by Lynn on September 27, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ont. Playing until Oct. 29, 2022


Written by Molière

Adapted by Ranjit Bolt in a new version

Directed by Antoni Cimolino

Designed by Julie Fox

Lighting by Lorenzo Savoini

Composed by Steven Page

Sound design by John Gzowski

Choreographed by Adrienne Gould

Cast: Hilary Adams

David Collins

Jakob Ehman

Colm Feore

Ron Kennell

Qasim Khan

John Kirkpatrick

Alexandra Lainfiesta

Beck Lloyd

Jamie Mac

Lucy Peacock

Steve Ross

Michael Spencer-Davis

Emilio Vieira

Hannah Wigglesorth

Molière’s sharp satire about greed, miserliness, jealousy, hypocrisy and one-upmanship. Why then is it played so broadly, as if a farce or pantomime, and is not funny enough except in a few instances?

The Play. Molière wrote The Miser (L’avare in French) in 1668. In Ranjit Bolt’s new adapted version the names of the characters have been anglicized from the French. The whole idea of greed and avarice have not been dulled after more than 400 years.

Harper, (the miser), a wealthy widower doesn’t trust banks so he keeps his money buried in his garden. The greed for money governs everything he does. His grown children, Eleanor and Charlie, are aware that he will want them to marry someone rich or of his choosing but they have other ideas.

Eleanor is in love with Victor, Harper’s butler and he with her. Victor is a courtly man who is unsure who his parents are. But he is almost certain that he, Victor, comes from money. For all of Eleanor’s smarts, confidence and perception, she is all a quiver even thinking of trying to convince her father that she should marry Victor. Charlie is a flamboyant young man taken to extravagant clothing that he can ill-afford and he is in love with and wants to marry, Marianne. The problem is that she lives with and takes care of her ill, poor mother. So Marianne would not be a good match for Charlie or so he assumes his father would say. Both siblings know that if they do marry against their father’s wishes, the fortune they will inherit from their late uncle, will be forfeited because Harper is the administer of the trust for both siblings. To make matters worse, Harper wants to get married again to a much younger woman and he engages Fay, a matchmaker, to find him a wife. Fay also picks Marianne as the intended for Harper, much to the horror of Charlie. Harper wants Eleanor to marry an old, rich friend of his much to her horror. Lots of horrified people here.

The Production.  Designer Julie Fox has created Harper’s great, big, stuff-laden house of doors with broken panes of glass; electronics (tv, radio etc.) that don’t work and are obsolete, threadbare furniture and rugs, but he will not throw them out, fix them, or buy new stuff because he’s too cheap. There is a leak in the ceiling. Harper has put a large tub under the dripping leak. We hear the steady drip.

When the production begins all sorts of people come scurrying from all corners of the stage creating a lot of activity that is dizzying. A person moves the big tub from under the leak and uses the water in the tub to water the large plant over there, stage right. I note that the person doing that is Harper (Colm Feore). How odd, I think, that he doesn’t get a star entrance. But wait. When the stage clears of all the people etc. there is a bit of business with Claudia (Hilary Adams) one of the servants who enters vacuuming. Above her on the balcony is a character who calls the house, Claudia goes to the old phone and answers and the character above her hangs up. She is confused. It happens a few more times. It’s mildly funny. Then when Claudia sees the character above her and realizes what has happened, there is more business and both characters leave to clear the stage, so that Colm Feore as Harper can get his star entrance and people who need to show they know he’s the star, applaud. Odd. Why have Feore enter in a swirl with other characters and not make that a moment? Giving him his moment later, albeit solo, seems an afterthought. Hmmmm?

Feore does look the part of Harper. The hair is long because Harper is too cheap to get it cut. His clothes are threadbare, frayed and have holes in them. Feore plays Harper with great animation, dexterity, athleticism and an almost joyfulness. While I can appreciate that there is no one way to play any part, it strikes me that this Harper is too good natured when considering the lengths he goes to covet his wealth and grab more.

Director Antoni Cimolino is no stranger to comedy or Molière. I’ve seen productions of Cimolino’s that have rung humour from the words, the physicality of the production, the actor’s invention and then built on it. So it is a ‘surprise’, a puzzlement, that his production of The Miser seems so flat. One is heartened to see that Rebecca Northan is his assistant director. She is a master of improvisation and the creation of physical humour. She knows how to set up a joke, as does Cimolino. I can see glimpses of both Cimolino’s and Northan’s input in some physical humour (a scene in which a character is going to give another character mouth-to-mouth resuscitation comes to mind, for example).  But for too much of the production actors tend to bellow and overact, as if they are in a farce and not a satire. Using Molière’s bristling language requires finesse, nuance, subtlety. Too much of this production is lacking it. The humour is forfeited as a result.

I can appreciate that Charlie (Qasim Khan) dresses flamboyantly but I can’t understand why Khan is presenting Charlie as if he is the Dan Levy character in Schitt’s Creek.  As Eleanor, Alexandra Lainfiesta is lively and compelling and never overplays her part.

There are two masters of understatement in this production and they are indeed hilarious. Lucy Peacock as Fay the Matchmaker is a poem of subtlety. Julie Fox dresses her to impress and draw attention. Fay is in a stylish top, black leather pants and black over the knee-suede boots. The ‘look’ says ‘success’ and confidence. At times Peacock reacts with a look and a raised eyebrow. She makes the audience see the physical, quiet humour and that’s very funny.

Late in the production a Detective (Steve Ross) enters—there has been a report of a robbery—and the Detective is there to investigate. He enters slowly. He surveys the people there with suspicion and the most delicious underplaying. He gets a round of applause (perhaps because people recognize his from his stunning performance in Chicago) or they are just showing ‘the love’ for a consummate comedian. In any case Steve Ross plays the Detective with a look of bemusement, confusion, understatement, and a slow look that is hilarious. Peacock and Ross are playing the words when a lot of the others in the production are playing the physicality, perhaps thinking the result of humour would be the same. It’s not.  

 Comment. A play that is so often very funny, comes off as flat because of overplaying, bellowing the lines and thus stepping on the humour. This is an uneven production of The Miser, unfortunately.

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until: Oct. 29, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours (1 intermission)

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