves no comedic stone unturned, bringing a more-or-less constant barrage of one-liners, escalating back-and-forths and deft physicality to the stage. Granted, some of the performances are a little uneven, but the valleys are far outnumbered by peaks.

Also, the fourth wall isn’t so much broken as shattered, with many of the characters not just allowing, but welcoming us in on the joke. This kind of choice is a big risk; if it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. However, these takes to the audience aren’t jarring; rather, they serve as just one more worthwhile comic device.

Anthony Arnista is outstanding as the semi-titular Scapino. His boundless energy and comedic timing make him a magnetic presence onstage; the audience’s eyes are drawn to him. The danger with a role such as this is the potential for Scapino to become little more than a directionless, cackling buffoon, but it’s a danger that Arnista adroitly avoids. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of buffoonery. It’s just that Arnista gives the impression of always being fully in control. His command of voice and body is both impressive and hilarious.

The two fathers, Argante (Ryan Jackson) and Geronte (Dustin Sleight), are wonderful foils to the sly Scapino. Sleight informs his portrayal of Geronte with the sort of inept authoritarianism that this role desperately requires; his scenes with Scapino are among the highlights. Craig Douglas has some very funny moments as the defiantly-wed Octave, while Land Cook brings an entertaining earnestness to his portrayal of Sylvestre, Scapino’s erstwhile partner in crime.

The play is filled with music; there’s a band onstage throughout, providing transitional and incidental music that serves the script well. The production elements were exceptional; Dan Bilodeau’s scenic design in particular was fascinating to examine, with plenty of levels and a variety of unexpected functionality. Bilodeau also designed the lighting, which served to accentuate the richness of the set and costumes (a lovely and interesting assortment designed by Frank Champa) beautifully.

Moliere can be a tough sell to 21st century audiences, but productions such as this one make a wonderful pitch. “Scapin” will make you laugh, and these days, who couldn’t use a little more laughter in their lives?

By Allen Adams; originally published in The Maine Edge