by Clark Groome
A great novel transferred to the stage and a great play being given a new production made up last week’s theater rounds. Here’s how the two productions struck me:
Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” is considered by many to be his greatest work. It’s a study of young Pip’s rise from his roots in his sister’s home to his later status as a London gentleman. The rise is funded, unbeknownst to Pip, by a convict whom he helped when he was a seven-year old.
His belief is that the odd, old Miss Havisham has been his benefactor with her goal to bring her stepdaughter Estella and Pip together romantically.
It’s a complex and convoluted story, as most of Dickens is, and one that, if my aging English-major memory is accurate, is beautifully told in the original novel.
Gale Childs Daly has adapted the book for the stage. His take on the Dickens story is being mounted through Dec. 14 at the Arden Theatre.
Unlike Lionel Bart’s classic “Oliver” and the magnificent Royal Shakespeare production of “Nicholas Nickleby,” Daly’s approach to the story is to use a small cast on a relatively simple set and allow the acting to create both the characters and the mood of the piece.
Josh Carpenter’s sole role is as Pip while the other five cast members play multiple characters. Magwitch, Uncle Pumblechook, Mr. Jaggers, Herbert Pocket, Miss Havisham and all the others are there. Thanks to strong acting and some clever costume and vocal changes the characters do, for the most part, take on individual identity.
But, alas, the entire affair, which comes in at just over two hours, is so high speed that not only is it confusing at times but, and this is the production’s biggest problem, the characters only have identity but no depth. Arden’s “Great Expectations,” or more likely Daly’s “Great Expectations,” is more about the stagecraft than it is about the story.
The company (Brian McCann, Doug Hara, Sally Mercer, Kate Czajkowski, Lindsay Smiling) is first rate. Director Matthew Decker’s staging is often quite imaginative; note especially the Act I send-up of a pretentious production of “Hamlet.”
But in the end, it’s all kind of shallow and lacking any of the intensity and passion of Dickens’ original masterpiece.
For tickets call 215-922-1122 or visit www.aredentheatre.org.
“The Glass Menagerie”
Arguably one of the greatest plays of the last century, Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” currently stars Carla Belver, one of Philadelphia’s finest actresses and this year’s winner of the Barrymore Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Directed by the reliable and sensitive James J. Christy, “The Glass Menagerie” is playing through Nov. 23 at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse.
Supporting Belver’s Amanda Wingfield in the strong company are Charlie DelMarcelle as son Tom, the play’s narrator; Amanda Schoonover as the fragile daughter Laura; and Sean Bradley as Jim, the Gentleman Caller.
In spite of all the positive elements in this production I ultimately found Act II’s “Menagerie” surprisingly unmoving. The characters were real enough, but their interaction seemed more superficial than forged over years of living together.
The only scene that really sparkled was the second act interaction between Laura and Jim. There was a real connection here, something often missing during the rest of the production.
For all the lack of power in the Act II production, Williams’ play is always worth another encounter. If you’ve never seen it, my reservations about this version shouldn’t deter you from going.
For tickets call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org.