BWW Review: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre At The Warwick Theatre
The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre busts loose with an evocative new adaptation of "The Shawshank Redemption. Making its North American debut right here in Kansas City is Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns stage version of the original Stephen King story. Audiences cannot escape being drawn in by this beloved tale and the strong ensemble that director Bob Paisley has brought to the Warwick Theatre stage.
As the story opens, Andy Dufresne has been convicted of the double murder of his wife and her lover. Andy is brought to Shawshank Prison to be locked away for life. As he tries to adapt to the perils of incarceration be befriends some of the other inmates, including Red who is also in for murder. Using his skills in finance and accounting he gets into the good graces of the prison officials, who don't always abide by the rules themselves.
As time passes, new inmate Tommy arrives as a transfer from another prison. Andy takes Tommy under his wing to help him pass his high school equivalency exam. Tommy reveals that he has heard a story from an inmate in the other prison that could exonerate Andy. Andy goes to the Warden with the story in hopes of gaining his freedom. The warden, afraid of all that Andy knows, has no intention of allowing him to go anywhere. Unlike the other prisoners, Andy does not lose hope as he sets the in motion a series of events that lead to a dramatic conclusion. With Red's help Andy shows them all that "while the body may be locked away in a cell, the spirit can never be truly imprisoned."
O'Neill and Johns have effectively remained true to the original story while readjusting it for the stage. There are several clever new elements that have aided the transition from the movie version to this treatment. This new adaptation works well at the MET, even without elaborate "prisonscaping". The audience is allowed to imagine much of what is going on through the compelling use of well timed lighting and descriptive sound design.
Keenan Ramos (as Red) gives us a character that is nearly beaten down by incarceration, until Andy comes along. Ramos expressive eyes tell a deeper story as his narration guides the audience through the account of what happened. Ramos makes the audience see that Red is teetering on the edge between hope and despair - a question that remains unanswered until the final line of the play.
Chris Roady (as Andy Dufresne) plays a person who is living out their worst nightmare. Roady makes us believe that Andy is unjustly caught in an unbelievable web of circumstantial evidence. Sticking with a restraint to his performance, Roady aptly draws the audience in with his sense of resilience and quiet strength. It is from Roady's performance that everything else hinges and he holds it all together perfectly.
S.E. Perry (as Warden Stammas) delivers a pious man that an audience loves to hate. Perry allows the twisting of fact, by this wayward warden, to build to a stifling pressure. With a character that seems built on the premise that the end justifies the means, Perry's character falls prey to his own arrogant carelessness (if not a bit of karma).
The ensemble of inmates provide a well distinguished cast of unique personalities. With a variety that spans from endearing to bedeviled bad guy these men create a backdrop that ranges from amusing to scary. The list of convicts include: Chad Burris, Dan Daly, Kevin Fewell, Larry Goodman, Evan Lovelace, Andrew Paredes, Christopher Preyer, and Alex Paxton. And, as unrelenting guards - Tim Ahlenius, Nick Hazel, and Alex Paxton. This group is a treasure trove of creative character treatments that really make this a standout production.
So, aside from the fact that you can see the North American premier of this beloved story, you should see this because the MET has once again delivered something quite special. For such a small professional theatre to tackle such a challenge speaks not only to determination, but the very hopeful nature of this very story. That they have gathered such an ensemble of talent is, well...the saw in the cake!
The Shawshank Redemption performs at the Warwick Theatre on Main Street in Kansas City, MO from April 4-21, 2019 The show runs close to 2 hours and has an intermission between the two acts. There are some scenes of brief nudity and simulated assault.
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre is located at 3927 Main St, Kansas City, MO 64111. There is ample parking behind the building. For tickets, call 816-569-3226. Visit www.metkc.org for more information or to purchase tickets online.
Photos courtesy of MET