By Michael Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant.
After all this time, Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” originally published in monthly installments in the Magazine Bentley’s Miscellany from February 1837 to April 1839, is still all the rage. Rage, indeed. The tale is dark, twisted and rife with rage. Lots and lots of rage.
When an orphan boy, Oliver (Will Sendera), begs for a second bowl of gruel from the parish beadle Mr. Bumble (David Cabot), he is cast out of the workhouse and has a series of misfortunate events that would make Lemony Snicket sigh in desperation.
Eventually he runs away to London and meets up with the Artful Dodger (Simon Colker), Charley Bates (Lance Wilhelm) and the band of misfit pickpockets under the care of Fagin (James FitzGerald). Fagin instructs Oliver in their devious ways, but on his first assignment watching Dodger and Bates pick pockets, Oliver gets nabbed by Mr. Brownlow (Martin Giles).
Brownlow realizes Oliver is innocent and decides to give him food and shelter, but Fagin fears Oliver will ‘peach’ him (snitch in modern vernacular). Fagin asks for help from Bill Sikes (a very scary Tony Bingham) and Nancy (Karen Baum) to aid him in recovering Oliver. Things go sideways pretty quickly, and not everyone gets a happy ending.
“Oliver Twist” is not to be confused with the musical “Oliver!” that recounts the same tale with song and dance, however, when Dodger makes his first appearance, it’s hard not to start humming “Consider Yourself” in your head.
Alan Stanford adapted this version for the stage and also directs. Dickens writes merciless satire on the Poor laws of the time. Orphans were cast adrift, unwanted and treated badly. They were treated as if their situation was their fault. The story remains relevant. Imagine Oliver as a Syrian refugee or the child of an illegal Mexican immigrant and there would be very few rewrites needed. There’s a disturbing parallel. The serialized story, the play and the musical are all about hope, though. Dickens knew that kindness and charity were some of man’s best qualities. He went to the darkest depths to shine the light bright.
PICT Classic Theatre’s usual suspects are in fine form here with excellent performances from FitzGerald, Giles, Cabot, Baum and Bingham. The surprise is that many of the younger actors are equally brilliant. Sendera deftly portrays the lost parish boy, Oliver. The kid has a star quality.
Fagin’s gang handed in some fine performances as well, especially Colker’s Dodger and Wilhelm’s Bates. Let’s doff our caps to PICT players Ken Bolden, Linda Froelich, Parag S. Gohel, Bridget Connors and Dylan Marquis Meyers for very good performances in smaller roles.
Scenic Designer Johnmichael Bohach makes a grand use of very few materials. In the words of Cosmo Kramer, “It’s all about the levels.” There are very credible looking costumes from Costume Designer Joan Markert.
“Oliver Twist” runs until December 19 at the Charity Randall Theatre, inside the Stephen Foster Memorial, 4301 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here.