THE ADVENTURES OF JOSEPH ANDREWS by Kenneth Brown, directed by Melissa Haller, with Sara Gilchrist, Mark McGrinder, Peter Nicol, Betsy Palmerston and Clare Preuss. Presented by Studio 268 at Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Runs until June 25, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm. $15-$20. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN
At the 2004 Toronto Fringe, the Adventures Of Joseph Andrews clocked in at 90 minutes.
At the Tarragon, that's just the first act. So pee before you go.
Based on Henry Fielding 's novel by the same name, the show features a hapless hero ( Mark McGrinder ) and his lady love ( Sara Gilchrist ) whose road to happiness is complicated by disreputable lords, lascivious ladies, kind-hearted parish priests, fops, beggars, musicians, robbers and wenches ( Betsy Palmerston , Clare Preuss and Peter Nicol in multiple roles) in rural 18th-century England.
This production retains the good things about Fringe shows such as minimal set design and imaginative storytelling. It's a strong ensemble piece. Particularly effective is the offstage fight between Nicol, as Parson Adams, and McGrinder, as well as Preuss's facial expressions, Gilchrist's timing and Palmerston's physical clowning as the prim but lusty Mrs. Slipslop.
The ensemble meets the challenges of performing in the round, never failing to be attentive and involved despite being onstage the entire time. But their tuning in the a cappella songs becomes wonky, an inevitable hazard at the end of any physically demanding performance.
Or maybe it's the yelling that destroys the singing. The actors proclaim their lines with the crispy articulation and earnest delivery you find in high school productions of Shakespeare. This isn't a fault of the actors or of Melissa Haller 's expert direction; rather it's the text itself, which consistently uses the third person and easily lends itself to a shouty delivery. Luckily the performers are so likeable that you can forgive them for bellowing and rushing their lines.
Derivative and juvenile? The Adventures Of Joseph Andrews is both, but that's not a bad thing. Don't take it too seriously or expect too much and it's delightful.