All words: The Theatre Gay
I have a 15-minute walk to work every morning. While the center of sidewalk on 14th is littered with yuppies and their dogs, pressed to the edges, on curbs sit the homeless, shrouded in their gray threadbare blankets. Now, I have to say, I don’t really jump to give money to people on the street.
You see, when I was a child, my mother would stop me from giving money to the homeless. She would squeeze my hand, and say “What do you think they’re going to do with that money?” I’m not assigning fault to my mother here. There are a lot of mothers who say that. Signature Theatre’s The Threepenny Opera now has me questioning my mother’s opinion of the poor, however, more than I usually do.
The Threepenny Opera was written by Bertolt Brecht with music by Kurt Weil. It opens in London on the eve of the coronation of a new king. Unlike most operas, however, we’re not following the upper echelons of society, but rather the lowest of the low. Mr. Peachum (Bobby Smith) has unionized the beggars, forcing them to pay a fee for clothing, and artificial stumps provided by his wife, Mrs. Peachum (Donna Migliaccio). Their daughter, Polly Peachum (Erin Driscoll) elopes with the infamous gangster, Mack the Knife (Mitchell Jarvis). When the Peachums discover that Polly is married to a gangster the likes of Mack the Knife, they hatch a scheme to have him hanged, and collect the bounty. Through musical interludes, stumpy fashion shows, and makeshift banquets, Threepenny shows us a side of London that you don’t see often, but one that is all too real. The play makes you laugh, until you realize, your laughing at someone who’s murdered countless prostitutes, stolen money from the pockets of the poor, or probably has a raging case of herpes.
Matthew Gardiner’s vision of Threepenny not only makes us laugh, but makes us think. Brecht is not an easy playwright to make digestible, yet still Gardiner has carved out these moments of brilliant reflection couched within belly laughs. For example, when Polly hears that her husband is to be executed, she gives him a touching goodbye only to be cut off by her girlish scream over new funeral threads. Not all of this praise is for Gardiner though. He had a brilliant cast to make his dream a reality.
The cast brings a gritty and filthy energy to the stage which sets this play apart. Erin Driscoll as Polly brings the house down with an expert voice that excites the audience, and a coy demeanor that entices old Macheath. Mitchell Jarvis’ Mack the Knife is a bombastic powerhouse. Flipping between suave coolness to deadly insanity, Jarvis makes Mack both likeable, and terrifying. Last, but not least, the Peachums as portrayed by Donna Migliaccio and Bobby Smith are a joy to watch with their intoxicating chemistry that you could smell from the nosebleed seats.
In our era of tiring hashtag activism, it’s delightful to see something that not only entertains but engages the audience in a discussion about real issues. Are the Peachums right when they say “life’s a bitch and then you die?” Or can you do something as simple as help out those who are struggling to make the world a better place? You need to be a part of this conversation, and it’s only going on at Signature with Threepenny. Maybe, you’ll stop listening to your mother.
The Threepenny Opera runs now through June 1st at Signature Theatre.