Review: ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at UC Davis

The Threepenny Opera

Ropes and cages are no match for London’s most notorious criminal.

Ropes and cages are no match for London’s most notorious criminal.

Photo courtesy of Justin Han

Thu 7pm, Fri 7pm, Sat 2pm & 7pm; Through 11/23; $12-$18.50; Wright Hall at UC Davis, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, (530) 752-2471,
Rated 4.0

The Threepenny Opera was written in 1923 by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and was based on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (1728). Now it’s being produced on the main stage at UC Davis, directed by Peter Lichtenfels and Regina Maria Gutierrez Bermudez.

Even though “opera” is in the title, there is a debate about whether the show is opera or musical theater. Mostly it’s musical theater, with bits of opera. While most musical numbers are unknown, the song “Mack the Knife” became a popular standard and a number one hit for Bobby Darin.

The directors and scenic designer Ian Wallace have chosen to present this on a full stage, where the actual play unfolds in the middle and the two sides of the stage show off set pieces, costumes and actors relaxing as they wait to go on—all visible to the audience.

“We are interested in looking at how the actors don’t enter the stage as characters, but transform on-stage into characters,” Lichtenfels explains.

MacHeath, London’s most notorious criminal, marries Polly Peachum against the wishes of her father, controller of all beggars in London. Peachum’s father vows to hunt MacHeath down, have him arrested and then executed for his many crimes. Fortunately for MacHeath, his best friend is Tiger Brown, the police chief of London. The three acts follow the hunt for MacHeath, his capture, escapes and recapture.

Threepenny asks, “How does our society treat people not on our social level? Do we have empathy for beggars, whores and prostitutes?” Though nearly 100 years old, the questions are still appropriate today.