An Audacious Production of
Also see Richard's review of Displaced
The Miser has a simple plot surrounding dictatorial Harpagon (Steven Epp), an exceptional greedy vulture-like old man who buried a chest of gold in his garden while his daughter Elise (Sarah Agnew), son Cleante (Stephen Cartmell) and disheveled servants live in poverty. They live in a dilapidated chateau that is falling down around them. Harpagon is a first class neurotic or maybe psychotic since he will not part with one sou to pay the servants.
Harpagon is tired of having to pay for this children's food so he ruthlessly plans to marry them off to feeble but wealthy suitors. Elise will marry old Anselme (Grey Wolf) since he requires no dowry. Elise is in love with her father's steward, Valere (Jim Lichtscheidl), while Cleante is in love with a village girl Marianne (Maggie Chestovich) whom Harpagon intends to marry. Moliere would be proud of this production since the actors go over the top in their actions to make this a first class French farce.
The Miser's opening set is a box that is slightly off center, and the stage is stripped to crumbling white plaster walls. You can see the beams and wiring hanging from the rafters and there is a plastic covering that is full of rain water on what appears to be the ceiling. Occasionally, water rains down on the cast from the plastic bulge. There is virtually no furniture on the stage. There is a large plastic curtain, making things look like a construction site, as the play starts. The complete cast, looking like inmates from an asylum in all white, ragged costumes by Sonya Berlovitz, come out and tear down the curtain. You get the idea you are at the Charenton insane asylum in 1801 and about to witness a play put on by these folks under the direction of the Marquis de Sade. The stunning set was designed by Richard Hernandez, who created scenery on Broadway for Caroline, or Change, Parade and Topdog/Underdog.
Steven Epp is superb as the tyrannical old Harpagon. The miser's overriding lust for money is brilliantly played by this distinguished actor. His bald head with flimsy tufts of unwashed hair makes him look like a vulture seeking its prey. He skulks around, minces, swaggers and scuffles about the stage to make a point. Even his outfit is grubby and worn out.
Sarah Agnew is wonderful as Elise, with a weak mimicking voice, and she looks like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. She whimpers and has a wonderful klutziness in her apprehensiveness. Stephan Cartmell gives a bravado performance as the passionate Cleante. He has a super-theatrical voice as he declares his love for Marianne, played with unchecked physical passion by Maggie Chestovich. Jim Lichtscheidl as Valere is eye-catching and speaks like a Spanish toreador from Carmen.
Outstanding is David Rainey as Harpagon's frustrated cook and coachman. He is dressed in a fat suit that makes him look like Humpty Dumpy, and his mannerisms in walk and talk are side splitting. His speech to Harpagon on why people hate the miser is a tour de force of consummate hilarious acting. Barbara Kingsley is a dynamo as the wily matchmaker. She careens between postures of being acquiescent and boldness by claiming, "I could marry the Virgin Mary to the Mayor of Gomorrah."
Nathan Keepers as the cunning servant La Fleche gives a great physical comic performance by climbing walls and moving around the stage with great agile speed. Grey Wolf as Anselme plays the role straight but he is effective in the role.
Moliere's The Miser plays through June 25th at the Berkeley Repertory Roda Theater, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets please call 510-647-2949 or toll free at 888-4-BRT-Tix or go to www.berkeleyrep.org.