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A CurtainUp Review
Great Expectations

By Betsy Winchester

It is a most miserable thing to be ashamed of home. —Pip

Katleen Chalfant in Great Expectations
Kathleen Chalfant in Great Expectations
Biting his thumb at tired convention, Will Pomerantz's production of Great Expectations at the Lucille Lortel Theater grabs hold at the word 'go'. At the top of the show, huge sheets are draped over the protruding set and, with a flourish, are flung off by the cast to unveil a vibrant past that delights and amazes in its entirety.

Bathsheba Doran's adaptation of the classic by Dickens is succinctly written, preserving the novel's most impacting elements. She continues to deliver interesting and refreshing material to the New York downtown theater scene—this time by giving a fresh face to an old classic that is never mired in narrative but gallops along at a brisk pace. She isn't working alone, however. Her adaptation is truly brought to life by Pomerantz's unique vision and the versatile cast.

For those who might need a refresher since freshman year English class, the protagonist of the play is a young boy known as Pip Pirrip who we follow through life after a chance encounter with escaped convict, Abel Magwich. Brought up by his grating sister and her benevolent but gruff blacksmith husband, Joe, he has no great aspirations until his sister insists on sending him off every week to Miss Havisham's house. She's an aging woman who has given up on life after being jilted by her lover at the altar. With only her own pain in mind, Havisham has brought up her daughter Estella to make all men suffer and so it goes with Pip. Aspiring to be a gentleman so as to gain Estella's heart, Pip seems to achieve the impossible when he's gifted with funds from an unknown benefactor and is sent to London with the lawyer, Jaggers. When he discovers that Magwich was his benefactor all along, he renounces all his newfound wealth and Estella marries another. Upon realizing that his present existence is based on outgrowing unrealistic expectations, he returns home to Joe and honest work, and eventually is reunited with Estella.

The players are multi-faceted powerhouses, and leading the pack as a matter of course is Kathleen Chalfant who surpasses expectations as Miss Havisham. She is deliciously disturbed and, like a wounded lioness, mesmerizes and threatens. In one minute she's bearing down on Christian Campbell as Pip as if he was her spurning lover, the next flippantly dismissive, and the next cajoling.

Kristen Bush wears two hats remarkably well. Her Mrs. Joe is wonderfully shrill and strident. Her Estella is utterly disarming and captures perfectly the essence of a woman for the love of whom you'd dash yourself against the rocks.

A very strong performer, Christian Campbell, never quite gives up the ghost to let the torture of unreturned love fully emerge but is solid as a rock. John Joseph Gallagher is gruff and lovable as Magwich. Paul Niebanck as Joe is a joy, one of the high points of the show being his taking tea with his betters in the city.

The technical elements come together seamlessly. Carol Bailey does double-duty having devised a thrilling, well utilized set as well as costumes, both of which are supported by Loenore Doxsee's dynamic lighting. Eric Shim's hauntingly simple score tops everything off.

My hopes for this show were great. My expectations were well met indeed.

Editor's Note: One of the special pleasures of seeing an adaptation of a classic like this is that, if you've never read the book, it will inspire you to play enjoyable catch-up — and if you did read it, to revisit it with a new perspective. With this in mind, here are links to two inexpensive additions available via our book store:
Dover Thrift Edition
Penguin Classic

by Bathsheba Doran based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Directed by Will Pomerantz
Cast: Christian Campbell (Pip), John Joseph Gallagher (Magwich & Jaggers), Kristen Bush (Mrs. Joe & Estella), Kenneth Boys (Pumblechook & Orlick), Paul Niebanck (Joe & Drummle), Emily Donahoe (Biddy), Kathleen Chalfant (Miss Havisham)
Scenic & Costume Design: Carol Bailey
Lighting Design: Lenore Doxsee
Sound Design: Eric Shim
Wig Design: Kristian Kraii
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. No intermission.
TheatreworksUSA at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street 212-279-4200.
Tickets: $25.00
November 8, 2006 to December 3, 2006; opening November 16, 2006. Wednesdays @ 2pm, Thursdays at 10:30am, Fridays @ 7pm, Saturdays @ 2pm & 7pm, and Sundays @ 1pm & 4pm. Check web site for exceptions to schedule. Reviewed by Betsy Winchester based on November 14th performance
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