‘Scapin’ mixes rap, classical

By Lynn Hammarstrom

Neoclassical theater is rarely, if ever, thought of in the same vein as rap music. But the NIU theater department plans to end that idea when they stage a highly original production of Moliere’s classic commedia del’arte farce “Scapin.”

“Scapin,” which is the second play of the NIU theater season, opened last night and will run through Saturday of this week and also Oct. 19-24. The play will begin at 8 p.m. each night.

“In this production, we are following the traditions of the commedia del’arte in that we are breaking down the ‘fourth wall’ that is too prevalent in our television, movies and conventional theater,” director Jeff Barker said. “We really involve the audience in this. They are just as much a part of the evening as the performers are.

“The department has a master plan of plays that will be produced and in that plan are a number of classics – Moliere, Shakespeare, et cetera. My approach to classics is that while it is appropriate to do ‘museum pieces’ with all the standards and conventions of the playwright’s era intact, it is only occasionally interesting to an audience.

“Therefore that is not how I chose to do this play. I wasn’t interested in it. My approach to a classic is to ask ‘what does the playwright want to do, say, have the audience experience?’ In other words, how can I help the playwright’s word and spirit come to life for a contemporary audience?”

The NIU production of “Scapin” is an eclectic combination of the old and new, ballads are followed by rap sequences, and all are interspersed with the conventional language of a 19th century British translation of the play.

“We recognize and do not apologize for the fact that this is not ‘regular’ textbook theater,” Barker said. “What we have here is a wild evening of entertainment.”

The actors in the production have had a great deal to do with what happens during the evening, Barker said. “They have offered a number of the ideas for the comic bits (called “lazzi” in the days of the “commedia”) that occur within the regularly scripted play.

“In fact, when I cast the show, I cast about 10 extra people beyond what the script called for,” Barker said. “At that point we didn’t know exactly what they would be doing, but we knew that they were needed to give the necessary party atmosphere.”

e added, “During the casting process we were looking at people’s special talents, that is, could they juggle, dance, sing, swordfight? It’s a very comical, very physical show.”

Theater Department spokesman Alan Bernstein said, “There will be a pre-show parade, in keeping with the spirit of the evening. Everyone is invited to come to the lobby at 7:40 to witness and be a part of this spectacle.”

Tickets to “Scapin” are $3.50 for NIU students and can be purchased at the Stevens Building box office daily from 9:30 a.m. till 4 p.m. and also for one hour before each performance.