The Pearl Theatre Company’s production of “Vanity Fair,” as adapted by Kate Hamill from Wiliam Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel and directed by Erick Tucker, is a wild, impressionistic interpretation. Broad performances, much stage business and sprawling free-form scenes run counter to what a more conservatively conceived period piece might be.
The result is an eye-catching, attention-grabbing show that, although too long, lives up to Hamill’s conception with effectiveness. (Hamill previously adapted “Sense and Sensibility.”) The trade-off is that while one can admire the acting, the costumes, the effects and the overall impact, this is not an approach that can engender very deep pro and con feelings for the characters, who mostly one-dimensionally play out their respective lives.
At the core is Becky Sharp, who schemes her way from poverty in search of wealth, social standing and a better life than the one she has been dealt. Author Hamill plays Becky, and she is dynamic in the role. She makes the most of Becky’s relentless pursuits, and in addition to the skill with which she wields dialogue, she manages some exquisitely comic and manipulative expressions to capture Becky’s nefarious attitudes and experiences. One follows the trajectory of Becky’s life as she endures mistreatment but wends her bitchy way.
Joey Parsons is excellent as Amelia Smedley, Becky’s friend, who is a study in opposites, given her family status. Assorted cast members play multiple roles, which adds to the play’s overall exuberance and inventiveness.
My greatest pleasure was watching Hamill make the most of her role as Becky. Given that she also wrote the adaptation (I suspect with herself in mind as the lead), it is apparent that she is exceptionally talented, and merits appreciation for her take on Thackeray’s outlook satirizing aspects of society. At the Pearl, 555 West 42nd Street, Phone: 212-563-9261. Reviewed April 6, 2017.