Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May 2003
The French find Molière and Jerry Lewis hysterically funny. I find them both mildy amusing but slightly inscrutable. Since my mother’s mother’s mother was French I have apparently inherited just enough French blood to get the jokes but not to laugh myself silly over them. I noticed that I was not laughing nearly as much as many in the packed opening night audience of the Columbia Civic Players’ production of Molière’s The Miser at the Ghent Playhouse, and I have pondered what is the matter with me ever since.
My excuses being made, the CPC is to be applauded once again for a bold and refreshingly different choice of play. What a great place to live when you can see Molière and Andrew Lloyd Webber on adjacent evenings! Barbara Leavell Smith has provided both the direction and a new prose translation for the 1668 farce which centers on the havoc a skin-flinted widower perpetrates on his own romantic prospects and those of his grown son and daughter through his narrow-minded avarice. Smith has impressive credentials, including a Master’s in French language and literature from Middlebury, years of acting experience (in French) in Middlebury and Boston, and the formation of a French speaking theatre workshop at Milton Academy. This production is an obvious labor of love from her to the Columbia County community, and it is a gift to be savored.
The two obstacles facing Smith and her team were coming up with a script and interpretation of The Miser which would entertain even Gallic-ly challenged folks like me, and staging a full-out farce with a cast of sixteen on the tiny stage of the Ghent Playhouse. I am pleased to say that even I laughed out loud once or twice, and no actors were injured during the door-slamming, butt-thwacking, and shutter-opening-and-closing that occupied the stage. Most impressive was the final full-cast dance number in which no one fell off the stage and one actor who had to crawl through the midst of it all did not get stepped on.
The plot is thus. Harpagon (Tracy Trimm) loves his money more than life itself – “I am assassinated!” he cries when he discovers it stolen. His son Cléante (Grant L. Miller) and daughter Elise (Stephanie Tanaka) are both in love, but the objects of their affection – Valère (Steven Michalek) and Mariane (Shannon Keyes) – are apparently poor, and it takes them an entire scene to work up the courage to break the news to their father that they wish to marry. Once they do, Harpagon surprises them with news of his own – he intends to marry Mariane himself, thanks to the machinations of Frosine (Kate Gulliver), who is credited in the cast list as “A Woman of Intrigue,” and has arranged for Elise to wed a wealthy older man, Anselme (John Wallace) that very evening!
Farcical merriment ensues, involving many servants: Master Jacques (Keith Caldwell), Harpagon’s coachman and cook; La Fleche (Mark Wilson), Cléante’s valet; Master Simon (Mark W. Fingar), Harpagon’s compulsively twitching agent; foolish lackeys Brindavoine (Shawn M. Bilodeau) and La Merluch (Kerry Kazmierowicz-Trimm), and the silent and sulky housekeeper Dame Claude (Ellen Rizzo).
The Commissioner of Police (Criss Macaione-Bilodeau) and her Clerk (Virginia Osborne) are called in to try to settle matters, to no avail. Only the deus ex machine arrival of Monsieur Anselme and many pantomimed explanations enacted under strobe lights can remarkably untangle the web and allow everyone to live happily ever after – Cléante with Mariane, Elise with Valère, and Harpagon with his gold.
As is usual with the CPC, there are very few weak links in the cast. Wallace and Fingar make their very brief roles outrageously unforgettable. Tanaka and Keyes both look absolutely breathtaking in their fabulous 17th century gowns, created by costumer extraordinaire Joanne Maurer. Miller looks pretty swell himself, in a flouncey violet satin breeches and long blonde wig, and all four young lovers acquit themselves respectably in the acting department.
Trimm really anchors the show with his sadly comical Harpagon. He is a perfect buffoon. And Caldwell is his perfect foil as the hapless Master Jacques, whose backside takes a beating at every turn. Maurer has done a great job of disguising the necessary padding in Caldwell’s pants!
Adding to the authentic 17th century ambience, Rizzo on flute, Gloria Terwilliger on the “electronic harpsichord”, and violinists Shirley Tripp and Christine Dalapas perform music of Molière’s time before and after the show and during intermission.
I see in the program that Assistant Co-Director Patricia Martin-Skiermont’s first comment is “Blocking and prompting and wigs – Oh My!” I would imagine that sentiment would be echoed by all the hard-working cast and crew of this handsome and energetic production.
The Columbia Civic Players’ production of Molière’s The Miser runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 1 at the Ghent Playhouse, on Town Hall Road just off Rt. 66 next to the fire station. The show runs two hours and thirty minutes with one intermission. It is suitable for the whole family, but young children may find it difficult to sit through such a long show. Tickets are $12 for evening performances and $11 for matinees, with a dollar off for students and senior citizens. Call the box office at 518-392-6264 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003