Sunday, January 17, 2010

Last night we went to see The Threepenny Opera, put on by Berkeley's Shotgun Players.

I haven't seen The Threepenny Opera before, so some of my comments here are about the play itself, rather than this staging. The story is a strange and silly little adaptation of a story from the 18th century, with the antihero nature of Macheath, "Mack The Knife" amped up. The lyrics give forth a depressing and squalid view of life, but are married to memorable tunes in a way that makes them enjoyable and ironic. Macheath is described as viscous, a rapist and murderer, but he is portrayed as a sometimes gallant, sometimes weaselly free spirit since none of his more terrible acts are shown on stage. This allows the audience to cheer for him, rather than wanting to see him executed.

The production marries a punk ethos to Brecht's Marxist lyrics in a way that seems obvious in retrospect, but I can't find any online discussions of it being done before. The result is a brutal but vital looking play with more energy than is good for it at times. The opening rendition of "Mack The Knife" is sold so energetically and "punk" that it almost ruins the song itself. Other songs have the background singers/dancers pounding around in such chaos that a similar result ensues. Thankfully, this is not true of some of the other numbers, such as "Pirate Jenny", which is sung beautifully by Kelsey Venter, who plays Polly Peachum. In general, Venter's numbers were all highlights. She went for a more restrained approach, allowing her powerful voice and the lyrics/music to create the moment, instead of a punk schtick overselling the emotion.

The brutal look, with prostitute's having visible bruises on their face and limbs and beggars having exaggerated torn clothes and dirty faces, was distracting at times, acting against the story. At other times, it worked better, giving weight to lyrics that describe their brutal lives and underscoring descriptions of Macheath's brutality.

Overall, it's a good production with some strong standouts. I'd recommend you go see it, but even it's extended run is sold out. There are a few tickets that come up for sale just before show time, but from listening to others in the line/lobby, they seemed difficult to get.

No comments: