GREAT EXPECTATIONS Are Exceeded In Strawdog’s Stirring New Production.
Classics get their name for a reason. The plot point and characters of those long ago works reverberate if they were written in for today’s audience. In watching Strawdog Theatre’s brilliant new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the age of the work instantly absolves as the characters we have grown up with are born anew.
Great Expectations is an novel of epic proportions. This is true in its many character arcs as well as the entire modality of piece. Thus, adapting the novel which contains over 40 different characters to one in which a cast of six must encompass and inhabit truthfully is no easy task. But Gale Childs Daly has such a basic understanding of who each of these characters are that her adaptation allows the six actors to find common ground and move the piece along like Dickens himself wrote it for this precise ensemble group.
Much of the success has to be laid at the hands of director Jason W. Gerace who seems to have an inherent trust of his actors (and visa versa) and is able to move the play along at pace which is totally enveloping. Each scene (and scenes within a scene) are choreographed and blocked with meticulous precision which the actors execute each with an amazing ease.
Great Expectations in the end, is an actor’s piece and in this aspect, the casting is superb. Mike Tepelli’s ‘Pip’ is the only actor who gets to play one character, but that in itself is a misnomer. Tepelli may only be inhabiting one person, but Pip is such a complex character that few actors could accomplish whatthis actor does in transforming Pip into a man with a soul and conscious. Kyle A. Gibson is also amazing to watch as he transforms right before our eyes into characters that are polar opposites. His is truly a performance that must be recognized for the genius that it is.
John Ferrick, Amanda Drinkall, John Taflan and Megan Kohl each come together as a true ensemble making this piece a whole, with characters that we can all attach ourselves to. That is truly a feat in the art of acting.
Each part of Strawdog’s adaptation works in making the greater whole. The sets by Joanna Iwanicka are a series of bookshelves that beautifully morph into different abodes; Brittany Dee Bodley’s does great work here with her costume designs and the rapidity that they have to be changed in and out of; Sam Hubbard gives us believeable fight sequences; dialect coach Kathy Logelin’s work is beyond reproach and Mike Pryzgoda’s music direction is an integral part of why this production works as well as it does (including Hilary Holbrook’s gorgeous violin intervals).
With all the holiday shows that are being produced in the forthcoming months, none will have the depth and poignancy that are felt in Great Expectation. The morality lessons Dickens’ gives us are the ones that make us live a better life by showing us the compassion we should have for one another, no matter what their lot in life. Dickens is the master of writing about the have and have nots, and in the instant climate we are currently living, we can learn much of our own expectations by following the life lessons learned by Pip.
Strawdog Theatre Company’s Great Expectations plays through December 14, 2013 at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway St., Chicago. For more information viist www.Strawdog.org or call 773.528.9696. For calendar information please visit www.TheatreInChicago.com