‘That Scoundrel Scapin’

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey heads outdoors for this 1671 French comedy.

By: Stuart Duncan
   The Shakespeare Theatre in Madison has found a perfect site for the single outdoor production it offers each summer. For the second year it has returned to the campus of The College of Saint Elizabeth (just up the road in Morristown) and the Greek Amphitheater of grass and stone, nestled into the side of a small hill. And it has found the perfect play to fit the spaces — That Scoundrel Scapin.
   What better vehicle than a 1671 French comedy (by Molière), inspired by the Roman comedies of Plautus, set in a theater inspired by the god Dionysus in Athens? The plot is one of those "clever servant" things so popular back then, done in the traditional commedia dell’arte style. Now add an American audience ready to laugh at passing airplanes and ringing cell phones, and the evening is irresistible.
   Let’s get back to Molière. The original title was Les fourboires de Scapin and it was a delicious romp amid the trials of a pair of lovers, fathers determined to stop the impending marriages and, most of all, Scapin, long one of the Italian stock characters — a rascally valet, ready to guile either or both papas for large sums of money.
   Director Joe Discher has given his cast considerable leeway in handling the intricate plot. A huge favorite with the Festival crowd, James Michael Reilly, returning for his 13th summer, grabs every moment he is on the stage and steals it easily, without resorting to mugging or vocal tricks. When, at one important point, he discovers a ringing cell phone in his own purse, he answers it, then rushes halfway up the stone steps to shout: "Now, can you hear me?" The audience simply dissolves. Most of the time he works in a calm, cleverly casual manner that often makes his onstage colleagues look as if they are puffing to keep up.
   Jay Leibowitz gets a fine chance to shine as Silvester, a fellow servant. Robert LuPone and Bruce Winant have great fun as the much-abused fathers. Clark Carmichael and Christian Conn are properly handsome as the suitors. Erica Piccininni and Molly McCann are properly pretty as the girls. Mattie Ullrich, the costume designer, has perhaps as much fun as anyone on stage. She outfits Scapin and Silvester as if they are about to row tourists to the Blue Grotto. The girls are dressed as if one is going to the senior prom at Santa Monica High and the other is auditioning for the role of Carmen. The fathers look like they both lost election bets.
   Also note, you can rent a cushion for 50 cents — money well spent.
That Scoundrel Scapin continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, the Greek Amphitheater, The College of Saint Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road, Morristown, through Aug. 3. Performances: Tues.-Sat. 8:15 p.m., Sun. 4:15, 8:15 p.m. The grounds are open one hour earlier for picnicking. Tickets cost $27, $15 under age 13. For information, call (973) 408-5600. On the Web: www.njshakespeare.org