There is something highly poetic in San Jose Stage Company following the warm nostalgia of its last offering, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, with the caustic blaze of The Threepenny Opera, a particularly nasty and mordant version of the Brecht/Weill classic at that. There is also a certain satisfaction in seeing a set of familiar faces, fresh from their recent Frank Capra tribute, inhabiting a world in which “you have to kill your neighbor to survive.”

The story of master criminal Macheath, who steals the daughter of Beggar King Peachum and eludes the hangman’s noose time and again, is designed to alienate its audience, and in this respect is an obvious influence on musicals like Chicago and Cabaret. Kenneth Kelleher, director of the Stage’s Threepenny, gets the tone of the piece just right, eschewing the mollifying cutesiness that often accompanies those Kander and Ebb shows.

Halsey Varady and Will Springhorn Jr., who were Mary and George Bailey just a short while ago, now appear respectively as whore extraordinaire Jenny Diver and odious Chief Constable Tiger Brown. Added to the mix are Paul Myrvold and Susan Gundunas, amusingly crusty and gargoyle-like as old Peachum and his wife, and Monique Hafen, who brings a haunting dreaminess to the role of their daughter, Polly. Johnny Moreno makes a strong impression as the central antihero Macheath, not the suave gentleman of the underworld, but an unrestrained, menacing psychopath. However, the show really belongs to Varady and her explosive Jenny.

There’s nothing to like about these characters, as much as we might admire the performances, which is as it should be. The music sounds choppy and discordant—in a word, grotesque—and quite in keeping with the spirit of the production. Polly’s chillingly ethereal rendition of “Pirate Jenny” is one fine moment.

The lyric translation by Jeremy Sams, first used in the 1994 Donmar Warehouse production, is the one used here. The vulgarity of Sams’ lyrics is perfectly in line with Brecht’s and Weill’s original intentions, though it may be shocking to viewers more familiar with, say, Bobby Darin’s version of “Mack the Knife.”

The Threepenny Opera is at The Stage, San Jose through March 20. More info.