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Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Exceeds 'Great Expectations'

Apr. 18, 2017
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Molly Rhode, director of the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Gale Childs Daly’s adaptation of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, reflected on how much the word “great” is being bandied about these days. The Victorian England-based story of a young man’s growing up to embody, certainly, a quite unexpected form of greatness is surely ripe for closer examination and reflection on what we all perceive as being great. What is “great,” anyway?

“Exploring Pip’s journey in Dickens’ story has been a welcome opportunity to reflect on [such] questions. I believe that compassion makes us great. Generosity makes us great. Empathy makes us great. And forgiveness makes us great. These themes are ever-present in our play, and they are values to cherish, celebrate and protect,” Rhode explains. In fact, the MCT’s current production is likewise something to cherish and celebrate, for it is well acted, amusing, touching, sprightly paced and superbly staged.

With little more than two big bookcases, shelves scattered with dusty old tomes, candles and other small household items, a desk, stacks of books about the floor and clothing racks set in the recesses of the stage, Rhode’s cast of seven takes us rapidly, and convincingly, through different locations and personas. The fine actors change characters with confident assiduity—throwing on a coat, dress or hat, altering their expressions and demeanor and even changing English accents from lower to higher classes and back again—never confounding us in the least in the offing.

Likewise, a stack of books is a stack of books at one moment; then, bedecked with a dingy veil, is transformed into the sad, petrified wedding cake of the tragic Miss Havisham (Deborah Staples). The aforementioned desk is just that, but in a moment becomes the carriage whereupon Pip (Josh Krause) travels to London, or the table at which he and Herbert (Zach Thomas Woods) later dine, or a slide enjoyed by a young imp (Jonathan Gillard Daly) until he scuffs his knee.

What remarkable effort and effectiveness! Kudos to scenic designer Lisa Schlenker, stage manager Judy Martel, costume designer Jason Orlenko and lighting designer Jason Fassl for making this all come off so well. Their work—plus that of the amazing actors and the wonderful Childs Daly adaptation from which they all clearly drew inspiration—make for a truly enjoyable evening at the theater.

Through April 30 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets call 414-291-7800 or visit chamber-theatre.com.

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