By David Hammond
Directed by Maggie Speer
Produced by Polarity Ensemble Theatre
in association with Azusa Production
At Josephinum Academy, Chicago
Manic movements and screaming and shouting dooms Tom Jones
Henry Fielding’s famous 18th Century (1749) novel, Tom Jones, was made into a hit film in 1963 staring a young Albert Finney and now David Hammond has a stage adaptation now in a Midwest premiere at the intimate stage at Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s Wicker Park space.
Tom Jones is listed in the press note as:
“A comically sexy celebration of the truths and realities of life…The story follows the journey of a bastard child of mysterious origin who is adopted into the family of Squire Allworthy. Limited by the inability to inherit the family fortune and desperately in love with Sophia Western, the young gentlewoman of a neighboring estate, Tom finds himself in a comedic whirlwind of circumstantial dilemmas and break-neck love affairs.”
That is the plot but how it was presented on stage was a manic, noisy affair that seem forced, over acted and devoid of humor (even the usual forced opening night laughter from friends of the cast was missing here). Besides having a cast of 17 players, director Maggie Speer made several fatal decisions that doomed the show. The comic tone was played so over-the-top from the start with too much shouting and screaming that the production made me cover my ears often. The manic presentation was forced giving the production a hyper, almost cheesy tone. This killed some comic moments. Most entrances were ripe with characters screaming their way on stage; then the women softly mumbled and spoke so fast that I had trouble understanding them.
The fight choreography (by Zack Meyer) was amateur at best. But the most damaging was the length of the show. At 2 hours and 45 minutes in a hot confined space, any merits the show may have had loses us as it wore us out. The cartoon-like performances, the screaming by the men and the screeching by the women doomed the show for me. Why do directors use volume (especially in a small space) to convey emotions? And how does over-playing each scene serve the production? It only fatigues the audience.
The only stage worthy performance was from Marcus Davis, as the empathetic Tom Jones. Davis captures the charm and naivete of the sexy wondering bastard. The rest of the cast was so over-the-top that the show played like as cartoon devoid of humor. If the show as cut 30-40 minutes and the tone was more subdued and less zany, maybe there would be a stage worthy show here. As it now plays, I can’t figure out who would enjoy this show since it’s not funny, it’s too long, it’s too loud, and it’s not sexy enough.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 22, 2012
For more info checkout the Tom Jones page at theatreinchicago.com
At Joesphinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell, Chicago, IL, www.petheatre.com, tickets $19, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 om, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission, through April 29, 2012