'The Miser' by Moliere in a new version by Ranjit Bolt

The Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival

David Hou

Joe Szekeres

Ranjit Bolt’s new version of a Moliere classic begets great fun while never venturing into the silly.

In this return to live theatre after a two-plus year absence, I’ve seen some new versions of classic tales this summer. Currently, Stratford stages a diverse cast of ‘Little Women. Last week, I saw a new version of the story of ‘Cyrano’ adapted and directed by emerging theatre artist Liam Lynch and produced by Theatre on the Ridge in Port Perry.

This afternoon I revisited a classic French farce that skewers our obsession with money, power, control, and all it entails.

Ranjit Bolt’s new version of Moliere’s ‘The Miser’ quickly grabbed my attention at the top of the show while never bordering on the silly throughout where I could have begun to lose interest in the ensuing plot. The modern Ontario/Canadian references refreshingly appeal to the diverse tastes of a twenty-first-century audience (although American audiences may not get some of them). Jabs at the ‘woke’ crowd, digs at the current turmoil within the federal Progressive Conservative party and hearing Colm Feore drop the ‘f bomb’ were just three examples which evoked much laughter from this afternoon’s audience.

Could a production like this ‘Miser’ be the hook to get young people to want to study the French language and perhaps see a production in its original form? Is this too much to ask?

I certainly hope not.

We are in a darkened room of what looks to be a hoarder’s junk collection of various bric-a-brac items that have no connection to each other. There was a mounted deer head and an old black and white 60s-looking television set that still worked. At one point, I was also reminded of the Norma Desmond mansion on Sunset Blvd. In any event, this is the home of Harper who revels in this space thanks to Designer Julie Fox’s careful management in the suggestion of everything appearing crowded while just slightly bordering on the suffocating claustrophobia of having collected too much ‘stuff’.

Steven Page’s musical compositions and Adrienne Gould’s choreography splendidly bring this comedy to its fitting conclusion in the same manner as Shakespearean comedies. Some of the actors in the final dance piece can certainly strut their stuff and look as if they’re having a hell of a good time on stage. And that certainly made me feel like I had spent an enjoyable afternoon at the theatre.

During my undergraduate years, I never studied the French play ‘L’Avare’ (The Miser), but I do recall remembering plot elements in some of my other French classes. A reminder once again, Ranjit Bolt has adapted a new version:

Eleanor (Alexandra Lainfiesta) and Charlie (Qasim Khan) are the adult offspring of wealthy widower Harper (Colm Feore), a tyrannical cheapskate obsessed with protecting the large sum of money he has amassed. The children have fallen in love – Eleanor with Harper’s butler Victor (Jamie Mac) and Charlie with the beautiful but not too wealthy Marianne (Beck Lloyd) who lives with her ailing, elderly unseen mother. Both Eleanor and Charlie fear that marrying for love will cost them their large inheritance left to them by their uncle, but Harper is the sole trustee of these finances.

While Eleanor and Charlie attempt to speak to their father about the subject of their inheritance, Harper announces he has hired matchmaker Fay (Lucy Peacock) to find him a second wife. We learn that the object of Harper’s devotion and affection is Marianne which sends Charlie into a tailspin of emotions. Meanwhile, we also learn that Harper has selected his aging but well-financially established older friend, Arthur Edgerton (David Collins) as Eleanor’s future husband.

A dinner party in the evening planned by Harper for Marianne and Arthur opens a further delightful plot twist that kept me smiling in watching the controlled melee of action in the characters’ quick entrances and exits.

Director Antoni Cimolino maintains control over the whirling plot action and never allows it to veer wildly around. As the miserly protagonist Harper, a lanky Colm Feore with long flowing white hair just beyond his shoulders, and a skeleton-like appearance accentuated by his costumes, maneuvers interchangeably around the stage. At times Feore struts with a regal grace while at others his deflated pinpricked ego is equally matched in his body stance.

While Feore dominates the stage at times in a larger-than-life approach, he inherently knows not to draw attention away from the others who finely demonstrate their comedic skills. Qasim Khan’s ‘Dan Levy’ Schitts Creek mannerisms are beautifully contrasted with Alexandra Lainfiesta’s confidant Eleanor who truly loves Victor, her father’s butler, Jamie Mac is a dashing Victor who consistently listens and responds naturally to the events around him. There are moments where Mac effectively uses his eyes in a reactionary manner that drew laughter from the audience. Beck Lloyd is a saucy and bold Marianne.

I loved Lucy Peacock’s ‘gal on the prowl’ cougar-looking matchmaker, Fay, a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Golden Girls’ Blanche Devereaux. As Arthur Edgerton, David Collins’s appearance in the second act begins to ground the ensuing mayhem surrounding him on his entrance. Nevertheless, Collins momentarily amps up the comedy of the moment in a matter-of-fact manner which becomes an extremely surprising turn of events in the plot.

Final Comments: This ‘Miser’ becomes wickedly satirical and great fun while subtly making me aware of what is most important in life. How much money do we really need to be comfortable and happy in our lives.

However…. and I really thought how clever it was on Cimolino’s part to keep this last glimpse of the play alive.

Thanks to Lorenzo Savoini's terrific lighting design, Feore holds a wad of bills and it appears he is stroking his chin and cheek with what has made him happy in his life.

This image is one that can be discussed over coffee or drinks. Has Harper truly learned his lesson?

You’ll have to see this ‘Miser’ for yourself to answer that question.

‘The Miser’ runs to October 29 at The Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford. For tickets, visit stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600.

THE MISER by Moliere in a new version by Ranjit Bolt
Director: Antoni Cimolino
Designer: Julie Fox
Lighting Designer: Lorenzo Savoini
Composer: Steven Page
Sound Designer: John Gzowski
Choreographer: Adrienne Gould

Performers: Hilary Adams, David Collins, Jakob Ehman, Colm Feore, Ron Kennell, Qasim Khan, John Kirkpatrick, Alexandra Lainfiesta, Beck Lloyd, Jamie Mac, Lucy Peacock, Steve Ross, Michael Spencer-Davis, Emilio Vieira, Hannah Wigglesworth

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