The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

"Just a jacknife has MacHeath, dear..." It's the signature song of the Players' fall show, Berthold Brecht's Threepenny Opera, and Fitzpatrick wants to hear it sung in several different voices. "Try to be more sarcastic this time," she instructs one auditioner. "Your daughter has run off with this MacHeath, and you want to warn her about him. OK. Again." The singer obliges, biting off her words and looking disdainfully over her shoulder. She is one of the 42 to audition, and is among the lucky 27 to be called back last week. The first-round auditions gave her the chance to display her individual strengths and personality, but during the call-backs, she must conform to the director's desires. Auditions are the first part of the grueling workout of bringing a director's idea to the stage. Although the show may differ from season to season, actors, directors, and dozens of others, take part in a ritual combining individual talents into a single polished production. Threepenny Opera is the story of MacHeath, a notorious London criminal, and the beggars, prostitutes and thieves with whom he associates. "Try to be more slimy," Block instructed an actor auditioning for the part of Mr. Peachum, who issues permits to beggars in return for half their income. "Be more. . . blech." Although the instructions to auditioners may sound peculiar to the people outside the theater, the director's methods are designed to highlight the auditioner's specific talents. "We want people who can play both sides of a character," Block said afterwards. "Every character on the stage has some duality, so we're looking for people who maybe look soft but could play it hard." Eric Morris, who has been cast as MacHeath, said this week that he shares Block's assessment of his character. "The audience is supposed to like him at certain points and not at others," the College junior said. "I think it's going to be a love-hate thing." College junior Andrea Davis, who is playing one of the female leads, said that the two-sided nature of the characters presents several acting challenges. "Polly Peachum is one of those sweet little characters, but she becomes strong all of a sudden," she said. "I didn't want to make it such an obvious click that the audience couldn't relate to it." At the audition, actors drape themselves provocatively over the metal chairs of Annenberg 516 to play a whorehouse scene. "Who's playing what?" asks one. "I'm Molly." "I'm Dolly." "I'm just called the Coaxer." Everyone laughs, including Block and Fitzpatrick, and for a moment it is possible to imagine the clean-cut University students trading jokes in a brothel. "I chose Threepenny because it's not the standard 'life is good, everything is wonderful' musical," said Block. "In Philadelphia, there are two major problems: homelessness, and the fact that the city is going bankrupt. That problem is something that needs to and can be related in the style that Brecht uses." Brecht wrote Threepenny Opera in 1928 in Berlin -- a city with problems similar to Philadelphia's, and according to Davis, this creates a dark mood that pervades the play, extending into the music, which is filled with minor chords. "There's a gloom over the entire production," said the College junior. "You get the feeling of Berlin between World War I and World War II." Brecht is also known for attempting to prevent his audience from being drawn into the action of the scene and empathizing with it. In Threepenny Opera, this effect is achieved through signs addressed directly to the audience and characters who break stage conventions by walking through imaginary doors and walls. "Brecht is a very strange animal," said College senior David Simon, who has been cast as Peachum. "He's very into making the audience know that this is theater they're watching." Block said last week that she wanted to introduce students to Brechtian style. "They haven't had Brecht in a while, and he's an important playwrite," she said. Although the rehearsals began just over a week ago, the cast is already enthusiastic about the November production. "I think everybody is very eager to make it a good production," said Davis. "It feels like if something went wrong with one area, everyone would pitch in to fix it." Many of the performers are new to the University theater community which creates an added tension to the audition with many not knowing what to expect. "There's a lot of young, new talent, which is very exciting," said Simon. "I've basically been working with the same people for the last three years."

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.