Money, money, money. It’s key to just about all of us, but for the title character in Moliere’s The Miser, Harpagon, it’s virtually the only thing that matters in life—so much so that he’s willing to make everyone around him, family, servants, etc.—suffer so he can hold on to it or accrue more.
Such an archetypal character—and situation—is indeed timeless, so it doesn’t really matter that Venice Theatre director Murray Chase has transposed the action of this satire from 17th-century France to 1950s’ New Orleans in the current Stage II production. Everything about human nature in the play still holds true; the change of venue merely permits for the use of some lively zydeco music and colorful, often playful period costumes and hairstyles.
Neil Kasanofsky, Joanna Fontane, Jeremy Guerrero and Tarah Hart
Frequent VT actor Neil Kasanofsky is the miser, whose daughter, Elise (Tarah Hart), has fallen in love with her father’s steward (Jeremy Guerrero), who’s really someone else entirely (but we don’t find out who until the end of the play). Harpagon’s nerdish son, Cleante (Hunter Cross), is in love with his true dorkmate, Mariane (Adrianna DeCecco), but it turns out that she’s the young woman Dad also wants to marry—not out of love, but because through the services of a matchmaker (Joanna Fontane) he hopes to get a dowry out of her. That would add to the hoard of coins he’s buried somewhere in his garden, which he constantly fears will be stolen, perhaps by one of his clownish servants (Jim McGinnis and Paul Mullen).
The setup is classic Moliere—but as it happens, classic Moliere is not that easy to do. While the cast here has clearly worked diligently to handle the playwright’s rhyming couplets (translated in this version by Timothy Mooney, who adapted the original) and to pull off the style of acting the piece requires, they do so with mixed results.
There are occasional laughs, or at least chuckles, as everyone in the play schemes to achieve their own ends, usually by deceiving Harpagon. But too often the actions or motivations of characters are confusing. You can sit through a great deal of Act I asking yourself questions about what’s happening onstage when it all should be obvious. And perhaps the intimacy of the Pinkerton Theatre works a little against the piece as well; no matter where you sit, you’re bound to see the actors sweating.
Which brings me to a side note: As I watched The Miser, I couldn’t help marveling at how hard community theater actors are willing to work—putting in hours of rehearsal and performance time, dressing themselves in sometimes uncomfortable or unflattering costumes, ignoring the heat of the stage lights, foregoing the simple pleasures of an evening at home, all to present shows that, alas, do not always reap that many rewards. For that reason, if for no other, you want to give some applause to the cast and crew of The Miser. But I can’t say I enjoyed it.
The Miser continues through May 6; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com for tickets.