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Review - Penny Penniworth: Twisted Dickens

I suppose it's about time someone came up with a name for that genre of plays where a handful of actors each impersonate a varied assortment of characters to tell a sprawling story, i.e., The 39 Steps, The Complete Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged). When that jolly day arrives certainly Chris Weikel's hilarious Charles Dickens send-up, Penny Penniworth: A Story of Great Good Fortune, should be regarded as one of its more sparkling examples.

Emerging Artists Theatre's return engagement of director Mark Finley's crackling good mounting features a versatile quartet of Victorian humorists romping through a witty and engaging text; certainly one of the smartest comedies in town.

Jamie Heinlein is all spunky innocence in the title role, an unfortunate waif whose dear father, Hapless Penniworth, chokes to death on his spotted dick, leaving his widow and child quite destitute. Penny's quest to earn a living, and perhaps be reunited with her long-lost love, is populated with a colorful array of Dickensian types, including Heinlein herself as the rather unsavory Cockney, Malodorous Dump.

With House of Goody providing period costumes that can be quickly altered for character changes, the talented company includes Christopher Borg as both Penny's indecipherably accented blacksmith sweetheart, Hotchkiss Spit, and her melodramatic mum, Lavinia Penniworth and Jason O'Connell as the uppity Rupert Stryfe ("Heir to the house of Stryfe.") and the genial coachman, Mr. Pinchnose, who not only sports a selective speech impediment but also carries on an unexpected secret life.

The standout comic performance comes from Ellen Reilly, who uses her lean and angular physique to create a living Victorian caricature as solicitor, Mr. Bunting of the law firm of Bunting, Bunting and Swag. ("Mr. Bunting has been dead these twenty years. I'm Mr. Bunting.") She delivers some deliciously droll speeches as the 20-years-widowed recluse, Miss Havasnort ("A lady in mourning has a very complicated toilette.") with morbid archness and is repugnantly cute as a scampy little music hall entertainer.

Audiences looking for a fun night out will surely have their greatest of expectations fulfilled by this modest, but exceedingly clever attraction.

Photo by Ned Thorn: Christopher Borg, Jamie Heinlein, Ellen Reilly and Jason O'Connell (on floor).

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From This Author Ben Peltz