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A CurtainUp Review
Monte Cristo
By Charles Wright

Abandon my purpose at the moment of its accomplishment?! Impossible, madame! Impossible!
— Edmond Dantés in Monte Cristo
monte cristo
Tom Frank as Monte Cristo (Photo Credit: Hunter Canning)
In a tiny performing space near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the New Light Theater Project is presenting a fresh adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo. Unlike Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy's dramatization of a small section of War and Peace which is coming to Broadway in September, New Light's production takes on the whole, whopping 19th century novel.

Published in 1844, Dumas's work is about treachery and revenge. It's a sprawling potboiler, operatic in tone and rococo in structure. It features a host of indispensable characters, hairpin plot turns, and endless "you-gotta-be-kidding" coincidences. As a prospect for a play produced under the rudimentary, often primitive, conditions of Off-Off Broadway, the book defies reasonable restrictions of time, space and, especially, economics.

New York actor Jared Reinmuth (Les Frères Corbusier's Hell House ) has embraced the challenge of adapting Dumas' literary behemoth. His ambitious script is called simply Monte Cristo (as was the now seldom-seen version in which Eugene O'Neill's actor father toured for much of his career).

While vengeance is the principal theme of Dumas' novel, Reinmuth's adaptation is concerned equally with memory and its fluidity. The playwright starts the action at full-throttle, establishing the story's principal conflicts right away, filling in essential exposition as he goes along. It's a wild ride, but attentive spectators won't get lost.

In the role of the Count, Tom Frank supplies the continuity (as well as narration) to hold the whirling contrivance of Reinmuth's play together. He's a pensive, new-age sort of Monte Cristo.

Frank executes some nicely-choreographed fencing maneuvers at the play's climax; but he skirts the swashbuckling cliches one might expect. The superb fight direction is by Dan Renkin, veteran of numerous assignments at the Metropolitan Opera, including this season's Lulu.

Reinmuth's script begins with the Count reflecting on the gross injustices he encountered in youth, when he was a sailor, known as Edmond Dantés, with a promising future and an enviable sweetheart named Mercedes (Kate Kenney). The middle-aged Count of the opening scenes is a cool customer who has lost his passion for revenge. Reinmuth's dramatization follows him as he recalls the four men responsible for his misfortunes — Danglars (Vinnie Penna), Villefort (Paul Sheehan), Mondego (C. Walker, Jr.), and Caderousse (Michael Russinik). Reliving the injustices of his youth, the Count rekindles the indignation he felt initially toward his enemies and sets his sights anew on revenge.

Director Cailín Heffernan keeps the entire cast of fifteen on stage for most of the play. The actors (by and large, a youthful bunch) are uneven in training and technique, but they're unified in purpose and focus. Attired by costume designer Cheryl McCarron in simple, contemporary formalwear, they keep still as statues when not performing. Seated at the periphery of the stage, they play instruments, create sound effects, and circulate as supernumeraries in crowd and party scenes.

Several aspects of the production suffer from the familiar shortcomings of Off-Off Broadway production and finance. The evocative projections by Dedalus VII would appear to greater advantage on a sturdier screen. Andy Evan Cohen's sound design would come across more clearly if the audio system were of a higher quality. Michael O'Connor's lighting plot would benefit from more sophisticated equipment. But intrepid theatergoers will find much to enjoy in Reinmuth's adaptation of Dumas' rip-roaring tale. Anyone short on intrepidity should get tickets to a show in one of the nearby Broadway theaters.

Monte Cristo by Jared Reinmuth
Based on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Directed by Calín Heffernan
Cast: Alana Barrett-Adkins (Mercedes), Brett Benowitz (Dantes/Albert), Amanda Berry (Haydee), Ian Eaton (Bertuccio), Tom Frank (Monte Cristo), Bethany Geraghty (Luigi Vampa), Kate Kenney (Young Mercedes), Liliane Klein (Mme Danglars), Roger Lipson (Faria), Jamie Parton (Benedetto), Margherita Peluso (Mme de Villefort/La Carconte), Vinnie Penna (Danglars), Michael Russinik (Caderousse), Paul Sheehan (Villefort), C. Walker, Jr. (Mondego)
Original music by Henry Aronson
Musical direction: Roger Lipson
Scenic design: Sarah Lambert
Film design: Dedalus VII
Lighting design: Michael O’Connor
Costume design: Cheryl McCarron
Sound design: Andy Evan Cohen
Fight direction: Dan Renkin
Dialect Coaching: Theresa McElwee
Technical direction: Douglas Mills
Production Stage Manager: Erikka Anderson
Assistant Stage Manager: Kelsey Ryan
RunningTime: Two hours and 35 minutes, with one intermission
Produced by New Light Theater Project in association with Urban Stages 259 West 30th Street (between Park and Madison Avenues)
>From 1/22/16; opening 1/28/16; closing2/13/16
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm
Reviewed by Charles Wright at a 1/27/16 press preview
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