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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No 'nice' in 'Threepenny Opera'

Special to The Advertiser


7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through May 29

Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter


438-4480, www.armytheatre.com

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"That is not nice. That is art, and art is not nice."

Anyone looking for "nice" is not going to find it in the Army Community Theatre production of "The Threepenny Opera," dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill's 1928 indictment of capitalism. And several of its lines have an eerily contemporary spin.

"Who is the greater criminal? He who robs a bank or he who founds one?"

Directed and designed by Brett Harwood, with musical direction by Lina Doo, the production boasts a visually stunning opening unlike anything seen before on the Richardson Theatre stage.

A sole accordion player strolls down the long audience aisle while a spotlighted street singer slowly emerges from a trap door in the covered-over orchestra pit. The tune is the "Ballad of Mack the Knife" not the finger-snapping Bobby Darin version, but a plaintive and unpretty narrative sung with careful phrasing by Alamo Paraso.

Points of light appear on the main stage a rickety skeleton of platforms and stairways housing the orchestra at the rear, illuminated only by the lights on their music stands, and revealing shadowy huddles of beggars.

The downside of this powerful opening sequence is that it sets the tone for the next three hours that have us peering through the gloom to locate singers and often wishing that someone might dial up the wattage.

Still, the minimalist lack-of-lighting plot creates interesting ceiling shadows when special spotlights at the soloists' feet throw them into ghoulish outlines.

In its best alienist moments, it underscores the didactic Brecht interpretation of Macheath, a true anti-hero who lives by theft and whoring, leaving a trail of bigamous wives and illegitimate children. We aren't expected to like him, only to watch without emotion and to learn. We might also enjoy the uniformly excellent voices in the cast.

Laurence Paxton takes on the part of Mackie with detached amoral bemusement, marrying a new wife while dallying with a house full of easy girls, then double crossed and about to be executed. Paxton makes him vocally and physically powerful the embodiment of the lyric, "the world is mean, and man uncouth."

In his wake drifts Polly (Jody Bill) a strong soprano who entertains at her own wedding supper with the malignant tale of a spectral ship, "Pirate Jenny," backed up by projected images of skulls and burning buildings. Another wifely casualty is Lucy (Kristin Stone), who takes on Polly in a wrestling ring for the "Jealousy Duet."

Terri Madden and John Hunt play Polly's parents. Kelly Pohl is the sentimental chief of police, Tiger Brown, and Shawna Gobble is the traitorous Jenny.

Brecht's message is that feeding on others keeps a man alive. "He likes to taste them first, then eat them whole if he can." That's a tough premise to swallow, but a perfect tonic to exorcise a stage that has seen one too many saccharine productions of "High School Musical."