Given the flexibility of the Greenwich House Theater, one can’t help but wish that the producers of “Great Expectations” had replaced the theater’s uncomfortable seats with cozy couches, all the better to fully appreciate Eddie Izzard’s extremely engaging recounting of Charles Dickens’ beloved 1860 novel.
Under Selina Cadell’s savvy direction, Izzard keeps us rapt for two hours as he moves about the simply decorated stage (by Tom Piper) and wearing a quasi-Victorian yet decidedly modern ensemble (styled by Piper and Libby DaCosta), which proves to be an ideal symbol of Izzard’s gender fluidity. (For the record, Izzard now uses she pronouns.)
Indeed, perhaps no other performer is as well equipped to switch between 19 separate characters of both sexes, ranging from the young protagonist Pip – the young orphan who comes into an unexpected fortune -- to the surprisingly kindly ex-convict Magwtich, the haughty Estella and, especially, the embittered, wealthy spinster Miss Havisham. (Personally, I’d pay double for a staged production in which Izzard only plays Miss Havisham!)
Instead, one admires how deftly she tirelessly enacts this smartly streamlined adaptation (by her brother Mark Izzard), which somehow does justice to both the episodic story and its sometimes-preposterous plot twists. (I watch “General Hospital” every day, and some of Dickens’ machinations would seem outlandish on that soap opera.) Yes, Izzard sometimes misses a word or beat, but given the enormous amount of text, a flub here and there is easy to forgive.
Best known for her bracing brand of stand-up comedy, Izzard primarily treats the material in the spirit of how its written, but one delights in the simple arch of her eyebrow, a gesture with her hand, or the elongating of the word “oh,” which are all Izzard needs to make us smile or laugh.
Those expecting the technical wizardry of the current Broadway version of another Dickens’ tale, “A Christmas Carol,” or the more accurate mimicry of that show’s star, Jefferson Mays, may feel this show doesn’t live up to their expectations. But taken on its own terms, “Great Expectations” is a very satisfying wintertime treat.
By Brian Scott Lipton
Visit the Site
Greenwich House Theater
27 Barrow St.
New York, NY 10014