Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

The Threepenny Opera
A Noise Within

Also see Sharon's review of American Buffalo

Marisa Duchowny
There are two things that doom A Noise Within's production of The Threepenny Opera. The first is enunciation. The cast seems so concerned with keeping up their British accents throughout the proceedings, they don't go a good job actually putting the dialogue and lyrics across. At intermission and after the show, the most common comment I overheard was that the audience could not make out the words that were being said. The second problem is the rather unfortunate miscasting of Andrew Ableson in the role of Macheath. Ableson's voice is decent enough, but he lacks that indefinable charisma that is so necessary to pull off the role. This Macheath has no sexual chemistry whatsoever with any of his ladies (he and Jenny get upstaged by the backup dancers in the "Pimp's Ballad" tango), nor does he possess the strength of character that would make you believe his gang follows him out of devotion, or even fear.

With such a magnetism deficit in what should be the leading character, the show is ripe for the stealing. Marissa Duchowny, as Polly Peachum, very nearly commits Grand Theft Musical. Her vocal delivery delicately walks the line between the innocent doll-carrying girl her parents still want her to be and the sexually awakened young woman she is becoming, thanks to Macheath's attentions. Duchowny's "Barbara Song" is a true highlight. But what really gives her performance depth are her facial expressions when she is first struck with the reality of having run off with Macheath and his toughs—doubts and regrets flit across her face when she realizes what she's gotten herself into, and this makes everything she does afterward seem to be the result of a reasoned choice to make the best of it rather than the clueless acts of a silly girl. For this reason, I was a bit disappointed when she was shrill and stamped her feet; Duchowny's Polly is too well-rounded to be so stereotypically girlish.

This Polly is so good, Macheath's other lovers barely register. Stasha Surdyke's Jenny suffers from either a too-soft voice or inadequate amplification. Either way, she sounds too weak to make a proper foil for Macheath. Maegan McConnell's Lucy Brown keeps up with Polly in "Jealousy Duet," but her character is too superficial to leave a lasting impression beyond being pregnant in pigtails. (Angela Balogh Calin's costumes give you a tidy shorthand introduction to what every character is about; it is frustrating when, at times, the performances don't live up to the bar set by the costumes.) Positive mention should be made of Geoff Elliott as Mr. Peachum; he gives a portrayal that is exactly what the show calls for.

Directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott have the performers interact with the audience, while still keeping their distance. When the audience enters, the cast is on stage and in the house, each person randomly muttering (or shouting) a line from the show, with "Turn off your electronic devices!" thrown in occasionally—a variant on the pre-curtain speech of which Brecht surely would have approved. There are a handful of nice directorial touches throughout the show which, in another production, would earn praise as clever. Unfortunately, in this production, it is difficult to applaud directorial creativity when the basics of effectively putting the show across haven't been fully accomplished.

The Threepenny Opera runs at A Noise Within in Pasadena through May 17, 2015. For tickets and information, see

A Noise Within presents The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. English translation by Michael Feingold; original German text based on Elisabeth Hauptmann's German Translation of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott. Scenic Design Frederica Nascimento; Costume Design Angela Balogh Calin; Lighting Design Ken Booth; Music Director DeReau K. Farrar; Sound Consultant Robert Oriol; Audio Engineer Aaron Michaud; Stage Manager Juliana McBride; Hair, Wig, and Makeup Design Gieselle Blair; Props Master Marissa Bergman; Dialect Coach Nike Doukas; Tango Consultants Sergio Leal and Isabella Grosso from Latin Dance Pro; Technical Director Marc Chernoff; Costume Shop Coordinator Maria Uribe; Scenic Painter Orlando de La Paz; Assistant Stage Manager Samantha Sintef.

Macheath - Andrew Ableson
Polly Peachum - Marisa Duchowny
Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum - Geoff Elliott
Mrs. Peachum - Deborah Strang
Tiger Brown - Jeremy Rabb
Jenny Diver - Stasha Surdyke
Lucy Brown - Maegan McConnell
Filch/Weeping Willow Walt - E.K. Dagenfield
Matt the Mint - Henry Noble
Crook-Fingered Jack - Abubakr Ali
Sawtooth Bob - Matthew Ian Welch
Jimmy - Jack Elliott
Ned - Fionn James
Dolly - Alison Elliott
Ensemble - Laura Lee Caudill, Shea Donovan, Aly Easton, Zachary Kahn, Carly Pand┬×a. Toby Dalton Riggle, Nichole Trugler

Photo: Craig Schwartz

- Sharon Perlmutter

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