Stratford’s ‘The Miser’ gets richly comedic award from star Colm Feore

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The Miser

By Molière, in a new version by Ranjit Bolt, directed by Antoni Cimolino. Until 29 October at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford. Stratfordfestival.ca and 1-800-567-1600.

The 17th century meets the present in this fast-paced production of Molière’s classic comedy where Colm Feore is ridiculously watchable as the title character, Harper, a wealthy man obsessed with his fortune. Even though what he says and does is repulsive, Feore’s Harper is so charismatic and his physical performance so skillful that he has the audience laughing and groaning from start to rousing end.

The story revolves around marriage and inheritance: Harper’s two children are in love with inappropriate partners and fear that their father will deprive them of their inheritance. Charlie (Qasim Khan) adores poor Marianne (Beck Lloyd); and Eleanor’s (Alexandra Lainfiesta) handsome Victor (Jamie Mac) comes from the money but has accepted a job as Harper’s butler to be near her. Meanwhile, Harper has buried his money in the garden and decided it would be a dandy idea to marry Marianne himself, encouraged by cougar matchmaker Fay (Lucy Peacock).

A key driver of director Antoni Cimolino’s production is the play’s resonance with current generational divides: “These Millennials are awake but broke! Fay exclaims at one point. If this line doesn’t sound like a play first performed in 1668, buckle up: Courtesy of translator/adapter Ranjit Bolt, this production includes a series of current and Canadian references: Jeff Bezos, Tim Hortons, dick peaks, “OK Boomer”, and Mont Tremblant all have a mention.

I adopted these lines because the performers are so good at delivering them and because the intertwining of topical and local material in the play is in the spirit of commedia dell’arte, a theatrical tradition in which Molière worked. Plus, it gives Feore the chance to work his comedic magic, like in a gag on a certain recent FBI raid, which he doesn’t specifically name but winks at, which brings the delighted audience further into his bondage.

Julie Fox’s set and costume design also mixes old and new: her costumes layer period embellishments such as ruffled bibs and decorative panniers (side hoops on skirts) in contemporary fashion. It creates a retro 1960s/70s vibe, most memorable in Harper’s wedding suit, an outrageous, pale purple, bell-bottomed affair that makes him look like a member of the ABBA from the “Waterloo” era. “.

At first I scratched my head about the 60s/70s references in the decor (a dated phone, TV and vacuum cleaner) but eventually figured them out as maybe adding to that retro theme, everything providing further evidence of Harper’s nature – as a miser, he is also a hoarder and has not updated his devices.

The production offers plenty of opportunities for the performers to show off their comedic chops and for Cimolino to show strength in delivering crisp, witty productions. Khan is very funny as Charlie, channeling an energy similar to that of Dan Levy in “Schitt’s Creek” by making his character as endearing as it is infuriating. Beck Lloyd brings great strength and clarity to playing Marianne as more than a pawn in a standoff between father and son.

Peacock appears to be having the time of her life as the extravagantly clad, leather-and-leopard-print Fay, a very different and equally impressive performance from the one she gives as the regally restrained Queen Elizabeth in “Richard III.” Emilio Vieira is also having a terrific season as two villains — Catesby in “Richard III” and the nimble, jolly thief Fletcher on this show.

This production and “Richard III” were directed by Cimolino and built around Feore in their title roles. This casting allows him to show his extraordinary palette of performer, especially physically. Here he is striding across the stage and making scarecrow movements with his lanky arms that are as weird as they are wonderful.

As this is a classic comedy, things end with a positive resolution and three weddings – the last between Harper and his money. After a fabulous closing dance number to Steven Page’s intelligent music mixing contemporary rhythms and harpsichords, our anti-hero finds himself alone on stage rubbing piles of banknotes on his face. It’s totally funny, scary and sexy, and the icing on the cake of a top notch season for Feore.

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