The novel “Great Expectations” penned in 1861 by Charles Dickens, has received near universal acclaim and has been translated in several languages. Dickens’s themes of extreme poverty, jaw dropping wealth, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of basic human goodness, resonate across countries and cultures.
Interpretation of this masterpiece was adapted for stage, by Neil Bartlett, and is currently playing at San Jose Stage Theater in San Jose, CA. Big kudos to Artistic Director, Randall King and Executive Director, Cathleen King. The story begins with an orphan, Pip (Keith Pinto) who lives with his hot-tempered sister and kindly brother-in-law, stealing some food. The key challenge in playing this masterpiece on stage is to whittle down Dickens’s brilliant use of character and plot to a few minutes of on stage performance. Credit for this artful performance goes to brilliant director, Kenneth Kelleher and masterful cast of performers, Li Leng Au, Jennifer Le Blanc, Julian Lopez-Morillas, Norman Gee, and Nick Rodrigues, in various roles, besides Pip’s. And it goes without saying that Keith Pinto as young orphan Pip, lovestruck teenage Pip, and wealthy and more mature Pip, is truly brilliant.
Little boy Pip gets a peek into wealth and upper class society when fabulous and wealthy Miss Haversham asks for Pip to visit her, for her amusement. Miss Haversham was left at the altar in her youth and she continues to nurse her pain. As a daily reminder of her pain, she still wears a tattered old wedding dress. Li Leng Au as Miss Haversham brings dramatic energy and a sense of gravitas. But it is not the wealth that sparks Pip’s interest or curiosity about eccentric Miss haversham that propels him to continue to visit her. Pip falls hopelessly in love with Miss Haversham’s adopted daughter, Estella. However, Estella’s cold treatment (encouraged by Miss Haversham) and Pip’s own low social status in life, precludes any chance for him marrying Estella. And yet, Pip harbors great expectations that perhaps some day he may be a man of means and be worthy of marriage with Estella.
And yet, acknowledging the futility of this exercise, Pip laments,
“Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”
This is a brilliant story depicting differences between classes in Victorian England. It is a also a story of courage, romance, love and hope. Sometimes the lessons one learns through trials and tribulations in life, only become apparent much later. It is much later that Pip understands that love transcends wealth and he also realizes that money can never buy love, nor guarantee happiness. The play is beautifully performed and as intended by Dickens, it provides a window into the society that was most significantly divided by class and also serves as a morality tale.
In the words of Artistic Director, Randall King, “this story challenges us to open our hearts and minds to become kinder, more compassionate and better at discerning true moral values.”Tickets are available at www.thestage.org .