Another Classic at A Noise WithinDeborah Strang as Miss Havisham
Kurt Boetcher’s stark bare bones set allows Neil Bartlett’s imaginative adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations to unfold boldly and melodramatically at A Noise Within. Highly theatrical from first light we meet Pip (Jason Dechert) seated in a graveyard: the stage floor laid out with simple lozenges of gray: an apt launching pad from which to narrate his orphan’s story. Moments into his narration, Pip is attacked by Magwich (Daniel Reichert), an escaped prisoner and forced to bring him food and a file to release him from his chains. Though captured soon after, Magwich takes the rap for the theft of the tools and food, protecting Pip because he had acted honorably. This kindness, as we all recall from reading the story, is repaid much later in Pip’s personal journey.
Dickens never told a short story. Or, if he did, it must have been a long one. However, Bartlett’s adaptation nicely moved along by Geoff and Julia Rodriguez-Elliotts tight direction unspools the episodes of Pip’s tale apace. It is a signature of the Elliotts, perhaps, that some things are rushed a little from time to time, especially when we meet Mrs. Joe, Jill Hill, who has always subscribed to the adage that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. Hill’s banshee of a Mrs. Joe is not a tolerant sister, though her more patient husband, (ANW founder Geoff Elliott), Mr. Joe, the blacksmith, who punctuates some scenes with ringing hammer blows, is certainly more kind.
Pip is trundled off to meet Miss Havisham, an at once vivacious and eccentric jilted bride, nicely limned by ANW mainstay, Deborah Strang. Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes are appropriate throughout; especially with Havisham's tattered wedding dress which reflects her moldering wedding cake, now in shambles years after she was abandoned at the alter. Havisham has raised the beautiful Estella (Jaimi Paige) to break mens' hearts. Estella delights in tormenting poor ignorant Pip, leading him on and slapping him down while calling him “Boy.” Which, of course, draws the callow kid to her fall in love with her anyway.
Pip’s adventures continue by his being sent back to apprentice with Mr. Joe. He's then informed that he’s the recipient of a fortune that will enable him to go to London to learn to become a gentleman. This includes episodes with the talented cast doubling and a fine ensemble of supernumeraries who are crisp and dedicated: Darby Bricker, Elizabeth Fabie, Kurt Quinn and Taylor Jackson Ross who move props and literally become part of the scenery.
Mitchell Edmonds may have the most fun trebling as Mr. Pumblechook/Sarah Pocket and Bentley Drummle. The romance that Dickens has with names is equal to the fun that he has with the drama of the orphan and his adventures. The beauty of this production is that the lengthy tome with all its twists and turns pares down nicely to two acts in two hours with a cast who play the story with gusto. Jill Hill does double duty playing the complete opposite from her feisty Mrs. Joe, the pretty Biddy, who marries Mr. Joe after Mrs. Joe’s demise. Kurt Quinn plays Wemmick. Stephen Rockwell doubles as Herbert Pocket and Compeyson.
In the end, we see Pip, back where he’s started: in the graveyard where his parents and siblings lie. He again meets Estella, now more demure.. age has not been so kind and her killer attitude is dimmed, a reunion that we probably could see coming from the get go. Together at last.
A curtain speech before the show announced that a generous benefactor (not Magwich) has come forth to offer A Noise Within a one million dollar matching fund to help complete the expensive process of installing actual plumbing and such in the new ANW Theater in Pasadena. Glendale’s loss is certainly Pasadena’s gain and though this fine company will be twenty minutes further away, they’ll be in a brand new home where Pasadena will embrace them and will also embrace audiences with parking and a more tolerant atmosphere for the Arts. Opportunities for naming things, from the entire lobby to a porcelain throne, are available. As I don’t have to be objective, I very much admire this hearty troupe. I encourage you to see their season of plays and to dig into your pocket, shallow or deep and help to complete the new space in Pasadena in time for the Fall 2011 Opening there.
A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Ave.
Glendale, CA 91204
Through December 19, 2010
818 240 0910 x 1 for tickets
www.anoisewithin.org for donations and information
P.S. Mark your calendars for a reprise of my personal favorite, NOISES OFF! January 21 – 30, 2011