Ambitious 'Three Penny Opera' at Wilbury
Bertolt Brecht’s scathing, often vulgar, anti-capitalist musical was first produced back in 1928, but still is relevant today. The story of Macheath, the notorious London criminal who marries the daughter of Jonathan J. Peacham, leader of a gang of beggars, only to be done in by his previous lovers, is a classic tale of good and evil, with the emphasis on evil.
The Wilbury Group, under the direction of Josh Short, has taken the play and staged it using every bit of space in its huge Trinity Theatre space at the South Side Cultural Center in Providence. It is a most ambitious undertaking, which works both to its advantage and disadvantage.
Short places the seven-piece band in the middle of the action, creates a never-ending stage with crowded ramps, has actors running in and out of doors and jumping from the balcony. The audience is seated cabaret-style in the middle of all of this.
The story revolves around Macheath, played convincingly by the talented David Tessier. He is confronted by Peacham (Tom Gleadow), a sinister man in his own right, who will not accept his daughter marrying the vile womanizer and will do everything in his power to bring him down. Gleadow and Tessier have the best voices in the huge, uneven cast, carrying the show with their talents.
Macheath’s ragtag crew of criminals often get in the way of the story, hamming it up a bit too much and making the two and a half hour production, plus intermission, drag on much too long.
We are all familiar with the opening song, “Mack the Knife,” which actually tells the story you are about to see. The other songs are not as recognizable, and at times are drowned out by the brass in the seven-piece band, which is not always in sync with the singers. I’m sure this will get straightened out in later performances.
There is great comic relief from Lucie Brown (Katie Travers), who appears in the second act to challenge Polly (Christine Dickinson) for Macheath’s affections. At times the supporting cast camps it up a bit too much for my liking, making the dark satire a bit of a sideshow.
The tale of jealousy and rage is played out to a dramatic conclusion, as Macheath is brought to the gallows and gives his strong political statement, while Brecht gives us a surprise ending to a powerful, sometimes disjointed production.
“The Three Penny Opera” runs through June 8 at Wilbury’s new theatre space at 393 Broad St., where Trinity Rep got its start and its name. Tickets are $20 and $25. Call 400-7100 for reservations.