Review: ‘The Miser’ at Faction of Fools

Faction of Fools is delightfully back with a well-concocted, refreshing, street-fair fare of Moliere’s The Miser. This happy show is one with a pointed, underscored, right-on-the-surface message about the foibles of the rich and powerful. Under the disciplined direction of Toby Mulford, five actors take on almost a dozen disparate roles, both as masked and unmasked characters. It is clear that the ensemble is having a great time onstage bringing joy to their patrons.

Jane Enabore, Rachel Spicknall Mulford, Kathryn Zoerb, Clayton Pelham and Toby Mulford. Photo by Teresa Wood Photography.
Jane Enabore, Rachel Spicknall Mulford, Kathryn Zoerb, Clayton Pelham and Toby Mulford. Photo by Teresa Wood Photography.

The Miser is fast foolishness with this message: those above us can be fooled with misdirection so “we” get what we think we want. Just show some insincere love and kisses, and voila, “they” will give us what we think we want.  As Mulford wrote in his The Miser program notes, “Given that things are the way that they are, how do I get what I want?”

The Miser is Commedia dell’arte for these contemporary times of real life political buffoonery, so don’t despair with the current world, even with Metro’s current turmoil. The Miser shows a way around bad situations all devised by Moliere some 450 years ago. Use flattery to get what you want. And here we thought we were so “sui generis” and hip.

The Faction of Fools’ production is based upon Moliere’s pointed – yet playfully – off-center 1668 work about a man and his money. Money is all that matters to this foolish 60+ year old man with great hair and a big opinion of himself. He is a supposed multi-billionaire (well, in his times) who makes sure everyone knows he is well-off, thought he doesn’t dress so. Family and friends are secondary to his loot and how it makes him feel.

This Faction of Fools take on Moliere comes with a new translation of the original French script with lightning-fast dialogue accomplished by a contemporary scholar of French literature. The scholar is George Mulford.  He is the dad of the Faction of Fools’ Artistic Director Toby Mulford.

With new translation in hand, Director Toby Mulford animated his cast with a full array of zany servants, devious children, lovers and other strangers, and of course – the aforementioned tight-fisted, paterfamilias with dough who thinks himself still young and virile. The old man is called Harpagon (a name adapted from the Latin harpago, meaning a hook or grappling iron).

Playing each role, the actors are clearly well-rehearsed and adept with physical comedy, as well skillful line delivery even when the pace of their movements quickens to include leaps and bounds over furniture and each other. They don’t miss much of a dialogue beat (whether delivered by voice or ASC) even when they take deep looks down baggy pants, fall into stage faints, or generate on-stage chaos.

So, the plot is kinda this: Harpagon (Toby Mulford in straight-man delivered bon mots) loves to caress his money while taking potshots at his family and servants. Now a widower he is soon fighting with his son (Clayton Pelham, Jr. as a smooth-talking lad) as a rival for the affections of a young woman named Mariane (played with wide-eyed, good-cheer innocence of Jane Enabore, a Gallaudet grad in her Faction of Fools debut). Hapragon’s own young daughter Elise (Rachel Spicknall Mulford with a buoyant, clever style) also is in a battle with her father over the man she loves and wants to marry, Valiere (a gamin Kathryn Zoerb who even standing still gives off a tremendous radiance of subversive joy).

Adding to this, there are servants and others played to a ‘fare-thee-well’ by Pelham, Mulford, and Zoerb that add to the mayhem. This is accomplished both physically and with witty dialogue combined with slapstick showdowns, and wonderful use of American Sign Language (ASL, which adds covert ways for some characters to mock others or get their points across to the audience.

And the audience gets to take part as the show winds down. In one of the last scenes, when asked by the police whom he suspects toke his money, Harpagon answers, “Everybody!”  With that, the house lights go up and the audience has to defend itself. How you may ask? Well now, that would ruin it for you.

The costumes by Lynly Saunders, especially the sneakers and other foot wear; the minimalist, worthy two-level set design by Daniel Flint; lighting by David Ghatan and sound design by Mehdi Raoufi  – give the actors a playspace to enjoy. I would be remiss if I did not give kudos to ASL sign interpreters of Krystin Balzarini and Mary Beth Morgan who added their own rich textures to the production.

As always with a Faction of Fools production there are beautifully constructed masks. In this case the masks were developed by the workshop of international mask craftsman Newman.

The Miser is timeless, especially for those who wish to escape from what annoy or depress in the current outside world. The Faction of Fools production will best attune with those who want high-energy, broad, physical comedy with many a noisy slap, some clown horns and sight gag chaos. Do I have quibbles? Of course I do. Moliere wrapped up his proceedings too tightly so each character is happy and gets their way. Also the production took a bit of time getting to the curtain with what felt tacked-on and long-winded. But so what.

Rachel Spicknall Mulford and Clayton Pelham. Photo by Teresa Wood Photography.
Rachel Spicknall Mulford and Clayton Pelham. Photo by Teresa Wood Photography.

The Miser may be lifted from a long ago Commedia dell’arte work, but it resonates still as a way to mock. I was in a mood for scampering about a stage, and watching vaudeville-like characters – all without deep dramatic subtext.

Yup, tell people what they want to hear you get what you want. Then again flattery works both ways if we aren’t careful and pay attention. So if you are up for the not subtle and not quiet, as I was the evening I saw the production, drive to the tucked away at Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre. There you will find entertainment with baggy-pants humor, choreographed movement worthy of the best clowns at the circus, shuffling gait “old-man” routines, and scenes worthy of Snapchat vids.

As I left, my only wish: some street-truck vendors in the parking lot to further enjoy myself with a cannoli or zeppole or angel wings. Maybe next time.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Miser plays through Sunday, June 26, 2016 at Faction of Fools Theatre Company performing at Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre (Elstad Annex) – 800 Florida Avenue, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 838-3006, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

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Select performances are ASL Interpreted:

Friday June 3rd at 8:00 pm
Saturday June 11th at 8:00 pm
Sunday June 26th at 2:00 pm

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 Open Captioning is available upon request. Appropriate for ages 7 and up.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif

1 COMMENT

  1. Saw this show last night and watch it explode into hilarity as the actors followed zany plot lines and darted in and out of character and costumes. The last quarter of improvisation by Mulford and his cast was an air-balloon ride of joy. The cast often defied gravity, leaping onto tables and onto each other. Only two more performances!

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