Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through July 5, 2015
by Mary Fernandez-Sierra
What would happen if some of the greatest writers who ever lived could be transported to the same place and time, and any of us were fortunate enough to witness the event? Oh, the possibilities…
This is exactly what happens in Chester Theatre Company’s brilliant and beautiful season opening production. Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy find themselves sequestered together after their deaths, apparently to fulfill some task unknown to them. The mystery of their mission, the finely wrought portrayals of these three literary geniuses (as well as truly out-of-this world scenery, costumes, and gorgeous lighting) all combine to create a mesmerizing evening of theatre.
The production will be particularly fascinating for admirers of the three writers, as the script literally dances with words and ideas from well-known works. Audience members unfamiliar with their writings will still be caught up in the story and the marvelous production values, but knowledge of the in-jokes and quotations simply adds an extra fillip to the fun.
All three actors shine in their roles. The pace as they clash and collaborate is positively dizzying; ideas, philosophy, insults, and admiration fly about the stage in an intellectual ping-pong match, which is a joy to follow. Ezra Barnes brings a soulful sincerity to Thomas Jefferson, contrasting with Rik Walters’ bravura and flamboyance as the inimitable Charles Dickens. Michael Sean McGuiness is earthy and passionate as Leo Tolstoy, adding his own gutsy gusto to what he calls the trio’s “triangular duel” about faith, reason, and love. They make a superb triumvirate, bantering back and forth between comedy and drama with ease.
Bravo to scenic designer Ezra Barnes, lighting designer Lara Rubin, and costume designer Charles Schoonmaker, for enhancing the story with extraordinary arts and skills; and much honor to director Byam Stevens, whose staging and tempo make a play about words - and the men behind them - come to life.