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Scams promises high jinks galore

  • Rehearsing the Scams
    Rehearsing the Scams  Masks were a special feature of the student production of the Scams of Scapin.  
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scholarship and research banner The purple-blue dreamscape dances with movement as students don masks, toss hats and turn cartwheels across the stage at Phi Beta Kappa Hall. The tale of trickery and love and silliness surges forward with every deliberate movement the actors make, and the desired effect of all of their work – laughter – fills the hall, even if only from the few in the rehearsal’s audience.

With just a few days to go before opening night, the cast and crew of William and Mary Theatre’s next production are putting the finishing touches on a play that promises to entertain audiences with its physical comedy and wit.

The William and Mary Theatre will present Moliere’s Les Fourberies de Scapin (translated as The Scams of Scapin) Feb. 21 to 23 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. in the College’s Phi Beta Kappa Hall.

As the play opens, two young romantics secretly marry their lady loves only to find soon after that their fathers have arranged marriages for them. The two young men ask their valet, Scapin, to help them. Scapin and his friends proceed to “quip, quibble, and manipulate the other characters to hilarious effect,” according to Amy Brabrand, director of PBK’s box office.

“It is highly athletic. There’s a lot of physical action going on so kids will love it because there’s always movement and color and things happening,” said Elizabeth Wiley, an associate professor and director of the production. “The adults will love it because they get a chance to laugh, to lighten their burdens to enjoy the little naughty schemes and trickeries and come out unscathed.”

The play uses the commedia dell’arte style of acting, a highly physical form of comedy that originated in 16th-century Italy. In order to prepare her students for the play in which many of the characters are required to wear masks, Wiley brought in experts on the commedia style. She also trained her actors in clowning.

Andrew Whitmire (’09), who plays Scapin in the production, said he was excited to be part of the play because of its high energy and its commedia style.

“I love this production because we seem to be resurrecting something that not a lot of people are doing,” he said. “But the art form of commedia is in so much of the art today, in comedy. Mask work is just one way to embody this archetypal character and there are a lot of them in the show.”

Whitmire said that the hardest part of wearing the mask is that he isn’t allowed to touch it.
“But what’s so great about that is you become and assume that character, and the audience forgets you’re even wearing a mask because the mask essentially becomes a part of you,” he said.

Along with the masks, the costumes and set were carefully researched and produced to ensure they conveyed the farcical right tone for the play – a sense of “unreality,” according to Wiley. The set features a blue sky-and-cloud landscape that covers both the backdrop and the floor so the audience is unsure of where they are. The costumes -- featuring unique hats, stripes and a variety of bright colors -- are based on paintings of costumes that were used in commedia-style plays in 16th and 17th century Italy. In order to keep the audience in a state of “unreality,” Wiley and the play’s cast threw some anachronisms into the props and costumes, the most noticeable of which will appear on the cast members’ feet.

“Being as athletic as the show is I wanted to make sure that people had good footwear so that when they jump or land or do somersaults or cartwheels they’ll have good traction and I said, ‘You know, let’s go with hightops’” said Wiley.

Works on the production began in the fall, and William and Mary students, faculty and staff have been working non-stop since to ensure everything is ready for its four-day run.

Carrie Adams (’08), plays Zerbinetta in the play. Adams, who is not a theater major but volunteers to help with theater productions, said that all of the months of planning and hard work are completely worth the effort in the end.

“Can you imagine telling your favorite joke and having one person laugh and how good that feels? Magnify that by a whole house by 750 people laughing 150 times a night – that’s the best drug you could ever have,” said Adams. “Being here at four in the morning, painting the floor, or being here before classes or between classes and banging a hammer and using the drill or building a staircase -- it’s worth it when it comes down to people enjoying themselves because of what you’ve produced. It’s all worth it.”