The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey is presenting its second annual open-air production, Moliere’s frolicsome “That Scoundrel Scapin,” performed in the amphitheater at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, Morristown.
“Les Fourberies de Scapin” (The Cheats of Scapin), a 1974 Broadway hit as “Scapino,” with an extravagantly athletic Jim Dale in the title role, was most recently revived by Roundabout Theater in 1997, that time around as “Scapin,” with the rubber-limbed clowning of Bill Irwin. The play remains, by any other name, a delightfully timeless farce.
Moliere’s Neapolitan nonsense has enough cartoonish intrigue to please, with devious servants, duped fathers and impassioned lovers. Director Joe Discher, who is credited as adapter of this production, has staged the horseplay with antic flair, despite often skirting its broad vaudevillian potential.
Discher has inserted some clever bits, staging angry confrontations as boxing matches, and an amusing conceit has Scapin’s cell phone bearing bad news and summoning him to action.
James Michael Reilly is the mischievous and meddling Scapin, and while he manages to garnish most of the hardy guffaws with considerable flavor, he leaves the door open for much more devious behavior.
Robert LuPone, as a miserly parent, is a right greedy old curmudgeon, and when confined and pummeled in an oversized flour sack he draws considerable yocks.
Jay Leibowitz offers an acceptable comic presence as Scapin’s sidekick, Silvester, posing as a gimpy, bogus pirate king. Clark Carmichael, as ardent, bumbling suitor Leander, provides some hardy pratfalls and engages in some silly swordplay.
The ladies do not fare as well in less expansive roles. It appears to be a case of missed opportunities, despite a winsomely precious turn by Erica Piccininni.
Cameron Anderson’s minimal but serviceable set features a lantern-lit stage, backed by a beige illustration of a 17th-century Naples street scene. Sound design includes the lilting strains of a mandolin, and the colorful costumes by Mattie Ulrich, always in character, boast the bold colors of circus clowns.
Picnicking families appeared to be having a right giddy time of it, and the children sprawled on the lawn, in rapt attention, were frequently found giggling at Scapin’s manipulative conniving.