Jolly good show

Brüka continues to raise the bar in local theater

Polly Peachum (Amber Edsall) falls into the trap of the dastardly Mack the Knife (Michael Grimm)—but will the tables turn?

Polly Peachum (Amber Edsall) falls into the trap of the dastardly Mack the Knife (Michael Grimm)—but will the tables turn?

Rated 4.0

Let’s clear the air.

Any reviewer runs the risk of seeming biased, and the RN&R’s many good reviews of performances by Brüka Theatre have annoyed more than a few local theater folks. The fact that our movie reviewer, Bob Grimm, has performed with Brüka in the past probably hasn’t helped with appearances; although his professionalism in balancing the two interests is above reproach, people believe what they want to believe.

I kept this all very fresh in my mind when I attended the opening performance of Brüka’s The Threepenny Opera, directed by Mary Bennett. Being as this is my first published review of a Brüka production, I wanted to tread carefully.

But the fact is that Brüka Theatre continually sets and raises the bar for the quality of local theater—that’s why the company constantly gets positive reviews, not because of any bias. Even on opening night, when tensions run high and kinks need working out, Brüka’s efforts are top-notch.

Mary Bennett made a big impression on me as an actress in October’s Little Murders, and I’m even more impressed with her ability as a director here. Bennett has pulled this “beggar’s opera” together in a big way.

A notable twist on the typical production is the use of silent film to begin each act, depicting the romance and betrayal in the relationship of lead characters Macheath (Michael Grimm, Bob’s brother) and Polly Peachum (Amber Edsall). The grainy, blurry, black-and-white clips, accompanied by the jingly music of the early 1900s, cleverly create the mood of the era.

As the classic anti-hero Macheath—otherwise known as Mack the Knife—Michael Grimm just plain rocks. With his black cape, top hat and cane, Grimm looks every bit the elegant crime lord, and his singing voice is powerful and expressive. His biggest asset is his “plastic” face; Grimm punctuates his performance with arching eyebrows and crooked smiles, making his cartoonish villain a delight to watch.

Other standout performances include Rachael Lewis as Jenny, a whore and former lover of Mack, and Tom DeWester as J.J. Peachum, Polly’s father and “big brother of the beggars.” Both have quite a set of lungs on them, but in different and equally successful ways; DeWester’s voice is technically commanding, while Lewis’ grabs your attention with smoky growls and raw, piercing wails.

I particularly enjoyed Scott Dundas’ minor role as Filch, a wide-eyed, stuttering beggar who hasn’t yet mastered the tricks of the trade. Whenever he walked out on stage, looking progressively more miserable and downtrodden, he generated instant laughs from the crowd.

Even the performances that weren’t standouts served their purposes well, and no one performance struck me as being sub-par. In a cast of roughly 20 people, that’s quite a feat.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t compliment Lady Hull on excellent costuming, or Bill Quinby and his orchestra for musical accompaniment. While the set was a little plain for my tastes, it was functional for the variety of settings needed, and well-chosen props livened up the stage.

A small complaint: After the second 10-minute intermission, I began to wonder if the play would ever end—a case of "too much of a good thing." But I’ve been assured that by the end of a five-week run, Brüka tends to tighten up, and the productions only get better. As good as it is already, theatergoers in the next few weeks should be in for a real treat.