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The second batch of openings at the Stratford Festival has started with Moliere’s The Miser to be followed by Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Hamlet-911 and 1939.
Moliere’s play is set in 17th century Paris but the Festival is using Ranjit Bolt’s version which places it in modern England. This version was first produced in 1995 at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Director Antoni Cimolino transfers it to Canada with glances at Americans in the audience by making numerous references to local places and people. Hounslow, England becomes Scarborough, Alan Clark becomes our Joe Clark (yes, Joe, who?), and Justin Bieber, Westmount, and the FBI for the Americans are thrown in. Making the play Canadian, even North American, is a wise and a well-executed choice obviating the necessity of searching for an English accent.
The Miser is a play about greed, of course, and the old plotline of young lovers impeded by the old, and clever servants who help love and marriage succeed is very much a part of it. Bolt puts in his own twists to the plot but the essentials of Moliere’s play are there. Harper (Colm Feore) is a pathological miser who keeps his fortune at home because he does not trust banks. His greed has no bounds and the acquisition of more money is his passion.
Here comes the next generation. His daughter Eleanor (Alexandra Lainfiesta) is in love with Victor, “the butler” (Jamie Mac). His social and financial position make him wildly unacceptable but he “saved” her life and is clever enough to hoodwink Harper into appointing him as Eleanor’s chaperon. As for a suitable husband for Eleanor, Harper has chosen one of the richest men in the country, the sixty-year-old Arthur Edgerton (David Collins).
Harper’s son Charlie (Qasim Khan) is in love with the impecunious Maryann and what is worse, Fay the matchmaker (Lucy Peacock) is trying to match Harper with her. The young have no money which is not unusual but they are desperate for the stuff and will do almost anything to acquire it. Greed seems to run in the blood. Harper has money but he is unwilling to part with of any of it. Stay tuned for the unravelling of the plot.
Much of the success of the production relies on Cimolino’s inventive directing and on Colm Feore’s performance as the miser. Cimolino shows his creativity and ability to elicit laughter and keep the audience entertained. For example, when Harper searches “the operator” Fletcher’s (Emilio Vieira) pockets for stolen money he reaches into his pants and …guess what he grabs? The streak of creativity and brilliance runs through the production.
Colm Feore shows remarkable comic talent. He is exceptionally fit and engages in physical comedy and makes a very funny miser. He dances enough to require a choreographer, Adrienne Gould! He brings the house down when he addresses the audience directly (with the house lights on) about the theft of his money. He improvises about thieves wearing masks just like people in the audience who are suspected of doing the heinous deed. Feore carries much of the evening and garners most of the laughter.
Lucy Peacock dressed in leather pants plays the inimitable and greedy matchmaker Fay. She needs money and she must convince Harper to marry the young Marianne (Beck Lloyd) because she just loves older men of his age. Peacock gives an energetic performance as she convinces the old fool to go after a young woman.
Th cook-cum-chauffer Jack (Ron Kennel) is the classic bright scoundrel who knows how to get around Harper. He is greatly attracted to the Detective (Steve Ross) and gets laughs that may be the invention of Cimolino. Kennell is a natural comic and can generate laughs with a simple glance.
The lovers have our full attention because, well, they are lovers and they need to find a way to outsmart and outmaneuver Harper. Eleanor must marry Victor and as fate would have it, we find out that his social and financial status are very high. Khan as Charlie is a nimble youth with a need for money that has no relationship to common sense. He goes to a loan shark through Mr. Simon (Michaek Spencer-Davis) for a hilarious arrangement. But he loves the lovely Marianne who loves him too even though she is prepared to marry Harper.
The set by Designer Julie Fox looks like an antique shop. Fox does not throw anything out.
A well done and highly enjoyable production of a new version of a classic.
The Miser by Moliere in a new version by Ranjit Bolt opened on August 26, 2022, and will run in repertory until October 29, 2022, at the Festival Theatre as part of the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario.

September 16, 2022

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