"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."
A director’s note for a play like Scapin is a tricky proposition. On the one hand, this is an historic piece of theatre, in a time honored tradition, whose place in the theatrical cannon, blah, blah, blah…Let’s talk about the other hand. Scapin is a comedy, and chances are, it’s a comedy you’ve already seen. “How can that be,” you say? “I’ve never heard of this play before,” you say? Well, they say good writers borrow, but great writers steal. Stealing is such a harsh word, though, so we’ll change it. No, we aren’t stealing. That would be wrong. Tonight is an homage. That’s right, an “Homage” to vaudeville, to clowns like Groucho Marx, Spike Jones, and Bugs Bunny. How could such a soft sounding word, a word so close to fromage (French for cheese), ever be associated with theft? The mere thought, much like this play, is ridiculous. So, if you happen to see glimpses of Kermit the Frog, or Gracie Allen, or Dick Van Dyke, rest assured that we aren’t stealing their bits. We’re just trying them on for the night like a pair of oversized shoes. And why do I have to defend myself to you, anyway? Are you the comedy police, or something? Well, don’t look here pal. Most of this play was already stolen long before we ever came along. If you’re looking for the real offenders, it’s those clowns, Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell.
Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell adapted this play from the French playwright, Moliere, who in turned borrowed it from the improvised stock plays of commedia del’arte, who (truth be told) ransacked the styles and themes of Roman comedy, which were largely shanghaied from earlier Greek forms. In short, this play (or at least its devices) has been around since people had a sense of humor. Audiences have always enjoyed tricks and schemes and graphic violence, provided they happened to other people. Moliere knew this and began using humanity’s funny bone like a sledgehammer to topple the institutions he saw as corrupt in his native France (if it sounds like the Daily Show, you wouldn’t be far off). Moliere’s targets varied from impious piety, to political correctness, to The Crown. To prove that he played no favorites, and would attack anything that took itself too seriously, Moliere’s quarry for Scapin is the Theatre, and…oh no, we’re back to sounding like the first hand again.
I suppose the purpose for this note is maybe a reminder that plays like this are best enjoyed with both hands. This helps especially at the end when you get a chance to slap them both together as loudly as you can!