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The Miser

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 1/21/2004

The Miser

David Schweizer

Center Stage's world premiere of a new translation of Molière's The Miser is a disaster, but the blame cannot be laid on the adapter. James Magruder--the longtime Baltimorean who did such a terrific job translating another French farce, Pierre Marivaux's The Triumph of Love--has been very free in adapting this 1668 comedy, and much of what he has come up with is inspired. He is only a rewrite or two away from giving us a wonderfully irreverent update of Molière's play.

Only some of the blame can be put on the cast. From the star--Tom Mardirosian, in the title role (pictured, right) once played by Molière himself--to the bit parts, the performers throw themselves into the show with energy and invention. In fact, they bring a bit too much energy and invention, for they pursue laughs so relentlessly that the story and characters are often trampled in the chase.

That's why most of the responsibility for this fiasco must be heaped on director David Schweizer. He allows his actors and actresses to play so broadly and to mug so shamelessly that any illusion that these are real people in real situations is utterly lost. Because Molière's comedy springs from character, the result is not more laughs but fewer.

Mardirosian is the worst offender. He's Harpagon, the stingy merchant who keeps his children in penury, who plots to marry off his daughter to a man who expects no dowry, and who plans to marry his son's girlfriend in hopes of getting her dowry. To be funny, Harpagon must seem totally committed to his obsession with money. But Mardirosian gives us an overstated, vaudevillian double take after each punch line, as if to let us know that he doesn't believe a word of what he's saying. It's funny the first time, but it soon becomes tedious. The same is true of the actor's ever-changing accents, his exaggerated mood swings, and his waddling imitation of Danny DeVito's Penguin.

Almost as bad is Charles Daniel Sandoval as Harpagon's son Cléante (pictured, left). Sandoval is so over-the-top campy that he seems to be rolling his eyes at his own professions of love. But if you don't believe that he's really in love, most of the jokes don't work. As his sister Elise and as the matchmaker Frosine, Kate Guyton and June Gable are similarly undisciplined. Only Trent Dawson as Elise's suitor Valère and Dan Cordle as Cléante's valet seem to have ever heard of the concept of understatement.

Center Stage mounted a wonderful version of The Miser in 1982, and the folks there might do an even better one with a rewritten Magruder script. But only if they find a director more interested in theater than TV sketch comedy.

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