Generous humor

The Miser

By Moliere with a new English adaptation by Donovan Johnson
Directed by Donovan Johnson
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
Producers Club Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Julie Halpern

The Oberon Theatre Ensemble opened its fourth season with an updated English translation of Moliere's uproarious comedy of manners The Miser. One of Oberon's goals is to examine the classics through contemporary idioms, and relocating the play to the Long Island of today struck a chord with modern audiences. After all, who doesn't know an irritatingly cheap person who is sitting on a pile of cash? Set amid nouveau-riche Baroque garishness it was easy to identify with the put-upon family members and employees who suffer the whims of a greedy cheapskate. Oberon's fine ensemble rose to the occasion, throwing themselves into slapstick antics that enlived the evening.

Harpagon, a middle-aged widower, has amassed a fortune but keeps his adult children on a tight leash, manipulating and abusing them, even to the point of arranging marriages for them. His daughter Elise is an oversexed, punked-out Goth with a wicked sense of humor. She has set her sights on Valère, a high-ranking flunky of her father's, unaware that Harpagon has arranged a marriage for her with an elderly friend of his. His son Clayton has fallen for a local girl, and the young man is appalled to find that Harpagon has arranged to marry the girl himself. Only after Harpagon's fortune (which he keeps hidden in his home) is stolen does he finally let go of his abusive ways, allowing his children to marry whom they love.

Johnson's lively, colloquial text, and deft, high-speed direction made for an exuberantly funny evening, but much of the biting core of humor which characterizes Moliere's work was lost in the translation.

Kate Ross's sexy, overwrought Elise was a comic delight. Bill Green as Valère, Elise's intended, was a fun-loving, low-key foil. Jordan Meadows was splendid as Harpagon's young son, whose frustration puts the comic plot in play. Talented, appealing Mac Brydon was wasted in the one-trick role of Fletch, Harpagon's flamboyantly gay servant. Jerome Richards was a delightfully doddering Simon, the family retainer, and as Anselme, the old gentleman Harpagon has chosen for Elise. Linda Hetrick stole the show as Florine, the overripe, blonde bombshell matchmaker employed by Harpagon. Brad Fryman added another fabulous character role to his dramatic arsenal in his hysterical portrayal of Jacks, the chauffeur, chef and master of all dirty jobs around the mansion. Lovely Adria Woomer made an appealing Mary Anne, the object of Harpagon and Clayton's affections.
Oberon and its audience are extremely fortunate to have Gordon Stanley as part of this ensemble. An irresistibly charming and magnetic presence, Stanley seemed miscast as the repugnant Harpagon. Stanley was brilliant in his interpretation of Harpagon's humorous side but missed the mark in terms of revealing the evil, obsessive side of his complicated character.
Everyone looked great in their costumes (uncredited), and the overblown set (also uncredited), in its plastic, slipcovered glory set the mood perfectly. Unfortunately, the yellow cast of the lighting against the gold-toned set caused the actors to appear sallow and pasty.

Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 2

Acting: 1

Set: 2

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern