One way to take a break from the greed, inflexibility and paranoia of the present political season is to take in the greed, inflexibility and paranoia of The Miser.
It’s all played for laughs in Moliere’s play about a rich, old tightwad named Harpagon who tries to control his children’s lives in the interest of parting with as little money as possible.
A two-weekend run of The Miser starts today.
In the title role is a man who is so regularly cited by those in the know as one of the best actors in the area that few would argue with the assertion: Jeff Moore.
Moore says college grads who have bad memories of Moliere’s work from dreary translations and dry lectures in core courses need to purge themselves of preconceptions.
This play does not have high literary pretensions, he says. It’s pure pedal-to-the-metal slapstick.
There is no higher theme such as Greed is bad’ or Love is good,’ Moore says. It’s not deep in that way.
Stopping to think about this play is a little like pausing in the middle of the road with a truck bearing down on you, Moore says.
Harpagon may not often be ranked among the theater’s greatest roles, but it’s an undeniably juicy one. Moore says he really doesn’t feel like he has anything left to prove on stage, but Harpagon called out to him.
When I saw this on the sked, he says, a little cash register went off in my head. It became a bucket list role for me.
Preparing to play a broadly comic character is not as different from fitting out a dramatic role as some might assume, Moore says. If an actor goes on stage intending to be funny, chances are he’ll be disappointed and disappointing, Moore says.
Actors must find the honesty of the character, Moore says, and must commit to telling the truth of (the) world in which the character lives.
There are contemporary acting teachers who will tell you that you have to find something to love about a character, he says. I don’t know if that’s exactly true, but it helps.
I can look at Harpagon and think, What a jerk,’ Moore says. But at the same time, he’s a delicious jerk.
He’s that guy who does and says all the things we all secretly want to do and say, he says. He does and says all the delicious, wonderful, self-serving things we don’t get to do and say in real life.
Moore says winking and nudging to let the audience know you are in on the joke is a strategy with a poor rate of success for actors.
I don’t mind the audience laughing at Harpagon and laughing with Harpagon, but I don’t want them to be laughing with me, if that makes any sense, he says.
Laughter is the desired outcome, however, regardless of the groundwork’s sobriety of mien.
In the back of our minds, we know it’s supposed to be a comedy and we’re hoping to God that there’s laughter in the audience, Moore says. The first time we hear a laugh, we all breath a sigh of relief, he says.
Harpagon isn’t Moliere’s sole parody target in the play, Moore says. Moliere also pokes fun at overly idealistic young lovers. Basically he pokes anything worth poking, Moore says.
There are elements of the 17th century play, such as arranged marriages and dowries, that aren’t as ubiquitous in western society as they once were. But Moore says there is much that is timeless about The Miser.
Even today, children look to their parents for approval about their choices, he says. Children try to find their own way, and parents feel the desire to maintain control.
The inevitable result is conflict, Moore says.