SCAPIN

Commonweal Theatre Company

By Molière • New Translation by Nagel Jackson

Directed by Mark Robinson

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Zany!  The entire cast of Commonweal's Scapin demonstrates the art of comic timing. . . Like a glass of cool lemonade offered on a hot day,  Scapin is a gift to audiences burdened by real life concerns, an invitation to take a break and enjoy some laughs!”
- The Fillmore County Journal
 
Never a dull moment! ...The rainbow been pierced on Commonweal's stage as it bleeds fountains of costume colors on Scapin.  It's hard to believe the centuries old script has such contemporary relevance...but the physical comedy is a laugh for anyone.”
- The Tri-County Record
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Photos by Janis Martin  •  Scapin Painting by Erik Pearson

 

DIRECTOR'S NOTES

     Don’t ya just love ham?  I sure do, and so did actor, playwright, director and royal furniture upholsterer Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (stage name: Molière) who, late in his career, combined the plots of the ancient playPhormio (written by Terence in 161 BC), with the farcical Italian performance art form “Commedia dell’arte” to create the wild comedy Les Fourberies de Scapin. Premiering at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1671, and staring Molière himself in the scenery-chewing title role, Scapin - with its stock characters, manic situations and slapstick comic business (called lazzi) - was greeted by the critical elite with disappointment; many considering it a slight, silly bauble of a play from the former genius that had, just a few years prior, written the brilliant biting satires Tartuffe and The Misanthrope.

 

     Nonetheless, after a century of near-obscurity, Scapin eventually resurfaced and is now widely considered one of our greatest comical masterpieces; performed consistently in some form or another around the world. The production you’re about to see gives us a chance to hear a wonderful, new translation by Nagle Jackson, and to recognize and appreciate an iconic performance style that has been handed down through the generations.

-- Mark Robinson

INTERVIEW

 

Mark is interviewed about his approach to the production by Commonweal company member and Scapin cast member David Hennessey

 

DAVID HENNESSEY:  When you first learned we wanted to shift gender of most of the characters, what was your first reaction? Was it different from your reaction after you had a chance to think it over?  Please explain.

 

MARK ROBINSON:  My first reaction was not “why?”, but rather “why not?!”  The Commonweal is renowned as a company that frequently tackles unconventional or unusual works and presents them in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.  So I had no hesitation in accepting this directing assignment because I know that whatever the eventual result would be, the outcome would provide a fun, theatrical presentation that the actors and designers would approach full-force.  And also, I had such a blast working there before on “Zombies From The Beyond,” and I couldn’t wait to get back to Lanesboro!

 

How will the gender shift affect the play as you see it now?

 

“Scapin” is a lighthearted farce in the style of Commedia dell’ Arte; meaning the story is full of wild improbabilities and performed with slapstick humor aplenty.  As the play focuses on parenting and arranged marriages, there is no real argument against the gender switch, as its characters’ battles with their parents’ wills are - as well all know - universal regardless of sex.

 

When you first learned we wanted to shift gender of most of the characters, what was your first reaction? Was it different from your reaction after you had a chance to think it over?  Please explain.

 

My first reaction was not “why?”, but rather “why not?!”  The Commonweal is renowned as a company that frequently tackles unconventional or unusual works and presents them in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.  So I had no hesitation in accepting this directing assignment because I know that whatever the eventual result would be, the outcome would provide a fun, theatrical presentation that the actors and designers would approach full-force.  And also, I had such a blast working there before on “Zombies From The Beyond,” and I couldn’t wait to get back to Lanesboro!

 

How will the gender shift affect the play as you see it now?

 

“Scapin” is a lighthearted farce in the style of Commedia dell’ Arte; meaning the story is full of wild improbabilities and performed with slapstick humor aplenty.  As the play focuses on parenting and arranged marriages, there is no real argument against the gender switch, as its characters’ battles with their parents’ wills are - as well all know - universal regardless of sex.

 

What commentary does the shift make on power relationships?

 

This is a very tricky question.  As a director, I hope that any play I stage will speak for itself and let the audience derive their own conclusions about “what it all means.”  Theatre is a very subjective art and any reaction by viewers will be colored by their own experiences and histories.  HOWEVER!….I will say that as long as any group of performers act any play with complete conviction, any conceit will be believable to an audience.  As an example:  it two mismatched actors are playing lovers in a play, and they believe the characters they’re playing are completely and hopelessly in love, then there’s no reason why an audience wouldn’t believe it!  So in relation “Scapin”, if we - the company - believe that the young women in this town of Naples are chasing the men, rather than the other way around, then that’s the environment we’re creating for this production.  And it stands to reason that an audience will believe it too. 

