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The Threepenny Opera

Tae Andrews | Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Three pennies for your thoughts, anyone?

Tickets to “The Threepenny Opera, opening tonight at 7:30 pm on the Decio Mainstage Theater in DPAC, cost a little bit more than three cents (it’s actually $8 with a student ID), but the show remains thought-provoking fare: a play set on the mean streets of 19th-century London and riddled throughout with social commentary and class consciousness.

At the very beginning, one of the characters strides to center stage and declares “Threepenny … an opera for beggars.” On the surface, this is immediately apparent, as the ragtag ensemble performs a musical number costumed as London’s poor and downtrodden – who make up the staff list of Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, the underworld king of the city’s bedraggled beggars. The hunchbacked Peachum (played by Conor Woods) is alternately hilarious and menacing as he stalks the stage with his signature sneer on his face. His wife, Mrs. Peachum (Krysta Dennis) also deserves mention for her crazed look and sinister cackle. Overall the pair is vaguely reminiscent of the Master of the House and his wife in the musical “Les Miserables” – only with better accents.

The two get their rags in a twist when their beautiful daughter, Polly (played by Katie Nuss), runs off to elope with Macheath, London’s crown prince of crime. Matt Goodrich steals the show as Mac the Knife, as he is more commonly known. Despite being a womanizing scoundrel, Mac retains a quick charm about him that the audience can’t help but like as he delivers his lines in a thick brogue.

As revenge for stealing away his daughter, Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum resolves to have Mac arrested. As a result, Polly convinces Mac to get out of town. But before he does, Mac makes the mistake of making a quick pit stop at his favorite brothel, where he runs into the sultry Jenny (played by Sarah Loveland), a seductive prostitute and bitter ex-wife who gets paid off to betray him.

The resulting plot twists and turns involve Mac’s many love triangles and his continuing flight from justice. This process is complicated by the corrupt police chief Tiger Brown (played by Mark Pienkos), who is an old friend of the irascible Mac.

“The Threepenny Opera” is great fun as a show; it’s a bawdy and gaudy affair full of spot-on musical numbers, quick one-liners and just the right amount of sleaze. The show’s tongue in cheek is delivered well – most of the humor arrives with a wink and a nod.

In addition, the overall stage aesthetic is perfect for the material. The stage is often bathed in red and blue hues, and Mac and his miscreant crew sport garishly bright gangster zoot suits. In addition, in keeping with the play’s theme of oppressive poverty, much of the cast is decked out in couture reminiscent of the “Derelicte” clothing line from the film “Zoolander.” A few costumes even include beer can bolas made out of empty Keystone Light cans.

The play also has a strong cabaret influence. Fans of the musical “Chicago” will love “Threepenny,” as it possesses a similar feel at times. In fact, the musical was written by composer Kurt Weill and playwright Bertolt Brecht and debuted in Berlin in 1928. Indeed, it is believed to have inspired “Chicago.”

Despite all the grimy glamour onstage, there is a lot more to “The Threepenny Opera” than meets the surface. Director Anton Juan wanted to use the show as a platform from which to expound on social justice issues such as world poverty. He started with the set itself. Without a doubt, the play’s unforgettable central image is the set, which resembles a giant face.

“I wanted to keep the set simple, with nothing technological,” Juan said in an interview Sunday. “I don’t like to be a slave to technology. Plus, I wanted something that could be manipulated by the actors.”

Juan went on to offer his three cents on the set design.

“My idea in the play, with the head being crowned, is that the head is the system itself, the system of corruption that spews out and swallows us,” he said. “It keeps covered the evils of society and prevents us from speaking the truth.

“The system of corruption itself is being crowned, and we’re all symptoms of that system. I thought that should be a panorama, an integral part of the whole system of which we are all are a part of.

“It’s a beautiful experience to go through a process as an ensemble. I wanted [the cast and crew] to understand a different aesthetic, a different style. It’s because you lead the student so that they move into other realities. Their experience of pain is very limited. I thought maybe they should face that too. A vision of social justice is something they should understand.”

With its talented cast, dynamic visuals and engaging characters, “The Threepenny Opera” is not only well worth the price of admission, but is also a show with a deeper meaning. That’s quite a bargain.