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THEATER REVIEW : 'Scapino!' Inaugurates Youth Stage

August 18, 1993|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The California Youth Theatre clearly does not consider age a barrier to theatrical ambition. The multiethnic company of teens and twentysomethings directs its efforts at adult and family audiences, tackling Broadway musicals, Shakespeare, Rostand and Tolstoy with respectable and not-so-respectable results.

Now, to inaugurate its new outdoor theater space on the Paramount Studios lot, the company stretches itself with a disconcertingly young, but frequently amusing amateur production of Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale's racy Moliere-based commedia dell'arte romp "Scapino!"

The plot, consisting of mistaken identities, lovers and stiff-necked fathers at a dockside Naples cafe, is a wispy excuse for nonstop silliness, slapstick and sight gags, as the town's operator, Scapino, helps young Ottavio and Leandro win patriarchal approval for their chosen brides.

The company doesn't fully engage the audience, or earn a belly laugh, until the second act and there are clumsy moments, primarily a few self-conscious, suggestive sight gags. But most of the hurly-burly action moves at a smooth clip, thanks to director Dona Maria de Guevara-Hill's firm hand and Stephen Macias' intrepid performance as the fast-talking schemer Scapino.

Macias is at his best in the riotous "sack" episode, when Scapino persuades Leandro's father, Geronte (Augusto Amador), to hide in a sack to avoid supposed pursuers. Scapino, comically portraying all the pursuers himself, pummels Geronte mercilessly through the sack with a sausage.

The audience is invited to help out with sound effects as Macias, with bravura timing, switches at a break-neck pace from pirate to pirate's parrot to karate fighter to a whole squad of English soldiers. Amador, popping in and out of the sack, has his best moments as Macias' hapless foil.

Other cast members who add something extra to the proceedings are Louis Gardena as Ottavio's father, Argante, who plays curmudgeonly age well--although his young face is startling through his false beard--and Jeff Gardner and Cliff Foerster as Ottavio and Leandro, respectively. Gardner and Foerster share another successful bit of zany nonsense--a simulated water-ballet routine. Assistant director Dani Brown is the show's choreographer.

Professional contributions behind the scenes include Ron Lindblom's pleasing, fixed dockside set, light design by Richard Taylor and Lightwaves, Rachel Leathers' costumes with comic touches and Richard Lyons' sturdy sound.

* "Scapino!" California Youth Theatre at Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, Thursday-Friday and Aug. 28-29, Sept. 2-3, 11-12, 8:15 p.m. $5-$15; (213) 956-2503.

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