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Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)   
  
Tom Jones 

Written by Henry Fielding  
Adapted by David Hammond
Directed by Maggie Speer 
at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map)
thru April 29  |  tickets: $15-$19   |  more info
  
Check for half-price tickets 
  
  
   Read entire review
  


     

     

18th-century epic saga holds its own on small stage

     

Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)

  

Polarity Ensemble Theatre i/a/w Azusa Productions presents

  

Tom Jones

Review by J.H. Palmer

The set of Polarity Ensemble’s production of Tom Jones is covered in text from the 1749 novel of the same name. Pages of text in different font sizes festoon the entire stage, including doors and some props – bottles, cups, and boxes. This is apt, considering that the original is over 300,000 words, and spans the life of Tom Jones from infancy to adulthood. Over the years the book has been cinematically adapted for the 1963 film by Tony Richardson, starring Albert Finney, and in the 1997 miniseries adaptation “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling”, starring Max Beasley. On the stage it’s a breathless whirlwind of scandal, love, treachery, lust, and revenge, with hardly a moment’s pause.

Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)
The role of narrator moves from character to character, allowing for quick insight into the scene at hand, and unpacking the wordiness of the tale in digestible chunks.

Over the course of the play, the audience learns the story of Tom Jones, a bastard child raised by the highly esteemed family of Squire Allworthy. This is a hefty undertaking; the story is long and meandering, and requires the efforts of both a fight choreographer (Zack Meyer) and a dialect coach (Lindsay Bartlett), both of whom deserve recognition for their work. I lost count of how many fights broke out, and the dialects never waver. Pat Parks plays the Landlady in a cockney accent worth its salt, and just as easily takes on the role of the more demure (but just as crafty) Lady Bellaston. Charley Jordan’s bellowing interpretation of Western is solid, and Richard Engling’s Allworthy has just a tinge of Sam Waterston to it.

As the title character, Marcus Davis is energetic and slightly naïve, getting hoodwinked by one beguiling woman after the next. Among the cast to take on double roles, Catherine Hermes stands out in her portrayals of Jenny Jones and Mrs. Waters; I was as surprised as Tom himself to discover the connection between the two (although I’m sure it helps that I never read the book.) Other cast members who artfully take on double roles include: Allison McCorkle as Miss Bridget/Honour; Ryan Swikle as Black George/Fitzpatrick; Gary Henderson as Robin/Fellamar; and the aforementioned Pat Parks as Landlady/Lady Bellaston.

Among the principals, Jon Beal plays Mr. Blifil with an aura that is at once phlegmatic, dark-hearted, and comically evil – it put me in the mind of a young Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons.” Hope Grandon plays the town harlot, Molly Seagrim, with adept, unabashed humor. Alex Fisher’s Sophia Western is spurned so many times, and with such reckless, comic abandon that one begins to wonder how the events of the play could possibly turn in her favor. Sophia’s disgust of Blifil is palpable, and her energetic mood swings are an adventure of their own.

Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)
Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)

Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)
Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)

There are even more characters to keep track of in this piece, and the action moves quickly and furiously through the many trials of Tom Jones. Thanks to the frequent narrations and the distinctly different characters, one stays afloat for the most part. At times the actors even double as props: in one scene set in the woods the supporting actors flank the principals and hold twigs in the air to represent tree branches.

Tom Jones is an epic story, and it takes over two and a half hours to see it through to the end. The fact that Polarity Ensemble Theatre is able to take it on – using borrowed space from Josephinum Academy (which isn’t much, the green room is a hallway with paper screen dividing it from the public), and limited props – is remarkable. This is a large-scale story brought down to living proportions. You’ll especially enjoy this play if you’re a fan of Dickens, Shakespeare or Fielding.

  

Rating: ★★★

  

  

Tom Jones continues through April 29th at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $15-$19, and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online at brownpapertickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at petheatre.com(Running time: 2 hours 45 minues, which includes a 15-minute intermission)

Review: Tom Jones (Polarity Ensemble)

All photos by Emily Granata 


     


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