Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Oliver Twist"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett,
based on the novel by Charles Dickens

John Dawkins, the Artful Dodger … Carson Elrod
Oliver Twist … Michael Wartella
Mr. Bumble … Remo Airaldi
Mrs. Bumble … Karen MacDonald
Mr. Sowerberry; Mr. Grimwig; Mr. Fang … Thomas Derrah
Bill Sykes; Mrs. Sowerberry … Gregory Derelian
Nancy … Jennifer Ikeda
Fagin … Ned Eisenberg
Noah Claypole; Tom Chitling … Steven Boyer
Charley Bates … Craig Pattison
Toby Crackit … Lucas Steele
Mr. Brownlow … Will LeBow
Rose Brownlow; Charlotte Sowerberry … Elizabeth Jasicki

A great deal of thought has gone into Neil Barlett’s London production of Charles Dickens’ OLIVER TWIST, now playing at the A.R.T. en route to New York --- everything runs like clockwork: the set and costume changes are seamless; the light and sound effects don’t miss a beat; the actors are the most polished of übermarionettes --- the problem is, Mr. Dickens is no more clockwork than Mr. Shakespeare is and I was saddened to see his orphan-hero and his thieves being given the cold, detached Brechtian treatment; Mr. Bartlett’s overuse of spoken narrative only heightens the sense of an Epic lesson being drummed into capitalist heads. (What’s so terrible with Mr. Dickens being “popular”?) This OLIVER TWIST has been advertised as being filtered through old-time music hall; I expected some jolly songs, here and there, but was given harmonized chanting, instead, and said chanting ruins the book’s most famous set piece --- Bill Sykes’ murder of Nancy --- here, the tension builds, then freezes into tableau as the ensemble once again moralizes. Mr. Dickens, who shortened his own life span by declaiming the passage in full throttle in his one-man shows, would be scandalized.

The A.R.T. quartet of MacDonald, Derrah, LeBow and Airaldi do their turns with relish, albeit cold relish; Michael Wartella’s Oliver Twist is a crabbed, piping cipher, and Ned Eisenberg phones in his Fagin save for one Expressionistic moment where he adopts a Yiddish accent and briefly becomes riveting. Jennifer Ikeda’s Nancy is the sole heartbeat amidst the machinery; her alley cat is played in period and she is touching in her scenes with the Brownlows simply by being so out of their class. I soon longed for Ms. Ikeda to break into “As Long As He Needs Me” from Lionel Bart’s OLIVER! and dissolve the frost that glistens on this overly cerebral evening.

And, yes, Virginia, there IS an intermission.

"Oliver Twist" (17 February-24 March)
Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (617) 547-8300

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide