The Threepenny Opera, written by Bertolt Brecht and directed by Steven Pearson, is back at the University of South Carolina. This production brings about USC’s first musical Mainstage production since another of Brecht’s works, Mother Courage and Her Children, was performed in April of 2009!
The Threepenny Opera follows the deeds of the charming, but innately vile, Macheath (Josh Jeffers). Macheath is a notorious criminal who is widely admired by beggars and thieves of Victorian London, and is known for thousands of heinous crimes, including thievery, adultery, and murder. Macheath only sees wild success in all of his endeavors until he takes the young, and naïve, Polly Peachum (Candace Thomas) as his wife in secret. For when Mr. and Mrs. Peachum (Benjamin Roberts and Rachel Kuhnle), discover that Macheath has ‘stolen’ their daughter away, they vow to have him arrested and hanged.
“[The play] was radical when Brecht first introduced it as a sort of anti-opera, anti-establishment sort of theatre,” Pearson explains. “It has a sociopolitical bent which says, ‘Look at what is going on the country and in society, at thieves and beggars and the commodification of people.” Threepenny is Brecht’s adaption of John Gay’s 1728 satirical ballad opera entitled The Beggar’s Opera. Both plays take a socialist standpoint to make social commentary on the inequality of the classes in capitalist societies. “Brecht was talking about the same things that are happening now, and even though the play is set in the 19th-century, it has a very contemporary feel,” says Pearson. “It all keeps coming back, people wanting to cut funding that supports the poor, the discrepancies between the haves and have nots… Really, nothing has changed.”
By placing such a self-serving, ironic-hero in a role that one is intended to sympathize with, it forces the audience constantly question who in the play they should be identifying with or fighting for. Even Mr. Peachum, who is the strongest supporter of traditional morality, still only gains income through the exploitation of others and only truly has selfish intentions. “The play centers around beggars, thieves, and whores, or “the poorest of the poor”, trying to lift themselves from their current socioeconomic state,” explains Josh Jeffers (Macheath). “…Not a single character has the luxury of remaining incorruptible, nor bears shame because today, not only is the financial gap between the poor and the wealthy significantly wide, but we’ve become profoundly desensitized to corruption. If our audiences feel confronted with this theme in either capacity, then I think we’ve succeeded. “
And being a Brecht production, which focuses on the alienation of the audience, or verfremdungseffekt, Threepenny should be considered less a ‘musical theatre production’ and more ‘a play with music’. “The audience plays a major role. We use music and, occasionally, direct address to include them in this story because the themes are so universal,” Josh Jeffers explains, “…The music in a Brecht piece is a tool used to comment on the theme of the moment, rather than advance the plot or reveal characters’ intentions. Brecht’s music isn’t necessarily as melodic as we’re used to. It’s rough and messy because the characters and themes are rough and messy. “
Mack is back! Show times for The Threepenny Opera are 8pm Wednesdays through Saturdays, with additional 3pm matinees on Sunday, October 4 and Saturday, October 10. Tickets for the production are $12 for students, $16 for USC faculty/staff, military personnel and seniors 60+, and $18 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 803-777-2551 or by visiting the Longstreet Theatre box office, which is open Monday-Friday, 12:30pm-5:30pm, beginning Friday, September 25. Longstreet Theater is located at 1300 Greene St.
The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill
English Translation by Robert MacDonald
Original German text based on
Elizabeth Hauptmann’s German translation of
John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera
Directed by Steven Pearson
Musical Direction by Matthew Marsh
Preview by Rebecca Shrom