Spring play garners Great Expectations

Don your best tweedy rags, folks, and wrap yourselves in your finest tattered sweaters because the St. Olaf Theater Department is soon to open its new production of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, adapted for the stage by Gale Childs Daly. Premiering in Haugen Theater on Thursday, March 10, and playing six shows through that weekend, six student actors will quickly alternate between nearly 40 eclectic characters to tell the story of a poor orphan boy by the name of Pip.

Let me repeat that: this play is about a poor, mistreated orphan boy who spends the narrative being essentially tossed around from one kooky eccentric to the next. It’s about as Dickensian as it gets.

The production is headlined by St. Olaf Theater veteran Memo Rodriguez ’16, starring as the orphaned Pip in his final Department show. Other familiar faces on stage will be Matt Stai ’18, last seen in The Cherry Orchard, and Christine Menge ’18, who was on stage just three weeks ago in the Interim production, Elephant’s Graveyard.

There are also plenty of faces new to the Department stage. For half the cast ­– Joanna McLarnan ’17, Amy Trunt ’17 and Bjorn Long ’18 – this will be their first time acting at St. Olaf outside of student-produced shows or theater class projects. This cast, diverse in class years, is under the leadership of guest-director Doug Scholz-Carlson ’90.

Scholz-Carlson graduated from St. Olaf College with a degree in Theater and Speech (a major that no longer exists), and was involved in several Theater Department shows. Pictures of him starring as the title character in The Miser still adorns a wall or two of the Theater Building.

He went on to pursue a career in theater, eventually working his way to his current position as the Artistic Director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, Minn. In fact, it is at GRSF that Scholz-Carlson became familiar with his star’s work; Rodriguez was an acting apprentice in the program.

Scholz-Carlson’s play has been somewhat of a scramble to arrange. He was invited to guest-direct relatively last-minute over the summer, after the rest of the season had been decided. Consequently, his show was not announced until well into fall semester. Originally, the Department had announced a different show, The Liar.

Unfortunately, although this show was Scholz-Carlson’s first choice, the rights ended up being denied due to a professional production that was doing the same show in the nearby area. The Department returned to the drawing board and settled on Great Expectations in time for auditions to take place just before finals week last semester.

Legend has it that people who passed by Dicken’s home while he was mid-creative process were alarmed as he stormed around his house, orating his current work at the top of his lungs. Aspiring to convey this sensability, the production team has found Dickens’ text easily transferable to the stage. They are going full-on traditional Dickens in this production, from the wicker furniture to the frilliest of costumes. Shop workers are even fabricating a cobblestone road to be affixed to the floor of Haugen.

With only six actors playing a few dozen characters, the cast will have to make plenty of quick costume changes. All of these will occur on-stage for the audience to see.

Tickets are available at the door or the box office of the Theater Building.