Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Cider House Rules" (Part 1 and Part 2)

"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Joe Coyne

(Part 1 and Part 2)

Trinity Repertory Theatre
(Reviewed by Joe Coyne)

(Part 1 and Part 2)
From the Novel by John Irving
Adapted by Peter Parnell
Directed by Oskar Eustis
Musical Direction Amanda Dehnert

Costumes Designer William Lane
Set Designer Eugene Lee
Light Designer D. M. Wood
Sound Designer Peter Sasha Hurowitz
Choreography Kelli Wicke Davis

Candy.....................Tanya Anderson
Nurse Caroline............Angela Brazil
Peaches..........Mark Anthony Brown
Jack...................J. Bernard Calloway
Ray....................William Damkoehler
Rose Rose..........Nehassaiu deGannes
Melony.........................Janice Duclos
Herb..............................Kevin Fallon
Wally........................Mauro Hantman
Mrs. Grogan......................Phyllis Kay
Mr. Rose..........................Keskhemnu
Mrs. Eames' daughter......Claire Lewis
Musician....................Rachel Maloney
Dr. Wilbur Larch.......Brian McEleney
Angel Wells................Brian Monahan
Nurse Edna..................Barbara Orson
Muddy..................Ricardo Pitts-Wiley
Nurse Angela...................Anne Scurria
Homer Wells...............Stephen Thorne
Choir Conductor..............Chris Turner
John Wilbur...Kevin Coccio/Alondo Osborne/Martin Nolan
John Larch...Matt DaSilva/Gaberiel Goodman
Fuzzy Stone...Colin Nagle/Kai Strom-Weber
Curly Day...Patrick Saunders/Bennet Schlesinger
Smokey Fields...Christopher Chianesi/Ricky Brown
Wilbur Walsh...Max Osborne/Bradford Krieger
Maureen Shannon... Kyle Brown/Caroline Sheridan/Adrienne Epstein
Caitlin O'Shaunessy...Corrianne Dionne/Chloe Serinsky
Mary Agnes Cork...Jessica Guglielmo/Rayna Jansen
Sally O'Malley...Kate Richman/Dominque Goncalves
Mary O'Reilly...Emily Pedersen/Regina Patterson
Megan O'Rourke...Leah Kenney/Bente Sterett/Mallory Meaureau

There is something special going on at Trinity Rep in the form of a two part retelling of John Irving's 1985 novel, The Cider House Rules. It is special since it entertains and in a surprisingly delightful, very lecturing, educated manner presents a timely issue: the right to life and the right to a life. The main message while well presented, is diffused by being encompassed with allied but distracting equally compelling issues, each of which may deserve their own play. While acceptable in the novel, in the play it lessens the overall effect, thus lessens the impact. The plays are performed on different nights and in three cases on the same day. The productions do not stand alone (I had called the theater to see if viewing the plays in sequence was important and I was assured it was not). Fortunately there is little retelling and if you can see only one segment, Part 2 would be the choice.

Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Company, in accepting the Sustained Excellence Award at the Elliot Norton Awards Ceremony said it was theatre's duty to, "speak that which is difficult, that which is unspoken. . . Theatre helps develop communities. And when our communities speak, when we use words instead of being Timothy McVeigh using bombs, we shift the world." Trinity has done this and for their effort alone should be applauded. But the effort with few exceptions is theatrical and an enjoyment.

Unless there was a directive connected with the stage rights to the novel, Mr. Parnell should have been even more selective and eliminated the non-essential threads when they did not assist in the telling of the main stories. Like John Le Carre novels, there is no shorted "Readers Play Digest" version that could capture Mr. Irving's novel intact. Narrative is common with the final scene seeming to have a running out of time; a tie in the loose ends reader's theater aspect. Not that I hold a view that American audiences can not handle lengthy tellings (I saw the ten play three day saga "Tantalus" recently) but they really can't. They also should not be forced to without good reason. Mr. Parnell gave us a faithful rendition of much of the book. Theater would have been better off with a one play adaption, one play that would be produced.

While rejecting the GW Bush mind set of get it on a one page memo, the production's visualizations were rushed with little pausing to allow the effects to reverberate. Some plot elements were so truncated the production reverted to telling us what rather than showing us.

The set masterly created all of the differing locations, offices, train stations operating and hotel rooms. The rolling of large barn doors with the assistance of a few locational props transformed the large stage into the apple orchard. The designer, Eugene Lee, places the orchestra "pit" into one of the upper hanging offices. All this but the stage could also appear bare when needed.

What Irving and Parnell are able to convey is that life is for the living: you have choices and while some may not be well chosen, by Jesus choose them anyway. Our journey of a 1,000 miles must start somewhere. It is true for orphans and it is true for those of us who feel like orphans. We do not get out alive and while there are the chances to be hero's to others, there is the more important chance to be heroic to ourselves. To have tried; to be effectual; to have counted; to have been of use.

Homer Wells an orphan at St Cloud's Orphanage has not had a successful adoption history. Suffice to say that he returns to the orphanage and becomes the shadow of Dr. Wilbur Larch who is major domo of the orphanage and controls all of its destinies, in part by writing or creating its history. Homer takes up the family trade and becomes a talented medical man. He assists Dr. Larch in his joint work of doing what the women ask of him: either bringing their babies into the world or terminating the life of the fetuses. Homer formulates his philosophy of life as he relates to the steady flow of characters (perhaps too many) seeking out his own way of dealing with life. He works hard at the task; alternately fleeing and rebounding. He finds a hero's welcome in his return to St Cloud's to continue the lord's (Dr. Larch's) work.

Something is a bit wrong with elements of the story: the odd role of females present in the working life of Dr. Larch and after his initial failure play no role in his life. Home Wells too has no satisfactory relationship with women. There is the memory character of Mrs. Eames played by Phyllis Kay who floats in and around the stupored Dr. Larch. Ms. Kay is not sufficiently different from other characters in her multi role part. It is still disconcerting.

The story is told with a directness usually seen in documentaries: cold description of the manner of ridding the womb of the "products of conception", descriptions of dead babies. There is too much to handle: incest, discrimination, violence, oral sex, lesbian relationships, prostitution, drug addition, teenage sex, dictatorial power, miscegenation, condom instruction, arrogance, adultery with your best friend's wife, war issues, forgiveness, redemption, death of children, lying albeit for good reasons. It detracts from the powerful message. Arrive at your philosophy of life by living, but do arrive. As the pinned message on one girl's body says, "Shit or get off the pot". As the butcher abortionist tells Dr. Larch, "at least I'm doing something"

Get to Providence and see it. Do not take your teenager along unless you want to have an intelligent and meaningful conversation about life, ethics and the costs involved in living. It is a lesson you will be glad to have had and it will have been theater that opened the door.

Joe Coyne

"The Cider House Rules" (Part 1 and Part 2) (2 May - 17 June)
201 Washington Street, PROVIDENCE, RI
1 (401)351-4242

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