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Nontraditional ‘Threepenny Opera’ offers a unique historical viewpoint on British poverty

Confusion, concubines and comedy are the order of the night as the University of West Florida theatre department stages Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” at the UWF Mainstage Theater.

The German pseudo-opera, translated into English by Marc Blitzstein, appears to be a dark and twisted spin on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” even though the latter came into being well after Brecht’s production was first staged. The work functions almost like a romantic comedy, taking jabs at the larger issues at hand in British society in the 1920s with naturally paced dialogue and animated movement on-stage.

Sam Osheroff, visiting assistant professor of directing and acting, commented on the unique style of the production.

“Bear in mind that it isn’t really an opera in the traditional sense, nor is it a piece of musical theater,” Osheroff said.

The musical really stands on its own in terms of its style, Osheroff said.

“The Threepenny Opera” follows the traditional three-act structure, with some simple deviations. The Street Singer (Cassie Martinez) and Smith (Malik Ali), introduce scenes by reading off of a scroll that the audience can see, a sort of Meta element directly referencing stage and scene directions from the script on-stage alongside the action.

The plot is peppered with plenty of commentary on not only the deplorable situations the impoverished people of England faced during the 20s, but life for the destitute in any time frame. Quips like “The noble poor are nobly underfed,” and “Power creates poverty, but can’t bear to look at it,” contrast with the comedic nature of the love affairs of Mack the Knife (Marquez Linder) and the quest to bring him to justice.

Amidst the metal catwalks and ladders, several large newspaper clippings adorn the stage, with phrases such as “Wake Up!” “Grub first, then ethics,” and “99%.” These phrases are also commentary on the societal ills of the time, an element around which Osheroff developed UWF’s production. The collage of text, photographs and metal is reminiscent of collage artwork during the early modernist movement that stretched into the 1920s.

Perhaps the most interesting take on the poverty issues come during the scenes in which the Peachums (Keegan Stull and Rachel Lewis) outfit people as beggars in an elaborate panhandling scheme. While sending people out to beg for money, they have their charges participate in preparing to mob the coronation of the queen with a protest against deplorable situations poor people and war veterans face in reality.

The actors are decked out in attire that clashes with itself, but was evocative of the dark and eclectic mood. Women are garbed in black corsets and skirts aligned with bright blue, red and pink, while men wear blander colors (save for Mr. Peachum in his garish purple jacket). Everyone’s faces were painted ghostly white, as if to say the past continues to haunt the present.

Lighting changes frequently during the show to accompany the moods of the characters. While mainly staying dimmed to match the darkness of the opera, green light shone during the “Jealousy Duet,” and red beams blared during loud numbers with Mack the Knife and his crew.  Live music accompanied many of the songs, adding to their disorienting and sometimes intimidating natures.

Overall, “The Threepenny Opera” is a manic, realistic and funny presentation of the lower echelon of society. It does not shy away from the consequences of poverty and vice, yet the humor comes from how the characters take it all in stride and learn in the end, with an ending being something you might expect from such a work. It is definitely worth the three hours to see how it all plays out.

“The Threepenny Opera” will be playing April 25-28, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Admission is free for UWF students, $16 for adults, and $12 for seniors, military and UWF faculty and staff.

Christian Pacheco
Staff Writer

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