An amoral conman pushes the limits of the American Dream.
By Julie LaPorte
Blake Robison, Producing Artistic Director at Round House Theatre, is thrilled to present Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s captivating novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s the story of Tom Ripley, a narcissistic sociopathic conman, who is sent to Italy by Mr. and Mrs. Greenleaf to bring home their rich and idle son with unintended, murderous results. The Talented Mr. Ripley is playing in Bethesda through September 26.
“A good adaptation does more than simply put the book on the stage,” Robison said. “It adds a theatrical storytelling element, so you experience the story in a way that could only be experienced in the theatre.”
Nagy’s riveting adaptation does exactly that. It is well-written with tight dialog, perfect pacing and a story line that stayed true to the core of the novel.
Karl Miller is easily one of the most talented young actors working in Washington right now, and his Ripley was beautifully unbalanced, forever skirting the line between charming and evil, delusional and coolly realistic, aggressive and victimized.
“It’s been difficult playing Tom, harder than I thought,” Miller said. “He’s not a straight-up psychopath, which is I think easy to play. I think audiences are receptive to psychopaths – we celebrate them in a weird sort of way. And that’s not Tom. Tom is sociopathic, kind of half-human, half-monster and that’s tricky because there is potential to really make the audience uncomfortable, not just scared, which can be worse. So he’s hard to nail down that way, skirting the edge of being an outright psychopath and just being a person of circumstances. And I’ll be shaping that till closing night, trying to find that balance.”
Robison said: “Karl just has this ability to go deep inside a character and explore facets of that characters’ personality that other people may not be able to find. And that’s the kind of actor you need to play Tom Ripley.”
Marcus Kyd plays Richard Greenleaf with a casual air of one born to privilege whose easy life has left him directionless. The chemistry between Kyd and Miller is fantastic, the tension building throughout each scene and, after his murder, the bond they have is stronger than before.
The rest of the cast was terrific– Kaytie Morris, Sasha Olinick, John Lescault, Naomi Jacobson and Billy Finn – all playing multiple roles with emotional depth, humor and humanity.
“A number of critics have pointed out that part of the American Dream is that we can reshape ourselves and remake ourselves through hard work and a little bit of luck into whatever we want to be,” Robison said. “That’s the story of American mobility. Tom Ripley takes that to a disturbingly murderous extreme. And in doing so turns the microscope on us and makes us take a hard look at ourselves. What are we willing to do to get ahead in life? To what extremes will we go to change our identity, to move up in class, to acquire a lifestyle more comfortable than the ones our parents gave us?”
The individual technical aspects of this production were top rate and the combined effect created a stunning, imaginative world that set a perfect context for the action. Highest praises go to Narelle Sissons – with her expansive set that was both beautiful and functional – and Kenton Yeager – whose nuanced lighting really set the tone for the scenes.
“Phyllis has created this kind of poetic vocabulary that is based on dreams,” Miller said. “And she designed it purposefully to confound people. It’s very hard to put everything in place afterward. What makes it uncomfortable is that it resists interpretive closure.”
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a must-see production – a wonderful way to kick off the 2010-2011 season. For more information and to buy tickets, visit Round House Theatre.
Julie LaPorte is a freelance writer living outside Washington, D.C. For the past year she has served as a columnist for Washington Life Magazine – penning reviews for the Performing Arts and the Paint the Town columns. She also works as a political marketing copywriter for candidates in local, state and national campaigns as well as for Congressional franked mail.