The Ballad of the Prisoner of his Own Sexuality . . .or The Threepenny Opera
REVIEW: THREE PENNY OPERA, A NOISE WITHIN THEATER
By RYAN M. LUÉVANO
The Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill 1928 classic The Threepenny Opera makes it’s way to A Noise Within Theater in Pasadena, a production that permeates with high theater values and purpose. “Money rules the world!,” “Show us the legs that men admire,” from the moment you enter the theater these are among the mottos the cast members shout as they are scatted throughout the room, while the main ensemble sits on stage shouting too, in only half costume, then gradually getting dressing as the show’s opening draws near. Thus, before the show begins we realize, the stage is a stage and actors are actors, but maybe we should pay attention anyway—Brechtian theater ideals at their finest.
Set in Victorian London this production is expertly designed and staged. Director’s Julia Rodriguez-Elliot and Geoff Elliot have clearly considered not only the tale at hand but also the historical context, while still making this opera palatable to modern audiences. Although originally written in German this production uses the translated libretto of Michael Feingold, providing understanding of the text featuring English operetta sentimentalities through clever rhyme and banter. The overall staging of this piece is an immersive experience as the cast is free to roam about the audience via the thrust stage and platforms that extend into the audience.
The set design by Frederica Nascimento offers creative, economic and minimalist sentimentalities that make the use of set pieces organically in the context of the show. Wheel, wheels, wheels—all the sets pieces are on wheels making scene changes quick and often unnoticed. A ladder becomes a horse or a scaffold as audiences are invited to use their imagination to fill in the blanks, as set pieces are often only representative of what they mean to be—effective and stunning.
The cast are a superb collection of actors, each grittier than the next, creating an authentic community of poor, depraved, and corrupt souls. From the onset Mr. and Mrs. Peachum (Geoff Elliot and Deborah Strang) lead the pact with their appropriately cutting vocal style and honest portrays of the slimy businessman and his greedy wife. Their daughter Polly Peachum (Marisa Duchowny) is the belle of the show seducing the audience to hang on her ever word. . . soprano notes. Duchowny relays her lost innocence in her rendition of “Barbara Song,” a performance that is full of sweet notes, sexuality and exhilaration. Later in the show the “Jealousy Duet” with Lucy Brown (Stasha Surdyke) offers another unforgettable moment as these two exquisite sopranos duel with their soaring voices. If Lakme’s “Flower Duet” is for gathering flowers, then this “Jealously Duet” is for throwing those flowers and stomping them in the ground. With so many talented women in this production Macheath’s (Andrew Ableson) appropriately charismatic performance is certainly in competition with these two leading ladies.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
Music director DeReau K. Farrar successfully leads the seven-piece orchestra and cast in this operatic work. Just like the English can tell a great deal about a person from their accent, a conductor’s conducting style offers much information about their musical background. Thus, based on Farrar’s conducting style, he was perhaps a drum major at some point in his life and today more confortable in a choral conductor as his fingers beg for more minute expressions than holding a baton can offer.
A Noise Within Theater’s rendition of The Three Penny Opera is simply put sensational as all the parst come together to bring this tale to life. Unlike the fate of Don Giovanni Macheath is miraculously saved by the king in a classic deus ex machina fashion reminding the audience, as the banner that hangs over the stage in the finale proclaims: “Be careful how you punish the wrong, for surely cold-hearted deeds will freeze and die away. Remember that our life on earth is purely a dark place where sorrow cries all day.”