Utah Arts Review » Blog Archive » Pioneer Theater’s ‘Scapin’ Offers More Silliness Than Sophistication in an Updated Molière

Pioneer Theater Company Scapin until October 1. Photo: PTC

The Pioneer Theater Company opened its season on Friday night with two hours of absolute silliness: Stephen Wrentmore’s new adaptation of Molière’s 17th-century farce Scapin.

The main twist here is that the titular character is now female, and the overbearing fathers in the original are now overbearing mothers. Gender swapping hardly alters the dynamics of the story; rather, it demonstrates the durability of Molière’s satire and the universality of certain comic tropes.

The plot revolves around two households, both equal in dignity: the wealthy but avaricious ladies of society Arganta and Geronta; their sons, the silly Octave and slightly smarter Léandre; and their respective servants, Sylvester and Scapin. Arganta and Géronta arranged marriages for Octave and Léandre, who chose other partners from a lower social class in the absence of their mothers. It’s up to the crafty Scapin to fix things.

Kate Middleton plays Scapin as the talkative offspring of Dolly Levi crossed with Figaro, the barber of Seville. She delivers her zip liners with swagger and embraces lowbrow physical comedy with verve. As his counterpart, Sylvester, Xavier Reyes earns some of the show’s biggest laughs with a frantic sequence in which he impersonates a sword-wielding thug.

Sofia Jean Gomez as Géronta evokes Lucille Ball with her rubbery reactions, and there’s something irresistibly funny about seeing such an impeccably dressed and styled woman abandon all decorum. And while subtlety is far from the point of this show, Celeste Ciulla, like the haughty Arganta, manages to say it all with a few timely reactions.

When Léandre’s lover, the mysterious Zerbinette, finally speaks, the irrepressible Lucy Lavely turns one of the highlights of the evening with her joyful account of Scapin’s trickery.

Wentmore updates the action in the 1960s, which inspires fabulous costume designs by Brenda Van der Wiel, in vibrant colors and prints.

Molière gave Zerbinette and the other young women in the cast far less stage time than the servants and matriarchs, but Wrentmore cleverly incorporates them by making Zerbinette the lead singer of a trio that also includes the beloved Hyacinthe d’Octave and the nurse Nerine. The singers comment on the action with excerpts from Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, the Beastie Boys and, in one particularly inspired track, Taylor Swift. The pop culture references don’t stop there. Wrentmore also works as a nod to West Side Story, The importance of being serious, The Incredible Hulk and The princess to be married.

The satire in Scapin is not as sophisticated as in some of Molière’s other comedies, such as Tartuffe and Imaginary sick. But if you’re in the mood for an evening of Looney Tunes live action, this is it.

Scapin through October 1 at the Pioneer Memorial Theater; pioneertheatre.org

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