Scapin (Bill Irwin, left) involves fellow servant Sylvestre (A.C.T. Master Fine Arts Program graduate Jud Williford) in his scheming. Photo by Kevin Berne.

SCAPIN by Moliere adapted by Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell and directed by Bill Irwin. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94108. 415.749.2228 or September 23 – October 17, 2010.



After angst filled dramatic evening the previous night at the Magic Theatre’s staging of The Brothers Size, it is an absolute pleasure to roar with laughter at A.C.T.’s hysterical production of Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell’s adaptation of Moliere’s farce Scapin. Not only is the adaptation brilliant, but also the cast meshes together like a finely oiled machine with all the cogs intersecting on cue.

The multitalented Bill Irwin author and star of the show doesn’t stick to Moliere’s words and that’s good, very good. His topical references and asides are greatly appreciated almost bringing this 17th century farce into the 21st century even though the ancient commedia dell’arte masters could use Eric Flatmo’s marvelous set. Baggy pants Irwin is a helpful bundle of joy as Scapin who helps two young swains overcome the objection of their rich fathers to their choice of female companions.

I doubt if Irwin has a single solid bone in his body that moves in unbelievable directions maintaining perfect balance as his knees buckle, his feet move in one direction and his head and body in another. He has surrounded himself with perfect companions and foils starting with Jud Williford playing Scapin’s partner in crime, the servant Sylvestre. Williford who has just completed a Tony Award winning type performance as Macbeth at Cal Shakes displays an inordinate talent for comedy partially holding his own in scenes with Irwin. Their interaction and double takes are masterful along with their hilarious dance as they give a rousing rendition of the shuffle off to Buffalo routine. The climactic chase scene is a combination of Keystone Kops, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and every other noted comic. Irwin, like Moliere, doesn’t hesitate to take the best of what is out there and wrap it up with a personal touch that is stamped “Fashioned or adapted by Bill Irwin.”

The story is the stuff that commedia dell’arte is made of. Servants outwit masters and true love prevails. That is all you need to know when you treat yourselves to this evening to remember. A.C.T. audience favorite Gregory Wallace, playing Octave, starts the ball rolling with his usual arched eyebrows and distinctive expressive voice engaging the two aforementioned servants to aid his cause. . . mainly to get his father Argante ( Steven Anthony Jones) off his back so he can wed his paramour Hyacinth (the gorgeous Ashely Wickett). The other lover needing Scapin and Sylvestre’s help is Leander (Patrick Lane) son of Geronte (Geoff Hoyle). Leander’s love is the volatile concupiscent gypsy Zerbinette (Rene Augesen). Augesen nails the role, in voice, action and lascivious gestures.

Special accolade Geoff Hoyle, Bill Irwin’s long time friend and acting companion who suffers the indignities of being stuffed in a sack and pummeled by Scapin and, believe it or not, members of the audience! The musical accompaniment by George (Randy Craig) on the keyboard and percussionist and Fred (Keith Terry) is in perfect sync with the shenanigans on stage and off when Irwin ends up in the loge in drag. Sorry, dressed as a woman season ticket holder. It is a superlative evening that received a resounding standing ovation. The running time is just under 2 hours with intermission and you will be asking for more.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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