The Round House Theater's production of "Scapino," which opened Friday night, is a show that demands more skill than this generally competent company can deliver.
"Scapino" is a modern, essentially burlesque adaptation of Molie re's "Les fourberies de Scapin," which itself was an adaptation of the an- Theater cient Roman farce "Phormio." Jon Jory successfully turned Molie re's version into a musical, "Tricks," 10 years ago, and a few years later the Young Vic company in England came up with "Scapino," built around the extraordinary talents of one of its co-authors, actor Jim Dale.
The plot is a labyrinthine concoction that really serves as an excuse for clowning: Two young men, in their fathers' absence, have fallen in love with unsuitable young ladies. They turn to the servant Scapino to help them out of their predicament.
It is set in Naples, which provides an opportunity for a lot of Italian jokes, head slapping and Latin outbursts, and the set is dominated by two gutters for the characters to fall into. The play was designed not to just ignore the fourth wall but to blast it into smithereens; the audience is talked to, jumped over, and ultimately, forced to sing and make noises.
The Round House production, directed by Jeffrey B. Davis, has the right attitude--full-tilt lunacy, with a set wallpapered with magazine pages. But mad activity does not always produce zaniness, and in this case the expertise needed for effective slapstick physicality is simply not there.
Thomas E. Schall, as the servant Sylvestro, comes closest to the balletic precision needed in an antic sequence complete with Marlon Brando imitation, shades of "West Side Story" and nearsighted buffoonery.
Mark Jaster is a noticeably low-key Scapino, perhaps to serve as a contrast to the wild characters surrounding him.He has a gentle appeal, but leaves the delightfully mischievous side of his character undeveloped.
The company includes several of the Round House's appealing regulars, who try hard to reach beyond their clowning abilities. David DiGiannantonio has some funny moments as one of the sons, Leandro, and Greta Lambert is nicely goofy as the gypsy Zerbinetta. The fathers, Michael Littman and Richard Averbuch, are too young for their roles and unable to paste over this inherent disability. Jerry Paone's headwaiter is a welcome curmudgeon in the midst of chaos.
"Scapino," by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale; directed by Jeffrey B. Davis; set design by Douglas A. Cumming; lights by John Gabbert; costumes by Leslie-Matie Cocuzzo; music direction by Betty Clark; choreography by Eliot Pfanstiehl; properties by Richard H. Young; with Mark Jaster, Thomas E. Schall, Richard Averbuch, Jim Fyfe, Gail Sawyer, Michael Littman, David DiGiannantonio, Greta Lambert, Richard H. Young, Pamela McFarlane, Jerry Paone, Brooke Levinson, Allyson Rice, and Sharon Burke.
At the Round House Theatre through May 30.