 

Do you expect this will make the play funnier and/or more clear to contemporary audiences? Why or why not?

 

Keep in mind one of the rules of Commedia:  that unlike most theatre, the play is not necessarily the only “thing”.  In fact, you’ll frequently find that the plays’ outlandish plotting is there to serve “Lazzi”: scenery-chewing comic routines which are haphazardly - but purposely - inserted for the sole purpose of making an audience laugh out loud.  It’s a iconic performance style that began with Commedia and has been handed down through generations to re-blossom into much of the popular entertainment of the last century; in which the storytelling clarity takes a back seat to the Lazzi “bits”.  Think of Charlie Chapin, the Marx Brothers, Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory; and what you’re really looking at are the contemporary descendents of this Italian performance art-form! 

 

Are there any particular challenges that this shift presents in producing the play?

 

We’ll be reversing the pronouns and altering the character’s names.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that the Commonweal women will be able to handle the physical comedy as well as any man (he laughs).  And I’m terribly excited to discover how sexual innuendos will emerge with this switch.  Don’t fear…this will certainly be a popular family show, but I’m certain it will - at times - reverberate differently for young people and adults.

 

With or without the gender shift, what challenges and opportunities does this play present?

 

It gives us a chance to take a look at a wonderful, new translation of a play that was once overlooked as one of Moliere’s lesser works, and is now considered to be a comical masterpiece, performed in some form or another around the word.

 

What excites you most about directing this work?

 

Much of my directorial background is in edgy contemporary American plays; and I’m excited that the Commonweal is giving me a chance to bring my experience and love of farce and comedy to a classic such as “Scapin”!

 

Any other comments?

 

It’s interesting to note that this was Moliere’s final play, for which he originated the title role himself!

This is a very tricky question.  As a director, I hope that any play I stage will speak for itself and let the audience derive their own conclusions about “what it all means.”  Theatre is a very subjective art and any reaction by viewers will be colored by their own experiences and histories.  HOWEVER!….I will say that as long as any group of performers act any play with complete conviction, any conceit will be believable to an audience.  As an example:  it two mismatched actors are playing lovers in a play, and they believe the characters they’re playing are completely and hopelessly in love, then there’s no reason why an audience wouldn’t believe it!  So in relation “Scapin”, if we - the company - believe that the young women in this town of Naples are chasing the men, rather than the other way around, then that’s the environment we’re creating for this production.  And it stands to reason that an audience will believe it too. 

 

Do you expect this will make the play funnier and/or more clear to contemporary audiences? Why or why not?

 

Keep in mind one of the rules of Commedia:  that unlike most theatre, the play is not necessarily the only “thing”.  In fact, you’ll frequently find that the plays’ outlandish plotting is there to serve “Lazzi”: scenery-chewing comic routines which are haphazardly - but purposely - inserted for the sole purpose of making an audience laugh out loud.  It’s a iconic performance style that began with Commedia and has been handed down through generations to re-blossom into much of the popular entertainment of the last century; in which the storytelling clarity takes a back seat to the Lazzi “bits”.  Think of Charlie Chapin, the Marx Brothers, Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory; and what you’re really looking at are the contemporary descendents of this Italian performance art-form! 

 

Are there any particular challenges that this shift presents in producing the play?

 

We’ll be reversing the pronouns and altering the character’s names.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that the Commonweal women will be able to handle the physical comedy as well as any man (he laughs).  And I’m terribly excited to discover how sexual innuendos will emerge with this switch.  Don’t fear…this will certainly be a popular family show, but I’m certain it will - at times - reverberate differently for young people and adults.

 

With or without the gender shift, what challenges and opportunities does this play present?

 

It gives us a chance to take a look at a wonderful, new translation of a play that was once overlooked as one of Moliere’s lesser works, and is now considered to be a comical masterpiece, performed in some form or another around the word.

 

What excites you most about directing this work?

 

Much of my directorial background is in edgy contemporary American plays; and I’m excited that the Commonweal is giving me a chance to bring my experience and love of farce and comedy to a classic such as “Scapin”!

 

Any other comments?

 

It’s interesting to note that this was Moliere’s final play, for which he originated the title role himself!