admin On maggio - 12 - 2014

by Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

“Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear, And he shows them pearly white…” well seems like director and choreographer Martha Clarke use her pearly whites effectively to bite into the dramatic, and ever so timely, tale of ‘Mack The Knife’.

The Threepenny Opera’ proclaims itself “an opera for beggars,” and actually attempts to satirise traditional opera and operetta, unfolding a debauched tale of criminal double-crossing. German composer Kurt Weill and poet-playwright Bertolt Brecht, were inspired by John Gay’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera,’ of 1728, when they created one of the 20th Century’s most influential and popular works of musical theatre.

The story is set in 19th century London and follows the charismatic bandit and womaniser Macheath and his criminal exploits. When Macheath marries Polly Peachum, the straight-laced daughter of powerful, wretched merchant JJ. Peachum, their unlikely union unleashes the chaos of manhunts, bribes, and imprisonment.

Clarke’s ‘The ThreePenny Opera’ just concluded at the Atlantic Theater in New York, with great success. The multidisciplinary American theatre director opted for a thrifty staging, that enhanced the pauper setting of the story, reflecting the times we are living in. The song ‘How To Survive’ sends shivers down your spine when you hear the characters chanting “First feed the face, And then talk right and wrong, For even honest folk, May act like sinners, Unless they’ve had their customary dinners. What keeps a man alive?” Indeed the society depicted is corrupted but comes across as amiable, less blood is shed than in other stage representations, hence the audience can create a stronger bond and relate to the characters’ quandaries.

Clarke’s production moves efficiently and with a stylish gait through the underworld of London thieves, beggars and harlots, scheming to get ahead in a cutthroat world. The revival of the Brecht-Weill musical, adapted into English by Marc Blitzstein, features Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham as Mr Peachum and Emmy winner Michael Park as Macheath. But the female cast certainly steals the spotlight: Sally Murphy (August: Osage County) makes an enthralling Jenny, with raw emotion that she clearly exposes singing the famous ‘Pirate Jenny’; recent Tony-nominee Laura Osnes (Cinderella) attests the depth of her nightingale voice, handling Polly’s tricky music pitch with suavity; whereas stage veteran Mary Beth Peil and Lilli Cooper (Spring Awakening) provide sparks of lecherous humour as Mrs. Peachum and Lucy Brown. Yet the actor who beats them all is called Romeo: an English bulldog who plays a minor role, opening the story while slobbering away at the leg of a streetwalker and closing majestically as Queen Victoria.

The inceptive play was conceived to demonstrate the arbitrariness of values through razor-sharp wit. In Clarke’s production every cynical word and unexpected note is presented with such boldness and rigour that it embraces the original spirit of Social critique of the capitalist world.

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