By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
We are introduced to Charles Dickens at a very early age, especially around the holidays and, namely, Christmas, with his crazy-popular A Christmas Carol (which, incidentally, is the “scary ghost stories” in that Christmas standard “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”… in case you’ve always been wondering) but that is not his only work. Many schools also use his novels in standard curriculum and, as an English major in college, I was yet again exposed to his labors and I’ve got to admit, right here and right now… I was not and am not a fan of Mr. Dickens or his writing, but I do appreciate his stories, which helps… a little.
However, that being said, the latest offering at Everyman Theatre, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Adapted by Gale Childs Daly, Directed by Tazewell Thompson, with Set Design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, Lighting Design by Stephen Quandt, Sound Design by Fabian Obispo, and Costume Design by David Burdick has absolutely given me a reason to be a fan and thoroughly enjoy the work of Charles Dickens. Regardless of your familiarity with this tale, you won’t be disappointed with Everyman Theatre’s production.
In a nutshell, Great Expectations (the novel) is a self-narrated coming-of-age story an (abused) orphan named Pip, and his life journey from poverty to wealth, the people with whom he meets and parts ways, some good, some bad, and some in-between, love, lost love, and his inevitable self-realization and humbling.
As I have stated in previous reviews for Everyman Theatre, they never disappoint when it comes to Set Design and Yu-Hsuan Chen pulled out all the stops for this production. Chen’s use of the space is spectacular, giving the actors ample space to move around to keep the action interesting and the attention to detail is second to none. The set alone sets the mood for this piece and the artistry of this faded, derelict setting is superb. Kudos to Yu-Hsuan for a job well done.
Lighting Design by Stephen Quandt and Sound Design by Fabian Obispo worked nicely in tandem to create a subtle but effective visual and auditory sensory presentation to move the story along, giving the audience perspective of time and space while not confusing the plot and situations therein.
Pulling together the production side of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is David Burdick’s excellent Costume Design. Designing for a period piece can be challenging but Burdick really has a grasp on the Dickens era and his design is spot on and authentic, adding great value to the production as a whole.
Taking an old classic and making it new for new audiences is tough, especially when it comes to Charles Dickens stories or anything in stuffy, staunch Dickens/Victorian era, really, but Tazewell Thompson takes the reigns and masterfully weaves this for a 21st century audience without really changing the setting or the story, but giving it a fresh look by getting back to basics of story-telling. Thompson gives us a mix of broken-fourth-wall story-telling and re-enactment that meshes perfectly to tell this story in a way that is easy to follow and understand. I will admit, at first, it took a moment to get into the rhythm of this mix but once you are settled in and connect with these storytellers, the story unfolds effortlessly. More importantly, Thompson seems to really understand these characters and their objectives, moving them smoothly through the story. Working with Gale Childs Daly’s able adaptation, Thompson gives us an entertaining, accessible piece that makes for a genuinely enjoyable evening of theatre.
The ensemble work in this piece is outstanding and all of these actors work well with each other and play various roles to tell this tale. Gerrad Alex Taylor and Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, listed as Narrator #2 and Narrator #4 in the program, respectively, also take on the very important roles of Pips friends such as Herbert, Pip’s ever faithful friend and confidant (played by Taylor) and Estelle, Pip’s love interest and main inspiration for acquiring a higher status in life (played by Jernigan). Taylor’s portrayal of Herbert makes him a very likable character and Jernigan plays Estelle with a coldness and bitterness befitting of the character and her presentation of the character’s change is authentic and heartwarming. Both of these actors are very comfortable with their characters and give admirable performances.
Drew Kopas as Pip is charming as he takes his character from boyhood to adulthood. It is easy to connect with this character from the start and Kopas keeps that connection with the audience throughout the entire production. His subtle voice and manner change as Pip grows and journeys through life is quite impressive giving the feel of this young man growing up right before our eyes. Taking on the main character of this piece, Kopas gives an outstanding and intelligent performance that is to be commended.
Brit Herring as Joe is absolutely heart-warming. In the program, he is listed simply as Narrator #5 but, like his cohorts, he tackles multiple roles in this piece but his portrayal as Joe, Pip’s warm and loving brother-in-law, is stellar. His ability to switch between completely different characters and keep them separate makes his performance a joy to watch.
Among the talented and dedicated ensemble, Bruce Randolph Nelson and Franchelle Stewart Dorn are definite highlights.
Bruce Randolph Nelson (an Everyman Theatre Resident Company Member) is listed as Narrator #1 but also takes on the role of Magwitch, a raw, crude convict who happens to run into a very young and helpful Pip and he absolutely nails this character both in physicality and vocality. He also gives a brilliant performance in the role of Uncle Pumblechook, who has a part in moving Pip along during his journey. Unlike the sloth-like, slow, heavy character described in the novel, Nelson makes the choice to take this character in another humorous and flamboyant direction that is making for an undoubtedly successful performance.
Franchelle Stewart Dorn is credited as Narrator #3 but takes on the very important roles of Mrs. Joe, Pip’s much older sister, and Miss Havisham, the bitter, jilted, and wealthy old lady who lives in the very large house down the street. Dorn is an absolute pleasure to watch. As Mrs. Joe, she’s forceful, crude, and loud, as the character requires and as Miss Havisham, she oozes bitterness and contempt, but Dorn manages to get the audience to pity this character she embodies. It’s worth noting, I could listen to this woman talk for hours. Dorn’s voice is smooth and booming as it resonates through the entire theatre and every word is crystal clear allowing for an impressive and superb performance.
Final thought…Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations at Everyman Theatre is a brand new take on an old classic. It’s refreshing, entertaining, and accessible that it opens up to a new generation that may have otherwise let it sit on the bookshelf to collect dust. This adaptation handles the many subplots and twists beautifully with a perfect blend of old-fashioned story-telling and re-enactment while the production itself is well thought-out and the impeccable casting of a very capable ensemble make this a show you want to check out. Whether you’re familiar with Charles Dickens’ work or not and whether you’re a fan or not, this production will introduce you to this story either again or for the first time with a fresh and energizing telling.
This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations will play through March 5 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.
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