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Theater Review

Pacing, Cast Transform 'Bleak House' Into a Bright Enterprise

November 29, 2001|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For the century and a half after it was ushered by the pen of Mr. Charles Dickens into the fog-enshrouded London social order so vividly depicted in its opening, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether "Bleak House," with its labyrinthine plot, could find as comfortable a perch on the stage as its more frequently adapted literary siblings born of the aforementioned Mr. Dickens' fertile imagination--a transposition rendered all the more daunting by the author's rambling, long-winded style and voice, which a reviewer can but hope to dimly honor by following the example set by the Dickensian curtain speech cautioning against crinkled candy wrappers and mobile phones that precedes the Write Act Repertory Company's performance at St. Stephen's Church in the Wood of Holly.

To the question posed, the answer proves a qualified affirmative, as the adapter, Mr. Gene Franklin Smith, to a satisfying degree, has distilled the narrative's dizzying complexities while yet preserving both the humane social conscience and the keen eye for personal eccentricity that so distinguished Mr. Dickens' writing.

Although the prolonged inheritance lawsuit that fuels the author's merciless satiric jabs at the absurdities of the British legal system lasted 93 years, dispassionate spectators will doubtless be relieved to learn that this stage chronicle of the final disposition of the case occupies little more than one-three-hundred-thousandth of that interval, with intermission. Furthermore, the galloping pace set by the director, Mr. Larry McCallister, and a fine ensemble of 16, in handsomely differentiated multiple roles, make the passage of time pleasurable.

Meriting special commendation in this latter regard are the compelling presences of Miss Wendy Gough as the noble parentless heroine, Miss Ami Dolenz and Mr. Mathew Vipond as her fellow orphans, Mr. Adam Menken as both their wealthy benefactor and the relentless inspector on the trail of a murderer, Mr. Cameron Mitchell Jr. as a kindly barrister, Mr. Steve Peterson as the villainous lawyer, and Miss Pamela Salem as the aristocrat who shelters an ominous past.

The drama is ripe with melodrama--indeed, often overly so--and the best efforts of all concerned cannot entirely blot out the forced machinations that bedevil the characters. However, the creators have embraced the age-old adage that if one cannot vanquish the sources of one's adversities one should unite with them; far be it for me to do otherwise.

"Bleak House," Write Act Theatre at St. Stephen's Church, 6128 Yucca St., Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 16. $20. (323) 860-8894. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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