PHEDRE THE MISER AT RVP Theater review: Speed-the-Mamet - San Jose Mercury News Speed-the-Plow at the Pear: Performance | KQED Public Media for Northern CA



Reviewed by Jeff Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle


The American Conservatory Theater (ACT) is currently performing a bold and highly creative rendering of Racine's PHEDRE.


While the content is the surely the stuff of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; the playwright wrote in the epic style of the classical tragedians from a parlor in mid-seventeenth century Paris.


In 2009, Timberlake Wertenbaker translated and adapted the French script to the American stage.


As with all Greek tragedy, once the first domino falls, the audience senses the inevitability of all that follows and yet inwardly resists the unfolding catastrophe, even until the last domino is supine.


Carey Perloff has worked a minor theatrical miracle with a play that qualitatively approximates what was once the premium fare at the Great Dionysian Theater of the Athenian Golden Age.


Phedre, superbly played by Seana McKenna, is the catalytic axel about which this tragedy turns: frailty is her strongest suit.


Phedre is weak and self-indulgent; in her self-absorption she provokes and unleashes the fury of her husband Theseus against his son and her step son: Hippolytus.


Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur i.e. Phedre's half brother, is brash and too confidently takes the perfidious bait dangled by Phedre.


Tom McCamus is stupendous as Theseus: he perfectly portrays the opaque density of a man who has exhausted his heroic nature and now his greatness only serves as his undoing.


A stunning set design by Christina Poddubiuk creates an immediate sense of foreshadowing and impending kibitzing by the meddling gods who languish on Olympus.


The performance incorporates origin music by David Lang.


ACT is a theatre company that is not afraid to take risks.


In performing PHEDRE, it has taken on a truly great play for which the audience carries its expectations into the theater.


Given the grandeur is this production, those expectations are exceeded.


ACT's PHEDRE is not to be missed.


Contact the box office at 415-749-2ACT.



Reviewed by Jeff Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle


Given that The Economist magazine has retreated from even speculating on when or if the Great American Recovery will take place, we might all gain a personal appreciation for the frugal, parsimonious obsessions of THE MISER, whether it be in the theater or in the home.


Instead of a return to the good ole days, The Economist scans the offing for evidence of a mere stabilization: a limping, gasping economic engine that hits frequently on enough cylinders to keep running without too much jump starting from grotesquely profligate deficit spending.


True to the times, the Ross Valley Players (RVP) are presently performing Moliere's THE MISER as directed by Bruce Vieira.


RVP's THE MISER is simply stunning and not to be missed; it may have been a light weight comedy that Moliere toured the provinces with, but the RVP have primped it from every possible angle: a fabulous set design by David Apple which makes the miser look like a Rothschild; period costumes that precisely reflect each character's station in life and a cast that clearly exalts in the art of theater.


Satirical, farcical and perhaps ominous as well, the play revolves around Harpagon: the tyrannical, tightfisted father of Cléante and Elise.


Harpagon, played superbly by Grey Wolf, is the kind of guy everyone hates yet loves to cozy up to simply because he is holding the purse.


Like most spendthrift, entitled children, Cléante and Elise are eager to dip into family capital: just give them a trust fund and you will never see them again.


Cléante and Elise despise their father for all the usual reasons.


Harpagon is rich and yet won't spend his money; worse yet, he won't give it to his idling, self-indulgent children who long for the barest necessities: simple essentials like frippery, luxury, leisure and torrid romance.


Harpagon—like many celebrities, sports figures, politicians or any man who has clawed his way to a position of wealth and power—would like to parlay his success into the obvious: a crack at youthful pulchritude; in Harpagon's case it's Mariane: the lover of his frivolous son: Cléante.


Meanwhile, Harpagon's daughter: Elise, is in love with beau Valère: a savvy servant to Harpagon.


Valère is superbly played by Chad Yarish.


Much to MR Yarish's credit he is able to credibly produce a conspicuously intelligent Valère.


Strange that for all the censure Moliere drew for performing THE MISER, the play is framed by and rooted in stock aristocratic conceits.


At its core are arrogances as elitist and plutocratic as Calvin's notion of the elect.


Both Mariane and Valère are of noble origin and like Oliver (Dickens), Ernest (Wilde), Luke Skywalker (Lucas) and Tarzan (Edgar Rice Burroughs) their true aristocratic origins beam through the humble circumstances in which they find themselves like a beacon, or a pheromone, to discerning members of their caste.


It is as if Fitzgerald's maxim were true: "The rich really are different."


In the denouement, Mariane and Valère discover they are siblings and that their father is the magnanimous Signior Anselme, who will pay for their weddings.


Due to a shipwreck as in COMEDY OF ERRORS, the family was rend asunder, but in the end, the rich marry the rich and the lower classes are precluded from comingling with or diluting aristocratic DNA.


Strange too that Moliere's miser is arrayed much like we would expect Shakespeare's Shylock to appear: in North African Sephardic attire: a satin dressing jacket with an inseparable kufi in the style of Thelonious.


It should be remembered that France did not come to grips with its middle age penchant for anti-Semitism until after the Dreyfus Affair.


If the contraction of 401(k) has you down or your house is underwater as the mortgage companies like to say, this play is guaranteed to cheer you up and make you rich if only in spirit.


For tickets contact the Ross Valley Players at You can guarantee your tickets by purchasing them online, but you can also call Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 to purchase tickets by phone for the current show.

~Jake Vincent

~Jake Vincent