Review: Familiar faces of Pittsburgh-area actors add to appeal of enjoyable ‘Great Expectations’
by Alice T. Carter, Trib Total Media
As anyone who has ever hoisted a copy of “Great Expectations” knows, Charles Dickens was not a writer who believed in brevity.
Dickens was a master of complex epics that spanned decades with a huge cast of colorful characters and plot twists.
Playwright Hugh Leonard has successfully streamlined the novel into an efficient stage adaptation that comes in at just under two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
Under the direction of Alan Stanford, the Pict Classic Theatre production that opened Dec. 6 at the Charity Randall Theatre in Oakland pares away unnecessary details while creating a story that can be easily and enjoyably followed by those who know and love the tale as well as those encountering it for the first time.
First published in 1860 as a magazine serial, the Victorian-era story follows the orphaned Pip as he moves from boyhood as a blacksmith’s apprentice in the marshes of Kent to life as a London gentleman supported by a mysterious benefactor.
Heading the cast of 17 are Dylan Marquis Meyers as the adult Pip, and Elliot Pullen and Simon Colker, who alternate performances as the young Pip.
Meyers serves as narrator, telling his story with a certain detachment that comes from lessons learned and mysteries revealed.
Lily Davis, who plays the adult Estella — whose guardian, Miss Havisham, has trained to break men’s hearts — is pretty but chilly and distant in ways that give little explanation for Pip’s fascination with her. Charity Hipple and Carolyn Jerz alternate as the younger Estella.
Mary Rawson creates a vivid Miss Havisham with all the proper notes of aristocracy and purpose, and Jordon Ross Weinhold lightens the proceedings as Herbert Pocket, Pip’s jolly companion who provides Pip with a little town polish.
But the charm and success of the production is firmly grounded in the legion of Pittsburgh-area actors who enliven it with colorful, detailed performances of supporting characters.
Most notable are Martin Giles as the rough but amiable blacksmith Joe Gargery, who is married to Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe. Karen Baum gets to show her range by playing the quick-tempered and belligerent Mrs. Joe as well as the more calm and nurturing Biddy.
Showcasing what skilled actors can do with smaller, but distinctively written parts are James FitzGerald as the arthritic clerk Wemmick, Mark Conway Thompson as Wemmick’s doddering Aged Parent and Ken Bolden as the lively Mr. Pumblechook. Prominent actors Larry John Meyers and David Whalen make small but pivotal appearances as Magwitch and Jaggers.
The action moves through a multitude of outdoor and indoor locations that range from a wintry marsh to a London apartment and on stagecoaches and other forms of transportation.
Michael Thomas Essad’s set allows the action to move seamlessly and cinematically throughout. But that flow comes at a cost. Scenes in the Gargerys’ house and Pip’s London digs are consigned to well-decorated but cramped spaces that restrict movement at the edge of the playing area. The vast center of the Charity Randall stage remains empty and unadorned while it awaits use in scenes with minimum decor.
Costume designer Joan Markert deserves special applause for putting together attractive, period-appropriate outfits that offer clues and underscore traits of each of the characters.
Despite minor flaws, it’s a production that should satisfy most theatergoers’ great expectations.