Friday, April 20, 2007

Coram Boy

The National Theatre's transplanted production of Coram Boy, Helen Edmundson's heavy-handed adaptation of Jamila Gavin's novel of the same name, feels like two separate plays connected by an intermission. A common thread is there--the story of the second act picks up on the intertwining plotpoints of the first--but the moods completely change after the brief interval. The starkness and bleakness of Act I, which was toleable if not ideal, turns into an unforgivable schmaltzfest the likes of which would make a writer of Lifetime original movies blush. And while the show's message that there really was no difference between the British upper class in the 18th Century and devious black market white slave traders comes off loud and clear, the shift in tone seems to betray the story that is being told. Kudos are in order to the remarkable Jan Maxwell and Bill Camp, brilliantly diabolical as the underlings who prey on the good name of Mr. Coram--who ran a tony orphanage for underprivileged and abandoned children--to trick desperate mothers into selling away their babies. They infuse the proceedings with a seedy undercurrent that is much more appropriate than the sweet-natured action that's often center stage. Still, it's not enough; even with the abundance of dead babies, I left the theatre with a sugar-induced toothache.

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