Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Portland Center Stage production of Dicken's classic exceeds expectations

Stephen Stocking as Pip, Maya Sugarman as Estella and Dana Green as Miss Havisham - Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv
Readers of this blog know that I rarely review plays, but a dramatic presentation of “Great Expectations,” the classic coming-of-age-novel by Charles Dickens was too enticing to pass up. So I attended the opening night performance of “Great Expectations” at Portland Center Stage on Friday evening (January 22), wondering how well this production could portray the cornucopia of characters and the two decades that elapse during the telling of the story. Well, after three hours (including a 15 minute intermission), I left the Gerding Theater at the Armory impressed and satisfied with Lucinda Stroud’s succinct yet riveting adaptation, the brilliant acting of the nine players (of which several depicted more than one role), the storytelling style that shifted back and forth from first person to third, the imaginative direction of Jane Jones, and the functional and evocative set, which was designed by Christopher Mumaw.

The production (based on Stroud's adaptation for Seattle-based Book-It Repertory Theatre) offered many memorable scenes, starting straight away with prone, enshrouded bodies that created the graveyard where Pip, the central character of the story, is confronted by the escaped convict Magwitch. The setting for Joe Gargery’s blacksmith’s shop was simply conveyed with an anvil, a hammer, and a rope that controlled how much air went to the forge. An imposing gate and a huge mirror helped to define Miss Havisham’s gloomy residence. Jaggers office had a massive desk while the gentlemanly quarters of Pip and Herbert Pocket required only a table and a few chairs. The epic fight between Magwitch and Compeyson was terrifically silhouetted onto a big bedsheet.

Stephen Stocking captured the essence of Pip, from his wide-eyed boyhood to young adulthood where he was in danger of becoming a conceited, and debt-ridden gentleman. Because he was almost continuously on the stage, Stocking could have easily let Pip’s character slip, but he marvelously kept it in focus and showed how it evolved in the course of the story.
Sean McGrath and Isaac Lamb as petitioners, with John Hutton as Jaggers, Stephen Stocking as Pip and Damon Kupper as Wemmick - Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv
Deftly switching between extremes, Maya Sugarman created a warm and caring Biddy – and after a quick costume change – became a haughty and cold Estella. (The way that Estella disdainfully addressed Pip as “Boy,” will remained etched in my brain.) Gavin Hoffman was the salt of the earth in his performance as the loyal and devoted blacksmith Joe Gargery.

Dana Green scared half of the audience with her wrathful declamations in the role of Mrs. Joe, and her imperious bearing as Miss Havisham was hauntingly impressive. John Hutton gave the escaped criminal Magwitch a forceful flinty shell, and Hutton was equally convincing as Jaggers, the lawyer who commanded his client’s desires with absolute rectitude.

Damon Kupper’s avuncular and mutton chopped Pumblechook sported the oddest grin you could ever imagine. Kupper was equally gifted at conveying the peculiar, officious demeanor Wemmick. Chris Murray won everyone over as the amiable and energetic Herbert Pocket.

Isaac Lamb excelled in several diverse roles, including the lumbering and menacing Orlick, the sly and cruel Compeyson, and as the snorting carriage horse. The stiff-upper-lipped vanity of Drummlie was superbly conveyed by Sean McGrath.

Even if you have never read “Great Expectations,” you should see this production, which runs through February 14th. It’s a classic, just like Dickens's novel.
Damon Kupper as Pumblechook, Stephen Stocking as Pip, Dana Green as Mrs. Joe, Isaac Lamb as Orlick and Gavin Hoffman as Joe Gargery - Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

No comments: