Tony Rust is a downright masterful comic actor. He could make your prim aunt Bertha wet her pants with his fluid, zany antics on stage, and he might possibly even raise a laugh from the dead, so long as the dead were at least a little bit fond of physical comedy.
But don’t take my word for it. Go see Rust’s terrific performance as the lead in the comedy Scapino!, which opened tonight and runs through June 26 at Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove.
The play, written in 1974 by Frank Dunlop with help from Jim Dale, is a contemporary adaptation of a 17th century Moliere farce in the broad Commedia dell’arte tradition. Don’t for a moment let that historical stuff scare you off.
Basically this play is a convoluted sit-com about Scapino, a wily streetwise trickster, and his insane, corrupt machinations to save the love lives of two young couples in their rough waterfront home in Italy.
Farce is funny, and done right it’s brilliant, with jokes piling on so fast you run out of breath laughing. And in the second act of this slightly uneven show, Rust pulls out all stops in a lengthy side-splitting scene in which he continuously beats up Geronto (Mark Allen), the corrupt father of one of the friends, who is hiding in a sack from imaginary enemies.
To create those enemies, Rust channels a wild combination of Robin Williams impersonations and John Cleese absurdities in a relentlessly quick stream-of-consciousness session that repeats the same schtick three times, the last time with the audience’s delighted connivance. The play is worth seeing for this scene alone.
But don’t skip the rest.
Sixteen-year-old Kyle Carrillo-Enders was a stand-out as Sylvestro, a sidekick. That kid’s got a future in theater. Randall Brous, as Leandro, and Jon Deline, as Ottavio, are well matched as the two friends with love and money troubles.
Amber Brower does a fine job as Giacinta, the apple of Ottavio’s eye, as does Tracy Nygard as Zerbinetta, the apple of Leandro’s.
George Comstock is making his directorial debut with this show, and he pulls it off, with some problems. The main trouble is that farce requires perfect timing, and the pacing was muddled in places tonight, though more often it came together splendidly.
The waterfront set, by Comstock and Alan Beck, is cleverly done, with multiple levels through which the action can race – and on which Natalie Tichenor can dazzle the audience with her skills as a roller skating waitress.