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Tom Jones at Polarity Ensemble Theatre | Theater review

David Hammond’s adaptation of Henry Fielding’s sprawling novel is wry and witty but ultimately wearying.

Photograph: Emily Granata
Tom Jones at Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Tom Jones (Marcus Davis), that famous foundling, has well-turned calves and a fine head of hair. He also has a taste for ladies, especially true love Sophia (Alex Fisher), and for scrapes. This premise served Henry Fielding so well that he sustained it for more than 300,000 words in his 1749 novel; here, at least, it holds up less well onstage.

David Hammond, a faculty member at the American Repertory Theater Institute, newly revised his 1987 adaptation for Polarity’s production. In Hammond’s Tom Jones, minor characters get lots of stage time, and a hotel scene is a farcical playlet unto itself. When the whole ensemble gathers, Maggie Speer’s direction is artful; there’s a mesmerizing masked ball, and an ingenious hunt scene in which cast members hold branches aloft and evoke dogs, birds and horses. Several actors command the wry subtlety or brashness of their characters. But at nearly three hours in Polarity’s cramped venue, the play feels like watching a half-marathon run in period costumes. There’s plenty of merry laughter, sword fights, coquettish shrieks and so on, yet no one quite seems to know what to do with his or her hands. The absence of adult sexuality and a stageworthy plot arc leaves this a one-note romp.

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