News Column

Review: Cast members spectacular in 'The Miser'

October 5, 2013


Oct. 05--If you can imagine, the year was 1668, more than a century before the Declaration of Independence. A rebellious young Frenchman took to the stage during the reign of King Louis XIV and became one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the theater.

Friday night at the Harbor City Auditorium, we witnessed a dazzling farce, with gorgeous costumes, lots of facial exaggeration and a cast of happily exhausted actors by the time the lights went completely dark.

Director Liz Larson chose to incorporate a lot of posturing, moments in these French plays when the actors clearly milk the audience with all the emotion they can squeeze out. Then the actors turn back into the play and keep the story in motion. In the very modest, sparse venue at Harbor City, it is up to the actors to make this all succeed. Last night the cast was spectacular.

Paul Brissett was L'Avare -- the avaricious man, the Miser -- who was on stage for the entire performance, sometimes mellow and sometimes totally out of control as he watched his precious kingdom crumble around him. His physical stamina was powerful, even as he counted his reclaimed coins and raced off stage as if he still had energy to spare.

The Miser -- Monsieur Harpagon -- has a daughter and a son, and a lot of hoarded coins. He is determined to keep all three close at hand, since parting with any one of them would be a loss. Meanwhile, the son Cleante (Cade Kowalczak) and the daughter Elise (Louisa Guggisberg) have other plans. During the course of the play, they both choose loving partners -- Mariane (Abigail Gilbert) for Cleante, and Valere (Jason Scorich) for Elise. At the same time, Harpagon himself has plans for Mariane, and only the theft of his casket of gold coins creates the possibility of reasonable results.

The coins come to the surface, the Seigneur Anselm (Lawrance Bernabo) turns out to be the father of Valere and Mariane, and the marriages of the young lovers becomes a reality and a family reunion all at the same time.

If you are confused, you are on track -- this is what the French farce of the 17th century was all about, in the marvelous world of Paris and Versailles a century before the revolution took everyone's head off. And this production was stimulating from beginning to end. So many people in the audience were laughing at every turn of the convoluted plot, their ribs were probably as exercised as the actors on stage.

Part of the effectiveness of the whole evening was the interaction with the audience. When Elise said "Oh dear ..." it was clearly for the audience to react. When Cleante says, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no ..." it is the audience that he is really addressing.

Kowalczak was hilarious, being a foot taller than his father, The Miser, and fully dressed in pink formality. His mirror and his love for Mariane dominate the plot. Meanwhile, Scorich, as the pretend servant Valere, is completely believable, sincere and serious about stealing the most precious treasure Harpagon won't admit: his daughter.

By the end of the production, money is as plentiful as the dirt in which it's buried, and love between couples of the same generation is as rich and powerful as it always has been.

Tammy Ostrander as the seductress, Tony Barrett as two sleezy characters, Todd Larson as the magistrate and Jody Kujawa as the very sexy thief of coins and women, kept the momentum of the play at high speed from beginning to end.

There are two performances left, and for the sake of hilarity and high farce, this was as exciting an evening as you'll find anywhere in Duluth this weekend.

Samuel Black is music critic for the News Tribune, and enjoys writing about his colleagues, Paul and Lawrance, when they are in full costume.


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