Silliness is at the heart of Vagabond's 'Miser'

January 24, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

In the title role of Moliere's "The Miser," Vincent Kimball isn't so much a nasty skinflint as he is a man obsessed. Like a young swain staring goo-goo eyed at his sweetheart, he is totally, helplessly and happily in love with money.

Mr. Kimball's jolly Harpagon -- in his most madcap moments he's reminiscent of the late Zero Mostel -- sets the giddy tone for this Vagabonds production; if all of the performances were this assured, it would be a jewel. Instead, it's more like an elaborate brooch in which a gemstone is surrounded by semi-precious stones -- and occasionally paste. A connoisseur like Harpagon would look askance.

The production uses a new translation by Albert Bermel, an expert on farce, and its farcical elements are further emphasized by Ann Mainolfi's direction. The entrance of Harpagon's son Cleante is heralded by the prolonged sound of loud offstage footsteps. And near the end, when Harpagon's daughter Elise defends her beloved Valere, the entire cast mimics her movements, leaning back and forth in unison.

Similarly, the opening image is of Elise and Valere repeatedly embracing as if they were a pair of magnetic kissing dolls. With their comically exaggerated gestures, Anne Greene and Craig R. Newell spoof melodrama without letting us forget the seriousness of their characters' plight.

Harpagon is willing and eager to trade away his children's respect and futures for the cold caress of cash. Parting with his offspring doesn't faze him, but when his precious cash box disappears, he distrusts everyone, including the audience. And yet, Kimball makes it impossible to hate Harpagon; he's not malevolent, he's more like a child who becomes unreasonable when separated from his security blanket, which in this case, is made of money.

As Frosine, the matchmaker, who understands the dollars-and-cents value of love, Celia Rocca displays a business-like approach to romance similar to Harpagon's -- except that her character can differentiate between business and pleasure, and for Harpagon, they're one and the same.

Robert Petr, Ed Perry and especially John Zerolnick all need more presence and less self-consciousness to keep the comedy hopping. But Mike Moran is delightfully silly as Harpagon's chef and coachman, turning him into a Lou Costello-type figure who scurries to change hats, but is never fast enough to miss the swat of his employer's cane.

Silliness is at the heart of this production, which leaves us feeling sorry for Harpagon -- a fool who will never be parted from his money. Kimball is so fully in character, you almost expect to find his Harpagon counting receipts in the box office after the show. If all of his fellow actors were equally in character, he'd be smiling all the way to the bank.

'The Miser'

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Through Feb. 9.

Where: Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway.

Tickets: $8 and $9.

Call: 563-9135.

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