DCTS TOP PICK! — As we’ve been reminded over the past year, watching a rich, corrupt curmudgeon get their comeuppance never goes out of style. With public ire still directed at Wall Street, Akiva Fox’s daring production of Moliere’s The Miser provides a timely, darkly comic take on the constant class struggle between the rich and, well, everyone else.
Playing now at Washington Shakespeare Company in Arlington, VA, The Miser tells the story of a cruel money-grubber named Harpagon, who lives in a crumbling manse with his son, Cleante, his daughter, Elise, and several long-suffering servants. As with Shylock and Scrooge , Harpagon’s only goal is the accumulation of more wealth. He scorns the happiness and comfort of others – even that of his own family. Harpagon’s relentlessly selfish nature and all consuming love of money derails the marital plans of his children and their lovers, who then conspire to deceive the tightfisted old man. What follows is a riotous flurry of mistaken identities, outrageous insults, physical abuses, and devious double-crosses, all spiraling toward a breathless climax that left me feeling exhausted simply watching from my comfortable seat.
Adaptations of classic works can fall considerably short if they sacrifice what made the original so successful for cheap cosmetic and linguistic updates in order to pander to a modern audience. Such is not the case here. David Ball has adapted Moliere’s ribald text to utilize modern vocabulary while preserving a sense of the diction and rhythm of the original. Credit goes to Fox, as well, for mixing in certain modern social conventions and dress while maintaining a somewhat timeless feel.
Each performer exhibits a firm command of Ball’s wordy, witty text, and it seems that director Fox and his actors have invested considerable effort into developing the chemistry between all the characters during one on one exchanges and group scenes alike. The talented cast leaves little room for criticism. The majority of my time post-show was spent agonizing over which performer made me laugh harder or stole more scenes.
As sarcastic, opportunistic matchmaker Frosine, Heather Haney makes up for her reduced stage time by squeezing huge laughs out of her every line. Haney bursts onto the scene as a dizzying blur of makeup, hairspray, and sequins, uttering hilarious non-sequiturs like “Christ on a bike!” and hurling fabulously offensive insults at Harpagon behind his back. She delivers a magnetic performance, balancing out the other characters’ romantic pursuits with her biting, cynical wit.
As Harpagon, Ian Armstrong proves an insufferable, scatterbrained, vulgar old codger. He’s a marvel of paranoid energy – a dirty, coiled spring waiting to lash out at anyone who crosses him. At times he seems more animal than man. Indeed, when his precious money is threatened, Harpagon becomes a snarling, scurrying dog, wild-eyed with anger and despair. Armstrong handles the Miser’s tirades and wild mood swings with panache, attacking the role with a tremendous, spellbinding energy and impressively walking the tightrope between despicable and sympathetic.
The show does take some time to find its rhythm. The opening scenes tend to meander, searching for their footing until the entrance of the Miser himself. One factor in the play’s early struggle for momentum is the questionable, slippery accent of the Miser’s servant Valere. With each line, his accent would change slightly, and try as I might, I found myself focusing more on guessing his origins than the developing story.
Aside from the slow start and minor linguistic issue, Akiva Fox and Washington Shakespeare Company have produced an audacious, sidesplitting production of Moliere’s classic. It’s one of the most riveting, enjoyable shows I’ve seen in the past few years. A much-needed parable for our troubled economic times, with great acting, and a dynamite script, The Miser is a can’t-miss event.
The Miser – TOP PICK!
By Moliere . Adapted by David Ball
Directed by Akiva Fox
Produced by Washington Shakespeare Company
Reviewed by Ben Demers
The Miser runs thru Feb 28, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.
DCTS review – TOP PICK!
- Chris Klimek . DCExaminer
- Kate Wingfield . MetroWeekly
- Celia Wren . The Post
David Hoffman . Fairfax Times
Gwendolyn Purdom . Washingtonian
- Brad Hathaway . Arlington Connection
- Joe Adcock . ShowBizRadio
Charlotte Asmith . The Edge