Director Kate Mendeloff”s clear brown eyes sparkle when she discusses playwrite Bertolt Brecht. Her hands punctuate the air when she describes “The Threepenny Opera,” which the Residential College Players will present on Friday and Saturday at the RC Auditorium. Student players have treated this work as an allegory, commenting on the present state of affairs in contemporary America.

Paul Wong
The bandit Macheath (Quinn Strassel) celebrates his marriage to Polly (Karen Ostafinski).<br><br>Courtesy of Kate Mendeloff

Brecht and Kurt Weill have transformed the 1730 work of playwright John Gay, called the “Beggars Opera,” into this work of pointed barbs about 20th century bourgeois capitalism. The opera echoes today”s political climate, and Brecht”s biting wit and sharp satire enhance and magnify the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of a society whose order has gone awry. For example, the beggar”s outfitting shop has a sign outside of the establishment, naming it a faith-based charity.

Mendeloff describes this work as Brecht”s seminal piece, in which he reveals himself as a satirist. She refers to a quality in the play called “verfremdungseffekt,” which loosely translates into “alienation effect.”

However, she is quick to point out that Brecht had no intention toward alienation of the audience. Rather, he was totally committed to a cerebral engagement of the work and the audience. Mendeloff quotes the playwrights” goal of making the “familiar strange and the strange familiar.” With the addition of the Weill musical score, this distancing is further assured. The most familiar Weill song, “Mack the Knife,” was a revolutionary piece of its own, employing jazz motif into an operatic work.

According to Brecht, each person has many options in life. The audience has the capacity to identify with some of these life options. In this play, some of the options are whore, thief and beggar. It will be interesting to note which option each member will choose. Although choices are never easy, this multi-layered work will offer them in a way that is challenging, exciting and interesting to each of the audience members. A daring and controversial work, which evokes strong reaction, “The Threepenny Opera” is a complex work that puzzles audience to this day.

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