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Horselaughs From 17th-Century France

THE MISER Comedy by Moli`ere. Translated by John Wood. Directed by Stephen Porter. Starring Philip Bosco, Carole Shelley, Mia Dillon. At the Circle in the Square Theatre through December. THE Circle in the Square production of ``The Miser'' abounds in style, pace, and resilience - hallmarks of true comic performance. With the incomparable Philip Bosco penetrating beyond mirth into the dark recesses of Harpagon's soul, the Stephen Porter revival of this Moli`ere masterpiece offers a full measure of laughs - and something more.

The production begins apace and never flags as these agile comedians expose the ludicrous and often questionable behavior of Moli`ere's 17th-century fellow Frenchmen. Each devious turn of events reveals yet another facet of human frailty until multiple dilemmas are miraculously resolved to the delight of a willing audience.

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``The Miser'' revolves around Harpagon's (Mr. Bosco) greedy obsession with gold. Shabbily black-clad and bespectacled, he suspects everyone and begrudges everything. Like most obsessive individuals, Harpagon is imperviously self-centered. He is so tight that he can't even ``give'' a ``Good day.'' He ``lends'' it. He welcomes the flattery of his trusted go-between Prosine (Carole Shelley in a deft comic performance) until she presumes to ask for a little financial help, a plea to which he turns an instantly deaf ear.

Harpagon's money problems are wholly a figment of his warped imagination. The elderly widower's romantic problems are another matter. The foolish old hoarder has chosen to set his affections on the lovely young Marianne (Tracy Sallows), who happens to be the chosen love of Harpagon's rebellious son Cleante (Thomas Gibson). The father-son standoff is but one of the multiple conflicts Moli`ere has devised to keep the plot spinning and the spectator entertained.

``The Miser'' abounds in comic contradictions, cross purposes, two-edged conversations, and misunderstandings. Variously involved in Moli`ere's web are Harpagon's daughter, Elise (an enchantingly affected Mia Dillon), in love with Valere (Christian Baskous), sister to Marianne, and son of Anselme (John MacKay), a fortuitous late arrival. Among those helping to snarl and unsnarl matters are Adam Redfield, John Christopher Jones, and Tom Brennan.

But even as ``The Miser'' does, one must return finally to Harpagon himself. Whether he is scolding his children, bullying his servants, holding forth on stingy hospitality, or instructing the police (``Arrest the whole town - and the suburbs as well''), Mr. Bosco's tightwad is an object for deserved scorn and derision. This fine actor is not content, however, merely to epitomize the comic boor and penny pincher. Instead, he uncovers the weakness and dread underlying Harpagon's avarice. In the end, he makes the man's obsession pitiable instead of merely contemptible. It is a wrenching moment.

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