Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Theatre Gym "The Miser" review by BobEvans

Unmiserly laughs Rating: 5

The Miser
The Theatre Gym

If you like to leave a theater performance smiling and entertained, consider The Miser presented by Theater Gym in the Union Station H&R Block Stage.

Be prepared to be entertained by an updated French Farce written by Moliere and updated by Stephen Booser. Even though performed in late 1700s costumes with white face paint, the updated, modern dialog fits just fine and entertains the audience.

Obviously, the play focuses on the main character, the miser, Harpagon, who loves money as much as life itself. Every spare moment consumes him with worry about protecting his money, making more money, and seeing how far he can stretch each coin to gain the maximum with the barest of minimum cost. His horses are unshod, too skinny, and weak to pull a carriage; and, the thought of spending money for a matrimonial dinner almost sends shockwaves through his being. He directs his stewards to serve "lots of water" and only serve wine to those that are thirsty, and only after they ask twice for wine.

Masterfully portrayed by Alan Tilson, Harpagon maintains a stage presence for almost all of the performance. His character seldom leaves the stage and most of the action centers on or about him. Even aware of his audience, Harpagon threatens to hang everyone when his precious money box is discovered and taken. Even the audience fails to escape his threats as his passion to recover his stolen wealth leads him to threaten death by hanging to the entire audience and all the townspeople of his village.

As for casting, director Art Suskin assembled an ensemble cast that understood the material, the physical comedy, his direction, and the overall importance of integrating their parts to build a cohesive performance with limited props. In such an ensemble one character weakness can wreck a good production. In The Miser, no weak performances exist. In a show like this, with one central character, all the supporting characters need precise character development to hold their own against a strong central character. Rest assured, in this case all actors performed flawlessly.

Alan Tilson uses his voice, comedic timing, physical comedy, and expression to craft a masterful Harpagon. Just to watch him, alone, is worth the price of admission. His delivery is crisp, clear, and funny.

In this Moliere comedy, males dominate the supporting cast. Only four females are included in the cast and are all good in their parts. Most prominent are the characters of Elise, Harpagon's daughter, portrayed by Devon Barnes; and Frosine, a matchmaker, played by Bianca N. Jordan. Each understands her character and interacts well with the men as the comedy develops. Much of the plot concerns Elise's intent to marry Valere (Andy Penn), but Harpagon, her father, intends to marry her off to an elder man of noted wealth. Frosine creates a triangle of affection by arranging for Harpagon to marry a much younger MaryAnn (Sarah Jeter), who loves Cleante (Brian Huther), Harpagon's son. So, the stage is set for a triangle involving a father, son, and one object of affection. Another triangle involves Elise, Valere, and the older Anselm (Greg Lane).

Count on the male characters to deliver the conflicts and more physical comedy to drive the show forward. Brian Huther gives strong physical comedy with his character of Cleante. Andy Penn's character, Valere, is less physically demanding, but pivotal in setting up Harpagon with flattery to gain his confidence. Later, after his character is falsely accused Valere (Penn) must serve as the means of resolution to the whole mess created in the farce. He moves effortlessly in both tasks. Mike Ott as La Fleche gives reason for the audience to laugh with his interaction with Harpagon and with his deft physical comedy. And, Jack Winslow's character of Jacques creates much of the chaos with his double-cross of Valere and his misinterpretation of an agreement between Harpagon and Cleante.

Others in the cast include Elizabeth Hill (Dame Claude), Dean Kinsey (Constable and La Merluche) Spencer Carney (The Clerk, and Brindavoine) and Greg Lane (Anselm and Simon). While their parts were smaller, their interactions and characterizations matched the others in the cast and moved the play forward. In all, all characters maintained the fast pace and moved the production forward.

A French farce always resolves a seemingly irresolvable, tangled mess of characters and situations to a happy ending, leaving the audience fulfilled and smiling. The Miser succeeds in accomplishing this. Just think of all the messes associated with TV soap operas but in this case all are funny instead of dramatic. So, sit back, smile, laugh and enjoy The Miser.

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