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"On the Razzle" by Tom Stoppard
Seldom-produced 1981 comedy updates a popular 19th century Viennese farce that was the source of Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker" and the Broadway musical "Hello, Dolly!" Scott Shattuck directs.

"On the Razzle" -- Craig Smith and Tim Deak (Jonathan Slaff photo)

Presented by Jean Cocteau Repertory through October 21
Bouwerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm (except where noted), Sundays at 3:00 pm, some Wednesdays at 8:00 pm; Admission $30, $24 seniors, $15 students, TDF accepted.
Discount ticket packages available (traditional series or flexible pass).
Box office (212) 677-0060.
PERFORMANCE DATES: Preview August 20, opens August 21, runs August 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, September 2 (on this date only, a pre-show symposium with director precedes the performance at 7:30 pm), 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22 (7pm), 23, 24, 25 (3pm & 8pm), 26, 29, 30 (7pm), October 1, 2, 3, 16, 17, 20, 21. EXTENSION DATES: October 29, 30, 31, November 3, 4, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18.
Tom Stoppard, co-author of the Oscar-winning film "Shakespeare in Love," is renowned for his cunning comedies based on classic plays: "Travesties" (based on "The Importance of Being Earnest") and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" (based on "Hamlet"), to name two. His "On the Razzle" (1981), based on "Einen Fux will er sich machen," a classic farce by 19th century Viennese actor/playwright Johann Nestroy, is less well-known. In the play, two grocery clerks in provincial Austria sneak out to the "big town"--Vienna--for a rapscallion night of adventures, high jinx, romances, feverishly switched identities and close-calls.

Jean Cocteau Repertory, in its first season under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director David Fuller, leaped at the opportunity to share this underappreciated modern classic with New York audiences. It will be staged by Scott Shattuck, the Cocteau's immediate past Producing Artistic Director, who helmed the Cocteau's hit productions of Stoppard's "Rough Crossing" and Orton's "What the Butler Saw" as well as eight other Cocteau productions since 1994.

Nestroy's farce served as the source for Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker" and the Broadway musical "Hello, Dolly!" Nestroy wrote in an eccentric Viennese dialect that one critic called "untranslatable, even into German" and employed abundant local references to Vienna of the 1840s and 1850s. Stoppard invented no dialect, ignored period flavor in the language and set the play about 50 years later, retaining the nominal setting of Vienna. But he also employed two essentials of Nestroy's play: first, the tale of two "country mice" set loose in the city for a day of illicit freedom and romance among the cosmopolitans; second, the primary business of making the play as comic and entertaining as possible. In "On the Razzle," Stoppard applied ample measures of his characteristic irony and delightful wordplay. Comparing his own adaptation with Wilder's, he wrote that "Wilder's temperament, which serves 'The Matchmaker' so well, made gentler and more dignified use of the original." Notwithstanding the British-flavored insouciance of Stoppard's adaptation, it is still truer to the original plot than Wilder's, which changed Vienna into Yonkers and imposed a new central character, Dolly Levi, the matchmaker for whom Wilder's play was titled.

Tom Stoppard is perhaps best known as the author of "The Real Thing," "Arcadia," "Rosencrantz and Guidenstern are Dead" and "Travesties" and was co-author of the Oscar-winning film, "Shakespeare in Love." "On the Razzle" is seldom attempted in mid-size theaters because of its heavy production requirements: a plenitude of ever-changing sets and elaborate costumes. Jean Cocteau Repertory, which specializes in jewel-box adaptations of large plays, was determined to produce the work. So it challenged its leading comedy director, Scott Shattuck, with the task of re-conceiving the formidable vehicle as a smaller production. His solution was to employ a hidden asset of the play, its stage directions, which are written with delightful humor, irony and panache. Shattuck adapted these commentaries into spoken text, with the actors using them to establish complex scenes as storytellers while changing scenery. To augment the possibilities of the Cocteau's small stage, Shattuck will extract a multitude of locations from an ingenious set with three rotating elements, equipped with enough doors, windows and walls to stage all the play's predicaments and unlikely escapes.

Director Scott Shattuck has acquired a reputation as a classicist with a funnybone thanks to his Cocteau Rep productions of "What the Butler Saw" by Joe Orton (1996-7), "Tartuffe" by Moliere (1996) and "Rough Crossing" by Tom Stoppard (1997). The Wall Street Journal (Donald Lyons) deemed "Tartuffe" "the funniest show in town." "What the Butler Saw" attracted wide critical support and audience demand, prompting the company to schedule a rare return engagement. The New York Times (Wilborn Hampton) called that production "a delightfully ribald revival," praising its frolicking gait and solid performances, and urging, "anyone waiting for a better one to come along will miss out on some real fun." "Rough Crossing" earned the highest box-office of any show in Cocteau Rep's history. In Theatre (Ricky Spears) deemed the production "pure gold" and The Wall Street Journal (Donald Lyons) called it "sparkling." Shattuck has also succeeded with more serious fare, including a critically-commended production of Lanford Wilson's "Tally & Son" (1997).

"On the Razzle" features Craig Smith and Tim Deak as the excitement-starved shopkeepers. The cast also includes Marie-Elena Baldini, Harris Berlinsky, Marilyn Bernard, Christopher Black, Jason Crowell, Christopher Cusumano, Marc Diraison, Jennifer Lee Dudek, Jolie Garrett, Jason Hauser, Angela Madden, Marlene May, Neil Shah and Elise Stone. Lighting is by Cocteau resident designer Giles Hogya. Costumes are by resident designer Susan Soetaert. Original music is by resident composer Ellen Mandel.

Jean Cocteau Repertory, founded in 1971, is committed to producing plays of classic scope and vision in rotating repertory with a resident company of actors. It will present "On the Razzle" through October 21, in rotating repertory with "The Balcony" by Jean Genet, directed by Eve Adamson (October 8 to December 16). The company's 1999-2000 season also includes "The Servant of Two Masters" by Carlo Goldoni, directed by Jonathan Polgar (December 3 to February 24), "Edward II" by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Eric Bentley, directed by Karen Lordi (January 21 to April 20) and "Medea" by Euripides, directed by Eve Adamson (April 7 to May 21). [NYTW]

RELATED ARTICLE: Jean Cocteau Repertory's 1999-2000 Season

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