The History of Funny 

Barksdale presents a hilarious and unlikely holiday show.

The plot is ridiculously simple. Two star-crossed couples maneuver toward marriage. OK, they're not really so star-crossed. They just need a pile of lira from their miserly fathers, Geronté (Jack Parrish) and Argente (Bridget Gethins in an ingenious bit of cross-gender casting). Enter Scapino (Scott Wichmann), the servant smarter than his masters, to orchestrate the obligatory scams. On top of this stock base, the show adds deliberately cheesy Italian accents, bountiful décolletage, numerous pop culture references and the nonsensical "Minestrone Macaroni Song."

The play is set in Naples in present time. Because of the source material, the show has a pleasing anachronistic feel right from the get-go. Kimberly H. Parkin's clever seaport café is brightly colored with lots of raw material for Wichmann and company to use for their escapades.

Director Dawn A. Westbrook employs a treasure chest full of sight gags and proven sketch routines. She also manages to avoid the infamous "Wichmann Trap." The actor is such an energetic and talented performer, directors and fellow cast members sometimes take a step back and let him rip. The next thing you know, the diminutive actor appears to be 11 feet tall and everyone else is receding through the wrong end of the looking glass. In many cases, that's not a bad thing. At other times, this syndrome can knock a scene off its center of gravity. Here, he has all jets at full throttle, but Westbrook has the rest of cast along for the ride.

There is a particularly impressive passage in the second act when Scapino repeatedly sausage-whips Geronté (and, by the way, no comedy worth its salt should be without a giant sausage). The counterpoint between Wichmann's rubbery wise-guy act and Ford Flannagan's deadpan pantomime as Carlo the bum is almost musical in complexity. The gut-splitting humor masks a considerable amount of technique in the scene.

And the show will undoubtedly get even better by the time you read this. The canned routines (the commedia dell'arte term is lazzi) will give way to more split-second improvisations. The performers will discover new ways to draw more laughs out of the set pieces.

I admit to being a little disappointed when Barksdale didn't schedule a Christmas play for this time of year. I look forward to such shows all year long. So even though "Scapino!" is a crackerjack production, I was still wishing for a bit of Christmas near the end of the show. And then Carlo the bum silently puts on a Santa hat and hangs a stocking on a post in his little corner of the pier. That was enough for me. See … I'm not so hard to please. S

"Scapino!"ontinues through Jan. 22 at Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn. Tickets are $38 for adults and $34 for students, seniors and Ukrop's cardholders. Call 282-2620.


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