The Towne Players’ Veterans Steal the Show in Scapin

By Robert W. McDowell
Triangle Theater Review

The current Towne Players of Garner community-theater presentation of Scapin, which continues Oct. 20-22 on technical director Scott Honeycutt’s clever set at North Garner Magnet Middle School, is a mixed bag of commedia dell’arte, slapstick, and vaudeville. When Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell’s mid-1990s adaptation of Les Fourberies de Scapin by 17th century French playwright Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Molière soars, it is on the wings of the veteran performers in the cast. When this madcap comedy falters, it is usually the fault of the game but inexperienced novices in the cast.

Michael Armstrong tackles the role of Scapin, the constantly conniving servant of young Leander (Robert Boland) and his father Geronte (Rusty Sutton), with great gusto. To help his young master marry saucy Zerbinette (Janet Doughty), a beautiful but brash gypsy girl with a mysterious past, the master manipulator Scapin pulls the wool over more than a few eyes. At one point, Scapin even convinces Geronte to climb into a big burlap sack, so that he can beat him with a stick and then blame the beating on someone else.

Michael Armstrong, Rusty Sutton, and Janet Doughty all contribute delightful comic characterizations, and so do Towne Players veterans Maggie Cochran (Sylve), Meg Dietrich (Nerine), Don Howard (George), and Frances Stanley (Argante). Sutton plays Geronte as a grouchy old bear always looking to squash the busy, busy bee (Scapin) that stings him when he’s not looking, and Doughty is irresistible as the woman of mystery Zerbinette.

Cochran and Dietrich put lots of personality into their crowd-pleasing performances as Sylve, the spunky servant to Argante’s son Octave (Joshua Hamilton), and Nerine, another upstart servant of the town. Stanley is good as Argante, and Howard provides some sprightly accompaniment as George, the onstage piano player who takes the Towne Players audience on a trip down Memory Lane by underscoring the action with a series of themes from old television series and vintage motion pictures.

Although they try gamely, the less experienced farceurs in the cast — Robert Boland (Leander), Joshua Hamilton (Octave), Anne Patterson (Octave’s beloved Hyacinth), Alisa Cox and Rebecca Little (two local Grand Dames), and Ian O’Gorman (a Messenger and a Policeman) — never make quite as vivid an impression as the seasoned scene-stealing veterans. Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt sets a brisk comic pace, and the newcomers cannot quite keep up.