KPBS AIRDATE: October 21, 2005
Parents sell off their children like chattel, but the audience gets the last laugh. There’s a whole lotta classic comedy going on. “The Miser” was written in 1668 and “The Mikado” in 1885 – but both still have a lot to say… about power, greed, duplicity, manipulation and ludicrous leaders. Now, the producers of these timeless social satires have made it their business to point up the relevance by adding topical references. One production punches up the fun and farcical side, while the other underscores the dark undertones.
To present Molière’s “The Miser,” the La Jolla Playhouse has brought in the brilliant Théâtre de la Jeune Lune, winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater. They last visited from Minneapolis in 1993, with their magnificent and unforgettable “Children of Paradise: Shooting a Dream.” Now they’re back, with an equally eye-popping and provocative production. The gifted director, Dominique Serrand, told me he always chooses a play by its significance to our state of affairs. Right now, he said, we’re in miserable – or more like Miser-able – times. The title character hoards and loves money above everything. He practically sells off his children to the highest bidder. And he suspects everyone – including the audience – of trying to rob him. In this gorgeous, precise production, we see, as we do every day in the news, the disturbing consequences of avarice and financial paranoia. The house is crumbling; the servants are starving. Everything is in faded tatters. To this brutally beautiful image of off-white decay, Jeune Lune adds its stupendous physicality and a striking, scatological translation of the play by their long-time collaborator, David Ball. This piece is so magnificent to behold, you could see it twice: once just to focus on the visual genius and again so you don’t miss a word.
Now, “The Mikado” is a horse of a very different color. Though set in feudal Japan, adorned with gentle landscapes and colorful kimonos, this most popular of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas is skewering English society, with its insurmountable bureaucracy, entrenched aristocracy and nonsensical laws. For its inaugural production in the stunningly restored North Park Theatre that will now be its home, Lyric Opera San Diego has mounted an attractive and amusing “Mikado,” co-produced with Light Opera Oklahoma. The costumes are lovely, and the singing is strong. Lisa Archibecque is vocally outstanding as the airheaded Yum-Yum, love object of Nanki-Poo, the disguised son of the leader of Japan, who’s escaping a contracted marriage to the harridan, Katisha. When the Lord High Executioner sings of his “Little List” of potential victims, the topical references fly, from indicted Councilmen and ill-equipped Supreme Court nominees to those who persist in saying ‘nucular.’
Two varied views of who we are, and some beautiful sights to see.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.