Total Rating: 
July 2, 2017
Silk Road Rising & Remy Bumppo Theater Company
Theater Type: 
Chicago Temple
Theater Address: 
77 Washington Street
Tanika Gupta adapting Charles Dickens novel

Once upon a time in India — 1861, to be exact — a poor Hindu orphan boy is accosted by an escaped African convict. The lad aids the fugitive, initially out of fear, but later motivated by pity for prisoners of the British colonialist government. Soon thereafter, Pip — as our young hero is named — is invited to visit a reclusive English lady in his village, who introduces him to her haughty mixed-race ward, launching a series of life-changing events that will take him to Calcutta, there to be tutored in Eurocentric values under the sponsorship of an anonymous benefactor. Before his education is complete, however, he will learn that cruelty and compassion co-exist in all levels of society in all parts of the world.

Wait! Didn't we read this story in high school? Sure, we did — it's Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” — but Tanika Gupta's adaptation of the literary classic is not content with merely dressing it up in exotic drag, despite retaining nearly all of the original dialogue. Instead, this collaboration of the Silk Road Rising and Remy Bumppo Theater companies, likewise jointly directed by Lavina Jadhwani and Nick Sandys, consolidates the resources of both troupes to explicate Dickens;s study of social inequities with a clarity unmistakable even by audiences within our allegedly "classless" nation. (The play's 2011 premiere featured a cast speaking in uniform rural English accents, but the widespread availability of multi-ethnic actors in Chicago, along with the expertise of dialect instructor Eva Breneman, leaves no doubt as to the clash of cultures at the heart of the British Raj.)

One of the pleasures of Dickens’s literary universe is the richness of its detail, but this also makes for difficulty in summarizing the narrative progress for the stage. The production currently occupying the basement black box at the Chicago Temple clocks in at three hours with an intermission but flows so smoothly from locale to locale as to render textual excision all but impossible. The 12-member acting ensemble includes Anand Bhatt and Netta Walker as the youths caught between conflicting tribal identities, represented on the one hand, by Anish Jethmalani, Rasika Ranganathan, Alka Nayyar and Raj Bond as the Gargary household, and on the other, by Roderick Peeples and Linda Gillum as the Anglo-patrician Mr. Jaggers and Mrs. Havisham. Look for this ambitious project to continue on long after its immediate run.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 5/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
May 2017