Review: Tom Jones (Northlight Theatre)

| February 9, 2014
Molly Glynn and Chris Amos in Northlight Theatre's "Tom Jones", adapted by Jon Jory, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
Tom Jones

Adapted by Jon Jory  
Directed by William Brown 
North Shore Center for the Arts, Skokie (map)
thru Feb 23  |  tickets: $25-$75   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
                   Read review


A fine and lusty tale of 18th-Century England


Sam Ashdown and Melanie Keller in Northlight Theatre's "Tom Jones", adapted by Jon Jory, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Northlight Theatre presents
Tom Jones

Review by Kat Hey

“There will always be an England” is how the song goes – but things weren’t always so prim and proper. The 18th Century was a time of ribaldry and sexual frankness in England. Henry Fielding was quite the libertine scamp himself, and he put that character to paper, giving us “Tom Jones”.

The novel and the fine adaptation by Jon Jory, follows the title character from his ignoble birth into adulthood. Tom (Sam Ashdown) is a handsome and very appealing young man to all of the ladies. Everyone wants to either get with him or get back at him in spite of his efforts to be noble and chivalrous. Ashdown gives quite an appealing performance as Tom. He has an athletic physique with lithe movements. The look on his face as he’s seduced by a series of women is hapless and yet quite willing. Keep in mind that “Tom Jones” was not considered great literature at the time, but rather lurid in the fashion of Fanny Hill or the 19th century underground erotica collection – “The Pearl”. The very idea that women wanted sex wasn’t a novel idea; it just wasn’t spoken of in polite society.

Sam Ashdown and Molly Glynn in Northlight Theatre's "Tom Jones", adapted by Jon Jory, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

The women in this story are integral characters and not just tarts. Each of the characters is an example of how the ‘weaker sex’ overpowers. Molly Glynn (skillfully portraying three separate characters: Molly, Landlady, and Lady Bellaston) is wonderfully lithe with perfect comic timing. Her Molly introduces Tom to sex, while Lady Bellaston makes him a kept man, and her Landlady defends her right to be an innkeeper through several inventive ways of her late husband succumbing to lightning. Nora Fiffer as Sophia is the embodiment of an English maiden and a not-so-innocent daughter of a country squire. Fiffer projects the delicate and yet ripe girl waiting to be plucked from her father’s protection. Melanie Keller gives new life to the famous eating scene at the inn. It would be very difficult to have the variety of food that was in the film, but they do quite well with simple fruit, chipped beef and appreciative sounds. Cristina Panfilio (Mrs. Fitzpatrick to Bridget, and Miss Western) gives a well-rounded performance of three distinct characters. She reels between the narrator, the maiden aunt, and the wife on the lam with a nimble touch.  (This was the time before the Victorian Era when some women would prefer to be kept rather than married and some wives preferred it as well to take the pressure off her to reproduce. Either way had its own form of respectability.)

Chris Amos gives a great performance particularly as Blifil, the impudent and sneaky heir to Squire Allworthy (Marcus Truschinski). Amos has an extraordinarily expressive face that is perfect for hiding naughty tomes inside the Bible or letting a lady’s songbird be eaten by a hawk. He is particularly well paired with Eric Parks (Thwakum and Mr. Fitzpatrick) in several scenes. Parks shines as the imperious and greedy Tutor to Tom and Blifil. He projects a twisted glee in caning Tom for being caught in an unfortunate tryst.

John Lister (Squire Western) gives the best performance in the play. His boozy and rough country squire is perfect. He has an exemplary grasp of the accent and carriage of the character. Lister is a hearty and enjoyable embodiment of a man who watches out for poachers (of his partridges and his daughter) and is often passed out from drinking. His presence s commanding, and he rolls out some great phrases – such as ‘suck, suck, my little bee’ – that make sense only coming from his character.

Despite these sublime performances, this production suffers from uneven accents employed by the actors. In some spots it might have been better to speak American English with good diction, rather than veering between imitations of a posh intonation and then rough country bumpkin or slattern. The dialogue is a work of art that can stand on its own. It is known where the story takes place and the accents often detract more than they enhance.

The set constructed for this production is a wonder to see. It is a series of platforms, trap doors and passages with beautiful English landscapes painted on the sides. It serves equally well as a country estate, the home of a fine lady, and the infamous inn. The staging is perfect, and there is no hint of tentativeness from the cast. I quiver when I see depictions of mountain climbing, and this set did the same whenever I saw someone hover near the edge of the platform without railings. The simplicity is genius in giving the illusion of intricacy through discreet set dressing changes.

Tom Jones is a fun night at the theater and worth the trek to the north hinterland of Skokie. I enjoyed the bawdy tale done with hearty, if uneven, aplomb.

Rating: ★★½

Tom Jones continues through February 23rd at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie (map), with performances Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays at 1pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2:30pm and 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm, 7pm.  Tickets are $25-$75, and are available by phone (847-673-6300) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours, includes an intermission. Note: There are scenes of sexual activity and sword violence – a more mature audience 16 and up recommended.)

Sam Ashdown and Nora Fiffer in Northlight Theatre's "Tom Jones", adapted by Jon Jory, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Chris Amos (Blifil, Ensign Northerton, Lord Fellamar), Sam Ashdown (Tom Jones), Nora Fiffer (Deborah Sophia Western), Molly Glynn (Molly, Landlady, and Lady Bellaston), Melanie Keller (Jenny Jones, Nurse, Mrs. Waters, Maid), John Lister (Squire Western), Cristina Panfilio (Miss Bridget, Miss Western, Mrs. Fitzpatrick), Eric Parks (Thwackum, Mr. Fitzpatrick, Tom’s servant, Hangman), Marcus Truschinski (Squire Allworthy, Black George, Maclachlan)

behind the scenes

William Brown (director), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design), Rachel Anne Healy and Carolyn Cristofani (costume design), Sarah Hughey (lighting design), Andrew Hansen (original music, sound design), Rita Vreeland (production stage manager), Jake Freund (asst. director), Sarah Burnham (prop master), Tyler Rich (fight director), Jacob Grubb (asst. fight director), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Sarah Gabel (choreographer), Kelli Kovach (production assistant), Shannon Higgins (costume supervisor) Kristin Leahey, Ph.D. (dramaturg), Michael Brosilow (photos)


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Category: 2014 Reviews, K.D. Hopkins, North Shore Center for the Arts, Northlight Theatre

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