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Threepenny Opera 

Brecht Wrecked

click to enlarge stage-9736.jpg

Dan Greenberg

Lush life: Karol Kopley is among the actors in 'The Threepenny Opera.'

'Threepenny Opera' needs polish

By Daedalus Howell

THE WEST COUNTY THEATRE Arts Guild's ambitious maiden production, The Threepenny Opera (book by Bertolt Brecht, music by Kurt Weill), surely has its creators turning in their graves--more likely a rotisserie in this case. WCTAG chars the musical beyond recognition but never gets it anywhere near well done.

Director Pauline Pfandler's first mistake is in using an adaptation of The Threepenny Opera that resets the ensemble of villainous preindustrial-age English rapscallions, cheats, and hookers into modern Washington, D.C., on the eve of a presidential inauguration.

Recent headlines bemoaning socioeconomic injustice are projected onto a screen and the downtrodden are comically venerated, but the intended social satire fizzles. Pfandler's humanitarian concerns could have been better elucidated through allegory than the rote insertion of the contemporary.

The text soon becomes didactic and patently silly, as when Mac the Knife (a charming Dennis Parks) turns to a compatriot and asks in his English accent, "Remember when we served in Vietnam?" preceding the musical's "Song of the Heavy Cannon." What the hell is that?

Sonia Pitsker, an able actress and singer, plays the imminently corruptible Polly Peachum, daughter of the operator of an organized panhandling ring, Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum (satisfactorily played by Elliot Simon). However, it is obvious that Pitsker's forte is opera.

Unfortunately, The Threepenny Opera, despite the title, is a cabaret-style musical. Pitsker's high-art singing is misapplied in this production and becomes a land mine in an otherwise even musical landscape. Duets suffer especially as other singers are sonically upstaged and hardly audible.

Brenda Reed brings an effective poignancy to her portrayal of Jenny Diver, the betraying, forsaken prostitute Mac has cast aside for other amorous pursuits, and Pam La Coe's boozy, snarling Mrs. Celia Peachum is impressively drawn as she staggers, belts liquor, and chain-smokes through a barrage of agreeably deployed song-and-dance routines.

The whores, a nice bunch led by Reed, are strapped into all order of lingerie (costumes by Maureen O'Sullivan), but come perilously close to being outdone by the average Rocky Horror Picture Show cast.

The set is an effective, though skeletal, assemblage of metal piping and catwalks--eerily reminiscent of the "Condo-Kits" that pet stores market to hamster lovers (Pfandler, Rob Ter Beek, and Robert Brent take credit), and the structure is accented by a clean, stark lighting design (by John Connolle).

The band, conducted by the conspicuously talented Sonia Tubridy, showcases the best of WCTAG's production, performing swimmingly despite Analy Auditorium's pulpy acoustics.

The august instrumentalists manage not to offend a single note of composer Weill's distinguished and rhapsodic score, but unfortunately, the insults Brecht endures onstage far outweigh the band's attempt to redeem the production's ardent but failed efforts.

Threepenny Opera plays Thursday-Sunday through Sept. 18. Analy High School Theatre, 6950 Analy Ave., Sebastopol. Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. 824-9140.

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From the Sept. 4-10, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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