Students stage Long Wharf theater performance

Lauren Flaum

John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” was first produced in London in 1728. In the year 2005, The Quinnipiac University’s Theatre for Community decided to do their own production of the ballad opera.

Directed by drama professors Dr. Crystal Brian and Keeley Baisden-Knudson, the production ran from Nov. 10 through 13 in New Haven at the Long Wharf Theatre’s Stage II.

The opera features a group of highwaymen, pickpockets, loose women and thieves, in what is considered a parody of the Italian operas of the playwright’s day.

When it was first introduced in the 18th century, “The Beggar’s Opera” represented something entirely new for the theatre going populace. As a critique of the social and political corruption prevalent during the period, the work satirizes the society and government of the day.

So what does this have to do with the here and now? The director believes this production is applicable to today, regardless of the vast difference in time and place. In her director’s note, Dr. Brian elaborates on this.

“The world of theater is the eternal present,” Brian said. “The truism that classics speak to the ages proves itself in an especially visceral fashion in the theater.”

Maybe Quinnipiac’s Connecticut in the 21st century isn’t such a far cry from Gay’s 1700’s London after all.

In our present age of greed and corruption, the play, which takes shots at the government, makes fun of highbrow entertainment, and makes heroes out of unsavory scoundrels, is completely relevant.

One might as well cast ex-Governor John Rowland in the production and throw in a cameo from Martha Stewart. The play portrays the upper classes as felons, and with white-collar crime becoming an integral part of modern society, what could be more appropriate?

The play centers around the character of Captain Macheath, played by QU theater veteran Casey Manning. Macheath, a highwayman, is brought to prison and sentenced to death in a plan devised by Mr. Peachum (Michael Sangregorio) and his wife (Danielle King). The cause for these ill-dealings? The womanizing Macheath has married Peachum’s daughter Polly (Ashley Wigfield) and the parents see no redemption in the marriage aside from collecting their son-in-law’s inheritance.

Add a spurned ex-lover, who is carrying Macheath’s child, to the mix with the character of Lucy Lockit (Kathryn Grassi), and you’ve got the basic gist of “The Beggar’s Opera.”

Believe it or not, all ends well – Since the audience came to see a happy ending, Macheath is released and chooses Polly for his true wife.

The actors did their best dealing with the text, antiquated as it was. In order to better communicate the play to the audience, much physical comedy was utilized. As Macheath, Manning spent a great portion of the show on the stage floor. He was frequently knocked down and pushed around by his two main love interests, providing some comedic relief.

One noticeable aspect throughout the piece was the use of music. As an opera, there was of course singing. Noteworthy solos were given by King, Sangregorio, Manning, and Grassi. Additionally, professional musicians provided accompaniment throughout. Fritz Hanson on flute, Jeremy Hutchins on keyboard, and Nathan Bixby on violin did an excellent job in tying the production together.

Several elements did leave much to be desired, including the lackluster, bare wooden set and some strange costume choices. While most of the clothing represented the 18th century, Macheath’s leather jacket looked as if it had just come off a member of the Hell’s Angels.

All in all, this latest version of “The Beggar’s Opera” provided something new for audiences who have become all too familiar with Quinnipiac Theatre’s love of Ireland. It was a nice change to see something without an Irish twist, even if it was just across the border.