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Cider House Rules Review

Review by Jane Byron Dean
April 18, 1999

With a beautiful score composed by Don Wheetman drifting through the air, the play begins with a line of unwed mothers as they file up to the front door to the St. Cloud's orphanage. Greeted by Nurse Edna, they are lead inside and quickly transform into the very orphans they gave birth to and left behind!

It's this sort of creativity that adds to the overall enjoyment of The Cider House Rules. With a cast of 19 actors playing over 100 main characters and extras, not only do we see how well the casting is utilized but we are treated to the diverse talents of some of the best actors to grace a stage.

Sparsely set, excellent use is made of the small space. With the aid of a few chairs and benches we are easily carried along a winding road (as a young couple drives to the orphanage) or brought shockingly close to the procedure of a "FETAL AUTOPSY." The set, with an upper level, takes us into the ruins of the loggers' housing before the saw mill closed down and left town. While the lower level is used for the orphans' ward, Dr. Larch's office, the illegal abortion clinic, outside the orphanage as well as the lower levels of the loggers' quarters.

With dialog taken directly from John Irving's book (adapted wonderfully by Peter Parnell), the characters often speak in the third person about their own goings on. An inventive twist to the narrative approach, it makes one listen intently while feeling as if a story is being told about the very one speaking.

The surprise birth of Homer Wells is skillfully done and humorously brings us right to the point in his life where things really begin to happen for him. Josh Hamilton, as Homer, is an excellent choice for the role. With a hint of a very young Tony Perkins (both in looks and shy hesitation in his deliverance), Josh is superb in making us believe he is a young boy of 12 clear up to a young man not quite 20.

Colm Meaney, as Dr. Wilbur Larch, is successful in bringing the sternness, with a touch of gentle heart, that makes the doctor the strong man he must be to deliver "both the children and the mothers" ... as the need arises.

Jillian Armenante, as the feisty and robust Melony, could easily steal the show from all the other actors if not for the obvious professionalism of her performance. From her first moment on stage to her last scene, she is powerful and fills the stage with a true "star's" capacity.

Space-work is essential to many of the scenes and the highlight of this is when Melony, in the abandoned loggers' quarters, and Homer work hard at destroying the old building. Their unison is so skillfully achieved one feels as if they are watching a "space-work ballet."

Nurses Edna and Angela, played by Marceline Hugot and Peggy Roeder are a delight as their character's opposite personalities do well to compliment each other instead of causing conflict.

Other notable performances are done by: James Chestnutt as Snowy Meadows/Assistant Stationmaster, Cynthia Darlow as Billie Winkle, Ross Gibby as Young Dr. Larch, Martin Moran as Grant Winkle, Todd Weeks as Fuzzy Stone and David Wichert as Curly Day. The rest of the cast were convincing in their roles.

Sets, by John Arnonoe were designed for full mobility and functionality while not detracting visually due to their simple style. Costumes, by David Zinn captured the periods covered expertly. Lighting, by Adam Silverman was skillfully used and brought realism to the production. The work with shadows on a wall was wonderful. Music, composed by Dan Wheetman, was beautifully haunting and increased the pleasure of the production.

With only a few lines missed by Colm Meaney and Bill Moor, the play is a riveting experience! It is obvious that both TOM HULCE and JANE JONES have worked hard at their tasks of director. Watching Mr. Hulce taking notes nearly constantly, it is clear that he is not only in tune to the actors but to the need to achieve a perfect performance for all involved. This, in itself, is nothing less than one would expect from such a consummate performer as he has proven over the years to be.

The Cider House Rules is set to open on May 6th at The Atlantic Theater. With this performance only the second of previews, it seems destined to have its next stop on "The Great White Way."