Likely, the New Repertory is aware of the changing American theatre where diversity is broadening the careers of actors of color, women, and introducing playwrights whose work deals with current problems and interests. The second play that Bobbitt will direct this season is August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences, a drama of a poor black family most of which takes place in the 1950s.
Given the present political situation and growing poverty in the U.S., the story of Oliver Twist who never has enough to eat is timely.
Bobbitt’s production of Oliver uses girls as well as boys to play the kids. For example, the important role of the Artful Dodger, one of Fagan’s pickpockets, is acted by the experienced eleven-year-old Sydney Johnston dressed as a boy. The star of the show, Oliver is the twelve-year-old Ben Choi-Harris who performs the role with aplomb and believability. He captures the child-like innocence of Oliver whose life for a time goes from bad to worse.
As the play opens Oliver an orphan is the dining hall of a workhouse with other boys awaiting breakfast which like almost their meals consists of a ladle of gruel. They sing Food, Glorious Food imagining all the pleasure eating can bring. They cannot begin until the arrival of Mr. Bumble (Andy Papas) who runs the workhouse and Widow Corney (Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda), the workhouse Mistress. Mr. Bumble says a prayer and the boys are allowed to eat their meal. On this day, however, Oliver gets up and asks for more.
His daring shocks Mr. Bumble who in a fury decides to sell Oliver to the highest bidder who turns out to be Mr. Sowerberry (Luis Negron) an undertaker and coffin maker. Like Mr. Bumble, Mr. Sowerberry and his wife (Shannon Lee Jones) mistreat and starve Oliver who runs off.
The next scene takes place a week later on the outskirts of London where he meets the Artful Dodger who tells the exhausted and starving Oliver that Fagin (Austin Pendleton) will help him. Dodger sings Consider Yourself. The song is meant to put Oliver at his ease when actually Dodger is trying to bring Fagin another pickpocket. Oliver moves in but does not understand what he is supposed to do. He is taken under Nancy’s (Daisy Layman) wing. One of the highlights of the show is her rendition of As Long As He Needs Me. Nancy is singing about her lover Bill Sikes (Rashed Alnuaimi) a vicious man who subsequently kills her.
Oliver’s life changes when he goes to live with Mr. Brownlow, a middle-aged wealthy bachelor who later adopts him.
The cast mastered their British accents under the tutelage of Lee Nishri-Howitt. A lively eight-piece band led by Sariva Goetz is onstage. Most of the performers sing and dance very well. Rachel Padula Shufelt’s costume designs, particularly those of the women, are an interesting mixture of today’s clothing and that of the early nineteenth century.
The lively production will play through December 29, 2019, at the New Repertory Theatre at Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street Watertown.
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