The company of Tom Jones. Photo-Bill Brymer.
Adapted and directed by Jon Jory
From the novel by Henry Fielding
Review by Emily Pike Stewart
Copyright 2013 by Emily Pike Stewart, all rights reserved.
One need not be previously familiar with Henry Fielding’s novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, originally published in England in 1749, to find Actors Theatre of Louisville’s current stage adaptation of the story immensely enjoyable. This crisply-paced, delightfully silly, terrifically bawdy, and occasionally swashbuckling comedy will keep you giggling from start to finish, with more than its fair share of belly laughs and even a handful of genuinely tender moments thrown in for good measure.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, Tom is an infant abandoned on the property of the good Squire Allworthy in Somersetshire, England. The squire decides to take the baby in, and Tom grows into a genuinely good-hearted young man but seems unable to keep himself out of trouble, especially with the ladies. He gets a local girl pregnant, and then saves her from ruin by admitting his fault, only to discover that he was not the father after all. Next, he falls truly in love with the pure and beautiful Ms. Sophia Western, but their fathers deem the match inappropriate, and soon after he is turned out of the Allworthy home for drinking and fighting, having been provoked by Allworthy’s disagreeable nephew Blifil. Tom travels to London to try to make his own way in the world, only to discover that Sophia has also run off to London to protest her father’s insistence that she marry Blifil. A series of missed connections and misunderstandings between the pair ensue, and without giving away the ending, mistaken identities are eventually uncovered and several loose ends tied together in the resolution.
The level of technical prowess displayed by the professional cast members of ATL’s production is really quite extraordinary. Their bright and fluid handling of the language and highly specific, fearless physical commitment to each embodied character (as most played multiple roles) broke this play wide open. The humor is not simply indicated but fully lived and breathed. The characters are painted in bold colors with thick, lustrous strokes. It was no surprise to see that nearly everyone in the cast has earned an advanced degree from a top-tier program. This level of precision and grace takes more than natural-born talent; it takes intensive training and a real dedication to practice acting as a craft. It is an absolute treat to watch.
Even the apprentice actors are more than capable of holding their own here; and while a difference can be detected between them and their more seasoned cast mates, this has much to do with how very high the bar is set by the rest of the ensemble and how technically demanding the show is. The apprentices’ work is still strong and a credit to the production and ensemble as a whole. There are no weak links.
It would be remiss not to give particular mention to the extraordinarily silly Robyn Cohen in her turns as Molly and Lady Bellaston. This woman is ridiculous in all the best possible ways. Her energy and commitment are unflagging, and she has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand in every scene.
Major accolades are due to Mr. Jon Jory for his adaptation and superb direction of this rollicking tale. An encouraging and supportive hand as well as a highly collaborative rehearsal environment must have been key to the free exploration of these actors, and the aforementioned results are golden. The superb pacing he has set never leaves a dull moment yet slows down for a breath of fresh air at all the right times. The moment-to-moment work is crystal clear, and a wide variety of comedic elements are employed to great effect.
Accolades are also due to the design team for pulling this production together with just the right balance between specificity and room left for the imagination. The set is a wooden floor that is visually interesting yet completely bare, and the only scenery is simple (but period-appropriate) prop furniture swiftly brought on and taken off by the actors. The only design element that comes out in full force is the intricate period costuming. The effect is striking; the characters themselves, clothed in the only highly specific design element, pop off the general backdrop. This careful balancing of the production’s design highlights and complements the actors’ bold characterizations.
All in all, this production is a true ensemble achievement. From the original adaptation, to the direction, to the acting, to the production design, etc., each element comes together to complement all the others and to beautifully serve the telling of the story. It is hard to say who will enjoy themselves more at each performance: the audience or the actors. But one thing is for sure – an evening spent with Tom Jones promises to be a very good time.
November 12- December 8, 2013
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202