“. . . no man who was not a true gentleman at heart ever was, since the world began, a true gentleman in manner.”–Great Expectations
The Metropulos-Alpers production contains the vast Dickensian range: the near-caricature oddities of Wemmick’s Aged Parent and Uncle Pemblechook Bray, alongside the rich light-and-shadow vicissitudes of a Bildungsroman portrait of Pip.
Chief protagonist Pip travels a long distance–from a carefree boy to a young man dissatisfied with his life and its common and coarse circumstances and people, eventually becoming a true gentleman. New-to-OSF actor Benjamin Bonenfont portrays Pip with modulated energy and intelligent arc.
The making of Pip into a true gentleman is mediated, in wonderful Dickensian paradox, by two unusual suspects: Pip’s blacksmith brother-in-law and father in practice, Joe Gargery, and on-the-run prisoner, Abel Magwitch.
Joe is ally to Pip in the war zone of Mrs. Joe’s verbal volleys, master to Pip in his trade, and Pip’s best friend forever, expressed through an interpersonal gestural code. Joe is dear, sweet, even-tempered, steady, and magnanimous. When Pip learns of his unexpected fortune, he is eager to set sail for London and the “great expectations” that await him in his quest to become what Society considers “a gentleman.” Joe relinquishes Pip open-heartedly and refuses to take money for losing Pip’s services as an apprentice.
When the fugitive prisoner, Abel Magwitch, encounters Pip as a young boy on the open marsh, he immediately feels a fathering attachment to him—as Magwitch discloses later in the play. (Magwitch describes a lost child, who would be about Pip’s age.) Magwitch’s lack of social etiquette and blunt speech conceal a sensitive and faithful heart.
22-season OSF favorite Derrick Lee Weeden embodies the oafish nobility of Magwitch with his rich resources of sonorous voice and larger-than-life movements. Al Espinosa illuminates Joe’s sweet kindness with keen gestural skills—from his awkward tongue-tiedness in higher society to his favorite-uncle warmth in his own humble milieu.
When rehearsals started, I ran into Cristofer Jean at a local coffee shop. (Jean plays Mr. Wopsle, the Aged Parent, and a Narrator with characteristic panache!) I asked Cristofer which roles he was playing for the 2016 season. He shared excitedly what he was experiencing in the rehearsing of “Great Expectations.”
“It is wonderful to witness Pip’s journey to manhood, and all of the models and mentors at his disposal.”
Being a father and a mentor, I deeply appreciate that this production captures an essential human journey, and one that is vital to individual and social well-being in our time: the “successful” journey from boyood to manhood. As I discovered, “Great Expectations” reveals another level of the journey: the making of a true gentleman.