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'Scapino' at OCC: Deliciously overdone

Theater Review

March 24, 2006|By TOM TITUS

Some plays, particularly comedies, are a director's dream. One such example is the freewheeling "Scapino," the current offering at Orange Coast College.

This play's bloodlines are long. Created by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale (who also starred) in the late 1960s, "Scapino" was adapted from the 1671 commedia dell' arte play "Les Fourberies de Scapin" by Molière. Whether in French, Italian or fractured English, it's still an enormous kick when administered by an imaginative company.

Director David Scaglione has amassed such a company ? a huge cast of student performers ? and created a colorful setting to provide the requisite Neapolitan atmosphere. Quite often the audience's attention is divided among the various antics transpiring simultaneously during the infrequent moments when the mischievous title character is not on stage.

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These moments include the 20 minutes prior to curtain when various waiters, tourists and nuns infiltrate the audience, carrying on improvisational horseplay to set the mood for what most closely resembles a Marx Brothers movie with an Italian accent. There is a semblance of a plot ? which is reminiscent of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" ? but playgoers should not be concerned if they miss it because the more important elements are all physical.

The ringmaster of this circus is Scapino himself, a puckish scamp enlisted to employ his well-known talent for trickery on behalf of two young, lovesick comrades. This he accomplishes with gleeful aplomb in a splendidly engaging performance by David Chorley.

Chorley overcomes a rather uneven beginning to administer a swift finishing kick as he orchestrates the play's outlandish events. His continually grimacing face and whiplash timing serve the character beautifully, as does his splendid sense of irony.

As his two comrades, Patrick Koffel enacts an impassioned swain, while Cameron Denny portrays a more callow youth. Their love interests are particularly dissimilar ? Amy Abbascia is sweetly demure as Koffell's child bride, and Emily Meade revels as a lusty gypsy vixen.

The lads' fathers, each consumed with delusions of grandeur, are a colorful pair. Andrew Vonderschmitt grouses cantankerously as Argante, while Sean Coutu contributes a show-stealing performance as the Vesuvius-tempered Geronte, brought low with particular glee by Scapino.

There are 21 other performers in the production, all background figures comically playing off one another and the audience. Playgoers may find a comely waitress on their laps or a trio of nuns beseeching the almighty on their behalf.

Particularly effective are Cynthia Corley's colorful costumes, with those worn by Vonderschmitt and Coutu standing out. Most performers wear character masks, also designed by director Scaglione to give the show its commedia flair.

"Scapino" is the ideal ensemble piece for a collegiate company overflowing with eager actors, and OCC certainly has these in abundance. As the show's menu (program) warns, "all dishes can be served slightly overdone or with a side of ham."

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