Review | Molière’s ‘The Miser’ at Westmont in Montecito
A Gender-Swapped School for Lies
Theater Arts professor John Blondell has returned to the Westmont stage as director to bring us Molière’s The Miser, or The School for Lies. This 17th-century French comedy is about Harpagon, a stingy old battle-axe who scrimps despite her fortune amassed through loan sharking. She buries her money in a chest in the garden and is trying to marry her young son off to a wealthy old widow. She’s greedy and suspicious, and she becomes enraged when her treasure is stolen. Harpagon is also in the market for a new husband, and she sets her sights on the young Marianne, who happens to be in love with Harpagon’s daughter. Mother, children, and various servants become opponents in deceit as each party lies and manipulates their way to their ultimate goal.
One notable aspect of this production is the gender-swapped cast. It’s fun to see a comically detestable character such as a miser played as a callous and overbearing mother figure. Rory Nguyen is suitably outrageous in this over-the-top role, screeching and skinflinting through the production like a bat out of hell. The gender swap is a fun way to play with social conventions. It highlights traditional roles through opposition while also creating space for these characters to exist fully in their new gender identity.
Translated and adapted by James Magruder, this version of The Miser has been crafted with a modern sensibility. The production is cleverly devised and deeply invested in theatrical artifice, from the physical comedy to the intermittent acknowledgment of the audience. It’s played in close quarters (it’s produced in the round on the Porter stage), which heightens the chaotic nature of the plot and action. It’s a lively performance with a cast who seems to be enjoying themselves in their rendition of this classic play.
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