‘The Miser’ Review: Updating Molière, but Missing a Key Ingredient

The support beam of theater in France, Molière is nowhere near as famous in the United States. Yet the comic high jinks, star-crossed lovers and long-lost relatives that pop up in his play “The Miser,” first produced in 1668, will be instantly familiar to anybody who has ever seen a Shakespeare comedy.

Where Molière stands out, however, is as a sharp social satirist whose denouncing of the vain, the hypocritical and the simply deluded have not aged — once timely, they are now timeless. Unfortunately it is precisely that element that is missing from the Molière in the Park production of “The Miser” at the LeFrak Center in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

The title character, Harpagon (Francesca Faridany), is a curdled, choleric, elderly man consumed by greed. It’s not even that he wants money to live in luxury: Harpagon just wants to possess it.

The play relentlessly ridicules Harpagon and his pathological greed, along with his tyrannical ways at home, where he lords it over his two daughters, the flighty Elise (Ismenia Mendes) and the flashy Cleante (Alana Raquel Bowers). Complicating matters, Elise is in love with her father’s steward, Valere (Calvin Leon Smith, fresh from a terrific turn as the closeted Larry in “Fat Ham”), while Harpagon and Cleante both covet the fetching Marianne (MaYaa Boateng, from “Fairview”).

That women are playing Cleante (a man in the original) and Harpagon indicates that the director Lucie Tiberghien, who is also the artistic director of Molière in the Park, is not stuck in tradition. Although it doesn’t gum up the works, why keep Harpagon as a male character, for example, and make Cleante a female one? This is where Molière’s relative obscurity in the United States becomes an asset since many audience members would not even be aware of the difference, as everything is played matter-of-factly.

Trickier is Faridany as Harpagon. An essential part of the play is that the character covets the same woman as his son (OK, daughter), so his being an elderly man adds an element of discomfort. This does not hit as hard when he is played by a woman who is far from “over 70,” Harpagon’s intended age.

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