That’sa One-a Spicy Meatballa

Last night, we went to see the 2nd performance of Scapino at Van Nuys High School [ETA: This review was edited slightly after the Saturday evening performance]. “‘Scapino” is a liberal adaptation of Moliere’s “Les Fourberies de Scapin” written by Jim Dale and Frank Dunlop, and designed to be performed in a zany commedia dell’arte style. The play takes place in contemporary Naples, Italy, where the leading character, Scapino, devises a complex plot to help two pairs of lovers against parental opposition that, it turns out, does not exist. Scapino is a rapscallion, a fast-talking, quick-thinking scamp who cleverly manipulates and cajoles everyone into doing what Scapino intends them to do. The story itself is a simple one: sons getting married to women their fathers don’t want them to marry; a scamp trying to help them; and everything working out right in the end (gee, this sounds like “The Fantastiks”). The story can evidently work in the right hands: after all, it was on Broadway and earned its original performers some Tony nominations. It appears to have been done in numerous locations, and has been successful. But note that I said “in the right hands”. More on that later.

This production was the product of “Actors in Action” (), which is a group of actors developed in the Performing Arts Magnet at Van Nuys High School. The actors all are reasonably inexperienced (after all, they are high-school students), but did an OK job. Let me call out a few whose performances I found noteworthy. First, I liked Dominic Gessel () (Scapino) — he was playful, and seemed to do a lot of accents and comedy very well (although, unfortunately, an Italian accent wasn’t one of them). I also enjoyed the two fathers: John Armstrong () (Argante) and Sevan Ghadimian ( ) — both spoke clearly and acted well, and conveyed their comedy well. An excellent repeat performer was Cody Banks () as Ottavio, one of the young men. Cody acted well, although he spoke a little too fast. Johnny Geronilla () as Sylvestro also showed some comic skills, especially in the gangster scene. Smaller roles who I thought had notable performers were Mikel Bossette () as Zerbinette — she’s a delight to watch in anything she’s in, and does comedy quite well; Quest Zeidler as Waiter #2, who made a valient attempt to sing “O Danny Boy” with a failing microphone (he did an excellent job on the song Saturday night); and James Gelinas (), who also had some good comedic timing. Others in the cast were Timothy Glick () (Leandro), Julia Rachilewski () (Giacinta), Celina Pacheco (Nurse), Sameer Nayak (Head Waiter), Sandra Duran () (Waitress), and Joseph Cayanan () (Waiter #1). The production was under the stage management of Astghik Sinanyan (), Patty Ponce (), and Mayra Mendoza ().

Technically, the set by Mr. Kirkpatrick and his unnamed students was workable. It was colorful and permitted the movement, although it only weakly suggested Italy. The sound by Mr. Coy and his sound-students (Emily Tugwell, Jayson Hill, with Slater Lopez, Nico, and Leslie Montano as spot technicians) had some microphone problems, especially with Tim Glick’s and Quest’s microphones in Friday’s performance (there were different problems in Saturday’s performance). The students also need to be coached to speak slower, so that we can hear what they say. Lighting, also by Mr. Coy was excellent. Although uncredited in the program, I should note that the lighting students (Shaunna Lucas, nsshere (), and Josh Price) did an excellent job running the board at our performance, although the spotlight was a bit abrupt going on and off. The backstage folks (who saved people from dying) were Anthony Flores and Christina Soldano)

Remember that earlier I alluded to some problems with the production, and used the phrase “in the right hands”. I don’t think the problem are in the script, as it has been received well. I can’t blame the actors, as they are still learning for the most part, and they did reasonable (although not fully professional) jobs. I think weaknesses were partially in the direction by Randy Olea, which failed to bring out the humor to an audience that was about 25 years too young to get many of the jokes. The physical comedy, for the most part, worked. The spoken comedy was lost to too fast speech, and poor Italian accents. The production would have been stronger if they didn’t attempt the fake Italian accents, which made those portions of the story harder to follow. I don’t know if it was in the original play or was a script modification, but the notion that any word ending in a vowel sound could be passed off as Italian became annoying after a while. But then again, they no longer teach Italian at Van Nuys.

The last performance of “Scapino” at Van Nuys High School is at 7:00pm tonight. Tickets are $10 at the door. The VNHS spring production will be “Little Shop of Horrors”.

As for us, what are our future theatre plans (beyond tonight’s performance of “Scapino”)? Although I won’t be there, the following weekend brings “Be Careful What You Wish For: A Series of Folktales from Around the World” at Nobel Middle School, where nsshere will be advising on lights and backstage stuff. Saturday December 20th we’ll be seeing “The Life” at the Steller Adler Theatre. That’s it for 2008, right now. Turning to 2009, January 17th brings “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. January will also likely bring “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Rep East (January 23rd – February 21st), and “Minsky’s at the Ahmanson (January 21 – March 1), although neither are ticketed yet. I’m also exploring tickets to “Cabaret” being done by the Aerospace Players (Jan 30-Feb 7). February 21 is “Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Musical” at the Pasadena Playhouse. I’m sure more will join the 1Q09 list as a peruse Goldstar Events, a wonderful way to find half-price tickets.