“The Miser” brings joy to actors and audience alike

Hannah Goodloe, Guest Writer

On Feb. 26, students dressed in all manners of costumes for the 11 p.m. underground showing of Molière’s “The Miser,” which was free for anyone who showed up in an outfit that looked out-of-the-ordinary.

Joel Michaelson, who played Elise, described, “We had two people in maid costumes, some body paint action, lots of cowboys from the dance and some people dressing up as other people. I know there were two people who were dressed up as me.”

The play — directed by John Blondell, chair of Westmont’s theater department — centers around siblings Cleante and Elise, played by Alaina Dean and Joel Michaelson, respectively, and their money-obsessed mother Harpagon, played by Rory Nguyen.

Hilarity ensues when Harpagon’s fascination with dollar bills becomes entangled with two complex love triangles — Harpagon and Cleante both want to marry Marianne, played by Noah Nims, while Elise is set on marrying Anselme, despite Harpagon’s best efforts to set him up with Dame Claude, played by Juliana Moore.

Though the actors rehearsed for weeks, having an audience changed everything. Claire Bassett, who played La Merlouche, said:  “Having just students in the audience … honestly just boosted our energy so much. I think actors and audiences play off of each other way more than people know, and so the audience enthusiasm will infect the actors’ enthusiasm, which will then reinfect the audience’s excitement and enthusiasm.” 

Maegan Randolph, who played Jacques, added, “It’s so fun to play with an audience that is excited to be there, and they’re very engaged. What was interesting was how receptive they were, because it [was] eleven o’clock at night.”

Michaelson said, “The eleven o’clock show just had a whole different kind of energy.” In fact, Michaelson and Randolph both described the late evening audience as especially vibrant. Overall, Randolph said the audience members “were there to see their friends and to have a good laugh.”

For Michaelson, his favorite on-stage moment was seeing the audience reaction to the reveal that Valere and Marianne, played by Emiliana Brewer and Noah Nims, respectively, are long-lost children of Dame Claude. Michaelson said, in that moment, he “could see someone in the audience go ‘whoa!’ and stretch his arms out super wide, and the whole crowd collectively gasped.” 

Randolph’s favorite moment was when Marianne first walked onstage: “[Marianne] had already been introduced to the audience through the text, so the audience knew this character. … They know that he’s already caught in the middle of this love triangle, and that makes him an object of interest, and then he walks onstage looking like a complete spectacle in his decked-out costume and tattoos, and the audience just went nuts.”

Bassett, Randolph and Michaelson all agreed that the 11 p.m. show was an overwhelming success. “[It was] our best run of the show thus far,” Bassett said. “This [was] the best show I’ve worked on yet at Westmont,” Randolph added. Michaelson agreed, “There weren’t really any hiccups, [and] the show played straight through.”

Not only did the actors and audience play off one another, but the cast and crew worked well together, too. “We’re a very unique cast,” Michaelson said. “ We’re less of a cast and more like a company of people. I could see us doing more shows together, because we work really well … Everyone has [the ability] to give and receive ideas really easily. There’s no ‘well, this is my idea, and I want to be the one to be able to use it,’ but more, ‘I have this idea and I see where it could fit.’” 

Bassett agreed: “[the] smaller cast … [has] really helped to bring us together. There’s no clinginess or inside jokes because we’re all in the joke. We’ve had to get very comfortable with each other, because a lot of what we do in the show for comedic effect is sometimes improvised. So, it’s just been a lot of building and forming that trust with one another.”

While they enjoyed producing the show, all three acknowledged the difficulty of balancing rehearsal with schoolwork. “It does take a toll,” Michaelson stressed. “There are definitely things that get sacrificed that I would rather didn’t have to.”

Randolph added, “For me, personally, this semester has been very full as it is, so ‘The Miser’ was one more thing on my plate … I’m kind of lucky I don’t have the biggest role in the show, so there were plenty of rehearsals that I was not called for, so I got to have the night to catch up on any homework that I didn’t get done, but some of the cast members … were in every act, and they were called every night.” 

Still, all three actors overwhelmingly agreed that the joy of participating in the show outweighed the sacrifice of time. Randolph emphasized, “I can’t imagine if I had not auditioned for this show, because I would have missed out on so many great opportunities. Busy? Absolutely. Worth it? Absolutely.”

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