By Robert Delaney, Theatre Reviewer
Hilberry Presents epic The Cider House Rules
An orphan is brought up by a pioneering abortionist in a Maine orphanage, and wrestles with issues of life and love before eventually coming to terms with his mentor’s legacy in Peter Parnell’s stage adaptation of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, now being presented by Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre.
The epic scope of Irving’s novel is presented in two parts – Part One: Here in Saint Cloud’s, and Part Two: In Other Parts of the World – that can be experienced on separate evenings or on a single Saturday.
Co-directed by Blair Anderson and Lavinia Hart, the productions employ the talents of 22 student actors drawn from not only the Hilberry company, but also from WSU’s undergraduate theatre program.
The strong abortion-rights message of Cider House is sure to be welcomed by some, while others will find it troubling, if not infuriating.
But to focus on the purely theatrical issues, one must consider the quality of the production and the whole matter of what one thinks of such long-form theatrical productions.
As to quality, this is a decided achievement for Anderson, Hart and the talented young performers. Such a play can only work if it is presented at a fast pace, with its many performers quickly distinguishing their characters in the minds of the audience members.
The two parts of this production benefits from not only outstanding performances in key roles, such as Christopher Ellis as Wilbur Larch, the director of the orphanage, Andrew Papa as Homer Wells, his orphan protege, Samantha Rosentrater as Melony, a fellow orphan who figures importantly in Homers life, Sarah Hymes as Candy, Homer’s adult love relationship, Nick Yocum as Homer’s son, Angel, and Carollette Phillips as Rose Rose, Angel’s love interest.
There are also so many other fine performances in lesser roles. And while there are too numerous to list fully, some mention must at least be made of Jordan Whalen as Wally, Erman Jones as Curly Day and Samantha Moltmaker as Nurse Caroline.
But then comes the question about this whole style of theatre. Parnell’s adaptation of Irving’s novel was inspired by the famous British production of Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickelby (which the Hilberry has also produced – ed.) that became familiar to American audiences when it was shown on PBS. OK, even I liked Nicholas Nickelby, but it was exceptional and I consider it an exception. Sure, it is a way to adapt a novel without leaving anthing out, but that doesn’t always make for good theatre.
In the case of The Cider House Rules, I think rather a lot of detail could have been dispensed with, even without the major cutting of subplots Irving himself engaged in for the motion picture version.
Thanks to Seattle’s Book-It Theatre, there are a fair number of these long-form plays being written, so we’ll probably see more of them, whether I like it or not.
I can’t say I particularly enjoyed The Cider House Rules, but that has to do with the story, not this production. The two parts of The Cider House Rules continue in rotating repertory through May 14 at the Hilberry Theatre, at Cass and Hancock on the WSU campus. For performance and ticket information, call the WSU Theatre box office (313) 577-2972 or go to www.hilberry.com