Theater Opens Friday With Puntila

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Society has struggled with the differences between the rich and the poor for generations. Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti displays these differences in a bizarre and hilarious fashion.

The play was written by Bertolt Brecht when he was in Finland trying to escape Hitler. The play is set in the mid-1920’s, in various locations of Finland.

Directed under Tony Horne, Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti, opens this Friday night at Xavier Hall Theater.

The play opens with a well-choreographed dance, involving all of the cast. Scene One takes the audience to a bar in Finland where Mr. Puntila is introduced. Adding to the alienation of the roles between the rich and the poor is the twist Horne added by casting a female actress as Mr. Puntila. The original actor quit the play about four weeks into the practices and actress Elizabeth Gimbel took over. Adding Gimbel to the play was one of Horne’s smartest decisions.

Scene One sets the plot for the rest of the play, showing Mr. Puntila’s varying moods, which are drunk and sober.

When he is sober, he is a harsh democrat and when he is drunk, he acts like a socialist.

Adding to the scene is Mr. Puntila’s poor chauffeur, Matti, played by actor Andy Zaruba. Matti is the only character who is a down-and-out socialist.

The rest of the cast plays roles of sympathetic socialists, but they are unwilling to speak out in fear of how Mr. Puntila would react when he is sober.

Mr. Puntila is the owner of a farm in Finland. He takes to running the farm when is sober and calling himself a farmer when he is drunk.

Matti encourages Mr. Puntila’s drunkenness, and really can’t stand him whether he is sober or drunk. Mr. Puntila thinks that Matti is his best friend when he is drunk and hates him when he is sober.

The cast members work well together, with only a few incidents of individuals falling out of character throughout the entire play.

Scene Two introduces Mr. Puntila’s daughter, Eva, played by actress Nicole Lewer. Eva is a bratty, confused rich girl and Lewer does an excellent job of portraying her.

Mr. Puntila has been arranging a marriage between Eva and a diplomat, who is called the attach?. The attach? is played by actor Tony Giacomelli. Eva does not really want to marry the attach?, and Mr. Puntila really does not want her to either. In fact, when he is drunk, he wants her to marry Matti.

The climax is reached when in a drunken state Mr. Puntila proposes to four women, who all accept. He tells them to show up at “their engagement parties.” which is really the party for his daughter Eva’s engagement to the attach?.

One of the most entertaining scenes is when they all show up to the “party” and see Mr. Puntila in a sober and a rather outraged state.

One subplot includes a worker named Surkkala, who is played by actor Matt Howard this subplot is rather confusing, yet it supports Mr. Puntila’s contradicting mannerisms. Mr. Puntila fires him for being a “red” (communist) and in the next scene rehires him and calls himself a near communist.

The play ends in a hilarious twist. The twist is quite predictable due to the relationship between Mattie and Eva throughout the entire play.

Toward the end of the play, the cast seemed to be either tired or unprepared. Several times, Zaruba stumbled across lines, due to apparent lack of memorization and other cast members causing him to miss cues. Despite this, Zaruba made up for those minor flaws with excellent facial expression and never falling out of character.

At times, Eva’s character was overplayed.

The costuming was excellent, although the wigs that a few cast members wore could have been better positioned. There were a few instances when the audience could see Mr. Puntila’s real hair line, and one very obvious moment when a villager adjusted his wig on stage.

The set is designed well, and the set changes ran smoothly and quickly. There was only one point in the play when the audience can see the behind-the-scene movements, which involved a glimpse of a quick dress change.

The play runs about two and a half hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Tickets are available at the box office for $5 for students. The opening show is this Friday Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. Shows are also on Nov. 11, 12, 16, 17 and 18.