THE THREEPENNY OPERA (Villanova): Brecht played louder than the music

Republished by kind permission from Neals Paper.

threepenny-opera-villanovaKurt Weill’s insistent tingel-tangel score for THE THREEPENNY OPERA pervades the Vasey Hall stage, with horns and drum pumping to a martial beat that sometimes turns lyrical and satirically elegant.

Weill pervades, but Bertolt Brecht prevails in Valerie Joyce’s production for Villanova Theatre. More than usually, Brecht’s story of corruption and graft, in which the feared murderous thief Macheath is little worse, and certainly more romantic and courtly, than allegedly honest businessmen or chiefs of police, takes primary focus, and quite entertainingly. Joyce maintains  THE THREEPENNY OPERA as a play with music, employing several of Brecht’s alienating techniques in pointed introductions, use of signs, and an oft-present and always amusing moon, but allowing individual scenes to settle poignantly, so the wit and venom with which Brecht endows his comedy emerges as fully as that amusing moon, and the story of Macheath, Polly Peachum, and Mackie’s other wenches/wives takes firm and welcome hold.

Joyce uses music as an enhancement, a diversion that underscores what is being acted, just as Brecht may have philosophically intended. A number or two soars or adds to the complexity or tone of a scene, but in general, for Joyce and company, the play’s the thing, and they present it delightfully with touches of sparkle and effervescence. You sense the sincerity and duplicity in Stephen Tornetta’s Macheath, who is nonchalantly honest about being a rogue, a cut-throat, and one whose appetites need three women or more to fulfill him, Tornetta conveys an ease and a sweetness that explains why Mackie is attractive and why people, and especially women, even treacherous women, will do his bidding.

Throughout Joyce’s production, set designer Daniel P. Boylen is able to transform Vasey’s open set into the exact location Brecht requires. Peachum’s shop, Macheath’s decorated stable, Brown’s jail, and Jenny’s brothel all look detailed and authentic with just enough pieces to form the needed impression. Of course, the solid row of bars and the iron bench is the prison scenes is a tad more formidable than the other settings.

Janus Stefanowicz exercises her usual wit in providing the costumes. I especially liked the bridal dress in which Polly spends almost the entire show, and the natty but just-one-touch-off-from-Beau Brummell suit for Mr. Peachum is proper and funny simultaneously. Peter A. Hilliard oom-pahed the right sound to indicate Weill’s Weimar roots. John Stovicek’s sound design and Jerold R. Forsyth’s lighting served the production well. Read full review >> [Vasey Hall, Lancaster Avenue and Ithan Streets, Villanova, PA] April 14-26, 2015;

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