SPRINGVILLE — We all know the stereotypes and jokes surrounding small community theatre: amateur, hackneyed performances with no budget and even less entertainment value. However, walking into the Springville Playhouse, I was pleasantly surprised to find a quaint little theatre in the basement of the Springville public library. The small thrust-stage theatre seated close to 100 people and had a very cozy, unassuming atmosphere. My hopes for a community theatre production that denied the stereotype were higher than expected.
Scapino!, written by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale, is an updated version of the 17th century comedy Scapin’s Deciets by Moliere. Scapino! follows the same basic plot structure of its neoclassical inspiration, drawing on a typical commedia dell’arte scenario of forged identities, miserly fathers, young lovers, comedic sidekicks and, of course, slapstick humor. The updated text is set in the seaport of Naples outside a small Italian café on the docks.
It was clear that director Roger Nelson attempted to play into the typical commedia dell’arte tricks of slapstick, ad lib and audience participation but the cast fell short of really making those elements shine. Even though this is the third week of performance for the Scapino! cast, the actors were still fishing for lines and speeches were littered with “um’s” and “uh’s” as they attempted to recall lines. Because the written lines were so belabored the ad lib lines lost their potency and the performance came off unpolished, to say the least. The audience interaction felt very forced and came at very odd times. On several occasions actor Martin Schetselaar, playing the title role, made direct eye contact with me and improvised dialogue with me in the middle of a conversation he was having with another character. His fellow actors did likewise, and as an audience member this served not to involve me more in the piece but to push me away as the interaction did not come naturally or with much comedic timing. The convention of speaking to the audience was inconsistent throughout the piece and I was left wondering why the choice was made to allow ad lib at all.
Despite these lapses in performance, Martin Schetselaar was by far the strongest character in the company. He had a sense of comedic timing and commitment to character that, for the most part, the other actors did not. Other actors had small moments of excellence, but on the whole Schetselaar was to be commended. Newcomer to the stage Jon Laudie was also worthy of mention for his efforts in his first appearance onstage since grade school, carrying a large part as Ottavio.
For me, the design elements of the show were by far the most redeeming quality. My hat goes off to the very talented set designers and builders for the playhouse. They created a beautifully stylized Italian dockside café, complete with wooden dock and boat thrusting out from the main body of the stage into the playing space. The set was complete with the special touches of fishing ropes and netting placed on the stage and a very well drawn Orangina poster, typical of Italy, painted on a wall. The actors were provided by the set designers with various levels and playing spaces to work on and truly created the correct atmosphere for the play.
Costume designer Marie Knowlton costumed the piece wonderfully, with the characters in Italian-esque suits, each with a signature color represented in their tie and a matching ribbon around the base of their fedora. I did feel, however, that the costumes fit a more stereotypical 1920s Italy rather than contemporary Europe. This fact aside the costumes definitely enhanced the production design and served the actors well.
All in all, Scapino! was indeed a small, community theatre production. Yet these community actors deserve the support they receive from the city of Springville as they seek to entertain family audiences from the greater Provo area. It is a fabulous venue for one to get a taste of being involved in a theatre production and it is my hope that through further support future productions at the playhouse can improve and break past any sort of negative stereotypes.
Scapino! plays through March 27th at the Springville Playhouse (50 S Main St., Springville, UT 84663) Information on tickets and upcoming season productions can be found at SpringvillePlayhouse.org