In case you haven’t heard, something extraordinary is happening at the Lyric Stage…twice! You can attend Part I of Charles Dickens’ NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, then come back another night (or do them both in one day) for Part II. The experience is nothing short of thrilling.
The shimmering adaptation has been engineered by David Edgar, shortening his first version for the Royal Shakespeare Company (presented on PBS with Roger Rees and David Threlfall). If you missed the first, miraculous incarnation – and even if you saw it – I’m happy to report that the Lyric’s version is just as delightful and uplifting.
Dickens’ idealistic tale of triumph over adversity has all the hallmarks you expect from his work. Drawing from his own family’s stay in debtor’s prison when he was twelve, Dickens chronicles the social evils of the time: the cruelty visited on children by knowing adults, the vulnerability of women and the infirm and the growing ranks of the impoverished.
Dickens threw his lot in with the Romantics who approached realism with a fanciful eye. The characters of Dickens’ creative imagination may seem at first glance to be melodramatic, especially the villains – but soon you’re aware of the emptiness in their hearts, too. The alchemy involved is quite remarkable: These broadly drawn inhabitants of Dickens’ London seem utterly real, despite Dickens’ romantic embellishment. In director Spiro Veloudos’ pitch perfect production at Lyric, twenty four actors portray one hundred and fifty roles and you marvel at each and every portrayal.
THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY begins, of course, with Jack Cutmore-Scott as the bravest of young men thrown to the wolves by circumstance (that would be the stock market crash, in case you’re looking for resonance to our time). Cutmore-Scott plays Nickleby with a righteous swagger. He’s kind, he’s good, but he’s no patsy. Jason Powers portrays the unfortunate Smike with an inner glow which fairly ignites under Nickleby’s protection. You cannot watch their friendship and not have your faith in man renewed.
Will Lyman gives a charismatic (and slightly wry) performance as Nickleby’s uncle and arch enemy. Wonderfully evil, too, is Nigel Gore as the nasty boarding school master and later, as a lascivious gentleman bent on deflowering Nickleby’s sweet sister (Elizabeth A. Rimar who blossoms as her independence and confidence grows). Maureen Keiller gets lots of giggles as her gregarious, chattering twit of a mother. Larry Coen is hilarious as the boarding school master’s potty son and later, as master of the revels. Sasha Castroverde is impressive in every role, from the conniving daughter of the schoolmaster to the gracious beauty who captivates our hero.
The Lyric stage overflows with rich performances; from Peter A. Carey’s compassionate, heaven sent clerk to Eric Hamel’s deliciously pompous wannabe actor, from John Davin’s greedy, grasping bachelor to Daniel Berger-Jones larger-than-life great hearted Scot, from Alycia Sacco’s clever en pointe “Phenomenon” to Leigh Barrett’s generous landlady. I wish I could name all the talented actors who enliven Dickens’ visionary adventure. I wish I could entice you to attend by revealing director Veloudos’ inspired comic touches…Better you enjoy them firsthand.
It’s not often a piece of theater can hold you in its thrall long after you’ve seen it. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY does just that. I can re-imagine every scene in my mind’s eye and be thrilled all over again exactly as I am with every year’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL. How many authors’ works can do that?