OjaiACT mounts production of Moliere’s classic play
When: Through April 28. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Ojai ACT, 113 S. Montgomery Street, Ojai
Information: (805) 640-8797 or www.ojaiact.org
Paul Sulzman last directed a play in 1997, a production of Moliere’s The Miser in Marin County. After that he turned his attention to teaching dance and acting professionally. But now he’s back to direct again and, surprisingly enough, having another crack at “The Miser,” in a production at OjaiACT that runs through next Sunday.
Moliere’s 17th century comedy never really goes out of fashion, as its central concern–greed and avarice–continues to plague our world. But so does laughing at terrible people, and OjaiACT’s production offers a lot of that.
“First and foremost it’s a very silly comedy of broad characters in very recognizable situations,” Sulzman says. “The play itself brought me to (this production) and the opportunity to bring some disciplined movement and attention to text was why I wanted to explore this production again.”
OjaiACT likes to mount a classic play each season, and Sulzman said “The Miser” jumped out at him as the obvious choice. “It’s a real friendly (adaptation)” of the French play he says. “I thought the audience would appreciate it.”
His actors spent a month getting the language and the particular body movements correct, the latter an added ingredient that comes out of his dance background. “The extra length of time gave the actors and advantage and become more used to each other,” he says. “We pay great attention to how our characters walk and move…Sometimes focusing on movement informs how an actor sees a character and how they deliver their lines.”
The central character, the Miser, is Harpagon, played by Cecil Sutton.
“We were very lucky to get him,” Sulzman says. “He worked really hard to master this part and he didn’t have a tremendous amount of time.” Sulzman knows Sutton from years past when he taught Cecil and his wife how to tango for a play.
“He has a wonderful ability to use his body in this very physical and stylized comedy…And he’s come up with a lot of great comedic inventions during rehearsals.”
But so have the rest. Lee Ann Manley plays the matchmaker Frosine, and she and Sutton get a brilliant scene sparring with each other. Jessi May Stevenson plays the young Marianne, who Harpagon wants to marry, despite her betrothed to Harpagon’s son. Kallie Ann O’Connor plays the daughter Elise, who is in love with Valere, played by Jeremy Bryson.
Also featured is Ron Feltner as the cook and the coachman; Len Klaif as Anselme, the older suitor to Elise; Michael McCarthy as La Flèche; Daniel Mitchell as Harpagon’s son Cleante; Don Gaidano, Doug Knott, and Bill Spellman
“There’s great chemistry between all the actors,” Sulzman says. “They’ve been feeding off each other and giving to each other.”
“The Miser” still works because of its roots in commedia del’arte, he says, as those broad and iconic characters continue to pop up in our comedies, no matter how recent. But it’s also how the play skewers stinginess.
“There are people who have all the money and they’re frightened that people are going to take it away,” Sulzman says. “The play is a microcosm of what we deal with today.”