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SAN FRAN SCAPIN

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Molière meets Mel Brooks in director-adapter Anne McNaughton's rollicking version of the classic commedia dell'arte farce, The Trickeries of Scapin, transplanted to mid-19th century San Francisco. McNaughton's clever take on the material seamlessly melds classic comedy conventions with a timeless sense of humor. Her adaptation doesn't use verse, and the original work encompassed little of the scathing social commentary found in other Molière works. What we have here is unadulterated, unpretentious slapstick, fun for fun's sake. Though the ensemble is imperfect, the production sails along buoyantly for an entertaining 90 minutes.

The center of this rendition isn't the wily title character. The finest performance comes from Dennis Gersten (alternating with Dakin Matthews) as the skinflint banker Geronte. His antics continually work the house into a frenzy of laugher. There's a hint of Harpo Marx tomfoolery in his countenance and a touch of Carol Channing drollery in his vocal delivery. Andrew Matthews generates a fair share of laughs and displays a facility for physical humor as the duplicitous Scapin, but his facial expressions never convey the wheels of manipulation churning in this scoundrel's brain. Matthews is bursting with energy, yet he never takes charge of the stage the way that this character should. Also falling short is James Andrews (alternating with Marcelo Tubert) as the rigidly old-fashioned Argante, a Spanish Don: There's more stiffness in his portrayal than in the character. Rib-tickling work comes from Terry Evans as a doltish servant, making the most of an uproarious segment spoofing an iconic Western-film hero; Minerva Vier as a giddy gypsy girl; and Rachel Oliva as the saccharine heroine. Michael Kirby has fine moments as Argante's love-struck hijo Otavio, though the reason why he and McNaughton opted for playing the character so white-bread Anglo opposite Andrews' conquistador-like padre is a puzzlement. As Otavio's pal Leander, lanky Matt Davis is captivatingly funny, a kindred spirit to sky-high Tommy Tune. In other roles, Maegan McConnell and Federico Patino offer yeoman support. Evans' delectable cartoon-influenced set, Dean Cameron's stylish costumes, and Bobby Tahouri's sprightly original music complete the scrumptious ingredients in this high-rising soufflé.

"San Fran Scapin," presented by Andak Stage Company at the McNaughton Studio Stage at NewPlace Theatre Center, 4900 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood. Wed. 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m. Apr. 20-May 22. $18. (818) 506-8462.

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