Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review of Silk Road Rising and Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's Great Expectations

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Great Expectations. It was by Charles Dickens and it was adapted by Tanika Gupta. It was co-directed by Lavina Jadhwani and Nick Sandys. It was about a boy named Pip (Anand Bhatt) who was growing up in Bengal. He was sent to play at old, rich Miss Havisham's house (Linda Gillum), and he wanted to grow up to be a gentleman so that he could impress the girl that he had been playing with there, Estella (Netta Walker). He gets his chance from a benefactor who remains nameless. We get to watch him learn how to become a gentleman, but also see how it is more important to be a vital part of society and appreciate where you came from. It is about how love doesn't always work out, being a gentleman is more than just having money, and how it feels to be a stranger in new places and how you can also feel like you are a stranger in your home. I thought that this was a really great show. I have never seen a version like this of Great Expectations, and I really, really enjoyed it.

Love is a very prominent topic in this show. But not just romantic love. One example is Herbert Pocket (Lane Anthony Flores) and Pip. They have a very sweet and pedagogical relationship, but their roles change over the course of the play. At first Herbert teaches Pip things like table manners, but later Pip starts to teach him about being more accepting of different cultures. Also Joe (Anish Jethmalani) and Pip have a familial relationship. Joe is like a father to Pip even though they aren't actually related by blood. (Joe is Pip's brother-in-law.) He always says "Ever the best of friends, Pip." It is heartbreaking to watch Joe be so devastated at Pip's leaving the village for the city of Calcutta. Joe's wife (Alka Nayyar) was very strict and wanted the best for Pip but she didn't think he was grateful enough. She doesn't really show love to him until the end. She provides for him, and I don't think she would have done that if she didn't love him, but it is hard to see the love because she is so brutal about it. There are also romantic relationships like Estella and Pip and like Biddy (Rasika Ranganathan) and Pip. Biddy has romantic feelings for Pip, but sadly they are not accepted until it's too late. Biddy still loves him even after she gets married, but, because she is a faithful wife, she only expresses platonic love to Pip after she is married. Estella and Pip seem to both love each other, but Estella is a bit too stuck up to tell Pip about her feelings. Love in this play doesn't seem to always work out the way that we hope it will, but it is always there in every form.

Pip becomes a gentleman even though in the 1800s it wasn't the most normal thing to have somebody from the lower class become a gentleman. The external part of being a gentleman is manners, a posh accent (which he gets from hanging out with Herbert), English clothes, and money. One of my favorite scenes was when Herbert was teaching Pip how to have more genteel table manners. This scene plays differently than other Great Expectations that I've seen. In the ones I've seen before there is just a class difference between Pip and Herbert. But what is going on here is a class difference but also a cultural difference because Pip has probably not used a fork before because that is not a part of his everyday culture. The scene is funny because you see how polite Herbert is being despite being confused by how Pip doesn't know the English manners that Herbert was taught. But Pip seems hungry and scared and nervous about being in a restaurant, so that makes it less hilarious because you feel sorry for him. I think they did that on purpose because it emphasizes how much of a stranger Pip is in this new place. I think the moral of the whole play is that gentility is not really having good manners at the table but being kind to others and helping them out when they have problems. Both Herbert and Pip learn how to do that when they start helping out Magwitch (Robert D. Hardaway). Magwitch isn't seen by the world as a gentleman, but he is very generous and kind. He has been to jail, he didn't go to school, and because he was born in Africa he isn't given the same privileges white people have.

I think this play's main theme was being a stranger. Of course Pip is an example because he moves to the city when he was in the country before. But you also see so many other people being introduced to new places. Magwitch didn't feel like he was home anymore in Africa because his country had been taken over by white men. So he becomes a sailor and he is a stranger in all the places that he travels. Then he becomes a criminal and is treated unfairly and so they send him to the Andaman Islands, which is like a giant jail. The scene where Magwitch is talking about how it feels to be a stranger everywhere he goes is very sad; the actor seemed to be really feeling the pain and it was a beautiful performance. Estella is also a stranger because she was given away and sent to a strange old house to live with a recluse when she was only three. She got used to it and, when she was put in a boarding school when she was a teenager, she got used to that. As you can see she seems really good at readjusting, but you see that she hides her feelings all the time. By the end you learn she is not as cold as people think. I think that it is a really nice touch for Estella to have a soft side, even though she doesn't show it to anyone in her life. But the audience sees it in the way she looks at Pip when they meet as young adults. Joe is another example of feeling out of place. When he goes to visit Pip, he doesn't know any of the customs and he does stuff like spit his tea out onto the plate. You feel sorry for him because he just doesn't know what to do and he's scared and just wants to get it over with. Joe is a very lovable character, which makes it even harder to see him out of place and terrified.

People who would like this show are people who like table manners, new takes on Dickens, and being ever the best of friends. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think this adaptation captures the true meaning of Great Expectations, even though it has differences from the book. They still had a lot of my favorite scenes in it. It is so much fun. I really loved it.

Photos: Johnny Knight

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