“The Threepenny Opera” offers a unique vision of socio-political unrest

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Photo by Craig Schwartz. THREEPENNY OPERA: Polly (Marisa Duchowny) looks on as Mack the Knife (Andrew Ableson) convinces Crook- Fingered Jack (Abubakr Ali) to rob the wealthy during Queen Victoria’s coronation.

“The Threepenny Opera” musical by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill speaks to the time in which it was first produced in Berlin in 1928, during the socio-political unrest in Weimar Germany, by setting the action at the time of Queen Victoria’s coronation on June 28, 1838 when class struggle between the rich and poor created a sense of real social revolution as the 18 year old monarch took the throne. The procession to and from the ceremony at Westminster Abbey was witnessed by unprecedentedly huge crowds, as the new railways made it easier for an estimated 400,000 to come to London from the rest of the country.  It was the perfect time for pickpockets and beggars to prey upon the unsuspecting throng, pitting the poor against the more well-to-do spectators.

The story begins as Macheath, perfectly embodied by Andrew Abelson as the conniving and oh so handsome Mack the Knife (the famous song opens the show), the nastiest criminal in London, convinces the young and innocent Polly Peachum (Marisa Duchowny whose soaring soprano fills the theater with wonder), to marry him.  In turn, her overbearing father Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum (resoundingly rotund Geoff Elliott), the boss of London’s beggars who gets a cut of their take for training them as well as dressing them to not offend their prey too much, and Polly’s domineering mother (powerful Deborah Strang), beg her to get a divorce. Like any teenager, that just makes Polly stick with her lowly lover even more.

Mack for his part has eluded jail due to his longtime friendship with the Chief of Police “Tiger” Brown (Jeremy Rabb) whose daughter Lucy (Maegan Mconnell) also has designs on Mack, using the oldest trick in the book to try and trap him.  Sexuality in all its forms is a big part of the play, from Polly’s innocence to Mack’s bevy of beautiful prostitutes, led by his former flame Jenny Diver (the incredibly hot, umbrella wielding Stasha Surdyke), dressed to glorify her natural attributes by Angela Balogh Calin whose designs lend a real air of Brechtian off-beat flavor to the entire cast.

While Mack is being entertained by Jenny and her seedy cohorts, he is arrested, put in jail and up for execution, while Peachum unleashes his beggars to ruin Queen Victoria’s coronation. The surprise ending is a bit shocking, but certainly speaks to Brecht letting us know that any social change can only happen when men stop perpetuating wrong with more wrong and try to do the right thing.

“The Threepenny Opera” is nothing short of a groundbreaking work of what is now termed Brechtian Theatre in which the full use of theatricality is on display and the fourth wall is constantly broken, making the audience aware they are watching a play requiring their intellectual reaction to its content rather than reacting emotionally to the characters and their stories.  The current production at A Noise Within plays this to the hilt with actors entering and exiting through the audience, while often leaving the stage to speak or sing directly to a select few on a very personal level.  The audience becomes part of the set, bringing us into the inner circle of Brecht’s finger pointing back at us to examine the social and political unrest of our own time.

The universal theme of social unrest will always be a current topic, no matter where or when the story is set.

“All around the world, Revolution is rearing its head in the forms of civic, social, and political unrest,” says Threepenny director Geoff Elliot. “We take our cue from Brecht himself, who said, ‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.’”

And hammer home his message this production certainly does in the best way possible – engaging the audience from start to finish in the examination how money and sex will always affect mankind.

Kudos to the fantastic seven-piece band conducted by Music Director DeReau K. Farrar for making the dissonant music come alive, inspiring the cast make the difficult score seem like the easiest thing in the world to perform – which it definitely is not.  Adding to the overall magnificence of the production is the movable set designed by Frederica Nascimento, evocative smoky lighting by Ken Booth, and attention-grabbing Hair, Wig and Makeup Design by Gieselle Blair.

Michael Feingold’s English translation of  “The Threepenny Opera” musical by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill continues at A Noise Within through May 17 and is directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott. Ticket prices start at $40 and persons interested can call (626) 356-3100 or visit www.ANoiseWithin.org for performance dates, updated pricing and seat availability. Post-performance conversations with the artists take place on Friday, April 3 at 8 p.m., and Friday, April 24 at 8 p.m.

A Noise Within is located on the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue at 3352 East Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena. Free parking is available in the Metrolink parking lot adjacent to the theater, making the train a very easy way to get there from downtown Culver City.

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