Highlight: The Miser

Michal Daniel

Jeune Lune's production of Molière's tragicomedy settles in on home turf after stops in Boston and Louisville. It's a stylish and striking production, with a stage full of open spaces, cracked walls, and collapsing ceilings. The lord of the manor is the widower Harpagon (Steven Epp), tight with a franc to the point of cruelty and near-madness. When Harpagon entangles himself in his children's marriage plans, he ably sidesteps every opportunity for redemptive action or the exhibition of a single redeeming quality. Epp is furtive yet oddly vital and captivating, drooling and spitting, venting venom and lapsing into a paranoid drawl whenever doubt strikes. The eye rarely strays when he is onstage. Sarah Agnew as daughter Élise brings a welcome goofy edge to her character, with a mousy and melodic speaking voice that lends unexpected laughs. For all the strength of particular performances, though, this is a big, weighty show that often struggles to get aloft in terms of comedic strength or dramatic credibility. Director Dominique Serrand's cast, particularly toward the end of the first act and for much of the second, strays in tone and allows subtexts to drift away. A painful unfolding of tangled family lines near the conclusion (humorous only if spending two and a half hours watching a play, then having the proceedings show cavalier regard for the concept of payout is a knee-slapper) devolves in half-finished accents, threads that could have been developed earlier, and a number of odd wardrobe choices that undermine what could have been a visually unified and ethereal production. Jim Lichtscheidl's Valère, for instance, sparkles with absurdity once the outrageous details of his life emerge, but some of that light touch would have come in handy in earlier scenes, when Valère was appeasing Harpagon's vanity. Ultimately The Miser asks a lot of its audience and, while the production's passion isn't in question, its execution leaves an empty space filled predominantly by a vision of tattered spite and the decadence of thrift rather than any substance to touch the heart.

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