nytheatre.com review by Lucile Scott
October 4, 2009
Chris Weikel's Penny Penniworth, presented by Emerging Artists Theatre, is a smart farcical romp through 19th century literary allusions with a sharp ensemble of character actors who slide smoothly from character to character and gender to gender, swinging masculine capes into skirts and back again. Billed as Charles Dickens's "lost" epic as mounted by a short-staffed theatre troupe with Royal Shakespeare Company aspirations, the play follows the young Penny Penniworth through a satirical struggle, familiar to any reader of 19th century British literature, to overcome genteel poverty and find true love. However, unlike in more serious fare, the well-worn archetypes in Penny's Victorian England have magnetized skulls, horrendous stutters, mistaken identities, and funny and punny names like Malodorous Dump and Miss Havasnort, the latter a more goodhearted takeoff of Great Expectations' reclusive, vindictive Miss Havisham, played with a highly entertaining British stiff upper lip-like irony by Ellen Reilly.
All four actors are excellent and the skilled direction by Mark Finley keeps the action flowing in a breakneck onslaught that manages to convincingly conjure many settings and moods amidst a virtually non-existent set. Reilly and Jason O'Connell, who plays the villainous Rupert Stryfe, Heir to the House of Stryfe, among others, are the most suited to this type of theatre and bring a heart and dignity to their sundry farcical characters. The play is a high-speed funny time, but a farce to the end, without so much as a heartfelt line or subplot, meaning nothing is at stake and the high energy and punny jokes must sustain us. But all the elements are expertly executed with the sort of campy humor that simultaneously makes you laugh and groan and, in that sense, indeed gives you your "penny's worth."