“The Threepenny Opera” is being staged Thursday, Nov. 16, Friday, Nov. 17, Saturday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 19 in the Experimental Theatre in the basement of the University of New Mexico’s Center for the Arts. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are available at www.unmtickets.com, by calling 925-5858, at ticket offices in the UNM Bookstore, The Pit and at the Center for the Arts box office. Tickets are $15 general public, $12 seniors and UNM faculty and $10 students.
Advisory: Language and suggestive gestures
Review by David Steinberg
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera” is considered a 20th century masterpiece.
Hats off to director Kate Clarke and University of New Mexico Theatre and Dance Department for presenting so vivid and vital an ensemble production and for bringing Brechtian “epic theater” to Albuquerque.
This “play with music” had a long run in Berlin in 1928, the city and year it premiered. Hitler shut down the play in 1933. But it was regularly performed throughout Europe before World War II. Then in 1954 an off-Broadway production of “The Threepenny Opera” opened; it ran for more than 2,000 performances.
It isn’t everyone cup of tea and it challenges the actors to portray Brecht’s underlying use of political satire to slam capitalism. Brecht was a Socialist.
The UNM student cast of low-life characters inhabit London on the eve of Queen Victoria’s coronation.
Peachum (Sam Connan) and his wife (Virginia Benitez-Jones) run a gang of beggars. The Peachums keep a percentage of the beggars’ collections.
Meanwhile, their beautiful daughter Polly (Cheyenne Bilbrey), with a beautiful voice to match, has secretly married Macheath, aka Mack the Knife (James Patten).
Macheath is the most powerful criminal in London. He operates a whorehouse, oversees a pack of thieves and has a reputation as a womanizer, and worse, an unrepentant rapist and a murderer. The Peachums think Polly’s marriage will hurt their begging business and insist she divorce him.
Macheath and the Peachums run their criminal enterprises just like legit businessmen do.
Fearing Macheath’s incursion on their biz, the Peachums reveal to the cops his whereabouts. Macheath is on good terms with the police chief, Tiger Brown, (Josh Blanchard), an old army pal. (Criminals and cops in bed together?)
Caught, Macheath is jailed and awaiting execution. The chief can’t help his buddy now. It may be up to the queen herself to come to his rescue. How can government be so corrupt, one wonders.
These student actors are up to the task.
Connan makes Peachum a fierce, larger-than-life presence. He dominates scenes. Benitez-Jones is a tough, back-boned Mrs. Peachum, Bilbrey convincingly conveys an innocence than hardens.
Patten creates an appropriately oily Macheath. He fits the type of celebrities in our society who are being publicly accused these days of sexually harassing and abusing women.
Lauren Salter’s Jenny Diver still works for Macheath though she’s his former lover. Salter has a full, rich voice operatic voice that demands to be heard again.
A group of secondary performers are worth noting: Christopher Clawson shows his acting and vocal versatility in holding down three roles – the Ballad Singer, the Rev. Kimball and a beggar. Russell Casados is the nasty Crookfinger Jake. Aris Zaffer is Matt, one of Macheath’s henchmen, and the cackling, coarse Old Whore.
Paul Roth is the music director and the on-stage pianist. He’s more, though; with no lines he joins the actors in some scenes.
The set, designed by Kevin Zane Holman, is simple but effective – multilevel scaffolding that is converted to spaces used for scenes and movement. It’s especially effective in the black box of the Experimental Theatre. There are posters that brighten one side of the scaffolding.
Kelly Erickson’s costume designs (with help from assistant Rachel Capener) were a indispensable visual element in the success of the performance.
Director Clarke, an assistant professor, explained in the program one of the reasons why she chose to have UNM stage “The Threepenny Opera.” Clarke writes: This piece … points up the fact that we need to respect each other, we need to take care of our citizens, both globally and locally, and we need to demand justice over corruption.”
“The Threepenny Opera” is based on John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera,” a satirical ballad opera that premiered almost 290 years in London. Macheath and the Peachums were characters in Gay’s production.