Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of The Miser, performed at the outdoor patio of Reynolds Tavern, is a fun farce of a French play. Written by Molière, and first performed in 1668, the comedy still gets great laughs today, especially in this version directed by Sally Boyett.
Dexter Hamlett plays Harpagon, the miser of the title, with great gruffness. He shuffles onstage, using a cane to support himself. Deeply worried about people taking his money, he is constantly looking around, waiting for disaster to strike, while unwittingly giving them the opportunity to steal it. Finding his son Cleante (Ian Charles) trying to borrow money, he strikes the young man with his cane. He frisks his son’s servant La Fleche (Nate Ruleaux), striking him when a bag of money drops out. Having arranged to marry the much younger Mariane (Shubhangi Kuchibhotla), he sits next to her on a bench, wearing old-man spectacles, trying to seduce his would-be bride. Trying to dance, he gets a coughing fit. When he discovers that his money is missing, he collapses to the ground in tears, swearing to hang the entire world to recover it, “and if that doesn’t work,” he yells, “I’ll even hang myself!” At the end, finding his treasure chest, he kneels in front of it, counting each coin to make sure it’s all there.
Ian Charles plays Cleante as a fop, with an exaggerated style. He faints into his sister Elise’s (Bethany Mayo) arms on learning his father plans to marry. Upon discovering that Mariane, whom he loves, is Harpagon’s intended, he races to the edge of the stage in fear, uttering that to be her stepson would be “unmentionable.” His conversation with Mariane, with Harpagon among them, is filled with puns and double meanings. He distracts his father as La Fleche hurries away with the miser’s chest of money.
Bethany Mayo gives great passion to Elise, Harpagon’s daughter. She defies her father’s order for her to marry Seigneur Anselm (Nate Ruleaux), frantically trying to wave off her secret lover Valere (Clay Vanderbeek) when he is brought in to determine who is correct. At the start of the play, she embraces Valere, tenderly holding his hand, and spinning when he exits. She and Cleante try to sneak behind Harpagon as he first enters.
Clay Vanderbeek plays Valere, Harpagon’s valet, with great cunning. He tries to dissuade Harpagon from marrying Elise to Anselm, calling the idea “outrageous.” He brings Elise to her knees, then turns her around, as though she were praying. Leading her offstage, he spanks her bottom. He suggests that the true genius of a cook is to make a fabulous meal for a party while using no money, an appealing idea to Harpagon.
Christine Asero plays Frosine with both cunning and strength. Employed by Harpagon to arrange a courtship with Mariane, she flatters him that she would make an excellent wife, remarking that she keeps busts of Socrates and Homer in her bedroom and despises young men who don’t wear spectacles. Bringing Mariane to meet Harpagon, she makes the case that one of the virtues of marrying him is that he’ll die soon. She yells in frustration when Mariane and Cleante declare their love, seeing her money-making opportunity slip from her grasp. She still helps them when they find a plan to stop the impending marriage. She pushes La Fleche off when he fondles her from behind, and grimaces when he kisses her.
Shubhangi Kuchibhotla gives Mariane a sweet innocence. She shies away from Harpagon as he inches towards her on a bench. She agrees that to have Cleante as her stepson would be “unmentionable.” When Harpagon exits, she embraces Cleante, then dances with him as Harpagon returns.
Nate Ruleaux is a hoot in three roles: La Fleche, Harpagon’s servant Jacques, and Anselm. As La Fleche, he desperately looks for a place to hide Harpagon’s money and reads out the conditions for Cleante’s loan. As Jacques, he gets into a shoving match with Valere, landing onto the bench, and renounces honesty. As Anselm, he speaks with authority, commanding the stage and giving information that ties up all the loose ends.
Sandra Spence has done great work as Costume Designer, ensuring each character has a distinctive look. Valere wears a white ruffled collar and cuffs, a long pink vest, gray pants and a black coat. Elise has a green dress and collar, while Cleante looks elegant in a long green vest and pants, with a white coat. Harpagon looks quite somber in a dark blue jacket, black pants, and black ruffled cuffs. La Fleche is dressed all in brown, from his short, baggy pants, to his vest and hat. Mariane wears a pink and white dress with a white lace bonnet. Frosine has a gold and white dress. Seigneur Anselm wears a brown coat and black tri-corner hat.
Sally Boyett does wonderful work as both Director and Sound Designer. Several comedic sound effects are played throughout the production, from a crow cawing every time someone mentions Harpagon’s “20,000 crowns,” to a somber violin playing as Valere, Mariane, and Anselm dramatically reveal their pasts. The actors use every part of the outdoor setting, hiding a chest behind the tree in the middle, and sneaking behind the tables. They engage with audience members, invoking them to support their arguments. They seem to be constantly moving, twirling each other around, or trying to run away. They deliver Molière’s lines naturally and easily, getting the timing and emphasis just right. They are excellent with both physical and verbal comedy. The show proves what can be done on an unconventional stage with a minimum of props. It’s a fun way to spend a summer Tuesday evening!
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.