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This Examiner Rates The Cider House Rules: FIVE STARS (out of five)
In an age in which things seem to be getting smaller (for example, mobile phones, lingerie and budgets for the arts) the Hilberry Theatre is doing something BIG. They’re staging John Irving’s epic story, The Cider House Rules, as a two-part drama.
The Hilberry Company is uniquely positioned to take on a project of this scope and size; in fact, in today’s economy, a production like The Cider House Rules, which consists of a cast of 22 actors, might only be seen in a theatre such as the Hilberry and on a campus such as Wayne State’s.
‘We’re fortunate to be able to tackle these big stories that unfold in exciting and dynamic ways over time. The resources and dedicated personnel provided by our program and our audiences make the project possible,’ said Director Lavinia Hart. Hart has directed other Wilde Award-winning epic productions at the Hilberry, having received the award for ‘Best Director’ for The Kentucky Cycle in 2004.
Last night your Detroit Theatre Examiner saw Part One of the story, and we are counting the hours until we can head down to WSU for Part Two. In the interest of full-disclosure, we should mention that this reviewer regards The Cider House Rules as one of the best novels ever. So if we are a bit effusive in our praise, you’ve been warned.
Irving’s sprawling tale of Dr. Wilbur Larch’s orphanage lends itself to the theatre in much the same way as Nicholas Nickleby, another epic staged by the Hilberry in the past. This is theatrical story-telling at its best.
The Cider House Rules, Part I: Here in St. Cloud’s,tells us about Homer Wells, a boy raised in an orphanage as the protégé of Dr. Larch, the gruff obstetrician who delivered him. After experiencing first-hand the pain of being placed with the wrong foster families and having to repeatedly return to the orphanage, Homer is unofficially adopted by the orphanage nurses and his mentor and father-figure, Dr. Larch. Eventually, Homer becomes the doctor’s medical apprentice and learns how to not only save babies – but mothers, too. As Homer becomes a young man he struggles to decide for himself what is right and what is wrong.
Part One ends as Homer sets out to see more of the world – both the good and the evil that lie outside the St. Cloud orphanage.
Many of the members of this outstanding Hilberry cast play multiple roles, pulling on a dress over their dungarees to portray a young girl or changing knee breeches for a station master’s uniform within the space of a single scene. The lean staging makes due without even the simplest of props – so that Dr. Larch’s typewriter becomes a miracle of pantomime and audio effects.
Most compelling of all is the way the dialog assumes a narrative style. For example, when the character of Wilbur Larch speaks a heart-breaking line, he adds, ‘thought Dr. Larch.’
In truth, the very act of storytelling becomes a metaphor within this play. Homer Wells touchingly reads David Copperfield every night to the younger orphans, inspiring them to be the heroes of their own stories. Likewise, the audience is keenly aware that we, too, are being told a story. And even though we are grownups, it still feels pretty magical.
John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, Part I: Here in St. Cloud’s and The Cider House Rules, Part II: In Other Parts of the World, have been adapted for the stage by Peter Parnell. The shows run in repertory through May 14, 2011. Tickets are $25-$30 for each part, and can be seen on successive nights, independently, or as part of Saturday matinee and evening performance marathon. Local restaurateurs have been forewarned, so it is entirely possible to see Part One, digest it along with a good meal, and then return for Part Two. Due to the production’s epic scope, evening performances will begin at 7:00 p.m. and matinee performances at 1:00 p.m.
Tune in tomorrow for more about The Cider House Rules, Part II: In Other Parts of the World.
Tickets are available online, by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at 313-577-2972, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Ave. on the corner of Cass Ave. and Hancock.