Lumina Studio Performs 'Little Dorrit'

Peter McNally, left, and Jonah Bregstone rehearse Lumina Studio Theatre's
Peter McNally, left, and Jonah Bregstone rehearse Lumina Studio Theatre's "Little Dorrit," which opens Saturday. (Photos By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
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By Sarah Marston
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 14, 2009

The timing could not be better for Lumina Studio Theatre's 75th production, an adaptation of Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit," which opens Saturday.

The original production by the Takoma Park youth theater, the first known American adaptation of the 1857 Dickens novel, follows the PBS broadcast last month of BBC Masterpiece Theatre's "Little Dorrit" miniseries.

The satirical novel also parallels the current economic crisis, as it comments on the limitations of bureaucracy and studies a family's experiences with financial hardship, debt and a Ponzi scheme.

"It's so relevant to this particular moment in American history. I can't think of any play that's more relevant right now," said Lumina Artistic Director David Minton, who wrote the adaptation. "The uncanny thing is the [Bernard] Madoff character is literally in this play."

The production was a longstanding vision for Minton and his wife, Lumina founder Jillian Raye, who died of cancer in November.

"It was always one of our dreams to adapt 'Little Dorrit' for the stage," Minton said. "It's just a fantastic novel. In his day, it was just a huge, huge hit for Dickens."

The story follows the life of Amy "Little" Dorrit, who grows up in a 19th-century debtors' prison as the daughter of the jail's longest-serving inmate. Little Dorrit and an ensemble cast of characters experience the rise and fall of fortunes, the harsh realities of working-class life, murder mysteries, deception and romance.

The Lumina production features two casts of about 40 performers each. Nine are adults, and the others are 8 to 16. The theater's young actors usually perform the works of Shakespeare but have been eager to take on Dickens, Minton said.

"Some of our actors are trying to tackle the reading material," he said. The novel ranges in length from more than 750 to more than 1,000 pages, depending on the edition.

"They love the classical material. Whatever we do, the emphasis is on the literature. That was Jillian's gift to this area," Minton said.

John O'Connor, a British actor who plays the part of Mr. Meagels in both casts, marveled at the commitment and skill of his young co-stars.

"This particular crop has some of the most talented young actors I've ever seen," he said. "As an older person, you learn a tremendous amount from the enthusiasm they have, that you lose over the years."


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