Pioneer Theatre’s “Scapin” offers more silliness than sophistication in updated Moliere

Sun Sep 18, 2022 at 9:42 am
By Catherine Reese Newton
Pioneer Theatre Company’s Scapin runs through October 1. Photo: PTC

Pioneer Theatre Company opened its season Friday night with two hours of unmitigated silliness: Stephen Wrentmore’s new adaptation of Molière’s seventeenth-century farce Scapin.

The main twist here is that the titular character is now a woman, and the overbearing fathers in the original are now overbearing mothers. The gender swap does little to alter the dynamic of the story; rather, it demonstrates the durability of Molière’s satire and the universality of certain comedic tropes.

The plot revolves around two households, both alike in dignity: wealthy but tight-fisted society ladies Arganta and Géronta; their sons, the dim-witted Octave and the marginally smarter Léandre; and their respective servants, Sylvestre and Scapin. Arganta and Géronta have arranged marriages for Octave and Léandre, who have chosen other partners from a lower social class in their mothers’ absence. It’s up to the wily Scapin to set things right.

Kate Middleton plays Scapin like the fast-talking offspring of Dolly Levi crossed with Figaro, the barber of Seville. She delivers her zippy one-liners with swagger and embraces the lowbrow physical comedy with verve. As her counterpart, Sylvestre, Xavier Reyes earns some of the show’s biggest laughs with a frenzied sequence in which he poses as a sword-wielding thug.

Sofia Jean Gomez, as Géronta, evokes Lucille Ball with her rubber-faced reactions, and there’s something irresistibly funny about watching such an impeccably dressed and coiffed woman abandon all decorum. And while subtlety is far from the point of this show, Celeste Ciulla, as the haughty Arganta, manages to say a lot with a few well-timed reactions.

When Léandre’s love, the mysterious Zerbinette, finally gets a chance to speak, the irrepressible Lucy Lavely turns in one of the evening’s high points with her gleeful account of Scapin’s trickery.

Wentmore updates the action to the1960s, which inspires some fabulous costume designs by Brenda Van der Wiel, in eye-popping colors and prints.

Molière gave Zerbinette and the other young women in the cast much 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 Octave’s beloved Hyacintha and the nurse Nerine. The singers comment on the action with snippets from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, the Beastie Boys and, in one particularly inspired bit, Taylor Swift. The pop-culture references don’t stop there. Wrentmore also works in nods to West Side Story, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Incredible Hulk and The Princess Bride.

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

Scapin runs through Oct. 1 at Pioneer Memorial Theatre;

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