BWW Review: Everyman Delivers a Rich Production of GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Everyman Theatre is a lovely space. The interior is not opulent and historic, but the comfortable seats are arranged for maximum view, the stage is expansive and the tech array is significant. Everyman Theatre's current production, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, surrounds its audience with gorgeous tech magic environment. From lighting to dialects, pacing to soundscape, it is a treat for all the senses, including literary.
Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations, originally produced as a serial in a periodical publication, has been handily adapted for the stage by Gale Childs Daly. Despite the economy of the cast, it has a lush feel, in no way skimping on plot, subtext, theme, or character-rich nature of the book.
A modest ensemble cast represents a myriad of characters, each individually distinguished by a slight change in posture, costuming, expression, accent, cadence, delivery- this could have been a confusing production. It most decidedly is not. The performers deftly handle the transitions and, to their credit, I am never even slightly in doubt about 'who' they portray in each moment. I hazard a guess that stage manager Cat Wallis deserves special recognition for helping facilitate these backstage transformations.
Director Tazewell Thompson, handling a tale that is heavy on narrative, guides the pliable ensemble to a performance that is dynamic, touching, amusing, lively and filled with gothic foreshadowing. Every sequence unfolds a new delight, from slapstick action to nuanced characterization to the most hilarious rendition of Hamlet it has ever been my privilege to witness. A bit of song and dance sneak their way into the show, though it's by no means 'musical theatre,' so if your taste runs mainly to jukebox musicals, this may be a cup of tea that is not yours.
The costumes are appropriate and versatile, contributing to each characterization with flexibility and sturdy conviction. Costume designer David Burdick does an outstanding job for this show, each actor having only one basic outfit apiece, plus a few accessories. One particular jacket managed to look by turns dignified, unassuming, casual, and rumpled, depending upon which character was present onstage.
The cast is stunning. Drew Kopas draws us along on his character journey from abused semi-orphan child through self-conscious young adulthood and on to fully developed, if somewhat disillusioned, maturity. His charm and likeability are evident in each stage, and subtle changes in his posture and mannerisms keep the character ever fresh. The other performers, identified as Narrators #1- #5, act as Greek Chorus, snappy narrative and all of the key personalities in Pip's lifetime. Bruce Randolph Nelson, Narrator #1, a Resident Company member, assumes a great sweeping variety of characters, some definitively plummy roles, during the course of the show, managing to inject even the least sympathetic of these with a spark of humanity. His easy slide from one persona to another is a delight to observe. Brit Herring as Narrator #5 is both an adored father figure and a despicable romantic rival, equally convincingly. All his mini-roles, significant and less so, are engaging. Herring, a capable sturdy actor with an excellent voice, has worked his talents into several shows I've reviewed, and I have never seen him better than in GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Gerrad Alex Taylor, Narrator #2, is a great deal of fun, and adorably earnest as Pocket. Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, designated Narrator #4, has a wonderful ingenue-ish look,though GREAT EXPECTATIONS does not, technically, have an ingenue role. Jernigan deftly switches between archness and affable warmth in her two 'main' character portrayals, and lurks most menacingly as a shadowy antagonist. Narrator #3 is Franchelle Stewart Dorn, an amazingly plasticine performer whose haughty, needy Mistress Havisham might've stolen the show, but for that it had to compete with her portrayal of harshly comic Mrs. Joe.
Scenic Designer Yu-Hsuan Chen's set is a magnificent assemblage of texture, depth, and various hues of non-color, which acts as brilliant canvas for Stephen Quandt's lighting design. The rough-textured walls seemed at times to almost shimmer. Quandt delivers unto the GREAT EXPECTATIONS audience a gorgeous display of weather, mood and time of day, which, honestly, I could've watched all by themselves. Fabian Obispo's soundscape creates additional layers of atmosphere and attitude which complement the action and lighting seamlessly. The execution of all cues is spot on target and arguably flawless.
The show utilizes both haze and fog effects, and if you're confused about the difference, here's a quick rundown. They are produced by different contraptions, result in subtly different visual effects, and use different chemical formulae. The *practical* difference as I noticed it was that fog is on or near the ground and haze hangs in the air. They're both used to great advantage, allowing the stationary set to transform into drastically different geographical settings.
Dear reader, if you have any regard for Classical Literature and the theatrical production thereof, I implore you to treat yourself to this show once or twice. Script, direction, casting, performance and tech are each remarkable renditions of their kind. The beautiful language is retained, but made perfectly clear by action and diction. Additionally, it's heartily funny. It's been some time since I've enjoyed a show so very completely in every aspect.
You may plan to avoid street parking, but be aware that the garage most convenient to Everyman (right across the street) no longer accepts cash.
Everyman Theatre's website is comprehensive and thorough, (and almost unnaturally user-friendly) so for additional information, visit everymantheatre.org. It is there that you will find background information about the show, a peek at what's coming in the future, directions, ticket sales, information about nearby dining and hotels, educational programs and so forth. If you are interested in delving more deeply into the experience of the play, there are additional events available for your enjoyment:
February 16, 2017 - Taste of Everyman Thursday evening pre-show cocktails, 6PM.*
February 18, 2017 - World of the Play discussion series, 5pm*, in between the two Sunday showtimes.
February 23, 2017 - Cast Conversations post-show actor discussion. Free
*-additional ticket required.
For tickets, see Everymantheatre.org Venue located at 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201 | 410-752-2208
GREAT EXPECTATIONS plays through March 5th, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Friday 8:00 pm, Saturday 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, Sunday 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. The show runs 2 hours with one intermission. Intermission coffee, available in the lobby if you like that sort of thing, is delicious.
Photo credit: ClintonBPhotography