Action and narrative pour from every cranny of Janie E. Howland's multi-level set, with its shadowy interstices and black-and-white period cityscapes. Scott Clyve's lighting runs the gamut from bright to ghoulish. And costumer Rafael Jaen displays a busy scissor with the mostly starchy but sometimes wittily lurid period costumes.
There are some bad wigs and a few missteps in the presentation of the more flamboyant characters, such as womanizing milliner Mr. Mantalini. But by and large, the portrayals of the good folks drip earnestness, with Maureen Keiller's chattering Mrs. Nickleby annoying but not unsympathetic. On the other hand, those of the villains, exemplified by Nigel Gore's turns as sadistic Squeers and supercilious Hawk, exude a tough-minded creepiness. Even the childlike Smike — as portrayed by Jason Powers with perpetual limp, bobbing head, and beatific smile — is neither as grotesque nor as angelic as he might be.
Four years after completing Nickleby (which he did in 1839), Dickens hardened Uncle Ralph into the skinflint figure of Scrooge. Nickleby's moneylender gets no joyride with spirits and no second chance as a giddy dispenser of turkeys. But the play, bursting with Cratchit figures ranging from enslaved clerk Newman Noggs to Nicholas himself with his Tiny Tim of a Smike, ends at Christmas in a burst of falling snow and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," signaling its willingness, with a run extending into December, to serve as a holiday alternative to the more compact and ubiquitous A Christmas Carol. As a stocking stuffer, it's a gift fit for a Brobdingnagian — and one well worth receiving.
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