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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Cider House Rules—Part One Anew at Book-It Rep

Cider House Rules
Peter Crook, far right
The stage adaptation of The Cider House Rules really put Seattle's Book-It Rep into the big leagues when first fully staged by the company in collaboration with Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1997, so the new staging of Part One: Here in St. Cloud's is a fitting closer for the end of their 20th season Part Two: In Other Parts of the World will usher in the 21st season in the fall. The new production is impressive. And while it doesn't eclipse the raw excitement of the earlier cast and staging, it holds its own very nicely, easily making it a highpoint of the 2010 Seattle year in theatre thus far.

Peter Parnell's reverent yet hardly embalmed adaptation of John Irving's best-selling contemporary classic (conceived for the stage by Parnell, Tom Hulce and Book-It co-founder Jane Jones) is again directed by Jones (based on her original co-direction with Hulce) with a crispness and vitality belying its length (two and a quarter hours plus two intermissions) setting up the story of perennial orphan Homer Wells, his mentor/father figure, Dr. Wilbur Larch, and a host of other fascinating characters tied to the St. Cloud orphanage in Maine. Performed in the trademark storyteller tradition that has served Book-It so well with plays based on literature as varied as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Edna Ferber's Giant, it moves from hilarity to poignancy to despair with sublime ease. Spanning from the mid-1800s to 1941, Larch, who founds the orphanage and hospital at St. Cloud's, ultimately delivers fewer babies than he aborts. Homer Wells, returned to the orphanage countless times, ultimately learns mid-wifery from his mentor, but rejects taking part in the abortions. Part One climaxes with Homer leaving St. Cloud's for the first time in his 18 years with well-off new friends Wally and Candy, who play a pivotal role in the second half of the story.

Peter Crook gives a commanding and multi-layered account of the complex yet endearing Dr. Wilbur Larch. Connor Toms is captivating, and captures well the maturation of Homer Wells from wide-eyed orphan to inquisitive and sensitive young man. Terri Weagant savors the plum role of Homer's female counterpart, wild child Melony, investing her portrayal with bawdy humor and palpable heartbreak. Melinda Deane and Julie Jamieson offer staunch support and nuanced characterizations as Nurse Edna and Nurse Angela, and Laura Kenny, one of the finest character actresses in regional theatre, is a joy in a trio of roles, particularly shining as the wry Mrs. Claus and the motherly Mrs. Grogan. Jon Lutyens is captivating as the doomed Fuzzy Stone, Ben McFadden is just right as the young Larch, and Richard Nguyen Sloniker and Emily Grogan charmingly introduce their characters of Wally and Candy, who will figure prominently in act two. The entire acting ensemble earns our applause throughout, through their chameleon-like changes of roles.

The evocative musical score by Danny Wheetman is a crucial element of the show's success, under the able musical direction of Edd Key, and well-played by onstage musician Eric Chapelle. Scenic design by Andrea Bush is spare and satisfying, and Andrew D. Smith's lighting design is always on the mark. Pete Rush's many costumes aid the actors immeasurably in their transformations.

Though a fan of the handsome, if truncated, Lasse Hallstöom film of The Cider House Rules, the stage version succeeds in capturing the unmatched joy you have reading the original novel, and I'm glad to only have to wait till September for Part Two. Till then, goodnight you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England!

Book-It Repertory Theatre's The Cider House Rules-Part One: Here In St. Clouds runs at the Seattle Center House Theatre in Seattle Center through July 11, 2010. For tickets or information contact the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.


Photo: Adam Smith

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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