REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
Last weekend, Agoura High School presented the comedic farce On the Razzle, which was staged at the school’s black box theatre in the Performing Arts Education Center. The play marks the debut of new theater teacher Bibi Kemper, who decided she wanted to inaugurate her first semester with an ensemble play that would involve everyone in her class.
On the Razzle was written by the prolific British playwright Tom Stoppard, born Tomáš Straussler in Czechoslovakia in 1937. The play is an adaptation of the 1842 Viennese comedy Einen Jux will er sich Machen by Johann Nestrov. On the Razzle is a classic knockabout comedy strewn with malapropisms, mistaken identities, and broad slapstick, perfect for the energetic students in Kemper’s class, most of whom are sophomores. The story deals with Herr Zangler, a harried grocery store owner, who plans to marry Madame Knorr, proprietor of an upscale clothing store. Seems simple, huh? One by one, other characters interfere with his plans, and the merry mix-ups that occur keeps the action going and the laughs rolling over the audience throughout the play.
Andrew Muccitelli plays Zangler in a constant state of wild-eyed frenzy with a strangled voice not unlike that of Gilbert Gottfried. Zangler is an irritable, high-strung, festering sore of a man who has no patience for the antics of his flamboyant assistant, Melchior, played with a reckless, joyous abandon by Bailey Forman. We’ve seen Bailey before in other shows and he is that rare actor who has the perfect personality for this kind of character. Nothing fazes Melchior. He is an animated cartoon come to life and Forman is by far the funniest performer in the show.
In addition to trying to coordinate his wedding, Zangler is endeavoring to protect his niece Marie from the advances of her impoverished suitor, Sonders. Like many of the characters in this production, Marie and Sonders are double-cast. Isabella Sementilli and Quest Couture played Marie and Sonders, respectively, and made for an endearing, if vacuous couple.
Mucking up the works are Weinberl, Zangler’s head clerk (played by Jesse Fulton), and his naive apprentice, Christopher (an excellent Micaleen Rodgers), who decide to abandon their duties at Zangler’s store and go “on the razzle” in search of new adventures, which turn out to be more like misadventures. The ensuing action gets confusing but is never dull, as characters hide themselves, pretend to be people they are not, and get their words constantly mixed up, which is the cause of much of the show’s hilarity (example: a waiter announces to his patrons that “the wurst is yet to come” – you get the point).
The always delightful Erin Schafheitle played Madame Knorr, a vision in red that beautifully set off her own carroty hair. The large cast is all excellent in their parts, but we should single out a few standouts: Karis Brizendine as Frau Blumenblatt, Zangler’s sister-in-law, Olivia Robert as Lisette, a perpetually frazzled French maid, and Corinne Burkert as the statuesque Frau Fischer, who gets cornered into pretending to be Weinberl’s new bride.
The production was staged in arena fashion, with the audience split on two sides with the stage in between, which gave the actors frequent opportunities to dash up and down the aisles with frenzied abandon. Each performer appeared ideally suited for their respective characters and everyone played their parts beautifully. Booie Brandt and Michelle Beard did a fantastic job with the sumptuous costumes and Amanda Lawson provided the useful set, complete with an arced staircase and plenty of running room for the actors. The hardest thing about farce is the split-second timing required to magnify each laugh and keep the merry motor running without letting up. The result shows the hard work put into the show. Kemper plainly has a great chemistry with the students and we will look forward to her next production, Once Upon a Mattress, in the spring, which will be staged in the 650-seat PAEC theatre upstairs from the black box.