A Helter-Skelter Vanity Fair

Author Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was one of the best pieces of theater I saw last year – wildly imaginative, yet true to Jane Austen, its complications made clear. That (Bedlam) production was also Directed by Eric Tucker. I can’t imagine what happened between then and now.

2 girls

Joey Parsons, Kate Hamill

Though there are both original approaches and positive similarities besides furniture on wheels, portions of this staging feature everyone speaking at once while they all tear around the stage like beheaded chickens. Result? Clamorous incomprehension. A farting segment is lowbrow to the extreme. Some of the actors play it straight, others are so over the top one winces at every appearance. How is it a group of inmates took over the asylum while others…? Direction is as uneven as acting. It’s as if the production can’t make up its mind.

Debargo Sanyal’s George is wonderfully narcissistic, but virtually everyone else he embodies is painful to watch (and hear). Brad Heberlee occupies multiple roles like an over-smoked ham. Ryan Quinn plays William Dobbin mercifully straight, but without eliciting much sympathy and otherwise joins Heberlee. Farce only works if you don’t keep telegraphing/winking at the audience.

home

Kate Hamill, Debargo Sanyal, Zachary Fine, Tom O’ Keefe, Ryan Quinn, Brad Heberlee

On the plus side, Joey Parsons is an appealing and credible Amelia (one wants to shake her naïve shoulders), Tom O’Keefe delivers both serious and outrageous  characters with finesse (love the ventriloquist’s dummy!) and Manager (Narrator) Zachary Fine not only leads us through the fourth wall with just the right wry tenor, but becomes Matilda Crawley  (in wig and skirt) without resorting to mugging or screeching. Note: I have no issue with (even bearded) men playing women, just men playing women badly.

Early on, author/actor Kate Hamill plays a two-handed scene looking at the audience instead of Amelia, annoyingly taking us out of the action. Hamill then creates a Becky Sharp with less grace, charm or seductive attributes – virtually everything that enabled the character to rise – than insistence. In contrast, down-and-out Becky, is remarkably real. I remember how consistently splendid Hamill was as Marianne in the production of her Austen adaption and can only wonder.

There’s no percentage in retelling a story with which all of you are familiar. The play is periodically entertaining, but  chaotic (not freewheeling) in a style I find too often self-defeating.

last

Tom O’ Keefe, Brad Heberlee, Zachary Fine, Kate Hamill, Joey Parsons, Ryan Quinn, Debargo Sanyal

Alternately placing us in the period’s dark green interiors (Sandra Goldmark – Set) and a circus sideshow/Tivoli Gardens with evocative, striped rows of round lights (Seth Reiser – Design) offers creative context that works especially well with bankruptcy auctions and dark social comment. “This is Vanity Fair and it’s not a moral place,” the Manager reminds us.

Carmel Dean’s original and classic big top music adds apt atmosphere.
Costumes by Valerie Therese Bart are correct and evocative.

Photos by Russ Rowland
Opening: Kate Hamill, Tom O’Keefe

Vanity Fair
Adapted by Kate Hamill from the novel by William Thackery
Directed by Eric Tucker
The Pearl Theatre Company
555 West 42nd Street
Through May 14, 2017

About Alix Cohen (764 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.