People are always asking for things. Things. THINGS. THINGS! Don’t people realize that time equals money? For a good time and money well spent, people ought to consider an evening in North Beach for the Twin Beach Players’ production of The Miser, adapted by Freda Thomas from Moliere’s work. Directed by Jeff Larsen, this hilarious French farce is a delightful romp through Moliere’s garden of giggly goodies. Ripe with puns, sight-gags, exceptional comic timing, and zany over-the-top performances, The Miser is a barrel of laughs and you can take that promise straight to the cash-box.
The production team that comes together in a true community effort to put The Miser up on its feet is impressive. Director Jeff Larsen and Company President Sid Curl come together to create the show’s scenic design. Their attention to detail in the decrepit furniture in the first act really creates an atmosphere of impoverished standings for the eyes to greedily drink in. A nod is deserved to Rachel Cruz for her Garden Painting, which plays a critical part in the plot’s development. Cruz’ painting is vibrant and lively, a perfect contrast to the dreary interior of Harpagon’s household. Curl and Larsen layout the playing area in a way that lends itself to the nature of farce, carefully placing the shabby (and later posh) furnishings in exactly the right places for maximum comic effect.
Sound Designer Vivian Petersen and Music Designer Robert Snider work in tandem to create the haughty airs of the mid-17th century atmosphere with gusto. Snider’s casually classical music, which precedes the show’s opening, plays through the show’s intermission, and caps the top of Act II, is delightfully aristocratic, inspiring the notions of riches amid the chaos of the great “economic downturn” around which the play is set. Petersen creates crystal clear sound effects, particularly that of the ringing door bell and the vicious biting dog, that are timed with precision throughout the performance as well.
As is often said, clothes make the man. And in this case they make the man and the woman. Costume Designer Dawn Denison captures the essence of the upper class masquerading as impoverished with an appropriate flare for the era. Especially once the party dresses and fancy frippery flaunts itself in the second act, Denison’s designs really shine and help accentuate the robust characters that Freda Thomas has adapted from Moliere’s original work. A nod should be paid to Helenmary Ball’s sartorial choices as they are larger than life for her character and provided from her vast eclectic assortment of personal wardrobe items.
Complementing the clothing, Makeup Designers Wendy Cranford and Skip Smith add striking detail to these lively characters with their aging techniques and prosthetic effects. Cranford and Smith understand how to appropriately apply age lines to take younger actors and make them look multiple decades older as require of the character. Cranford and Smith do a smashing job of creating a hideous monster out of a mystery character who arrives in the second act— complete with grotesque warts, a grizzly-grayed Marie Antoinette-style wig, and a bulbously absurd nose— and its effects like these in all of their glorious detail that really set the character work a step above most ordinary theatre productions.
Director Jeff Larsen understands the finer nuances of comedy in this fantastic French farce. Knowing exactly how to balance moments of comedy against their appropriate execution fashions— sight gags, physical shtick, and witty verbal play— Larsen cleanly and concisely delivers impeccable comic pacing consistently throughout the production. His vision for maximizing the comic potential of the performance is clear and he encourages larger-than-life character portrayals that far surpass any over-the-top descriptive words that can be thrown at them. Articulating the nuances of farce with rigorous aplomb, Larsen makes the production exciting and deliciously entertaining.
A good farce always starts with lovers. Two sets of lovers pop up in the case of Moliere’s The Miser. Valere (Aidan Davis), a household servant and Elise (Annie Gorenflo) the daughter of the title character make up one pair while Cleante (Tom Weaver) the flamboyant and dimwitted brother of Elise, and Marianne (Jenny Liese), the village maiden, make up the other. Together these four performers bring a great deal of comedic influence into the production. Gorenflo and Davis are a match made in heaven until they aren’t anymore, and then are again, as so often is the nature of farce. Her moody outburst in their primed argument scene is furious and fierce and hysterically funny. Davis, who delivers a consistently affected accent, particularly when playing up scenes opposite Harpagon, really channels his own frustrations in a uniquely uproarious fashion which turn his face almost purple. Liese, who doesn’t arrive until the second act, has a humorous way about her, particularly in her penultimate story-telling moment near the show’s end.
