Kids' Night Out

Scapino, the newest offering from Actors Theatre, together with Raven Productions, is "silly, childish and adolescent." The title character, Scapino (George Brock), says so himself, straight out to the audience. Of course, he also excuses the loopy shenanigans in the play, saying they're all in good fun.

Silly and childish? Absolutely.
Fun? Not unless you're seven years old. Who else would laugh when the folks on stage pull out a nine-foot "sausage" and start whacking each other on the head with it? Yes, indeedy: Humongo sausage jokes run rampant throughout Scapino, and there's not even any double-entendre here. It really is just a sausage.

This "Moliere-inspired farce," written by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale, is the halfhearted story of Ottavio and Leandro, two young, rich Italians who fall for girls from the wrong side of the spaghetti plate. Zerbinetta (Rebecca Tindell) is a dark-haired, tattooed gypsy, while Giacinta (Amelia Gustafson) is, well, blond, pouty-lipped and ever so perky. Point is, though, neither girl has any money. They're poor as pretty little church mice.

Now, Ottavio and Leandro are the nice sort of good-looking rich boys. They don't give two hoots about what kind of money their girls don't have. Their daddies have enough dough for everyone. And besides, they love their girls for who they are: dark and tattooed, blond and perky. Their fathers, however -- the ones with all the lire -- don't want their boys marrying poor little gypsy girls or poor perky blond girls. In fact, these daddies have their own plans for their sons' marriages.

Enter Scapino, a fair-weather rogue and con man who eats his spaghetti on the run. After Ottavio (Charles Allen Hutchison) and Leandro (Jeff Crone) beg him to help, and after Giacinta kisses him long and hard, Scapino agrees to save the day. Wearing white canvas sneakers and a blazer with rolled-up sleeves, Scapino makes a plan for how to get the money the boys need and some cash in his own pocket, as well. To that end, he browbeats -- and sausage-beats -- the dads till they fork over enough money so the boys can have the girls of their dreams (unbeknownst to their fathers). Scapino's sidekick, Sylvestro (Michael Gray), along with all the ordinary townspeople, helps him along as he schemes and fabricates his silly stories.

Eventually, everything turns out fine, of course. Identities are discovered. Fathers find lost daughters. Poor girls become suddenly rich and perfectly suitable prospects (this play is a feminist's absolute nightmare) and everybody lives perfectly and happily ever after.

But the fatuous fairy-tale story is only half the "fun." There's all sorts of audience participation to add to the delirium. The actors spend lots of time talking straight out to the audience. In the middle of chase scenes, the actors rush out into the seats, over the knobby knees and big toes of the grown-up theatergoers. Once there, they pause long enough to comment on clothes: "Is that dress Neiman Marcus?"

Even better, the audience is asked to talk back. One man was pulled from his seat to help sausage-beat someone on stage. (We'll admit that the man, mature as he was, appeared as gleeful as any actor on stage that night.) We were asked to slap our thighs and make trotting-horse sounds in unison. We were threatened with some sort of public humiliation if we did not sing like a trombone or a mandolin. (A human mandolin sounds vaguely turkey-like, by the way.)

During intermission, the fun went on, as the actors, in character, followed us into the lobby. They complained about money, each other and whatever it was that ailed them. The gypsy girl told fortunes and the blond stood around, grinning. There were lots of waiters who threw chairs about in a sort of group chair-juggling act. The jokes, too, were of the sophomoric variety. One guy sticks out his hand and says "shake"; the other one shakes all over. There were jokes about Asians, Turks and Italians, many of which were offensive, especially the Asian jokes (lots of "l"s for "r"s -- that sort of thing).

To make matters worse, the performances were generally weak. Jeff Crone's Leandro was supposed to be some sort of good-time guy, dressed in patent-leather pants, a Hawaiian shirt and thick gold chains. But he appeared to be as much fun as an accountant, while his compadre Charles Allen Hutchison, as the energetic Ottavio, seemed to be suffering from some sort of hyperactivity. Brock's Scapino was fairly one-note, the loud, grinning, skinny glad-hander. The female roles are so underwritten as to be almost nonexistent. Only Michael Gray's Sylvestro, Scapino's right-hand man, had an easy truthfulness on stage that was fun to watch and believable.

Scapino is billed as a show for folks of "all ages." But the children in Friday night's audience were clearly having the most fun, shouting out and clapping hands. They were the ones sitting up in their seats, anticipating the next goofball antic. The proceeds from the ticket sales go to an organization called Children of the World, a "network of people committed to children being loved, honored, protected and nurtured." Sounds good. If you're looking for a night out with the kids, Scapino is a good choice.

Scapino runs through August 23 at Actors Theatre of Houston, 2506 South Boulevard, 529-6606.


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