Sunday, November 24, 2013

Two Plays

On the past two weekends I attended productions of two (Very Different) plays.  However, they both shared exceptional acting and production values.  These plays demonstrate the vitality of the medium and small theaters in Chicago and as an avid fan of the theater I truly appreciate that.

Great Expectations

Last night I attended an adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations performed by the Strawdog Theatre Company.  The adaptation by Gale Childs Daly was directed by Jason Gerace and performed by six actors with one musical accompaniest.  The best aspect of the production was the ability of all six actors to take up multiple roles and convince the audience, at least this member of the audience who is very familiar with the story of Pip and his "great expectations", to believe in all of the many characters from the novel including, but not limited to, Mrs. Joe Gargery, Joe Gargery, Biddy, Mr. Pumblechook, Mr. Wopsle, Mr. Jaggers, Estella, Miss Havisham, Herbert Pocket, John Wemmick, and last but not least Abel Magwitch who unbeknownst to Pip is his benefactor.  The story was told in small scenes that captured the essence of the story.  One of Dickens great strengths as a novelist was his ability to create memorable characters and the success of these actors bringing them to the stage was a significant part of the success of the production.  If you know the story you will realize why, once the characters are established, this was an energetic, funny, and ultimately very human tale of one young man's moral and social development. 

The Normal Heart 

The previous weekend I attended an equally successful production of an historical drama presented by TimeLine Theatre Company.  It was Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart directed by Nick Bowling.  This is a somber story of the beginning of the health crisis known as the AIDS epidemic focusing on New York City and the founding of the Gay Men's Health Crisis group under the leadership of Kramer and some of his friends.  The play takes this moment in history using characters representing Kramer and some of the others involved in this to make a moral statement  about that moment in history as demonstrated throughout the lives of real people.  Again the production and acting were superb with David Cromer outstanding in the role of Ned Weeks who battles throughout the play with the politicians, bureaucrats, his brother and his friends in an attempt to get some attention paid to the growing health crisis and get some action to discover why suddenly in ever greater numbers gay men (and soon others) were dying, often from rare forms of cancer.  His battles  are told by a series of vignettes that highlight both his personal relations (his lover Felix was exquisitely portrayed by Patrick Andrews) and the political battlefront that was the background for the story.  While this was a more traditionally structured play in some ways it was also very modern in its staging and direction.  The result was another successful evening of theater which my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed.


Brian Joseph said...

I can really see how the characters from Great Expectations would translate so well to the stage. My initial reservation about the idea however, is that I recall this being a long and dense novel. It seems like it would be difficult to fit it into a play. Based upon your commentary it sounds if if the writers and producers succeeded in doing this.

James said...

The success of the adaptation of Great Expectations was in part due to speed - the actors changed costumes almost instantaneously and were superb in holding their portrayal of the various characters. This was also a small theater with minimalist setting that allowed the audience to let their imaginations rule. It also helped to be very familiar with the original novel - one worth rereading again!