Madcap Mafia and Moliere Re-Imagining in Kinetic Theatre’s “Scapino”

By Eva Phillips

Mob bosses. Murderous fathers. Ill-fated romance. Deceit and chicanery. Florida. Moliere.

If these somewhat incongruous elements seem like a combustive recipe for intrigue and uproarious absurdity, it’s because they are in the latest from Kinetic Theatre, Scapino. Adapted from Moliere’s classic Scapin by visiting artist Jeffrey Binder (who stars in the production as well) in collaboration with Zeljko Djukic, Scapino is, in Binder’s own words, “Married to the Mob or My Cousin Vinny in a comic blender with The Sopranos.” Wrap your head around that.

There is an undeniable energy that surges through the dialogue and performances in Kinetic Theatre’s latest, Scapino. Apropos for a theatre company named for a word denoting liveliness and electric movement, the cast of Scapino, skillfully and artfully directed by Kinetic founder and Artistic Director Andrew Paul, possesses and exudes a manic, but well-timed, energy that rivals any comparison. This is not just to the benefit of the audience and their enjoyment and engagement, but the abundant energy helps transform the intensely intimate space of Henry Heymann theatre into the many lush worlds of Naples (Florida, that is) as the satirically seedy matrices of crime and deceit unfold.

Jeffrey Binder as Scapino and Wesley Mann as Don Jerry Geronte

The particularly boisterous cast of Scapino is remarkably committed to their material to an unimpeachable degree,–like Phillip Taratula’s thrillingly manic turn as hapless henchman Sylvester–distracting from the moments when the material itself raises some concerns. Scapino’s story is the quintessential topsy-turvy, frenetically intertwined mafioso-romance gone awry tale: Octavio (Ethan Saks) is madly (and foolishly) infatuated with Chloe (Morgan Snowden) and has eyes to marry and run off with her. This of course directly conflicts with the plan that his father, vicious mafioso Don Albert (David Whalen), who demands that his son engage in a relationship that secures his mob ties and standing. Concurrently, fellow son-of-a-mob-boss Leo (Jack Lafferty, who doubles as the show’s Fight Choreographer) pines for his forbidden love, Feather (Sarah Silk), in direct conflict with his slightly-less-vicious, but no less notorious, mafioso father Don Jerry Geronte (Wesley Mann). Both Leo and Octavio find themselves at the mercy, despite their profound misgivings and/or distaste for defamed lawyer Scapino (Jeffrey Binder), who has ingratiated himself for the obvious (and not so obvious) reasons in the intricate crime world. Only Scapino can negotiate their predicaments—or so everyone desperately thinks.

Ethan Saks is unbelievably charming and engaging as Octavio, even when his character is witless and frantic. His relentless investment in his role pays off consistently, allowing the character to be a much-needed grounding point for the audience. As Leo, first-time Pittsburgh performer Jack Lafferty channels the extraordinary exuberance necessary for the

Binder as Scapino, Ethan Saks as Octavio, and Jack Lafferty as Leo

equal parts buffoon/brute/romantic, and his ceaseless energy and physical nimbleness (that would expect from a Fight Choreographer) translates splendidly to his overall performance and the authenticity he allows Leo to have. As the more-or-less rival Dons, Jerry Geronte and Albert, Wesley Mann and David Whalen epitomize seasoned confidence, and their acumen as actors with prodigious levels of experience shine through as they blend the classical mob boss mannerisms with the uniquely provincial Floridian touches that Binder imbedded throughout his script. As the titular role, Binder is exhilaratingly fluid and silver-tongued in a role he has clearly invested an immeasurable amount of time and thought.

In modernizing and transforming Moliere’s standard, Binder faced several challenges, primarily the ability to resolve and negotiate the characters’ internal and external strife without the trappings of Moliere-era narrative. “…As a convention of the time, a lot of plot resolution in the original Scapin is solved by messenger,” Binder noted, “So, people in a bad situation are given information by messenger coming onstage in the middle of conflict that resolves it and everyone is happy. Scapin was essentially a commedia piece so the French audiences were there to see the gags – a satisfying plot was way down the list for them. That doesn’t work for a modern audience!” Much of the success Binder achieves in reaching the denouement of his adaptation, aside from his own writing and performance, can be attributed to the aforementioned energy of the cast as much as it can be attributed to the stellar supporting work of the crew. It should be noted that in regards to the crew, Johnmichael Bohach is a revelation as Scenic Designer, per usual, and his brilliantly keen eye and vision that marries the structural awareness of an architect and the vibrant creativity of a theatrical designer does wonders in Scapino. His design—working well with Angela Baughman’s meticulous work as Sound Designer and Kim Brown’s wonderful costume work—enlivens the world of Scapino, and allows for all interactions and dialogue to be elevated to the realm of delightful (if not absurd) realism.

Binder as Scapino, Phillip Taratula as Sylvester, and David Whalen as Don Albert

Scapino is not without some issues, and while expertly modernized from Moliere’s original, some of the tropes and humor that is authentic to and indicative of a classic, male-dominated mafioso story reads as problematic to some audiences in a modern context. But as Binder noted, “[Moliere] speaks to power and the hypocrisy of the powerful (and not so powerful) in ways that we understand – no matter what the political, religious, or family structure of his day was in its intricacies, the underlying humanity and in some ways absurdity that maintains these power structures (and the way that those in these structures tend to fall into the same traps that give use plenty of ammunition to make fools of them), is universally human.” There is an undoubted universal winning charm to the experience of Scapino, and the play is another memorable achievement for the team at Kinetic.

Scapino runs through July 28th at the Henry Heymann Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit Kinetic Theatre’s site.

Photography Credit: Rocky Raco

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