Buffoonery blusters through Ethington with ‘Scapin’
Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
One need only read Michael Kary’s first quotation, attributed to that legendary face of farce, Mel Brooks, in the program of Ethington Theatre’s stage production opening this weekend for a clue about how hilarious it will be.
“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”
As director of “Scapin,” Grand Canyon University College of Fine Arts and Production’s second play of the year, Kary has the challenge of not only teaching student actors to be clowns, a la Groucho Marx, Spike Jones and Tina Fey, but also explaining, via his director’s note, why audience members might very well notice shades of Kermit the Frog, Gracie Allen and Dick Van Dyke, too. “Scapin” is a huge homage to the Marx Brothers, with a bit of Michael Scott (“The Office”), Seth MacFarlane, “The Simpsons” and “The Big Bang Theory” tossed in.
If you go
What: Opening weekend of “Scapin,” an adaptation of Moliere’s three-act comedy, presented by GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and Oct. 16-17, and 2 p.m. Sunday, and Oct. 18
Where: Ethington Theatre
Tickets: Click here or call the box office at (602) 639-8880.
The hard-to-pronounce “Scapin,” (it isn’t Skay-pin, but more on that later), opens the first of six performances on the Ethington stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Ticket information and more details are here. And for a preview of the promised zaniness, click here for a slideshow of Wednesday’s dress rehearsal.
“Scapin” is an adaptation by actor/clown Bill Irwin and the late humorist Mark O’Donnell of the play, “Les Fourberies de Scapin,” which Molière wrote nearly 350 years ago.
“Audiences have always enjoyed tricks and schemes and graphic violence, provided they happened to other people,” said Kary, a COFAP instructor and alumnus. “Molière knew this and began using humanity’s funny bone like a sledgehammer to topple the institutions he saw as corrupt in his native France.”
Although you won’t find any literal sledgehammers in the Ethington version, there will be plenty of improvised tricks, pratfalls and fast-paced mayhem. This show also employs the most whoopee cushions (12), kazoos (15) and toilet paper rolls (uncounted) of all previous productions.
It’s a new format for COFAP, one that is exposing students to a brand new art form and adding to their professional toolkits.
“The characters are far more vulnerable, far more malevolent, far more innocent than the characters they have played before,” Kary said. “They are finding themselves in the extremes of the human experience.”
So physically draining is the comedy that the cast has been training with Becky Vice, a former GCU lacrosse player, jogging around campus and doing calisthenics.
Senior Ryan Usher portrays Scapin, a role that seems well-suited to the veteran actor based on Kary’s description of the fictional rascal’s personality: “Scapin is Bugs Bunny — he plans out how he’s going to drop the anvil on Elmer Fudd’s head, then happily watches the mischief and waits for everyone’s approval.”
Usher and senior Ashley Wagaman, who plays Argante, have even been taking a ballet class this semester to punch up their balance and movement skills.
“I have never been so stretched as an actor, because of the physical nature of this,” said Usher, who’s performed a dozen times in Ethington. “It’s totally outside my comfort zone.”
“Scapin’s” dedicated cast shows up early and stays late because they love the material or because that’s just who they are, Kary said.
Wagaman is pushing her limits by portraying an angry mother who walks around a lot on stage in ballet first position and fifth position. If you can imagine that.
Coming off a lead role just six weeks ago in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Wagaman relishes playing a part that has no flowery language or complicated plots.
“There are no deep moments in “Scapin,” she said. “You can’t go too deep because the jokes will get lost, and it would be more muted than we want it.”
As a student actor, Wagaman said the physical and theatrical training on this show has been so different, and she predicted it will turn out to be a favorite of the student body.
Kary thinks audiences will find the show gut-busting and delightful, but also leave with a little regret.
“You come away saying, ‘If I could get away with all the stuff he does, I would definitely do it,’ ” he said. “Scapin loves plotting, stretching his wit, messing with people who aren’t really very nice.”
So, for non-French speakers, how to pronounce Scapin? Say “pin” as you would in Jacques Pépin with the second syllable hanging in a nasally fog. It’s no wonder the guy who grew up with such a name is such a pistol.
Contact Janie Magruder at (602) 639-8018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.