eekend, the Colgate University Theater’s production of The Miser stands out as a striking success. The boisterous laughter that filled Brehmer Theater throughout the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances showcased how the talented student cast was able to make the play – an adaptation of Moliere’s 17th century masterpiece – come alive for the audience of families, professors and friends. The production was the first project for Chris O’Connor, the Christian A. Johnson Artist-in-Residence, who is new to the Colgate campus, but clearly familiar with directing.
The Miser was originally written as a critical look at the hypocrisy of 17th century French society, but the themes of love, family values and materialism are comprehensible to a contemporary audience. The central plot revolves around a man, Harpagon (sophomore Ryan Dunbar) who idealizes and obsessively pursues wealth. “In the pursuit [of wealth] the father deprives his children of their happiness and deprives his own life of warmth, love and compassion” O’Connor said.
What ensues is a humorous, but powerful portrayal of the dysfunctional family dynamics between the father and his two lovesick, spoiled children, Cleante (first-year Alex Brewer) and Elise (sophomore Jennifer Leen). It is a tribute to the actors that they were able to keep a straight face while the audience guffawed at the sexual humor, not-so-subtle puns and the physical comedy that contributed to the captivating execution of the performance.
According to O’Connor, he chose the James Magruder adaptation because he felt that the language “was very alive and contemporary in the best sense.” Indeed, the cast’s intuitive understanding of the characters and the script was evidenced in their command of the audience, which grew with each performance. “The cast really learned how to play it by Saturday,” O’Connor remarked
He praised his cast, whom he admittedly challenged every step of the way, for achieving the ideal relationship with the audience of a comedy like Moliere’s, in that the audience “becomes like another character.” Luckily, parents in the audience were able to appreciate the irony of watching a play about the abuse of parental authority over Family Weekend.
With the help of seniors Erin Sutton and Chris Coutlee, the student costume and light designers, the play took on an energy and life of its own on the impressive set built by the Colgate stagecraft classes under the direction of Associate Professor of English and Scenic Designer, Marjorie Kellogg. The professionalism of the set, costumes, hair and makeup demonstrates how excellent student theater can be when the bar is set high. The dedication to rehearsal and the entire production process, commenced by the cast and crew in mid-September, was evident in the polished performances and the overall entrancing experience of the lights, set, costumes and acting combined.
“Chris, as the director, was always challenging us to really explore our roles,” said junior Michael Chateauneuf, who played the love interest of Elise. “We needed to know who our character was and whatthey wanted at all times. Chris was always reminding us to ‘raise the stakes’; things were never supposed to appear easy for the characters. We, as our characters, were faced with real dilemmas in the show and the challenge for any actor is to be real; to truthfully address the situations your character is faced with.”
A real life dilemma faced by the entire cast and crew was losing sophomore Andrew Burten, originally intended to play the key role of Cleante, Harpagon’s son. Brewer was unexpectedly thrown into the part after fall break and, in the words of O’Connor, Brewer “really stepped up to the plate.” Brewer’s seamless performance demonstrates how the cast was able to rally around this setback in the true spirit of “the show must go on.”
The excitement, energy and talent of the cast and production team was overwhelmingly well received by the audience. “As clich?e as it may sound, there is nothing like the feeling you get when the show finally opens and you know all your hard work has paid off,” Chateauneuf said. “The end result was something we were all really proud of.” Said first-year Josie Miller, who played the love interest of Cleante, “I loved performing the play because it was a lot of fun to play to the audience. It was so rewarding to see everyone respond so well.”
The proud parents of the cast were not the only ones with reason to beam after the spectacular performances of The Miser. The play was an achievement for all of those involved and an especially impressive debut for O’Connor and the relatively novice cast; The Miser truly evidenced Colgate student theater at its finest.