The cast and crew of the Aeneid Theatre Company presented their first play of the spring semester on Thursday — a well-executed, captivating production of The Miser, written by French playwright Molière in the late 17th century.
The ATC is a student-run theater group dedicated to producing non-musical plays at USC and has frequently dazzled the campus community with its diverse productions and ambitious projects, such as EQUUS during the fall semester and When the Rain Stops Falling last spring.
The Miser is no exception; it is a challenging selection for these student performers. Capturing the essence of a play written nearly 500 years ago and in another language requires skill, attention to detail and, most importantly, a willingness to learn an entirely new culture to depict onstage.
Despite these challenges, the artists of the ATC managed to put on an impressive production, transporting the audience into traditional, aristocratic French society. It is evident that the group spent countless hours mastering their roles, perfecting the set design and molding a believable portrayal of foreign characters: The overall presentation was truly stunning.
The Miser is one of Molière’s most acclaimed comedies, originally featuring the playwright himself as the play’s protagonist, Harpagon. Manny Spero stars as Harpagon, the miser, who buried his fortune in his garden and refuses to spend it on his children, Élise (Anna Couvrette) and Cleanté (Ido Gal). Instead, the miser attempts to marry them off to wealthier families, as he searches for a younger wife for himself.
This widely successful production can be attributed not only to the cast’s talent and prowess, but also to the effectiveness of the show’s director, Jack McCarthy. His ability to harness the individual talents of his cast members and to recreate an intricate story is sophisticated, especially for a director with such little classical experience. McCarthy said that this production is only his second time directing a classical piece, but he was anything but a novice.
To create an authentic production, McCarthy encouraged his actors to actively examine their characters. He wanted the cast to fully grasp their characters’ intentions, needs and true motivations — a process that translated beautifully onto the stage.
“The cast and I spent many rehearsals analyzing the text, arguing about this old play’s relevant meaning,” McCarthy said. “We searched for that universal issue each character struggled with, and stumbled upon the need for security — not just financially, but emotionally, mentally and even spiritually.”
Such extensive research and exploration proved to be worthwhile, as the production offered a nuanced and realistic glimpse of the 17th century social landscape. However, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the play was not based in the decor, the talent or the precision. Rather, the chemistry among the cast members was undeniable, a quality that is a testament to a gifted director like McCarthy.
“It is rare for a director to be saddled with a cast so passionate, insightful and open as this one,” McCarthy said. “I partook in meaningful and very provoking discussions with the cast and crew of The Miser which enhanced both the direction of our show and my own worldview.”
This production demonstrates how magical it can be to witness apt execution of classic works such as The Miser, a play that should certainly be preserved throughout the ages. The Miser was presented in the Comedia dell’Arte style of Italian theater, which emphasizes specific character tropes to reveal greater flaws and themes in the characters’ personalities. The ATC’s student-led production was quite the success — stellar acting, brilliant directing and masterful translation are but a few of the characteristics of the group’s poignant portrayal.
“It has been such a pleasure working with such an amazing and dedicated cast,” Ashley Busenlener, the show’s assistant director, said. “The way they’ve taken to the physical Commedia dell’ Arte is incredible and has produced a really enjoyable and funny show.”
There will be five more performances over the coming weekend at USC’s Massman Theatre. Five dollar donations are requested at the door.