Northlight Theatre. Adapted by Jon Jory from the novel by Henry Fielding. Directed by William Brown. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
With religious demagogue Mike Huckabee clutching his pearls this week at the idea of 21st-century women and their out-of-control libidos, it's fun to imagine right-wing pundits' reactions to The Libidinous Ladies of 1749. In Jon Jory's fun and freewheeling new stage adaptation of Henry Fielding's 18th-century picaresque The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, ribaldly staged by William Brown as one of the sexier shows you're ever likely to encounter at Skokie's Northlight Theatre, the lustful female "conquests" often seem more in charge of affairs than the good-hearted, good-timing manchild of the title.
Which isn't to say Sam Ashdown's Tom Jones isn't a charmer. But neither is he a seducer. Possessed of a handsome face and a frequently shirtless, Men's Health–cover–ready torso, Ashdown plays Tom with a kind of surfer-dude guilelessness. He doesn't mean to keep falling into bed with women like Molly Seagrim (Molly Glynn), Mrs. Waters (Melanie Keller), Mrs. Fitzpatrick (Cristina Panfilio) and Lady Bellaston (Glynn again). But as Jory's script tells us, Tom is far from the first young man to fall victim to "the dilemma of the available and the ideal." As long as his true love Sophia Western (Nora Fiffer) is off limits to him, Tom's just a guy who cain't say no.
Jory's innuendo-loving adaptation, first produced just two months ago at Actors Theatre of Louisville, employs a blend of direct-address narration and semi-straight-faced scenes that crack the fourth wall; "in-character" performers sometimes react with disappointment to storytelling choices that cut short their chances to get busy. It's a clever nod both to Fielding's many writerly digressions and to the winking, camera-acknowledging tone of the Albert Finney–starring film adaptation that won the 1963 Oscar for Best Picture.
Brown's nimble staging uses just nine actors (fewer than Jory's own production in Louisville), with everyone but Ashdown and John Lister, as Sophia's blustery father Squire Western, playing multiple parts. Among the women, Glynn and Keller both get in some delicious comic bits; as for the men, Chris Amos is properly obnoxious as Tom's hypocritical rival, Blifil, and Marcus Truschinski and Eric Parks (both regular collaborators with director Brown) have fun out–Sean Connerying each other as a pair of sword-fighting Scottish peacocks. And just in case it still hasn't disarmed you by the end, Northlight's production tacks on the most winning curtain call in recent memory.