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SCAPIN, American Theater Company. Imagine Moliere crossed with the Marx Brothers and you’ll get the general idea of this adaptation of Moliere’s That Scoundrel Scapin. Neovaudevillian Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell have tarted up this 17th-century farce–in which moonstruck lovers marry against their parents’ will, long-lost children miraculously reappear, and the wily servant Scapin makes sure that all ends happily–with slapstick routines, witty asides, anachronistic musical numbers, and Keystone Kops chase scenes.

Brian Russell’s staging for American Theater Company is wonderfully cartoonish, full of high-energy lunacy; Rick Paul’s fanciful set suggests both Dr. Seuss and a Gorey cartoon. The limber Jim Ortlieb is perfect as Scapin, slyly savoring the exquisite mayhem he creates wherever he goes. The cast is generally strong, but Lynn House, with her infectious hyena giggle, is a standout as a young woman reunited with her father. A couple of performers are too young for their roles, but as a whole the ensemble captures the play’s vitality and exuberance.

The real problem with Irwin and O’Donnell’s approach–and other vaudeville takes on creaky classics–is that wiseass buffoonery takes precedence over plot, and the speeches adapted from the original end up seeming dead spaces between clowning sequences. The adapters leave the impression that only pratfalls and snide remarks can resuscitate Moliere. They’re wrong, but the play’s still a hell of a lot of fun. –Adam Langer