What do the loveable Muppet Elmo, a cross-dressing actor, and Moliére have in common? The answer, of course, is the Utah Shakespeare Festival. This summer the Festival will produce a very popular and very funny production of Scapin. The play, an adaptation of Moliere’s 325-year-old farce Les Fourberies de Scapin, follows the adventures of a crafty servant as he tries to fulfill his duties. It comes as no surprise that the laugh-out-loud humor contained in this production comes from the minds of two of today’s most brilliant and gifted writers, Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell.
Those who have young children, or have never grown up themselves, may recognize Bill Irwin as the much loved character Mr. Noodle from Sesame Street. Irwin received a degree in Theatre Arts from Oberlin College and more importantly graduated from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. Much of Irwin’s work is defined by his expressive body movements and non-verbal performances. Do yourself a favor and check out some of his work on YouTube. He is a popular face on television and in film. He has appeared on Northern Exposure, The Cosby Show, Law and Order, and CSI. His film credits include, among others, Eight Men Out, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Popeye, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and most recently, Rachel Getting Married.
Aside from originating the role of Scapin in this adaptation, Irwin has distinguished himself on stage. In 1988 he performed with Steve Martin and Robin Williams in Waiting for Godot as Lucky who’s only speaking part in the play is a 500 word monologue. He has appeared in Bye Bye Birdie and has directed, for the stage, a popular production of A Flea in Her Ear, which the Utah Shakespeare Festival produced in 1994. In 2005 he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his appearance as George in the revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Mark O’Donnell, the co-adapter of Scapin, has written novels, plays, poetry, and short stories. He attended Harvard where he wrote for the Harvard Lampoon. He also served as the writer and librettist for three Hasty Pudding musicals for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals group. His humor columns have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic, among others.
In 2003 O’Donnell, along with co-writer Thomas Meehan, won the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical for their work on Hairspray. In 2008, the writing duo received another Tony nomination for their work on another John Waters musical Cry-Baby. Although not as well-known as Irwin, O’Donnell has been well-received by the critics. In a 2009 interview with author Hugh Macleod, O’Donnell reflects: “I joke that I’m obscure in many fields, but I am proud that I’ve published poetry, cartoons, plays, novels, essays and songs, even if I’m not well known as any one of those things. The diversity has been fulfilling. That Knopf and The New Yorker and Playwrights Horizons, the best in their respective arenas, have sponsored me—It makes me feel good, even if it’s our little secret, as Yeats suggests, ‘Be secret and exult.’ Take joy in what you do, even if as yet it goes unseen.”
One thing is for certain, with the words of Irwin and O’Donnell, the comedic talents of David Ivers, and the creative team the Utah Shakespeare Festival has assembled, Scapin will prove to be the most riotous play the Randall L. Jones Theatre has seen in years. You will shed tears of laughter so bring your handkerchiefs, but please leave your Muppets at home.