By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Gale Childs Daly
Directed by Jason Gerace
Extreme accents together with hurried, mumbled speech patterns deals Dickens’ classic a mortal blow
It is one thing to spout a rich thick cockney accent but when your working-class British accents spoken in a hurried, often slurred manner, render more than half of your dialogue or spoken narrative unintelligible, your play fails. My new intern, a novice to Chicago theatre, asked me at the intermission: “Why do they use accents and speak so fast? I can only understand 25% of what they are saying. Why do they do that?” Good question. Maybe dialect coach Kathy Logelin did too good a job at getting the six cast members to speak in British accents? But when you combine story theatre (actors narrating and reading from a book) while using their thick accents wherein one actors starts a passage and another one finishes it, the meanings often get lost. That was the case here with Great Expectations. The women constantly spoke too fast running their word together with their genuine accents while the men also speaking to fast with extremely thick accents that made much of their words seem like a foreign language. A dialect coach once told me that “best to only hint at an accent than make an actor’s words unintelligible.” I may be the only reviewer to mention this but it surly is the most dominant element of the Strawdog Theatre production of the Dickens’ novel. Too bad since this ambitious production was a fast paced epic that tried to make Charles Dickens classic come to life.
Some of director Jason Gerace’s staging left large portions of the audience blinded by pillars during key moments. Also the use of multiple narrators quickly became an irritant. The lack of articulation and the thick accents made the already complex story impossible to follow. What I did gather was that PIP (Mike Tepeli) is an orphan boy who is plucked from poverty and thrust into the upper class by a hidden benefactor. Pip has various adventures as he strives to find his way and a soul mate. The saga is adventurous and the supporting five actors play 40 characters in various accents and personae.
This show could easily become a stage worthy event if Kyle A Gibson would tone down his cockney accent; if John Taflan would slow down his rapid -fire speech patterns; and all the women would slow down and punch-out their words clearer. Mike Tepeli’s performance was terrific and if he too would slow down at tad and articulate his lines clearer his performance would go from terrific to splendid. He has the charm and presence that is winning. Tone down the accents in the interest of clarity. On the street after the show, I heard several people say that the show needs super titles like the opera so we can understand the words. There is a lesson here. One can hope that the production tones down things so audiences can enjoy the ambitious show. There is a fine show hiding beneath all the muddle.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 11, 2013
For more info checkout the Great Expectations page at theatreinchicago.com
At Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL, call 773-528-9698, www.strawdog.org, tickets $28, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with intermission, through December 14, 2013