By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Shakespeare for Dummies teaches that certain comic and bawdy bits in the Bard’s plays were written to appeal to the groundlings crowded at edge of the stage.
“The Threepenny Opera,” though bearing an elite pedigree as the brainchild of theatrical provocateur Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill, is written through and through for the groundlings. This is bawdy, often crude by design,
in-your-face entertainment meant to please those in the cheap seats.
All of Bowling Green State University’s Donnell Theatre becomes the cheap sections when the Department of Theatre and Film presents “Threepenny Opera” opening tonight (April 19) and continuing through Sunday, April 22. Shows are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8p.m., with matinees Saturday & Sunday at 2 p.m. Visit for details bgsu.edu/arts.
Jonathan Chambers, directing Michael Feingold’s translation of Elisabeth Hauptmann’s script, doesn’t stint on the raw humor of the piece. Yes, “Threepenny” has complex political and aesthetic underpinnings, but the flashing of women’s underwear and even one actor’s bare butt take precedence.
“Threepenny Opera” was conceived a satirical criticism of capitalism and the middle class. The milieu of the show is the underworld, but it’s all the underworld in the opera’s view. After the ensemble led by Jenny Driver (Erica Harmon) introduces us to the opera’s antihero, Macheath (Kris Krotzer) with the tune, “Mack the Knife,”, we meet J.J. Peachum (Noah Froelich) who runs the beggars’ racket around London.
If you want to beg you have to pay him a fee and share your earnings. One down-on-his-luck sucker finds this out when he is beaten by Peachum’s operatives.
Peachum tells him he should be glad he could still walk.
In “Peachum’s Morning Hymn,” Peachum laments that begging requires constant innovation. Human pity has a short shelve life. Even the four or five useful verses from the New Testament lose their appeal.
He and his wife the grasping, conniving Mrs. Peachum (Kelly Dunn) have other concerns – their daughter Polly (Anna Parchem) has been cavorting with the thug Macheath, a Victorian Tony Soprano. To them their daughter is yet another commodity.
But as Polly explains in “Barbara’s Song” she’s likely to go only so far with a respectable suitor, but will drop her panties for a poor, disreputable man.
Her father, though, is intent on having Macheath arrested.
The problem is the chief of police Tiger Brown (Jabri Johnson) is an old Army buddy of Macheath’s. They celebrate in “Soldier’s Song,” a caustic look at the military.
Here as elsewhere the production plays up a homoerotic undertone. Johnson’s Brown watches out for Macheath, not just out of Army buddy loyalty.
As much as Macheath pledges to be faithful to Polly, he’s a wandering dog and that leads to his downfall. He leaves a trail of jealousy in his wake especially between Jenny Driver and the police chief’s daughter Lucy Brown (Anne Koziara), who also claims to be married to Macheath.
All this is played out in series of scathing musical numbers. Dunn’s Mrs. Peachum smugly dissects Macheath’s dilemma in “Ballad of the Prisoner of Sex.”
As Polly, Parchem gets the choice set piece, “Pirate Jenny” about a hotel maid who gets her revenge on those who look down on her.
Weill employs echoes of traditional ballads with modernistic harmonies that waver and bite. Yet the melodies stick in the ear. The nine-piece band led musical director Jarod Dorotiak has a loose, street band swagger, contributing jazzy sneers, swoons, and the occasional martial beat.
The cast is populated with strong acting singers whose characters blossom as soon as they burst into song. The broad acting and robust singing helps get the show’s point across when the Cockney-flavored words scramble in the ear, as sometime happens.
As Macheath, faces the gallows in the final act, he reflects on life with caustic cynicism, an attitude likely not changed by the purposefully unlikely twist at the end. This “happy” ending is just another cynical ploy. A last laugh at respectable expectations, to top off an entire evening of song, sex, and humor aimed directly at the groundlings in all of us.