Eugene Weekly : Theater : 11.08.07

Penny Drops
The Three Penny Opera at LCC

MacHeath (Chip Sherman) and Polly (Rachel O’Malley)

First things first: The Threepenny Opera? It’s not an opera. Second thing, especially for EW readers dedicated to solving social problems: The story, about beggars and thieves, the homeless and the overhoused, remains as relevant today as when young artists Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht created it in 1928.

Those things, they’re good to know when you consider buying tickets for the joint UO-LCC production, opening Friday, Nov. 9, in LCC’s Performance Hall.

“Don’t go expecting opera — or stay away because it’s opera,” says director Joseph Gilg. Instead, Threepenny is a work of musical theater, with famous songs like “Mack the Knife” alongside classics like “Ballad of Sexual Dependency Song” and “Call From the Grave.” This translation comes from mid-1990s London, with lyrics translated by Jeremy Sams and the book by Robert David McDonald. “It’s contemporary, naughty and pretty edgy,” Gilg says. He looked through several English versions before hitting on this one, and he laughs about his actors’ reactions.

“I made the comment in rehearsal one day that I thought we’d end up with a PG-13 production,” Gilg says. That is, he thought it would be more PG-13 than PG. But his cast? “The students all thought it was an R.”

For the first time in his life, Gilg is a co-director. Along with LCC’s Patrick Torelle, for whom this is also a first, Gilg has been working in unfamiliar terrain with a mix of students from both campuses to put on what he calls “a fun musical” — but one that still deals with social content.

Gilg and Torelle worked out the deal after getting the UO Theatre’s “Orphan Season” to fit in with LCC’s Student Production Association plans. The path of co-direction wasn’t clear.

“At first, he was going to direct the musical numbers, and I was going to direct the staging,” says Gilg, who’s working with a UO-based design team. “But then during [LCC’s production of King] Lear, he came up with the idea that he could be an acting coach. So he worked with the actors on relationship and characterization, which was really great.”

The visual aspects of the play point up social commentary while staying true to Brecht’s ideals about forcing people not to get too emotionally involved. Designers created some very special supertitles, including a sing-along for one of the songs, and a set that, like the characters, lives on the other side of the tracks. “These are people who live underground, behind the scenes and out of sight,” Gilg says. “This is the backside of everything.”

The audience should be alert for clues about the time period in which this production is set. It’s not the original time of Queen Victoria — though issues around class remain pretty much the same.

“Expect some good social commentary,” Gilg says, and don’t be put off either by the easy three miles to LCC (free van transportation is provided to ticket-holders from 15th and Kincaid half an hour before each show, and there’s free parking at LCC) or the fact that it’s a student production. Gilg, former chair of the UO Department of Theatre Arts, says, “Come and see what we do, and you’ll get hooked.”




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