Weaver, as the love-struck and dull-witted son of the miser, arrives on the scene in a flash and flare of flamboyance, feathered by the fetid fumes of love. He oozes, gushes, and fawns over the notion of Marianne with such high levels of camp that you can’t help but laugh. The facial expressions he pulls when lamenting and professing his heartaches and feelings are simply madcap and reach by extension fully out into his limbs as he throws his entire body into the performance. Matched physically in his performance only by his valet, La Fleche (Jim Weeks), Weaver is a top-notch ham in this production.
Weeks, who is the epitome of the plotting servant trope, is a master of physical comic timing. Whether its popping his head out from behind the screen at the exact right moment for a great laugh or reacting with spastic physicality to the situational comedy unfolding around him, Weeks has a firm hand on how to milk his character’s potential for laughs without feeling false. Playing up sight and verbal gags with Harpagon are his strongest suit and he becomes the male comic lead in the performance multiple times throughout the show.
Cameo shenanigans erupt on the scene with the arrival of Senor Anselme (Sid Curl) and consistently throughout with Maitre Simon/Inspector Sansclou (Kevin McAndrews.) Curl, a hearty Spaniard, only has a handful of lines but they are delivered with the funniest of accents and he’s bronzed to the nines to give him an authentic appearance of someone from Barcelona. McAndrews is a master of accents, first with his reedy and properly English Maitre Simon and later with his outrageous French sound on Inspector Sansclou. Pairing off against Maîtres Jacqueline, Ze Chef (Jeanne Louise), the French accents go to battle with who can be more ridiculous and it becomes a truly hysterical moment between the pair.
Louise, who vies for the title of show-stopping scene-stealer against Helenmary Ball (playing Madame Frosine) is a pistol with panache on the stage. It’s impossible to declare Louise or Ball the winner in the race for “funniest female in the production” so they’ll have to settle for sharing the honor. With a vigorous character animation in her eyes, her body, her voice, and her overall presence on the stage, Louise steals every scene that she play in. Waltzing through the second act, singing and romancing a suckling pig in her arms, she’s a comic crackup, a madcap maniac that puts the fun in the dysfunctionality of the plot. Rolling through a series of rhyming culinary actions is one of the most uproarious moments in the show, seconded perhaps only by her vivid description of the market. Hands down, Louise is phenomenal in the role and packs the playful punches every chance she gets.
Ball, who is larger than life in her character portrayal of Madame Frosine, has quippy zingers that bite and barb when she delivers her asides to the audiences. Like a meddlesome Yente who crosses paths with Dolly Levi, Ball is boisterous, vivacious and truly a hoot on the stage. Her insane lisp for her second act character matches her wild eyes and unnerving facial expressions with rich and racy gusto. The entire play could revolve around Ball and Louise, the only true shame in this production being that the pair have no directly interactive scenes together. Matching Louise’s energy with her brand of enthusiasm, Ball gives the characters a run for their money in her second act character as well as her first. These two fantastic female performers are worth the price of admission alone and will not stop with their antics until everyone is rolling in the aisles with laughter.
Irascible, crabby, curmudgeonly, and downright laughable, Luke Woods as Harpagon, better identified as the show’s title character, is remarkable. Fully embodying the bitter recalcitrant nature of Scrooge himself— if Scrooge had been written into a comedy with irksome children, a garden, and a cashbox— Woods lives up to the moniker bestowed upon his character. But there’s more to Woods’ portrayal than simply being a grumpy old fart who’s obsessed with his fortune. The paranoia that charges through him every time someone mentions the garden is hysterical and the hyper-defensive responses delivered are zany beyond compare. His sense of physical comedy is more than apt for the role, especially once he goes on a full-blown tirade out in the audience. Possessing a remarkable felicity for all things funny, Woods brings the house down with his floor-tossing tantrum in the second act and delivers comic gold in every scene.
Spend your hard earned time and well-earned money on admission to what is shaping up to be the funniest comedy of springtime down at the Twin Beach Players. This production runs a limited engagement of two weekends only, and it would be mighty stingy of you to miss out!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
The Miser plays through April 17, 2016 at The Twin Beach Players in the North Beach Boys & Girls Club— 9021 Dayton Avenue in North Beach, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.