BWW Reviews: The Epic Conclusion of THE LIFE & ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
It's not until you enter the Margeson Theater and begin to mingle with other theatergoers and a few of the actors that you realize how much actually happens in Part I of THE LIFE & ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. With at least six open plot lines, it's about time to wrap things up, but it would not be a Charles Dickens story without being an emotional roller coaster.
Do not fear if you're an audience member with short term memory. OST created a handy study guide for the first part - think of it as a Sparknotes version of Part 1. Alternatively, the show opens with a fast-paced 5-minute recap of Part I. It is then that you truly appreciate the scope of Part I and the versatility of all the Orlando Shakespeare Company performers.
Nicholas and Smike end up back in London after receiving a letter about Kate and quitting the performance troupe. London is bustling and reeks of social injustice. Poor Kate is the subject of a few rich men's fantasies. They continue to harass her and drive her mad. (Insert parallel opera scene, which perfectly suits the awkward seating dance between Kate trying to avoid the annoying man.) Of course Uncle Ralph does not help her, though he experiences a moment of regret. Nicholas renounces his uncle, thus incurring his wrath. Ralph teams up with Squeers in a crazy plot to get Smike back to the boarding school.
Without spoilers, there is an audible gasp throughout the audience every time there is a Smike scene. These scenes are very poignant and moving. It's a downhill roller coaster from there. Next, Ralph assists the slimey Arthur Gride to marry the young Madeline for her money. Meanwhile, Nicholas miraculously finds a job with Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle Dumb or properly the Cheeryble brothers, who are kind and generous. Nicholas falls for the same Madeline and the plot thickens.
Three and a half hours later the audience erupts in applause. Despite the two parts running in repertoire, no one misses a beat. It's fast paced, it's moving, and truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A production with this group of talent and size will never be seen in Orlando again. While I am ashamed to admit that I have not read the Dickens novel, fellow audience members who have read it seemed to enjoy this adaptation and found it more moving than the original. This production does well to highlight the Dickens main themes and archetypical characters.
Spoiler alert: The turntable is a brilliant piece of stagecraft that allows scenes to flow seamlessly. The only downside is that there is clearly hollow space underneath, which amplifies the sounds of the behind the scenes prop moving.
An interesting detail that some will recognize from OST's holiday production of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, is the sound effects area located on the stairs center stage right. The creaky door, the clop clop of coconuts, and of course the whip are all done from this area. The sound effects people are the talented actors of the production, who have impeccable timing.
Kate Nickleby does not catch a break in Part II. Played by Allison McLemore, the stoic Kate is a woman ahead of her time. While women during this time are expected to be subservient and obedient, Kate vehemently disagrees with being an object of rich men's fantasies. She is strong, but also kind and caring. McLemore and Keller have a great sister and brother chemistry. Kate scenes in Part II really allow McLemore to flex her emotions from anger towards her Uncle, to the sorrow for Smike, then back to joy of falling in love.
As depressing as THE LIFE & ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY can be, the satire is great. There are many laugh out loud moments and moments of awe. There are horribly mean characters, but also characters that show the generous human spirit.
With only a few weeks left, time is running around to see this show. See it before it's too late. Part I and Part II of THE LIFE & ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY run in rotation at Orlando Shakespeare Theater now until March 9, 2014. For tickets and more information visit www.orlandoshakes.org.
Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo