Archikulture Digest

Nicholas Nickleby (Part 2)

Nicholas Nickleby (Part 2)

By Charles Dickens

Adapted by David Edgar

Directed by Jim Helsinger

Starring John P. Keller, Allison McLemore, and Jean Tafler

Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL</strong>

If you’re not blown away by Act One of a show, often as not Act Two can rescue the evening by tying all the bits of story together. Tonight we find “Part 2” of this Dickensian epic steps up the drama and gives a more unified story than Part 1. There we met Nicholas Nickleby, (Keller) his attractive sister Kate (McLemore) and his overly chatty mother (Tafler). They fell from country gentility to Victorian urban poverty, and the rambling story introduced a dozen major characters along with a bus full of spear carriers, crowd scene stand-ins and generalized wrenched masses all yearning to be fed. Tonight we hit the payoff; all the threads of story pull together for a tense and worthwhile drama.

There are two story lines, both revolving around the machinations of Ralph Nickleby (Gregory Thornton). He’s using Kate as bait to fleece a young noble Lord Frederick Verisopht (Jeffery Todd Parrott) but instead draws oily Sir Mulberry Hawk (Richard B Watson) who intends to ravish Kate and then leave her ruined. Mr. Watson soon returns as Wackford Squeers, he’s back from his humiliation in Yorkshire at the hands of Nicholas, and he’s notionally looking to recover the mentally deficient Smike (Stephen James Anthony) who ran off with Young Nickleby in Part One. His real reason makes more sense; he’s involved in a scam with Ralph and his confederates to cheat young Madeline Bray (Olivia Grace Murphy) out of an inheritance. Act Two brings all this tension to a peak; I was actually leaning forward in my seat and angry at the injustice of Ralph Nickleby and moved by the selflessness of Lord Frederick’s sacrificial duel. Act 3 was less compelling, it wrapped all the loose ends and happily ever-aftered everyone with a massive denouement dump.

Both Smike and Ralph Nickleby showed significantly more depth than they did in Part One. Ralph starts out as merely cheap and evil; he has money but won’t part with it. Tonight we see how he gets his money, and why he’s morally warped. Yet he’s not so amoral that he fails to see the damage he’s done, and we feel more complete for our insight. Smike has better lines as well, he reveals his wants and dreams and the wonder that infuses his view of the world outside of Yorkshire. Young Nickleby grows as well and becomes a more curious character. On one hand he seems a pat hand at just about anything he tries, conquering the stage last week and tonight rising rapidly in the business world under the care of the charming if clownish Charles and Ned Cheeryble (Joe reed and Jeff Nathan). As in the first act, the lovable Newman Noggs (Steven Lane) remains the fast friend to Yong Nickleby even if he skates on the edge by spying on his employer Ralph to the advantage of young Nicholas.

There’s some confusing moralizing in this story, Nicholas and Kate both initially reject advantageous marriages because they might look like they did it for the money. Nicholas does have a respectable job with the Cheeryble brothers and he’s out from under the shadow of his uncle, but while money doesn’t buy happiness clearly neither does poverty. Saner friends talk the pair into marital bliss, but here’s the question: Dickens clearly abhors poverty and exploitation of the masses but he implies poverty somehow becomes nobles so long as it is a consciously chosen path made for high moral reasons. And more disturbingly, he implies that true financial security does not come from your own work and initiative, but only by join the ruling class via a financial deus ex machina. Thus Dickens says “Look at all this injustice and misery brought on by extreme wealth!” but he also says “The only way to escape misery is to join the problem or accept starvation as a high moral aspiration.” And isn’t that a rather circular argument?

For more information on Orlando Shakespeare Theater, visit</em>

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