at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas
Who knew that a revenge melodrama could be so much fun?
Oregon Shakespeare Festival presents a sharp, finely timed, excellently acted, satisfying evening of a classic payback story written as a book by Alexandre Dumas in 1844 and adapted for the stage as early as 1848.
The version of the play OSF picked to perform is meaningful. This Count stems from an adaption by Charles Fletcher in 1868. The play was further adapted by James O’Neill who bought the rights to produce the play and made a career taking The Count of Monte Cristo from town to town. James was also the father of Eugene O’Neill whose Long Day’s Journey Into Night is running contemporaneously in repertory in Ashland. That play’s father character’s professional career mimicked that of O’Neill’s real-life father, and the dialogue includes references to the actor’s one-hit legacy. OSF’s decision to stage the father’s star vehicle and the son’s classic family tragedy side by side is a neat bit of play picking.
James O’Neill’s Count transformed Dumas’ adventure novel into a more vengeful, emotional piece. Not everyone, including about 1/3 of the OSF audience, likes that direction. O’Neill’s approach was historically derided the December 31, 1887 San Francisco Evening Post News Letter:
In his hands the romantic story Monte Cristo has degenerated into an extravagant melodrama. The romance that amused and interested the intellectual world has become a bit of coarse theatricalism, that pleases only the more ignorant of theatre-goers. (source)
Fortunately for me, I am in the 2/3 of people who loved the over-the-stop script.
The melodrama genre demands virtuous heroes, stinky villains, complicated twists and turns, and a happy ending. The production, directed seamlessly by Marcela Lorca, delivers all of these in style.
The character’s asides to the audience and broad actions could easily become overacted, unintentional comedy. In this Count, the pieces instead work together in the framework of the melodrama. There is an inevitability in much of the final moments of the play. The audience knows the bad guys are going to get it. But, it is a satisfying inevitably that fits the structure of the storytelling.
Al Espinosa is strong as Edmond Dantes, aka: the Count. He’s open-faced, clear and believable in his purity.
Indeed, each person on stage is brimming with the characteristic intended: Peter Frechette (the prosecutor) is weakness incarnate, Raffi Barsoumian (Danglars) is greedy treachery personified, and Vilma Silva (Edmond’s fiancee Mercedes) is the picture of honest love. The script may make the characters one dimensional, but the actors fill the stage with the differing personalities and together the cast makes a artistic collage of people.
Richard Elmore (Caderousse the innkeeper) is becoming a reliable, unintentional scene stealer with his perfect character reads and understated — appropriately stated — actions. There are a couple of small Elmore gem moments in the Count which deserve a call out of special appreciation.
Another special thanks to fight director Christopher DuVal. The duels were fun and crisp. We wanted more.
Oregon’s Shakespeare Festival delivered an energetic, accurate, and enjoyable The Count of Monte Cristo. This production is as good a production of the James O’Neill’s adaption of Dumas classic as you’re ever going to see. My advice to the people who were put off by the evening’s style: buy another ticket to Long Day’s Journey into Night and boo and hiss when dad comes on stage.