With two misers, courtesy of Molière treading the boards simultaneously, we thought a report on one of these revivals might suffice. However, after Allan Wallach reported that of the two Stratford Theater of Ontario's premiere offerings in New York, The Miser fared less well than Much Ado About Nothing, we decided to have a look at the Pearl Theatre's production.
We hope you'll follow suit and check it out also. David Schechter, who directed the most interesting and enjoyable of the three Three Sisters to play in New York in 1997 (see link), has again struck gold with his staging of Molière's prose comedy. Under his direction, what could be contrived isn't, and what might drag elsewhere, moves along briskly and with much amusement.
Sure this is a situation that's filled with broadly drawn and predictably unscrambled mixups that are as reminiscent of late night comedy skits as classic dramas. And yes, everything stems from a single joke, the maniacal miserliness of the title character who remains unlovable, unloving and unredeemed to the very end . What's more he's perfectly happy to be left with his cashbox instead of a wife or children.
Robert Hock's Harpagon is brilliantly anti-heroic and yet a full-blown human being. He is loaded with miserly ticks -- clothing held together by safety pins, keys and eyeglasses making him a veritable walking attic to match the jumble of accumulations assembled in one corner of Murrell Horton's imaginatively simple set. His arms flail and his face reddens each time he senses another assault on his hoarded assets. When he meets Marianne, a gleam edges its way into his flinty eyes and his fingers linger most humanly on her arm. When his beloved cash box is actually stolen and the magistrate he's called asks who he thinks the robber might be, he meaningfully turns to the audience to declare "Everybody!"
Speaking of everybody -- everybody else in the cast is also outstanding. Making good use of John Wood's fine translation, all deliver their lines with crystal clarity. All deserve high praise for their comic timing , with Robin Leslie Brown particularly amusing as the shrewdly manipulative matchmaker Frosine. The four young lovers deftly navigate the twists and turns of their romances -- Élise (Patrica Dalen), Harpagon's daughter and Valère (Bo Foxworth), her nobly born suitor posing as a steward of Harpagon's thrift driven domain; Cléante (Christopher Moore), Harpagon's deliciously foppish son and Marianne ( Lauren Stamile), the pretty young thing the old curmudgeon has staked out for himself.
While love triumphs for the lovers, and the mysterious references to Valére's identity also come to a happily manufactured conclusion, The Miser is a darkly cynical comedy in that the villain of the piece never really gets his comeuppance. The loose ends of the familial entanglements are tied up, but not so the moral loose ends. It's this cynicism about truth, love and life that lends a certain up-to-dateness to these proceedings. It may even account for the costume designer's (also Murrelll Horton) somewhat puzzling decision to dress the Francine, Marianne and the last-to-appear character, Anselme (John Newton) in modern day clothes -- a visual shortcut for conveying the sense that people in today aren't all that different from those in Molière's day. There are many who value human connections. There are also those who are ruled by greed. The last will mistrust everyone. Exemplifying he later we have Harpagon's disdainful "The world is full of self-styled nobility these days" when his daughter tells him her lover is really a nobelman. .
By Moliere Translated by John Wood
Directed by David Schechter
With: Robert Hock (Harpagon), Bo Foxworth (Valère), Christopher Moore (Clèante), Patricia Dalen (Élise), Robin Leslie Brown (Frosine), Lauren Stamile (Marianne) and John Wellman (La Fleche).
Set and costume design: Murell Horton
Lighting design: Stephen Petrilli
Sound design: Robert Murphy;
Pearl Theater Company. at Theater 80, 80 St. Mark's Pl. (598-9802).
10/27/98-12/06/98; opened 11/09/98
Seen 11/21/98 and reviewed by Elyse Sommer