Great Expectations at Park Square Theatre

Ryan Colbert and Hope Cervantes in Great Expectations. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

Ryan Colbert and Hope Cervantes in Great Expectations. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

Ah. Great Expectations. The most, arguably, beloved story by our most, arguably, beloved author, Charles Dickens. You know the plot (and if you don’t, well, go, quickly, to Park Square Theatre – the play runs through Feb 7 – and be informed): the heroically unselfish Pip aids the escaped convict; befriends the insane (the nicest way to put it) Miss Havisham and her slap-happy daughter Estella; helps smiling Uncle Joe in the blacksmithy; finds that his expectations improve dramatically due to a mysterious benefactor; goes to… Well, I’ll stop here. I don’t want to give it all away.

If I were a cynical Critic (I’m not) I might complain about the adaptation (Great Expectations was adapted and directed by the ūber-talented Joel Sass)’s length (it verges on 3 hours); about the disappointing fire; about the overly cluttered set, etc. But you don’t want me to.

Instead I’ll wax enthusiastic about the wonderful performance of Ryan Colbert as Pip. Colbert is tall, lean and lanky and he has a dervish-like physicality that effectively combines vulnerability and authority. Colbert manages the transformation from country bumpkin to London boulevardier perfectly. And Colbert renders Pip’s anguished self-doubt – “Who am I today?” – beautifully. He never bored me, despite the play’s length. But never mind about that. Bravo.

The acting in Great Expectations is uniformly first rate (one of the signs, in my experience, of solid direction). I must particularly celebrate Adam Qualls‘s sweetly self-deprecating and compelling work as Herbert; Ansa Akyea‘s unflappably powerful Mr. Jaggers; Hope Cervantes as the confused Estella (who hides her confusion behind arch – and paper thin – egocentricity); Barbra Berlovitz as the creepy (she’ll make your flesh crawl) Miss Havisham. Cheryl Willis plays the lovingly vicious Mrs. Joe and a variety of other characters. Her over-the-top-ness provides excellent energy.

Sass’s adaptation of this Dickens masterpiece depends heavily, as it must, on narration. But the play never felt stilted or static. Sass’s direction is firm and he had the good sense to hire Dan Dukich to compose perfect and slightly dissonant piano music (the onstage piano guts work nicely, too).

So: if you’ve never read Great Expectations (or if you haven’t in many years), or if you want to revisit an old friend, Park Square has given you an excellent opportunity. Don’t pass it up.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book about the magic of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has recently been published. In progress: a theatrical portrait of the great Anna May Wong. Please visit www.johnolive.net.

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