The Odyssey Theater celebrates its 20th anniversary with a new version of a play close to its commedia dell’arte roots. The Ottawa institution, which has presented the genre on an open-air stage every summer for two decades, has been widely acclaimed for its stylish interpretation of the 16th-century Italian art form — often with a twist that sweeps one of its specially created versions into the modern era or links it to other times and places.
In this new version of Moliere’s 1671 comedy “The Rogueries of Scapin” (Les Fourberies de Scapin), the title character maintains his close ties to literary ancestor Scapino, the rascally servant who is one of commedia’s stock characters. However, the French playwright’s satire has a pointed undertone. Moliere’s protagonist is not just a light-hearted rascal; he is determined on revenge against the rich and powerful as well as liberation for young lovers and poor servants.
In their new version of the French classic, translators and adaptors Joanne Miller and Laurie Steven have remained true to Moliere’s theme and approach while injecting a modern flavour. The result is a lively pantomime in which political comments jab at past and present situations and references to such modern things as machine guns and illegal immigrants jar only occasionally.
It’s a little hard to take the skyscraper look of the set and the mix of punk haircuts and tattoos blended with costumes that suggest the original era, but the company’s trademark masks, designed and constructed by Karen Rodd, are a constant reminder of the commedia style. Particularly for the two duped fathers, Argante and Geronte, the wonderfully formed masks are revelatory of character.
Directing with her usual panache and attention to detail, Steven delivers a quality ensemble production, enhanced by particularly stylish perfs from Alix Sideris and Jesse Buck, two actors who appear totally at ease with commedia tradition, as servants Sylvana and Scapin, respectively.
Once more, Odyssey salutes a historic genre in a production that bears the company’s special signature. On opening night, a threatening sky and the distinctive aura of a skunk crossing behind the stage were reminders that the magic of theater under the stars also presents special challenges.