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The Miser

a Comedy
by Molière, adapted by Martin Sherman

COMPANY : Oglethorpe University Theatre Department [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4861

SHOWING : February 25, 2016 - February 28, 2016



Moliere’s classic comedy follows the machinations of Harpagon, a man so greedy and chintzy that he makes Ebenezer Scrooge seem like Mother Theresa. Everything in Harpagon’s life is a pawn in his pursuit of more wealth, including his own children. As he plots to marry his son and daughter off to the most financially advantageous matches, his children conspire to break free from the chains of obsession and greed that bind their household. Molière was greatly influenced by the Italian masked theatre known as Commedia dell’Arte. This production will honor that historical connection by bringing the Commedia masks back to life on stage. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience the zany antics of the Commedia.

Director Matt Huff
Élise Maital Gottfried
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Commedia dell’Party
by playgoer
Friday, February 26, 2016
Oglethorpe University’s production of "The Miser" uses the masks of commedia dell’arte for all its older characters and for the clowns who introduce both acts with wordless (but not silent!) physical gags, notably mimed instructions to turn off cellphones and to refrain from texting. Lindsey Wills and Meredith Myers do a delightful job as these clowns, with director Matt Huff giving them lots of comic bits (lazzi), although I thought their shenanigans went on a tad too long.

Jon Nooner’s scenic design style might be termed "cirque du roi soleil," as it combines circus-like colors and patterns on the proscenium with motifs reminiscent of Louis XIV, the Sun King. A simple cloud/sky backdrop is revealed when the curtain is opened (in one of those lazzi), and the set is furnished with only an ottoman stage right and a simple chaise stage left. Joseph Monoghan III’s lighting design focuses the action neatly, using footlights and a follow spot for effect. What really gives the show visual "pow," though, are the colorful period costumes, designed by Katy Munroe.

Jon Nooner’s sound design has a few comic effects, but mostly consists of French accordion music pre-show and during intermission and recorded tracks to accompany the musical sequences that bookend the acts, using popular songs associated with money. Like the lazzi, the musical numbers are extraneous to the action of the play itself, but truly set the irreverent mood of the overall show. Bubba Carr’s choreography keeps the numbers bubbly and energetic.

The lovably grotesque masks do a nice job by themselves of delineating different characters played by the same actor, but Mr. Huff has had the actors create different vocal and physical characteristics too. Tucker Hammonds gets three roles, adding comic brio to each. Ali Zeigler gets two, with expressive gestures as Frosiné and a portly presence as the magistrate. Lindsey Wills does a bang-up job as La Fleche, adding vocal charm to the physical charm she displays as La Merluche.

The four young lovers don’t wear masks, giving them a feel that is more romantic than comic, although they have plenty of funny moments. Maital Gottfried is perfectly in character as Élise throughout, with most of her laughs coming from her expressive reactions. (She has a terrific singing voice too.) John Carter, as her brother Cléante, brings heroic intensity to his role, with his over-dramatic posturing taking his characterization firmly over the line of romance into pure comic territory. Meredith Myers, in the smaller role of Mariane, brings a sweetness to her role that warms the heart and tickles the funny bone. Only Byron Napier, as Valère, fails to build a credible character, showing the coltish, unfocused energy of a neophyte actor challenged by his director to give a stylized performance that he can’t quite master.

That leaves one actor with a single mask to wear. Alex Oakley, in the title role as Harpagon, does marvelous physical work as the 60-year-old miser, with strong vocal delivery and terrific comic patter. It’s truly a star turn, and it makes the play work wonderfully well. He truly embodies the spirit of commedia dell’arte, and makes "The Miser" a two-hour-plus party of manic fun. Kudos to Matt Huff for putting together a production that pays tribute to the traditions of commedia dell’arte while mining comic gold from a myriad of inspirations. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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