Currently playing at Urban Stages is the latest adaptation and world premiere of Monte Cristo by Jared Reinmuth based on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. An extraordinary cast of 13 who rarely, if ever, leave the stage deliver betrayal, lust, greed, power, and most of all, revenge. The director, Cailin Heffernan, utilizing a small space, keenly chose to keep the actors on stage as witnesses to each scene, as well as part of the scene. Ever present and always attentive, the actors pose, mimic and mime the action, create sound effects, and play musical instruments, including Spanish guitar and a drum called a djembe, while awaiting their turns in Dantes’ game of revenge chess. All these elements make the main dialogue even more compelling.
The story of Dumas’ 1844 classic is a familiar one. On the eve of Dantes’ (Tom Frank) wedding to young Mercédès (Kate Kenney), he is betrayed by three friends who devise a plot that labels him a betrayer of the crown. Imprisoned for 14 years, Dantes learns of the treasure of Monte Cristo, escapes from his captors, finds the treasure and returns to society taking on the persona of Count Monte Cristo. With wealth supporting him, he exacts revenge on his three false friends—one of whom, Mondego (Carsey Walker Jr.) has married Mercédès; they have one son, Albert (Brett Benowitz).
The plot takes place in the prison at Chateau d’If, in Rome during Carnival, and lastly, in Paris. What ties this current production by New Light Theater Project together so well, besides the multitalented cast, is original music by Henry Aronson, the film visuals created by Dedalus 7 projected onto the backdrop, dialect coaching from Theresa McElwee and superb fight direction by Dan Renkin. The lighting, by Michael O’Connor, is subtle and moody, bringing to life the simple yet creative set design by Sarah Lambert. Etched into the side walls are hash marks to count the number of days Dantes is in prison along with the phrase, “My God, let me keep my memory!”
Costume design by Cheryl McCarron consists of floor length dresses for the women, each in a different hue, while the men sport brocade vests with colored cravats. Monte Cristo is in a three-piece contemporary tux with a red cravat, which appears a little out of keeping with the period, but he wears it well. McCarron enhanced the costuming with colorful feathered masks for the Carnival in Rome, white gloves for the Parisian cocktail party and rough-hewn shawls for the men in prison. Overall, the costuming is extremely appealing.
Heffernan has molded her actors into an effective ensemble. Keeping track of the characters, each playing multiple roles with different accents, is challenging to watch at times, making it difficult to single out any actor. As a large, tight ensemble piece, each actor plays very well off the other as scenes meld seamlessly from one to another. The subtleties required to not just be present to what is happening center stage but to enhance it with sound effects and mime makes each actor an integral participant.
Frank’s portrayal as Monte Cristo is charismatic and engaging even as he manipulates his betrayers Fernand (Carsey Walker Jr.), Danglars (Vinnie Penna) and Villefort (Paul Sheehan). The young Mercédès, Kate Kenney, is bright and radiant. In an unusual scene at the wedding ceremony, Kenney dances with Mondego and they include Alana Barrett-Adkins, who then is "handed off" to portray the married Mercédès. Delivering rich performances are Liliane Klein as Mme Danglars and Margherita Peluso who played Mme de Villefort and La Carconte.
From the opening processional to the final shot, this is a vibrant production with a dedicated and talented cast. Revenge, in any century, may be sweet; however, the ensemble of Monte Cristo is rich with talent and proves it.
The New Light Theater Project's production of Monte Cristo runs through Feb. 13 at Urban Stages (259 West 30th St. between 7th and 8th Aves.) in Manhattan. performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $10-$15 and can be purchased by calling 630-632-1459 or visiting BrownPaperTickets.com.