Review: “Vanity Fair” at A.C.T. (****1/2)

by Charles Kruger

The cast of A.C.T.’s “Vanity Fair.” From L to R: Anthony Michael Lopez, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Adam Magill (in back), Dan Hiatt, Maribel Martinez, Vincent Randazzo, Rebekah Brockman. Photo Credit: A.C.T.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Admirers of William Thackeray’s comic Victorian masterpiece, “Vanity Fair” can rejoice! Kate Hamill’s fabulous adaptation has captured all the humor, lightheartedness and satirical wit of the original and shaken off every bit of Victorian dust. The result is pure delight.  This presentation of the adventures of the poor but exceedingly clever social climber Becky Sharp (Rebekah Brockman) and her socialite friend Amelia Sedley (Maribel Martinez) captures all of Thackeray’s skills as an entertaining social satirist and skillful creator of believable characters, whose critical reputation during his life time rivalled that of Charles Dickens. As we know, Dickens, who wrote multiple masterpieces, has ascended higher in literary history. Thackeray is remembered only for “Vanity Fair,” but it is a doozy of a novel!

Thackeray’s preface establishes that the story is that of a puppet play one might see at a fair. Here, it is presented as a music hall performance by a troupe of comic actors playing multiple parts and sometimes multiple genders. Alexander Dodge’s colorful set design has the virtue of simplicity (no stuffy Victorian parlors here), allowing the actors to romp gleefully on a nearly bare stage with footlights and a music hall proscenium. It’s great, like the costumes, which are cleverly accessorized to allow the actors to instantly change into different characters without any confusion. And David Weiner’s lighting design, using footlights, adds plenty of charm.

All that is a perfect backdrop for the actors’ comedic skill. From beginning to end, the show is a riot of laughs, although it is never shallow. It finds emotional depth as well as air-headed hilarity. Nobody stands out, which is to say, everybody does. Rebekah Brockman and Maribel Martinez are excellent as the two heroines, speaking the language beautifully (kudos to vocal coaches Lisa Nathans and Lisa Anne Porter) and delivering great physical comedy as well. Dan Hiatt’s performance of  multiple characters hits a career high point, especially for his drag turn as Miss Matilda Crawley. Its days later, and I’m still laughing out loud to think of it. Adam Magill uses his dramatic height (6’4″) and graceful moves to make us laugh again and again. Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan’s gender bending performance as George is full of swashbuckling swagger. As the love sick Dobbin, Anthony Michael Lopez is both touching and silly.  It’s tempting to say that Vincent Randazzo is funniest of all, tearing through a whirlwind of characters ranging from the pathetically inept and unattractive Jos to the flamboyantly campy Mr. Osborne, a bullying King George and a couple of women as well. But that would be unfair to everybody else. They continually top each other.

Your laughter is guaranteed.

“Vanity Fair” plays at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre through May 12th, 2019. For further information, click here. 

Rating: ****1/2 (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Vanity Fair” by Kate Hamill, based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. Produced by A.C.T. in association with Shakespeare Theatre Company. Director: Jessica Stone. Scenic Designer: Alexander Dodge. Costume Designer: Jennifer Moeller. Lighting Designer: David Weiner. Sound Designer and Original Music: Jane Shaw. Choreographer: Connor Gallagher. Fight Choreographer: Cliff Williams III. Voice, Text, and Dialect Coach: Lisa Nathans. Dramaturg: Drew Lichtenberg. Vocal Support: Lisa Anne Porter.

Cast: Rebekah Brockman: Becky Sharp. Dan Hiatt: Manager/Miss Matilda Crawley/Lord Steyne/General Tufto. Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan: George/Lesser Pitt/Miss Briggs/Lady Baracres/others. Anthony Michael Lopez: Dobbin/Miss Pinkerton/Rose Crawley/others. Adam Magill: Rawdon/Mr. Sedley/others. Maribel Martine: Amelia Sedley. Vincent Randazzo: Jos/Sir Pitt/Mr. Osborne/Miss Jemima/Lady Chesterton/King George. 



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