A new Book-It dramatization of Dickens' "Great Expectations," running through March 13, reflects the complex, less-than-cozy storyline of the classic novel.
Book-It Repertory Theatre’s literary adaptations can be theatrical comfort food — in the case of classic English novels, perhaps a repast of warm scones slathered with fresh cream and jam, washed down with a cup of milky tea.
“Great Expectations” is not so cozy a teatime tale, however. One of Dickens’ final novels, it has a darker, surreal edge and a psychological complexity and moral ambivalence more pronounced than most of his works. And a new Book-It dramatization at Center House Theatre reflects that.
This retelling of the coming-of-age tale of the plucky orphan boy Pip feels unfinished — rather rushed and ragged at the edges. But it’s still an absorbing display of Book-It’s superior storytelling technique.
The evolution of Pip (Lee Osorio) from terrified country lad giving aid to escaped prisoner Magwitch (Michael Patten) to stylish London gent with “expectations,” unfolds, Book-It-style, on a bare stage with a multi-tasking cast voicing both narrative and dialogue.
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Most striking in Kevin McKeon’s mounting and Lucinda Stroud’s script is the relationship between young Pip and the rich, bizarre hermit Miss Havisham (Jane Jones). She mysteriously summons him to her crumbling home and encourages his long obsession with Estella (Sylvie Davidson), her petulant, alluring ward.
Also well-explored here are Pip’s bond with his hearty surrogate father, the blacksmith Joe (Mike Dooly), and the conflict between rural duty/love and urban social ambition that arises when an anonymous benefactor pledges to elevate his station.
Stroud’s script gets choppier as it goes along, with too many pingponging short scenes. And more clarity is needed as the plot thickens.
But that can be attended to. And in McKeon’s staging (close to three hours, but it whisks right along), there is much to appreciate.
Jones is a superbly variable Havisham — by turns girlish, fearful, nasty, pathetic. And Davidson shines in two complete yin-yang portrayals: as the chilly Estella, and as Pip’s humble, openhearted childhood friend Biddy.
Dooly makes a very soulful Joe, though his accent sometimes impedes his coherence. Osorio also has accent difficulties, but is a generally likable Pip.
And two cheers for Patten, who taps the Dickens spirit in his persuasive turns as Magwitch and the comic Jaggers, a smarmy lawyer involved in Pip’s fate.
Ron Erickson’s costumes and Eric Chappelle’s sound scheme are up to Book-It’s usual high standard, but Amiya Brown’s lighting exceeds it. There are illuminations of Miss Havisham that may haunt you — apropos for one of Dickens’ most haunting characters.
Misha Berson: email@example.com