“Aging small-time con man Augusto, who swindles peasants, works with two 
younger men: Roberto, who wants to become the Italian Johnny Ray, and 
Bruno, nicknamed Picasso, who has a wife (Iris) and daughter and wants to 
paint. Augusto avoids the personal entanglements, spending money at clubs 
seeking the good life. His attitude changes when he runs into his own daughter, 
Patrizia, whom he rarely sees, and realizes she’s now a young woman and in need 
of his help to continue her studies. His usual partners are away, so he goes in with 
others to run a swindle, and they aren’t forgiving when he claims he’s given the 
money back to their mark. They leave him beaten, robbed, and alone.”

The above synopsis, written by J. Hailey, is from  I’ve “borrowed” it 
(and hope that Mr. or Ms. Hailey won’t object) because had I read it before 
seeing RushForth Productions world premiere stage adaptation of Federico 
Fellini’s 1955 film Il Bidone (The Swindle), my enjoyment of this visually and aurally 
dazzling production would have increased considerably.

As it was, I was (to repeat myself) visually and aurally dazzled … yet largely 
confused,  rather as if watching an opera in the pre-supertitle era without 
having read a plot summary in advance.

Adaptor/director Patrick Mapel states in his director’s notes that while the 
original 1955 film (which starred Broderick Crawford, Giulietta Masina, and 
Richard Basehart) was not “Felliniesque,” his goal was to create “a spectacle 
worthy of the term.” (The Encarta Encyclopedia defines Felliniesque as 
“blending reality and fantasy as Federico Fellini does in his movies.”) In his efforts 
to make this stage adaptation Felliniesque, Mapel has most definitely 
succeeded, the result being a production which Fellini fans will savor, but which 
playgoers in search of more traditional fare will most likely appreciate more than 

One of the major components of Mapel’s concept was to have the four lead 
characters (Augusto, Roberto, Picasso, and Iris) dressed realistically and all the 
supporting players dressed in fantasy fashion. A five-actor “chorus,” each of 
whom wears circus performer garb (including a French Pierrot) portray the many 
supporting characters whom the leads attempt to swindle along the way.

Equally Felliniesque is the gorgeous production design. Janne Larsen’s set reminds 
one of both a circus tent and the aging walls of a Italian city, with lanterns 
strung from post to post above the action. Fionnagan Murphy’s outstanding 
sound design incorporates moody background music, an amalgam of circus and 
jazz.  Jeffrey Elias Teeter’s lighting heightens the fantasy imagery, and the 
costumes (by Jason Trucco and Kishu Chand) are fantastic indeed.

The script has the artificial quality of an opera’s supertitles (I’m assuming this is 
deliberate), and the operatic performances are (not surprisingly) pretty far 
removed from the realistic acting that today’s audiences have come to expect, 
though Ralph P. Martin’s Augusto somehow transcends this, becoming both 
heightened and real at the same time.  Among the chorus, Alexandra Billings, 
fresh from her triumphs in Drood and Twist, is a standout, bringing to life both 
female and male characters with her usual panache. The rest of the cast 
includes Ben Messmer as Roberto, York Griffith as Picasso, and Sarah Utterback 
as Iris, with Andrea Tzvetkov, Michael Dunn, Katharine Brandt, and Dean 
Chekvala comprising the chorus.  All do good work within the confines of the 
acting style required of them.

Il Bidone is a must-see for Fellini aficionados. Others will have a harder time 
“getting” what it’s all about, though most should find much to appreciate in the 
director’s Felliniesque vision.

Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
January 19, 2008
Photos: Chris Frawley

Comments are closed.