Adapted by Gale Childs Daly
Now extended thru December 20th!
This production, like the book, fully earns its title
|Strawdog Theatre presents|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
Being that Great Expectations was one of Strawdog Theatre Company’s biggest hits in their 26-year history, it’s already been remounted just a year later. Jason W. Gerace’s Jeff Award-winning, critically praised chamber-style performance, which attracted capacity crowds, justified several extensions and successfully played Theater on the Lake, fully deserves its second coming. Edifying and reassuring, its tale of snuffing out snobbery remains a clear and present distillation of an enduring coming-of-age novel.
As it was in 2013, so it remains in 2014: Preferring acting over setting, Gale Childs Daly’s joyously theatrical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “bildungsroman” masterpiece uses six actors to play almost 40 characters. Swift costume changes, vocal alterations and revolving set pieces confirm the variety of this sprawling novel. In 140 minutes Strawdog’s swift-moving (and, still, sometimes too rapid-fire and scattershot) Great Expectations traces young orphan Pip’s journey from a blacksmith shop in the provinces to the so-called heart of London society. There are also two very Dickensian salutes to the flamboyant excesses of Victorian stagecraft–a burlesque of “Hamlet” as well as a Christmas pantomime complete with singing tars and their buxom mollies. (The latter comes too late in the action not to seem a delaying distraction.)
As they turn out, Pip’s “great expectations” are highly conditional and built on a lie. His departure from the loving foster family of Joe Gargery (a role that Paige Smith turns into true tenderness), the shy and sturdy blacksmith, and the lad’s journey to London, where a sudden bequest allows him to hob-nob with swells and dandies, is an object lesson in–and a true test of–love and loyalty: Pip learns that good fortune is accidental, snobbery and gratitude cannot consort, and, cynicism aside, no good deed goes unrewarded.
For Pip to break free from meretricious values, false pride, and a sense of unearned entitlement requires him to fully grasp the malevolent intentions of his supposed benefactress, the ghoulish aristocrat Miss Havisham (who seeks revenge against all men for being jilted at the altar), and her beautiful but warped ward Estella, whose cold heart must be warmed by Pip’s lifelong ardor. This subplot is intricately connected with another in London regarding the safety of Pip’s unknown savior. It all ends with an exciting showdown on the Thames River.
For anyone unfamiliar with the novel, Jason Gerace’s fast-flowing, quicksilver-supple and scene-changing two-act staging may be daunting, the more so for the minimalist trappings of this efficient enterprise. As fluid as the storytelling, Joanna Iwanicka’s set design consists of swiveling book shelves that can tip over to suggest a crisis and provide boats on the river. The multiple-narrating actors carry books as possible prompters, as if to always be in touch with their considerable source.
For all its traffic control, involving six industrious performers (with Mike Tepeli as the ever-astonished Pip, despite an English accent that often turns Southern), it’s as much a radio play as theater. (The supple and game ensemble, which only includes two actors from last year’s debut, include Amanda Drinkall, Caleb Fullen, Mary Winn Heider, Cody Proctor, Smith, and fiddler Taryn Rosenquist.) Admittedly, in this revival there’s a certain, almost melodramatic insistence that has infected some portayals: It’s enough to make the spoof of a histrionic “Hamlet” come a bit too close for comfort.
Of course, since this is Dickens, it feels perfectly right for the holidays, so thoroughly have his novels stamped the season. But, seasonal relevance aside, the play, like the book, fully earns its title.
Great Expectations continues through
December 13th December 20th at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 4pm. Tickets are $28 (seniors $24), and are available by phone (866-811-4111) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Strawdog.org. (Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, includes an intermission)
Amanda Drinkall (Estella, others), Caleb Fullen (Herbert, others), Mary Winn Heider (Havisham, others), Cody Proctor (Magwitch, others), Paige Smith (Joe, others), Mike Tepeli (Pip), Travis Barnhart (u/s: Joe), Bridget Schreiber (u/s: Estella, Havisham), Jeff Kurysz (u/s: Pip), Taryn Rosenquist (fiddler)
behind the scenes
Jason W. Gerace (director), Rebecca Spooner (asst. director, dramaturg), John Kelly (light designer), Brittany Dee Bodley (costume design), Sam Hubbard (fight choreography), Mike Mroch (production manager), Joanna Iwanicka (set design), Janelle Boudreau (props design, asst. set design), Hilary Holbrook (music director), Kathy Logelin (dialect coach), Sarah Hoeferlin (stage manager), Ian Olsen (technical director), Kristof Janezic (master electrician), Kyle Hamman, Chris Ocken, KBH Media (photos).