By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
"You see what I'm up against?" Brogdon piped in.
ANW has links with almost two dozen local schools and colleges, but even with grants and outreach programs, the theater obviously can't entice a new generation of audiences by working in a vacuum. The lesson from Britain is that arts advocates like Mr. Brogdon, and what remains of his sympathetic colleagues in the elementary schools, could use some institutional support. Otherwise, culturally, we'll just keep growing dumb and dumber.
Charles Dickens wrote his novels as though for 14-year-olds; so many of them are about coming of age -- no matter how old the protagonist -- and he invariably includes children among his galleries of colorful eccentrics. In these appealing if reductive entertainments, the wealthy characters tend to be vilified, and the poor romanticized. Among the many wonders of Great Expectations -- and of Julia Rodriguez Elliott and Geoff Elliott's staging of it, in Barbara Field's adaptation -- is its complete faithfulness to that view of 19th-century London society, and its ability to traverse the adulthood of Pip (Todd Beadle, as a charming tabula rasa) in tones ranging from hijinks to pathos, from jubilation to winking haunted-house terror.
Indeed, cobwebs dangle from the chandelier of Thomas Buderwitz's platformed, scaffolded set, while a London street lamp sprouts at a slight angle from one corner. A company of 14, portraying well over two dozen characters, both tells and enacts the story -- sometimes reciting the narrative en masse in sundry, captivating formations, or with individuals suddenly telling us an inner thought or describing a new location.
The story is, of course, both a parable and a socially charged romance. Young orphaned Pip leaves his home on the marshes -- under the harsh watch of his screechy older sister (Jill Hill) and her kindly blacksmith husband (Stephen Rockwell) -- when he stumbles onto an unlikely career as a "gentleman," a career mysteriously underwritten by a secret patron. Pip assumes that the patron is the aging Miss Havisham (Deborah Strang), a once-spurned bride still living in her wedding dress and determined to pass her bitterness on to her adopted child Estella (Ann Marie Lee, in a performance of hypnotic animation). "I have no heart," Estella keeps explaining through the years to a smitten Pip as he climbs the social ladder, leaving good common folk behind for a world that turns on duplicity and is financed by theft.
Watching Expectations, I suddenly understood the core of my ache with so many ANW productions, and how this one overcomes it. I remember wishing the company's Richard IIIwould dig deeper, or that ANW might nudge Another Part of the Forestat least a couple of inches out of the sludge of Lillian Hellman's melodrama. Instead, the troupe stages classics as though targeting a teenage audience -- which is why Dickens fits in so well here. I had always assumed the approach was somehow remedial. In the larger context, however, it may just be the company's saving grace.
The Elliotts' rigorously disciplined production of Great Expectations shows off this already premium acting company at its best. While the saga's gallop across decades keeps jerking the audience along -- especially since so much of it is narrated -- certain cameos keep it sparkling: Geoff Elliott's wheezing convict, Magwitch, for example, or Robertson Dean's silken attorney, Jaggers, or Gail Shapiro's tender spinster, Biddy. It closes this weekend. See it -- and for heaven's sake, bring your children.
Adapted for the stage by BARBARA FIELD
From the novel by CHARLES DICKENS
At A NOISE WITHIN
234 S. Brand Ave. Glendale
Through December 20