Enchanting Dickens fairy tale comes to life at Lookingglass Theatre
by Tom Williams
The Old Curiosity Shop is an adult fairy tale of dark despair that moralizes on the evils of gambling, greed and human frailty filled with Dickens' most bizarre characters and his most delicious villain Mr. Quilp (Thomas J. Cox at his bowl-legged manically nasty best). Narrated by adapter Raymond Fox as The Single Gentleman, the play is set in a curiosity shop, an establishment where one could purchase second hand goods of an antique variety. Little Nell (Lorri Hamm) tries to help her Grandfather (Troy West) run the shop but his gambling addiction overwhelms him and he loses the shop to Quilp. Nell and Grandfather are forced to journey from London to avoid Quilp's wicked avarice. Their travels through the English countryside lead them to meet a host of characters, some evil, some good, but all are vibrant characters. The fate of Nell is vividly played out with a wonderful, quick paced production filled with unpredictable twists and marvelously developed characters. This adaptation takes a long, often rambling and quite sentimental novel and trims it down to two and a half hours of Victorian adventure filled with humorous characters and telling morality.
What makes this tale work is the empathy evoked by Troy West's Grandfather and the innocence of the devoted Little Nell played with strength by Lorri Hamm. Add Thomas J. Cox's terrific turn as the bowl-legged richly evil Quilp and the outstanding ensemble work from the likes of Eva Breneman, Lawrence E. DiStasi, Raymond Fox, Tony Hernandez, Lisa Tejero and Andrew White each playing multiple characters and The Old Curiosity Shop unfolds as a marvelous engaging night of theatre. The stellar use of Bembridge's two tier set complete with the centered arc bridge and the vivid use of back ground lighting illustrated the show adding depth to the story.
The complex story is easy to follow as director Tracy Walsh has each character played to the hilt to garner laughs and exaggerate their bizarre human traits. This ambitious production contains a tad too much but than Dickens' stories are so dense that they require many scenes filled with wacky personalities. Lookingglass' production is clever and enchanting â€“ a thoroughly entertaining show that offers a flavor of Dickens time and his understanding of the human spirit.