Opening Nights: The Cider House Rules

Eighteen years pass gracefully for Book-It.

Like the noonday realities of adulthood as compared with the shadowy enchantments of childhood, Part 2 of Book-It's celebrated adaptation (the first show the company ever staged) has a more conventional, mature, mundane feel to it than Part 1. By virtually any standard, this version of John Irving's novel is still engaging theater, but expectation adjustments may be useful, as some of the best-loved aspects of Part 1 are gone or diminished—principally the funny and touching orphan dynamics and the poignant interactions of characters with incarnations from their pasts. Other elements—like resourceful storytelling—persist, as director Jane Jones employs the large cast to heighten the mood and drama in abstract ways, creating rain by drumming their fingertips on the floor, and even dramatizing a giant orgasm with multivoiced panting. Inevitably, the story fractures as its world expands from tiny St. Cloud's to an orchard and factory elsewhere in Maine and all the way to wartime Japan, but Irving's affable humanity permeates each sphere. The production begins with a quick, chorus-like recap of Part 1, in which Homer Wells, played by heart-melting Connor Toms, grows up in an orphanage as both ward and intended successor to pro-choice obstetrician Dr. Wilbur Larch, affectingly played by Peter Crook. (You can also see Part 1 beginning Sept. 29; see Book-It's site for the schedule.) Part 2 picks up at the Worthington apple orchard where Homer has gone to work. Life there has a calmer pace than at the clinic, but tension arises from Homer's growing relationship with his "best and only" friend's girlfriend, and in the relationship between the white owner/operators of the orchard and the African American migrant laborers. Allison Strickland quietly dazzles in the almost unplayable role of Rose Rose, the abused 16-year-old daughter of the crew boss Mr. Rose (Marcel Davis). Meanwhile, Larch misses Homer mightily, and even schemes to get him back. The struggle between Larch's genuine well-wishing for Homer and his efforts to control him ("You are my work of art") provides much of the emotional tension of both book and play. Jones leavens that tension with a wonderful scene in which Larch invents—out of thin air and typewriter strokes—a character named "Doctor Fuzzy Stone" (Jon Lutyens), who tap-dances the cadences of an imagined debate with Larch about the morality of abortion. The production deals with the passage of 18 years gracefully. Homer's boyish face darkens with stubble, and costume designer Pete Rush puts the beloved nurses in bulky sweaters that seem to shrink their frames with age. Terri Weagant's terrifying Melony mellows into a dignified and somewhat happy woman. Part 2 lets us see the full life cycle of characters we've cared about; a kind of spiritual magic happens when multiple voices tumble over each other to narrate a shared reality.

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