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A CurtainUp Review
The Threepenny Opera
As we live by the Muses, it is but a Gratitude in us to encourage Poetical Merit wherever we find it. The Muses, contrary to all other Ladies, pay no Distinction to Dress, and never partially mistake the Pertness of Embroidery for Wit, nor the Modesty of Want for Dulness. Be the Author who he will, we push his Play as far as it will go.
---Introduction to John Gay's The Beggar's Opera,
the source of The Threepenny Opera
Chad Suitts and Amy Lee Williams
C. Suitts and A. Williams
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
This theater season, there are three productions of this Brecht-Weill classic within CurtainUp's scope. (A Broadway-star studded one, at Williamstown this past summer, is reviewed in these pages (link below). The other is scheduled at the Roundabout, and will likely be a lavish star-filled production as well.) If one wishes to see the show in a production adhering to the sensibilities of the original material (Brecht's Street Singer invokes the same sense of modesty as Gay's introduction quoted above), that will be found only in this production. (Indeed, the Roundabout version likely will be quite different, as it will utilize a new adaptation of the book by Wallace Shawn.)

Director David Fuller seizes on the piece's intended nature and thereby exploits the inherent limitations of the Bouwerie Lane Theatre to great advantage. As the production opens, the audience sees the exterior of an even smaller theater, the façade of which splits to reveal the multi-level set on which the play will be performed. (Fuller also uses the aisles and exits extensively, and at appropriate times the audience finds itself brought into the show as Peachum's beggars panhandle those well-connected enough to be sitting on the aisle.)

That Fuller is able to fit the action on the stage is due in no small measure to Roman Tatorwicz's set, which manages to squeeze a remarkable number of nooks and crannies into a very small space and give it precisely the grimy look it ought to have. At times, it nonetheless seems too cluttered with set pieces; a little more simplicity and a little less verisimilitude would have made for a better balance. Giles Hogya's often shadowy lighting suits the show well.

How well one is satisfied with this production will depend largely on one's willingness to accede to its unlofty aspirations. Weill's superb score is rendered entirely on a piano. (Even the herald's trumpet calls announcing the pendant coronation is a keyboard flourish here.) The singing voices of the repertory company members are a mixed bag: none inadequate but only a few rising above average. If you can manage your expectations appropriately, as I did, this production will reward you well.

The cast for this production relies heavily on relative newcomers to the company. Of the Cocteau long-term veterans, only Elise Stone has a major role (as Jenny). Her performance is robust, though singing is clearly not her strong suit. (In particular, her "Song of Solomon" is disappointing.) The brightest lights in this show are three young actors making their Cocteau debut: Amy Lee Williams, who plays and sings both edges of Polly well; Natalie Ballesteros, who gives us a fine Lucy Brown; and Chad Suitts as the dashing, handsome rogue Macheath. The older generation is well-represented by Angus Hepburn and Marlene May as the Peachum parents, and Abe Goldfarb as Tiger Brown.

There are few shows that open with a song as infectious as "The Ballad of Mack the Knife". Go and let it draw you in. You'll be comforted, as you watch other more elaborate takes on the show, that you're informed of the genuine article.

Threepenny Opera in the Berkshires

The Threepenny Opera
Book and lyrics by Bertholt Brecht
Music by Kurt Weill
English Adaptation by Marc Blitzstein
Directed by David Fuller
with Natalie Ballesteros, Harris Berlinsky, Danny Dempsey, Eileen Glenn, Abe Goldfarb, Angus Hepburn, Kate Holland, Brian Lee Huynh, Marlene May, Sara Mayer, Timothy McDonough, Joey Piscopo, Elise Stone, Chad A. Suitts and Amy Lee Williams
Set Design: Roman Tatorwicz
Costume Design: Joanne Haas
Lighting Design: Giles Hogya
Musical Director: Charles Berigan
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Bouwerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery (@Bond)
A production of Jean Cocteau Repertory
Telephone: (212) 677-0060
WED @ 7, THURS - SAT @8; SUN @3, in repertory with Lysistrata beginning October 24; $40-50 (with discounts as low as $15 for student, senior and rush tickets), consult website for schedule and pricing details
Opening September 7, 2003, closing November 23, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 9/5/03 performance

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metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
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