Deep down inside, most of us are pretty sure we’re smarter than our employers. Reno Little Theater puts that conviction to the test with Moliere’s Scapino, a comedic farce that pits wily servants against slow-witted masters to see who will come out on top.
In a sleepy little Mediterranean fishing village during the height of the disco era, Ottavio is an upper-class young man with a tragic dilemma: He’s fallen in love with and married a poverty-stricken peasant girl named Giacinta. When his father finds out, Ottavio will surely be disinherited. Meanwhile, another young lover, Leandro, also finds himself in romantic difficulties: He’s fallen in love with Zerbinetta, a gypsy girl, who has been kidnapped and held for ransom for a princely sum. Unable to think of a solution to their problems, they turn to Scapino, a local scoundrel with a knack for trickery and deception. As it happens, Scapino has a personal grudge against the rich and stupid fathers of Ottavio and Leandro. He agrees to solve the young lovers’ problems for the sheer pleasure of outwitting their fathers. With the help of Sylvestro, a trusty if befuddled accomplice, Scapino cooks up a clever scheme, pretending to work for the fathers in order to lighten their pockets of a fortune. But has this prankster bitten off more than he can chew?
Scapino, written in the 17th century, follows the tradition of commedia dell’arte, an improvisational satirical form that allows for considerable freedom in altering and updating the dialogue and setting. This flexibility gives the script a fresh, contemporary feel with topical cultural references and modern-day language. There are also plenty of playful winks to the audience, as when an “Exposition” sign drops from the ceiling, hovering over a character’s head while he’s explaining some back story. While the main plotline is admittedly a bit thin, the play is fleshed out with plenty of running gags, such as the tie-dyed bum who wanders in and out of scenes, pestering the characters and interacting with the audience while trying to make a quick buck.
Andrew Mowers gives an outstanding, high-energy performance as Scapino. Winking, leering and smooth-talking his way through every difficulty, Mowers’ Scapino is a manic, gleeful kid in a suit, utterly thrilled to be fooling the stodgy grownups around him, and his antics are a delight to watch. Also enjoyable is Zachary L.J. Bortot as Ottavio, the mournful lover and hapless straight man who acts as a foil to Scapino’s escapades. Nancy Podewils is entertaining as Argante, Ottavio’s bumbling and miserly father, whose love of money is even greater than his desire for respectability.
The circa-1970s setting means bell-bottoms, garishly clashing outfits and wild wigs for all. The eye-poppingly bright costumes make an interesting visual contrast to the quaintly charming riverside café where the action takes place, and the actors make good use of the set for physical comedy and slapstick stunts, whether they’re staging pratfalls into the river or administering beatings with an oversized sausage. And sometimes,when characters chase each other into the wings and through the aisles of the theater, there’s no one on stage at all.
Short on plot but long on clever, self-aware wit, Scapino is a light-hearted comedy with plenty of rapid-fire humor, sure to please everyone who’s ever pulled one over on the boss—or just really wanted to.