Big brass ones

The Mischievous Machinations of Scapin

By Molière
Directed by Kevin G. Shinnick
Cobblestone Productions
The Limelight
47 W. 20th St. (714-5351)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 16)
Review by Doug DeVita

Molière is a tough undertaking for any company. Aside from the vagaries of translation from the original, dazzling French, his tantalizing balance between elegant comedy and wistful melancholy requires a subtle sophistication that is difficult to pull off successfully, especially in America, where subtlety is suspect and loud is good.

Cobblestone Productions, a new theatre company composed of a group of friends who are all also members of a sketch-comedy troupe, has taken on Molière's Scapin as their debut production. Considering Molière and his actors were skilled improvisateurs, this would seem to be an auspicious beginning for the erstwhile troupe. The machinations of the crafty servant Scapin are, after all, based on the improvisational traditions of commedia dell'arte. But even the most immaculate pedigree is no guarantee of success.

Performing in the unlikely environs of The Limelight, Kevin Shinnick's production mistook scatterbrained hysteria for genuine joie de vivre. The antic free-for-all, hampered by a mechanical physicality carefully executed with split-minute timing, had the curious effect of a race being run at top speed without a clear vision of the finish line. Inevitably the runners ran out of steam, their energy visibly dissipating at precisely the wrong moments, and Molière's rueful comic elegance was lost in a rush of breathless noise and aimless milling about.

Occasionally, a puff of fresh air blew into the stale, smoky atmosphere of The Limelight in the form of Leon Clingman, as the buffoonish young lover Léandre. An actor who obviously knows his craft, Clingman brought a spark of fun to his scenes, injecting a stylish vitality that was sorely needed. But Clingman's cool breeze only hinted at the full-scale typhoon that swept in with the entrance of Britta Jepson as the saucy Zerbinette, L'andreís object of affection. Flashing her large eyes and zinging her lines with an innocence that barely concealed their earthy double meanings, Jepson was marvelous, singlehandedly lifting the evening into the heavens and keeping it there as long as she was on stage.

There was no set to speak of, but Foye Dashiell's costumes caught period flavor with a surprising, but effective, mix of materials. The uncredited lighting was awful: cold, flat, and uneven, and at times bouncing off the reflective back wall with an uncomfortable glare. And whether it was the smallest whisper or the stocking of the club's bar, the cavernous Limelight has the unfortunate inclination to magnify every sound to an echoing roar, distracting for performers and audience alike.

Any group having the gall to start a new theatre company in New York's current hostile environment, and with a classic yet, deserves applause for the sheer gutsiness of the decision. But it seems that Cobblestone would be better served by concentrating on works of a more modern, less formal structure that could easily showcase their strengths instead of struggling painfully with ambitions that are, at present, just beyond their capabilities.

(Also featuring Langdon Bosarge, Kelli Hornachek, Cara Louise, J. Alan McCay, Melissa Kate Miller, Karen Sweeney, Owen Timoney, Louis A. Velasquez. Translation uncredited.)
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita