Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Threepenny Opera"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"Tthe Threepenny Opera"

Book and Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht
Music by Kurt Weill
Translated by Marc Blitzstein
Directed by Ann Thomas
Music Director Andy Gaus

Set Design by John Hanson
Lighting Design by Amy Lee
Costume Design by Sarah Pruitt

The Ballad Singer/Filch.......Lisa McColgan
J. J. Peachum............................James Hunt
Mrs. Celia Peachum.................Cyndi Geller
Money Matthew................Jean-Paul Eberle
Crook-Finger Jake.....................Bill Homan
Dreary Walter...............................Ad Frank
Mac the Knife...........................Kent French
Polly Peachum....................Gloria Hennessy
Robert the Saw....................Augustus Kelly
Tiger Brown.......................John Enghauser
Low-Dive Jenny..................Miss Mary Mac
Dolly...................................Lynne Moulton
Betty..............................Michele Markarian
Smith.......................................Mike Hoban
Lucy Brown..............................Julie Lydon


When Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill updated John Gay, they made the ultimate in-your-face musical "The Threepenny Opera". Now Le Black Kat has further updated the language, moved the action to the streets of Boston as an unnamed governor is about to be inaugurated, and unleashed all that ironic snippiness on a production that is physically cheap but rich artistically.

Hung at the back of the thrust-stage is a drop-curtain mural by John Hanson, in which a tall, bloated State House dome is nearly strangled by a gridlocked snake of cars on the elevated artery, while tall stacks belch smoke in one corner. Its stark black and white details look like a charcoal-sketched political cartoon because it's actually on a bedsheet. Amy Lee has hung strip-lights in front and behind, so that sometimes the drop becomes a scrim through which Music Director Andy Gaus can be seen playing the "Plinky-tink tink-dum, plinky-tink tink-dum" rhythms over which the cast sings Kurt Weill's angularly unsettling melodies in full-out expression.

Director Ann Thomas has opted to do most of the songs in simple pools of light, and to let their sardonic social commentary carry the show. Excellent singers like Cyndi Geller, Gloria Hennessy, Kent French, Lisa McColgan, James Hunt and John Enghauser pour all the drama and bite into those songs, sung solidly flat-footed and straight into the audience's faces. This is an opera with teeth.

At the outset the fifteen-member cast pours onstage to fight one another for the costumes that define each character, and there's little attempt thereafter for realism. This is a warehouse because Polly complains it's a warehouse; that platform is a cell at the Charles Street Jail, this one a street-corner. Signs defining each act's thematic content are hand-printed in magic-marker on brown corrugated box-backs. And Macheath's whores strut about in exactly what honest working-girls would wear.

This is the sort of expressionist tract in which public enemy number one has the chief of police as a guest at his wedding because they both profit from crime, where the best-dressed of the protagonists is a shakedown charlatan running The Beggar's Friend (Ltd.) at a profit, and where his wife mourns the marriage of their daughter because it means someone else will profit off her charms. Plot-shmot, you go to a production of "The Threepenny Opera" to be insulted by the truth, which is that if you can afford to buy a ticket, you're too rich by half.

But this is exactly the way the show should be done, and there's only one week-end left. The leers and the timing, from everyone, are smoulderingly sure, and the updated Blitzstein translation sounds like bad translations of Weimar German --- which only adds to the sandpaper subtext. Catch it before it disappears.

Love,
===Anon.


"The Threepenny Opera" (till 19 December)
LE BLACK KAT
The Works Theatre, 255 Elm Street, Davis Square SOMERVILLE
1(617)705-7228

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