Tom Jones is back! He grabbed the spotlight with Tony Richardson’s riotous film in the late 60’s, and now he’s swinging swords and diving into beds again on stage at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie.
Don’t let the portrait of Henry Fielding’s 18th century hero be off-putting. Jones still has all the swagger and charm of a current pop star. When you look back on English literary history, you may think that writing before 2014 is stodgy. Anyone who has read The Canterbury Tales knows that, as far back as the 14th century, bawdy sex and philandering ruled the day. Riotous writing by Chaucer and Shakespeare gave way when Milton and the Puritans clamped down on lust. By the 18th century, folks had had enough prohibition, and the pendulum swung heartily in the other direction. Fielding was one of several early novelists and may be the most popular, because of his beloved rascal Tom Jones—perfect fodder for the stage, adapted by Jon Jory.
Here you find jokes that were the rage of 1749: mistaken identity, the foundling who turns out to be a relative, the surprising bed mate, the false bottomed bed with shocking occupiers, the enemy who turns out to be an old friend, and the hopeless tangle that unravels into “all’s well that ends well.” Through a web of misses and matches you have an uproar of commentary on the woes and joys of marriage, plus biting repartee from one sex about the other, which keeps the audience in titters.
Nothing will take your mind off winter better than an evening of great good fun with Tom Jones. William Brown has masterfully directed a stunning cast, with a pace that never lets up. You begin with an orphan who grows up as everyone’s darling, caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He roams from pillar to post, is taken in, thrown out, and his wit keeps him springing back. The rapid action and clear, clipped delivery of the lines make us tap our feet and want to cheer as Tom rises, falls, and carries forth with heart-stopping aplomb. Sam Ashdown brings us a sprightly Tom and Chris Amos, his nerdy foil. The cast of elegantly gowned lovelies, sometimes in dishabille, includes Nora Fiffer, Molly Glynn, Melanie Keller, and Christina Panfilio. John Lister, Eric Parks, and Marcus Truschinski bring us their male counterparts. Each of the players, except for Tom and Squire Western, takes on one or more minor roles with changes of voice and character so quickly maneuvered there’s no guessing the original. Several new faces join Northlight veterans in the cast.
I wish I could view an encore of the scene with Mr. Fitzpatrick and Black George Maclachlan as they perform the sparky schoolboy duel “bread and butter for tea” as deftly as my twin granddaughters zip through the clapping game "sugar and sweet". Likewise, when Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Sophia sit down on a bench to chat, and suddenly the bench becomes a horse and carriage, in their bodily action only—they are on their way to London. The actors’ skill throughout takes your breath away, and you’re eager to jump to your feet with applause as the story ends and the actors bow. Bravo!
Tom Jones runs through February 23.
9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL 60077
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow