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The Miser: a rich confection
IPFW brings Moliere’s classic farce into the 1920s
By Jan Krist-Finkbeiner
Fort Wayne Reader
The dictionary tells us that a farce is “a light, humorous play in which the plot depends upon a skillfully exploited situation.” In The Miser, Molière has created a veritable layer cake of skillfully exploited situations all careening toward one delicious disaster.
Craig A. Humphrey, both director and costume designer for The Miser, along with the production’s design team, chose to pull Molière’s rollicking farce out of the 1600s into the roaring 1920’s. “When I started looking at The Miser, I didn’t want to leave the play set in the 1600’s,” explained Humphrey. “Costumes are outrageous from that era, one of the most lavish eras in history, not to mention the acting style of the 1600’s. I was looking for a way to keep it more accessible to modern audiences and remembered Scott’s version.”
Virginia Scott, who translated this particular version of The Miser, moved the play to New York in the 1920’s. “The 20’s are one of the last eras where this plot would still work without having to make a lot of changes,” said Humphrey. “But to me it’s very French. It’s Molière, so I wanted to keep it in France.”
The most important layers of this cake involve the actors. While casting the play, Humphrey was looking for a combination of willingness on the part of the actors to go all out for the comedy and also project a sense of 1920’s style. When we think of Paris most of us think romance and fashion. Humphrey’s costume designs drip with the kind of 1920s sophistication and style that would make any young flapper swoon.
There are no sweeter layers to this dessert than romance, on which everything hinges. Molière comes through with a full spectrum of innocence, passion, loyalty and obsession. Everyone, it seems, is obsessed over a small metal lock box where the miser keeps his precious money. The Miser has a fair amount of physical comedy sprinkled into the mix including dueling umbrellas and a desperately manic search for the stolen lock box.
Jeff Moore, who earned a B.F.A. in theatre and communications from Eastern Michigan University, is well known to Fort Wayne theatre audiences as “a guy who goes big.” Moore’s portrayal of Harpagon, the miser himself, draws on his capacity to sustain energy and create interest. In playing Harpagon, he brings the full weight of his experience and considerable talents to bear.
“By the time Harpagon comes out on stage, 15 minutes of dialogue have already passed. And they say terrible things about Harpagon and you’re asking yourself…is that true?” explains Moore. “So when I come out there, I have to be all that and more. He’s a bully. Harpagon is greed personified.”
The role of Harpagon is one he has had his eye on for years. Moore first became aware of The Miser in high school at a speech competition. Another competitor, who was really good, read several excerpts from the play and Moore thought they were silly, fun, and interesting characters that still talk to us, much like our own sitcoms today.
Kearstyn Keller, a senior theatre major at IPFW, brings her own brand of 1920’s spunk and spice to the role of Élise, Harpagon’s daughter. Keller only recently became aware of Molière when she read The Miser for a class. She found it easy to identify with Élise, a young woman coming into her own, straining at the bonds of parental oversight.
Keller prepared for her role by watching silent films from the 1920’s. “I wanted to emulate some of their style, sway and manor,” says Keller. “My costume has a drop waist so I wanted to lead with my hips, the way those silent film stars did and try to project that kind of confidence through Élise.”
It’s that very confidence combined with Keller’s buoyant energy, which serves as a lovely frosting to the dark, rich, curmudgeonly banter of Harpagon.
Each character adds a sticky new layer of deception perched perilously atop the last. The pace accelerates allowing the audience to pause only occasionally to catch their breath. Meanwhile, the whole beautiful mess slides ever closer to a scrumptiously hilarious conclusion, while this wonderful cast makes it all look like a piece of cake.
IPFW Department of Theatre presents The Miser
Fridays September 28 and October 5 at 8 PM
Thursday October 4 at 8 PM
Saturdays September 29 and October 6 at 8 PM
Sunday October 7 at 2 PM (sign language performance)
IPFW North Campus
2101 E. Coliseum Blvd
Admission for IPFW students with I.D. is free
$14 Adults; $12 Seniors/Faculty/Staff/Alumni; $10 Groups of 10 or more; $5 Students 18 and under; $10 Other “college” students with ID
Children under 6 will not be admitted
Please arrive early. Latecomers will be seated at the discretion of management or at intermission.
The IPFW Box Office in the Athletic Center room 126 is open Monday-Friday, 12:30 – 6:30 p.m. Patrons are encouraged to call in advance to reserve their tickets.
Box Office: 260-481-6555
For information call the IPFW Box Office at 260-481-6555 or visit ipfw.edu/theatre