by Hugh Hunter
“The Miser” by Moliere is still a theater favorite hundreds of years after its creation, and the flashy production now running at Stagecrafters shows you why. Using the translation of David Chambers, director Barbara D. Mills amuses you all night with the angst of Harpagon and his curious entourage.
Harpagon imagines money gives him free rein to marry young Marianne (Julie Roberts) and run roughshod over her love for his own son, Cleante (Dane Lavery). He wants to marry off daughter Elise (Julianne Schaub) to wealthy Anselme (John C. Hill) to boot. But she is in love with Valere (Steve Harding), who masquerades as a servant.
Money, money, money — and Lenny Grossman is born to play the role. As the lusty old satyr, he cackles and gambols all over the stage. Always on the hunt for thieves, Harpagon even creeps into the audience, looking us over with measured suspicion.
Of course, he lives in a miserly house. On yellowing, cracked walls you see crooked stubs of candlesticks and cobwebs in ceiling corners. Upholstered chairs are worn. Several glass panels are broken in the rear French doors that open onto an unpromising, weedy garden where Harpagon buries his treasure chest. (Set design and décor by Scott Killinger, Marie Laster, Barbara D. Mills and Yaga Brady.)
A host of rascals surround the miser, a show in themselves. With colorful costumes, (thanks to Claire Adams (Head), Jen Allegra and Janet Gilmore), vivid as the painted ponies of a carousel, they encircle Harpagon and further provoke his greed.
Close to standup comedy, these actors light up the stage. Frosine (Jen Allegra) is a buxom, conniving go-between. La Fleche (Nolan Maher) and Master Jacques (Dan Shefer) are hilarious lackeys, equally fawning and aggressive. Master Simon, a usurer, and the Chief of Police (both Clint Cleaver) both have their own quirky powers.
Immortal Moliere was a true theater revolutionary. He introduced broad social satire into comedy with plays like “Tartuffe” that attacked pseudo-religious piety (and somehow managed to keep his head). In “The Miser,” he returns to a comedy nearer to Commedia dell ‘arte influences. But here too, Moliere is innovative, infusing stock characters with nuance and complexity.
Especially Harpagon, a man of disparate passions. He lusts after Marianne, enjoys feeling vengeful to those who oppose his will, demands loyalty from servants and filial piety from his children. Thus, Harpagon’s greed goes beyond stock caricature because he is forced to choose what he values most.
And when he does choose, everyone gets what they deserve. Ever the artist iconoclast, Moliere comes up with an ending that lampoons both deus ex machina and the extravagant coincidences of farce comedy. It is laughably preposterous, a fit ending for a Stagecrafters show that has kept you quietly laughing all night.
Stagecrafters Theater is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “The Miser” will run through Dec 10. Reservations and information at 215-247-8881, or www.thestagecrafters.org.