Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Threepenny Opera
Also see Susan's review of Underneath the Lintel
Translators Robert David MacDonald (dialogue) and Jeremy Sams (lyrics) give a much darker cast to Brecht's story of the master criminal Macheath (Mitchell Jarvis) than the familiar Marc Blitzstein translation that had a long Off-Broadway run in the 1950s. Director-choreographer Matthew Gardiner sets the stage at once with Natascia Diaz's biting version of "The Flick Knife Song" (the song known universally as "Mack the Knife"), the first verse of which she performs breathtakingly a cappella.
The production design bombards the audience with stimuli: a stock ticker periodically appears above the stage on Misha Kachman's set, Colin K. Bills' lighting design incorporates neon signage, and Frank Labovitz's costumes range from a demure yellow plaid dress with crinolines to beggars' rags and prostitutes' bras and gartersand lots and lots of very high-heeled shoes. Musical director Gabriel Mangiante ably oversees eight other musicians.
Exhibits in the lobby set up the situation in London: Queen Elizabeth II has died and Prince Charles has abdicated in favor of his son, the new King William V. As crowds gather for the coronation ceremonies, Mr. Peachum (Bobby Smith) tries to maintain his monopoly on "licensed" beggars, as opposed to the ordinary destitute and homeless people horning in on his business. He and Mrs. Peachum (Donna Migliaccio) are equally upset that their daughter Polly (Erin Driscoll) has run away to marry Macheath, although there are a few things about him she doesn't know. One is his long affair with the prostitute Jenny (Diaz); another concerns both Lucy Brown (played in drag by Rick Hammerly) and Lucy's father, Police Commissioner Tiger Brown (John Leslie Wolfe).
Jarvis gives Macheath both a foppish veneer and, underneath, a genuine sense of menace, displayed most strikingly in his stylized "Pimp's Tango" with Diaz. Driscoll looks like a china doll, but she shatters that image with her renditions of "Pirate Jenny" and "Barbara Song." The performances of Smith and Migliaccio, each of whom has received two Helen Hayes Awards, add measurably to the atmosphere where people laugh but the situation is far from funny.