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THEATER REVIEW

'Miser' is stingy with plot

A Noise Within strikes the right tone with Moliere's play about greed, wisely shifting the focus from a pointless tale to the gags.

October 15, 2003|Rob Kendt | Special to The Times

Some actors can go for the obvious laugh and get it, no questions asked; others go broad and belly-flop big-time. At times Mark Bramhall seems to be doing both as Harpagon, the title character of "The Miser" at A Noise Within. Hollow-cheeked, beady-eyed and bony, with a shock of white hair and a billy-goat beard, Bramhall gives the kind of go-for-broke performance -- broad yet somehow dry, wild but frosty -- that soars the more he flails, and makes us cringe as much as laugh.

That's about the right tone, actually, for Moliere's grasping geezer, who gets at least as much perverse pleasure from denying his fortune to others as from the fortune itself. Bramhall's Harpagon isn't what you'd call moving or sympathetic, exactly, but when he shrieks, "My beloved!" at the loss of a hidden treasure, he suggests the soul-warping avarice of a Gollum more than the quaint stinginess of a Jack Benny.

Apart from a series of riffs on the old man's extravagant greed and pettiness, though, there isn't much to "The Miser," plot-wise or point-wise.

It's a magpie makeshift of machinations and misunderstandings that's about as substantive as a sitcom flashback episode.

The good news is that David Chambers' colloquial adaptation (originally for South Coast Rep in 1993) and Craig Belknap's deft direction, which sets the action in 1920s Paris, concentrate on the play's gags, not its throwaway plot, giving us a wised up if not necessarily wiser "Miser." The wit extends to the production design: Price tags dangle from Harpagon's unsettled furniture, even from a pair of snifters, and his digs have the ragtag grandeur of a dusty storehouse, with a stunning wall-size Klimt reproduction as the backdrop of Trefoni Michael Rizzi's set. Alex Jaeger's costumes strike a sleek, subtle monochrome.

Similarly attractive but less convincing are the quartet of romantic leads whose marriage plans are threatened by Harpagon's schemes. Of the four, only Danya Solomon, as Harpagon's daughter Elise, makes more of her fluttery ingenue than a simp; constantly shushed and pushed aside, Solomon conveys more by scrunching her flustered brow than her young peers do with all their earnest line readings.

Meanwhile seasoned troupers such as Donald Sage Mackay, William Dennis Hunt, Mitchell Edmonds and Mary Boucher walk away neatly with their scenes. As a sycophantic servant, Timothy Landfield fusses and fumes a bit too much for his laughs, but he does get them.

The same could be said of this hard-working "Miser," a show that is no spendthrift in its eagerness to please. It may signify very little, but there's undeniable relish in its strutting and fretting.

*

'The Miser'

Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: Thursdays, Nov. 7, Nov. 20, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Oct. 17, Nov. 7, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Oct. 18, Nov. 8, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, Nov. 16, Dec. 7, 2 and 7 p.m.

Ends: Dec. 7

Price: $20-$40

Contact: (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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