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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Miser
By Laura Hitchcock

A Noise Within, Los Angeles' only rolling rep devoted to classics, has pranced out Moliere's The Miser, in rep with Coriolanus and Arthur Miller's "The Price opening later this month. A flop when Moliere debuted it in 1668, the theme of a greedy father Harpagon (Mark Bramhall) who demands his children marry for money may seem like a satiric period piece but, as Craig Belknap's snide sprightly production plays out, the inter-generational manipulations of this in-your-face family have a disconcertingly timeless quality.

Belknap is an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon which spawned William Ball and founding members of San Francisco's highly theatrical American Conservatory Theatre, where many members of A Noise Within trained. Moliere's Tartuffe starring Rene Auberjonois marked ACT's San Francisco debut and, though actor Ken Ruta grumbled "Bill Ball does shows based on the plays", ACT planted its own colorful standard in the theatrical sand.

Belknap sets the play in 1929 which works very well. Double doors at the back of the set bearing a mural of "The Kiss" open on espaliered trees on a sunny garden wall. The tiny stage is a jumble shop of the pack rat Harpagon's shabby furniture, including a useless wheel chair. Edith Piaf's inimitable voice croons, Harpagon counts his gold and, after he lugs it out into the garden, a huge red quilt begins to seethe and is tossed back to reveal Harpagon's beautiful daughter Elise (Danya Soloman) in flagrante delicto and dashing valet Valere (Ryan Schaufler), almost likewise.

Harpagon wants to marry Elise to wealthy older man Anselme (William Dennis Hunt, doubling as Master Simon). As for son Cleante (Adam Graham Smith), Harpagon approves of his Marianne (Annie Quinn), so much so that he has decided to marry her himself. Frosine (Mary Boucher), the Moliere equivalent of Thornton Wilder's matchmaker, is in on everybody's secrets and Master Jacques (Timothy Landfield), Harpagon's all-purpose servant, slaps on the hats of chef and chauffeur to respond to demands for each. La Fleche (Donald Sage Mackay), in a derby that conjures up visions of an underworld character, is the clever character who finds the Miser's treasure and makes it work in ways never intended. Moliere seems to have taken a page from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in his denouement, beautifully served up in Belknap's inspired staging.

Bramhall, in the title role, never lets the audience forget who this play is about. Money is his sex object and the lunacy of this concept is visually depicted in his wild hair, antic capering and too-bright eyes. The versatile Mackey brings a sense of fun to La Fleche and Hunt creates two very different characters in Master Simon and Anselme. The fiery Solomon knows exactly where to find the humor in Elyse's lines. Quinn contrasts as a very grounded sheltered Marianne and Boucher is all woman of the world as the svelte go-between. Schaufler is a supple Valere and Smith a dapper Cleante. Mitchell Edmonds has an imposing turn as the Chief of Police and Timothy Landfield is truly impressive in the meaty role of the trusty servant who, nevertheless, manages to paint The Miser in his true colors.

The contemporary translation by David Chambers retains the values of the original and, though the brilliant rhymes so admired in the Moliere original and the Richard Wilbur translation are missing, the pace and tempo are not. Production values are impressive with Trefoni Michael Rizzi's set design keynoting the color and fun of the play and the musty clutter of Harpagon's mind. James Taylor's lighting design complements the concept with its dark inside/sunny outside aspects. Alex Jaeger has designed gorgeous 1920s costumes and Norman L. Berman the music -- with an assist from Edith Piaf.

Playwright: Moliere, adapted by David Chambers
Director: Craig Belknap
Cast: Mark Bramhall (Harpagon), Donald Sage Mackay (La Fleche), Danya Solomon (Elise), Ryan Schaufler (Valere), Adam Graham Smith (Cleante), William Dennis Hunt (Master Simon, Anselme), Mary Boucher (Frosine), Timothy Landfield (Master Jacques), Annie Quinn (Marianne), Mitchell Edmonds (Chief of Police).
Set Design: Trefoni Michael Rizzi
Lighting Design: James Taylor
Costume Design: Alex Jaeger
Music Composed by Norman L. Berman
Wig/Hair Design: Joyce Ann Littrell
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission
Running Dates: September 26-December 7, 2003.
Where: A Noise Within, 234 South Brand Blvd., Glendale, Ph: (818) 240-0910.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.October 11, 2003.
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