Alexis King and Hallie Riddick in Tom Jones. Photo courtesy of YPAS.
By David Rogers, based on the novel by Henry Fielding
Directed by Brian Hinds
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, first published in 1749, is one of the earliest literary works in English to earn the designation “novel”. Its characters, structure, and style make it one of the picaresque variety. David Rogers’ adaptation for the stage efficiently focuses the narrative and allows the comedy to easily engage the audience.
It’s also a good script for a young cast like the YPAS students in this production. Fielding’s tale is a coming-of-age story for the title character (Marty Chester), who is a foundling raised by the kind Squire Allworthy (Joe Cox). Tom Jones is in love with the lovely Sophia Western (Alexis King) but is denied happiness because of his lowly birth as the illegitimate child of the Squire’s servant, Jenny Jones (Addie Guitry).
Chester’s and King’s youth is well exploited in their portrayals of Tom and Sophie, and both give earnest, skilled performances that make sense of the shifting emotions in their relationship. Ms. King, in particular, displays a glint of thoughtfulness in her eye, while Mr. Chester manages the innocence of Tom without listing into naiveté. Parker Henderson actually occupies the center of things as Partridge, who is both Man Friday to Tom and Narrator of the story; he does so with a loose comic authority backed by confidence. Helen Lister also manages an effectively mannered voice that communicates the phony superiority of Miss Western, Sophia’s aunt.
Steele Whitney displays comic certainty as Miss Western’s brother and Sophia’s father, but he also overplays the physical shtick to an annoying degree, with too much stomping and a dance toward the end that just felt excessive. Erik Moth brushes up against that same issue but manages to rein it in just enough to keep his Fitzpatrick, a supporting character who has great comic impact, grounded and human.
Overall, the remaining cast is proficient and focused, a credit to director Brian Hinds’ clean but still farcical staging. Brandon Burk is expert at essaying Bliful, the Squire’s son who is resentful of Tom, in a controlled and well-paced performance. Best of all is Hallie Riddick, who plays two roles and is an exemplar of professionalism in both. She is an especially solid, resourceful scene stealer in Act Three as Lady Bellaston, the society doyenne whose shielding of Sophia quickly turns into an attempt to absorb Tom’s attention for herself. Ms. Riddick is a delight and very funny.
The design work consists of a sound blend of mostly authentic period frippery in the costumes and a near-abstract backdrop panorama of sky. The backdrop is atmospheric but also neutral enough to accommodate the shifting scenes of Tom’s journey from Somersetshire to London. Dr. Matilda Ertz and several YPAS students prerecorded an effective score of harpsichord music.
Fielding’s tale is a pretty breezy affair, and this production mostly gets the tone just right, never taking itself too seriously and reminding us that period classics need not be as buttoned up and inaccessible as the wigs and costumes suggest. This Tom Jones proves to be great fun.
April 21, 22, 29, & 30 @ 7:30pm
Youth Performing Arts School
1517 South Second Street
Louisville, KY 40208
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the day, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, Theatre Louisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.