Confession: I forgot to bring a blanket to The Stage at Little Italy for the opening performance (Aug. 14) of Great Expectations, as presented by the Endicott Performing Arts Center, so I only made it to intermission. Rest assured, had the sun not gone down, and had I remembered to bundle up, I would have stayed to see the bildungsroman of Pip, the deterioration of Miss Havisham, etc. Not being a character from a Dickens novel, however, I opted for personal comfort over literary edification. I will try to return to see the second act before the end of the run.
Director Chris Nickerson announced at the beginning that the EPAC repertory company offers a classic Shakespeare in the Park presentation every year, and I have been to at least two of them in the past. They always provide an entertaining evening for the community, asking only for a donation if one is so inclined or able. This year, however, they decided to take a departure from the Bard to present an adaptation of Dickens’ classic novel instead.
Written for the stage by Neil Bartlett, the EPAC production has a talented cast of nine, headed by the mesmerizing Patrick Tombs as Pip. I remembered his energetic performance from an S.R.O. appearance he made in the ensemble of Les Miserables this past January.
This rendering of Great Expectations is fairly tight and moves swiftly enough for the most part. Only a couple things didn’t work too well for me, and maybe bothered me more than they should have. For one: Tombs’ use of a high-pitched voice and cockney accent intermittently alternating with the adult Pip speaking with the refined accent of a gentleman.
The vocal switches are a little too forced, but do help to illustrate which part of Pip’s life we are being invited in to see. That said, Nickerson’s use of the handsome, yet diminutive Tombs, was really a smart move. He is believable as both a boy and a man and has to be both in the course of the play. He fearlessly circles the first few rows of the audience in a bit of stage business, never breaking character.
During a dramatic scene in the first act, the howl of recorded wind coincided nicely with the actual wind, when it whipped up Thursday night. The other uses of audio and evocative musical tracks occasionally competed with low-flying planes or children’s’ yelps from the nearby monkey bars, but that goes with the venue.
I found myself wishing that Miss Havisham, played by Barb Barbara Cameron Caum (as she is listed on the program) had not covered her antique wedding gown with a black shawl, but she and Greta Volkova, looking like a live Botticelli model in her green velvet gown, are fine as Miss Havisham and her ward, Estella.
Nancy Kane as Mrs. Joe Gargery is appropriately strident as Pip’s bullying big sister, but sometimes a little unintelligible in her effort to be bombastic. She also plays Biddy and Wemmick. Arturo Dashan plays her husband, Joe Gargery, as well as Mr. Jaggers, and Mike Clark is Mr. Pumblechook, Sarah Pocket and Bentley Drummle. He’s pretty funny as Sarah.
Alan Caum multi-tasks as Herbert Pocket, Compeyson and Mr. Wopsle, and Mickey Ray is believable as Abel Magwich and funny as a sargeant. Rounding out the cast and playing a variety of other characters with just enough gusto is Carrine Vizvary.
Lorraine Tennant’s lighting and Tom DeForest’s sound design, with sound board operation by Mike Ziemba, work well, but if you have even a little trouble hearing, the closer you sit to the stage the better.
Great Expectations will be performed again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 16 and 17) in George W. Johnson Park, Oak Hill Avenue, Endicott. Very important: Bring a lawn chair, a blanket and mosquito repellant.