Abortion, homosexuality, sexual affairs, self-harm: these are not the topics you would expect to be addressed in a story set in Maine during World War II, but this production addresses them all with full force and raw accuracy.
“Part Two” follows the lives of Dr. Wilbur Larch (Shrey Bhargava), Homer (Tim Frangos), Melony (Alejandra Villanueva), and the couple Wally Worthington (Nick Petroccione) and Candy Kendall (Alexandra Punch) as their worlds weave together and branch apart. Dr. Larch runs an orphanage in St. Cloud, Maine, where he works as an obstetrician, and secretly as an abortionist. Dr. Larch raises Homer to be a doctor like him. The audience follows Homer as leaves home to work at Wally and Candy’s orchard. Melony grew up with Homer in the orphanage and, on her journey to reunite with Homer, falls in love with a woman.
Under the direction of Scott Faris, the show not only weaves seamlessly between storylines but handles each storyline’s intense subject matter delicately yet fearlessly. The show’s dense plot, complicated relationships and array of locations were superbly supported by the lighting design (Ruby O’Brien and Brian Tieb) and scenic design (Jenny Gutrhie). The set, a large house with structures on top that moved, served as various locations for the different storylines. Lighting changes and tone shifts were used to indicate where characters were. At times, characters would be in very different places, sometimes even in Homer’s mind, which gave the show a sense of surrealism within the realism of the story and the acting.
The script, written by Peter Parnell switched between normal conversational dialogue to second and third person anecdotes of what the characters were saying, feeling, and doing. This production was a unique way to interpret John Irving’s original 1985 text. Those moments occasionally took the audience out of the scene, as it was distracting to be constantly switching points of view. However, this emphasized the textual intertwining of realism and surrealism which, when done correctly (as was done in this production), can make a bigger impact than if you just choose one or the other.
As an audience member who did not see “Part One,” I was very appreciative that the show functioned as its own piece of theatre without depending on the first part to deliver the bulk of the story. The only issues with clarity came from the actors. At some points, particularly in the beginning, the actors spoke so fast that it was hard to keep up with what they were saying. The speed seemed to occasionally cause the actors to trip up on their lines. However, being a production that needed a recap and lots of exposition, it made sense that their lines were so wordy.
That said, the acting was incredibly strong all around, with a standout performance in particular by Shrey Bhargava. He embodied the physicality of an old man who ages throughout the production organically and with conviction. There was a moment where I wondered if the school hired an outside actor to fill the role of Dr. Larch because of how well Bhargava functioned as the spine of the production. Another standout performance as Winona Weber as Patty Callahan and Rose Rose. As Patty, she served as notable comedic relief with her unique and bold character choices, and as Rose Rose she performed a heart-wrenching performance of a subtly damaged character.
“Part Two” mixed wonderful actors, strong design elements and a genuinely well-written play with grace and made for an impressive theatre experience.
“The Cider House Rules, Parts One and Two,” directed by Scott Faris, ran at the Bing Theater from Oct. 31 through Nov. 10, 2019.