Published in KPBS On Air Magazine October 2005
Power, wealth, greed, duplicity, manipulation. Sounds like a partisan account of the state of the Union. But, more political satire than screed, those are the themes of The Miser, written in 1668 by one of the theater’s greatest comic actor/dramatists, Molière.
While some companies present the play as a simplistic family farce, Dominique Serrand sees it differently. The Paris-born co-artistic director of Minneapolis’ Tony Award-winning Théâtre de la Jeune Lune says The Miser is “a mean play for mean times.” Molière, he says, was “very angry” when he wrote it; his two previous satires, Tartuffe and Dom Juan, had just been censored. ”It’s a very funny play,” the award-winning actor/director admits, “but it’s brutal.”
The choice of The Miser was not random for Serrand. “I always choose a play because of the particular time and how it speaks to the world we live in,” he says. “Right now, we’re in miserable – or should I say Miser-able – times.”
Serrand and his company first came to the La Jolla Playhouse in 1993, with the West coast premiere of their brilliant, eye-popping Children of Paradise: Shooting a Dream. Jeune Lune, which means ‘new moon’ (part of their mission is “looking for the new in the old”), is known for its ebulliently visceral, visually striking productions. The five co-artistic directors studied at the prestigious Lecoq School of Physical Theatre Training in Paris. Every company effort is an ensemble work.
A frequent collaborator, theater scholar David Ball, created the adaptation that’s been called “audacious” and “colorfully liberal, often scatological.” According to Serrand, “it takes some liberties, makes the ideas more contemporary, but we didn’t add anything. The play doesn’t need to be rewritten. Everything it has to say is right there.”
This Jeune Lune presentation, a co-production with Boston’s American Repertory Theatre and the Actors Theatre of Louisville, was described as “deliciously playful yet bitterly dark.” When La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff saw the production, he called it “a stunning visual feast, infusing Molière’s masterpiece with modern vitality, [with] dazzling theatricality and a visionary approach.“ In each city, Serrand welcomes a few local apprentices into the cast; here, several UCSD students will work with this directorial innovator.
Harpagon is at the center of this biting satire. The Miser is a paranoid penny-pincher who’s willing to sacrifice his children for greed. When his plans to marry them off are thwarted, comedic chaos ensues — a whirlwind of love, loss, lies, hidden treasure and mistaken identity.
As the Louisville Courier-Journal put it, “This is a Jeune Lune showcase. On full display is the troupe’s extraordinary talent at weaving acrobatics and clowning with inventive, dramatic acting, to create an exhilarating work unlike anything else.”
[The Théâtre de la Jeune Lune production of The Miser runs at the La Jolla Playhouse, October 11-November 13]
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.