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Washington Shakespeare Company The Miser

By • Feb 9th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
The Miser by Moliere; adapted by David Ball
Washington Shakespeare Company
Clark Street Playhouse, Arlington, VA
Through February 28th
2 hours, no intermission
Prices Vary – Pay what you can (Saturday matinees) – $35 (Saturday Nights)
Reviewed February 2, 2010

Proving that a show can be amusing without being coherent is this Washington Shakespeare Company production of Moliere’s The Miser.

The play itself is very mid 17th Century France. The adaptation is very early 21st Century America. A romantic farce, The Miser is built on late-Renaissance norms. A master can (and does) beat a servant. A father can determine whom his children will marry. In the event, marriage-arranging proves to be less easy to carry out than servant-beating. A dowry is a make-or-break element in wedding discussions. Horse-drawn carriages provide transportation.

But then there are numerous (and entertaining) incongruences in director Akiva Fox’s staging. For one thing, Fox uses a new English adaption by David Ball. Nothing like Moliere’s formal and elegant dialogue, Ball’s writing explodes with merry indecencies. The F-word is often heard as are frequent and sometimes hilarious references to body parts and their (occasionally implausible) functions. To illustrate the miserliness of the title character, it is said that he has a bowel movement only once every two weeks. Much of the show’s potty humor would be an instant sensation on any playground frequented by 11-year-olds.

Bawdiness bounds. A mild example is an alleged ancient Greek writer referred to a couple of times as “Testicles.” One of the tamer profanities is “Christ on a bicycle!”

Some of Ball’s humor, however, is actually rated G. He can be very ingenious with inoffensive word play, e.g. “She has more chateaus than she has toes.”

The Miser satirizes greed. The central character, Harpagon, is not only greedy. He is also rich. But he hoards his wealth. He also hoards junk like used paper cups and discarded chewing gum wrappers. It pains him to spend anything on anything. His house (set by Tobias Harding) looks like a textbook illustration used to explain the phrase “unfit for human habitation.” Everything is broken. Nothing is fixed. Repairs amount to covering cracks and holes with boards or paper.

Some of the action in The Miser is disagreeable. There’s a lot of bullying, not just by Harpagon but also by a young man who is supposed to be sympathetic and romantic.

Though the scenario in which the actors function can be brutal or archaic, their performances are often fresh and funny. As the blithering Harpagon, Ian Armstrong slides back and forth between appalling and ludicrous. Though a maniacal brute, this Harpagon blithers entertainingly.

As an unstoppable matchmaker, Heather Haney is a hoot with her proletarian Philadelphia accent and her tight-as-a-knackwurst-skin outfit. Rex Daugherty is explosively manic-depressive as the miser’s son and heir. He energetically covets his father’s money but despairs of ever getting hold of it before he’s “too old to spend it.” Dressed in with-it dance club togs his image is at odds with the 17th Century moneyed class’ aversion to anything resembling work. One wants to shake him a yell, “Get a job!” But that sort of thinking would jeopardize the underpinnings of Moliere’s comic universe.

In general, thinking of any kind is not what this production is about. The acting is peppy all around, even gratingly vehement at times. Though often incoherent, the show affords plenty of mindless guffaws.

A Note From The Director

Money is a singular thing. It ranks with love as man’s greatest source of joy. And with death as his greatest source of anxiety. Over all history has oppressed nearly all people in one of two ways: either it has been abundant and very unreliable, or reliable and very scarce.
-John Kenneth Galbraith, The Age of Uncertaintty

Cast

  • Ian Armstrong: Harpagon
  • Katie Atkinson: Elise
  • Sara Barker: La Fleche
  • Rachael Beauregard: Mariane
  • Frank Britton: Master Jacques
  • Rex Daugherty: Cleante
  • Joshua Drew: Valere
  • Heather Haney: Frosine
  • Joe Palka: Master Simon, Anselme

Crew

  • Akiva Fox: Director
  • Kyle Jean Fisher: Stage Manager
  • Tobias Harding: Set Designer
  • Jessi Cole Jackson: Costume Designer
  • Jessica Rietzler: Props Designer
  • Eric Watkins: Lighting Designer
  • Technical Director: Andrew Berry
  • Scenic Artists: Tobias Harding, Eileen Garcia
  • Master Electrician: Alex Manuel
  • Assistant to the Costume Designer: Vlada Kaganovskaya
  • Carpenters: Julie Roedersheimer, Sam Rabinovitz, Colin Grube
  • Electricians: Sean Doyle, Alex Keen, Melvin Baker, Garth Dolan, Marianne Meadows
  • Production Photography: C. Stanley Photography
  • Graphic Illustrator: Jay Hardee

Washington Shakespeare Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

One Response »

  1. One thing struck me about this review:
    Joe Adcock referred to “Moliere’s formal and elegant dialogue.” Moliere’s dialogue is neither formal or elegant; he wrote in the vernacular and was often deliberately vulgar.

    I hate to see one of my favorite playwrights robbed of all his earthiness and ribaldry.