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Anything goes
New Rep turns Scapin into musical commedia
Freely adapted from Molière. Book and lyrics by Rick Lombardo. Music and lyrics by Haddon Kime. Directed by Lombardo. Musical direction by Kime. Choreography by Kelli Edwards. Set by Janie E. Howland. Costumes by Frances Nelson McSherry. Lighting by Karen Perlow. With Matthew J. Nichols, John Kuntz, Bret Carr, Bates Wilder, Jennifer Lafleur, Steven Barkhimer, Ken Baltin, Miguel Cervantes, and Bonita J. Hamilton. At New Repertory Theatre through May 30.

Scapin is a riffing rascal on Ritalin in Rick Lombardo & Haddon Kime’s new musical wrung from Molière’s 1671 farce about a wily servant conning old masters and abetting young love. Sorry to sound like Elmer Fudd there, but two and a half hours in the company of this Scapin would turn anyone into a cartoon character. Billed as a "free adaptation," the new musical on anything-goes display at New Repertory Theatre is certainly that, with feet all over the map, from 17th-century France to the made-up oil town of Naples, Texas, to Rent and Les Misérables. Two and a half hours is too long for it to go on; the second act, in particular, seems belabored. But at its slapstick best, this goosed-up Scapin is a twanging hoot with more anarchic energy than Shear Madness and more John Kuntz than Freaks and Starfuckers in rep.

Besides, it’s not as if Lombardo and Kime — who also function as director and musical director, the latter gotten up like Mozart (though he quickly doffs his wig) and presiding upstage at electric keyboard, with guitarist Bradley Royds and percussionist Scott G. Nason — had turned Tartuffe into Targoof. Written two years before Molière’s death, Scapin is a throwback to his commedia dell’arte–inspired early works, lacking as it does the satiric savagery of Tartuffe and The Misanthrope.

Scapin, the sort of speedy zany Kuntz was born to inhabit, is the smarter of two servants to whom it falls to sort out the romantic entanglements and father fears of two young swains. Octavio, the son of Argante, has married Hyacinthia without parental permission. Oops, it turns out dad had promised him to the suddenly materialized daughter of neighbor Geronte, a "secret child born in foreign lands." Meanwhile, Geronte’s son, Leandro, has his heart set on a Gypsy captive his father would certainly find unsuitable, and worse, he needs money to ransom her. Scapin, with the lame if earnest aid of slow-witted servant sidekick Sylvester, is begged to help. Sweetening the pot for him is the pleasure of outwitting the fuming oldsters and being revenged on blowhard master Geronte in particular. This last leads to, as Scapin helpfully tips the audience, an attack on a sack that’s "one of the classic bits of physical comedy — well, it’s usually the only thing people actually remember about this silly play."

When it comes to the adaptation, one thing people are unlikely to remember is the music, which winking echoes everything from Elvis to county to hip-hop to Latin to "Seasons of Love." New Rep has, however, gathered a versatile troupe that’s vocally as well as comically adroit, and the players strut Kime’s doodles in style, even stepping in to showboat on a few instruments. Who knew Kuntz could play the sax, as he does in the entr’acte jam that greets the audience returning from intermission? Among the show’s voices, Bonita J. Hamilton’s and Miguel Cervantes’s are particularly fine, so their love duet "In Each Other’s Eyes" makes you sit up and notice, even amid the pratfalls and wallopings — both literal and of "the Religious Right." Warning to Republicans: George W. Bush and his sort are frequent Scapin targets.

Some of the play’s jokes fall flat, among them a running gag in which derogatory references to Middle Eastern types, from Arabs to Turks, are all changed to "Osama." But Lombardo has potent fun with stereotypes both 17th-century-French and contemporary-Texan. Says Scapin of cowering lover Octavius (Bret Carr), who wears a cascading wig and clings to a beribboned cane that might have been borrowed from Bo Peep: "He’s so far in the closet, he’s in Narnia." And Steven Barkhimer and Ken Baltin, sporting cowboy attire and penis and pig noses respectively, turn the tyrannical fathers into rich rednecks singing of sexual naughtiness "Back in the Day."

Even when the material isn’t funny, the cast is. Kuntz’s kibitzing Scapin, in motley and a Red Sox cap, has a fine foil in Bates Wilder’s sincere, slow-on-the-uptake Sylvester — he’s like Of Mice and Men’s Lenny in Clarabelle togs. Cervantes, gotten up like Marius in Les Mis, combines bewilderment with swashbuckle. Among the lady loves, both portrayed by Brandeis graduate-acting students, Hamilton is a feisty feminist Gypsy and Jennifer Lafleur is a daffy Marie Antoinette hovering on hysteria. Most astonishing of all is Matthew J. Nichols, also a Brandeis actor, who makes of an all-purpose bearer of "Bad News," perched on a tiny bike and clad in a Western Union uniform, a sort of junior Sweeney Todd, his piercing intensity like a flaming cherry atop the nonsense.

Issue Date: May 7 - 13, 2004
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