THE CIDER HOUSE RULES Part One: Here in St. Cloud’s 

* Atlantic Theater Company, New York City * Adapted by Peter Parnell from the novel by John Irving * Directed by Tom Hulce and Jane Jones * Starring Josh Hamilton, Colm Meaney, and Jillian Armenante

With its gigantic cast of characters, its orphanage setting, its affectionate comic portraits, and its steady tone of social commentary, John Irving’s novel *The Cider House Rules* clearly announces itself as a Dickensian saga. Just as clearly, the two-part seven-hour stage adaptation by Peter Parnell, originally conceived and directed by Tom Hulce and Jane Jones for Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre, invites comparison to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s legendary two-part eight-hour production of *The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby*. First seen and widely admired at the Seattle Repertory Theater in 1997, the full-length *Cider House Rules* opened to mixed reviews at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles last year. Now the enterprising Atlantic Theater Company (which last season brought *The Beauty Queen of Leenane* to American shores) is sponsoring its New York premiere. And on the basis of seeing part one, I can say that it’s a triumphant staging of an intimate epic.

Hulce and Parnell are two gay artists who have collaborated for many years. (Just before his splashy screen debut as Mozart in *Amadeus*, Hulce starred in Parnell’s Off-Broadway play *The Rise and Rise of Daniel Rocket*.) Along with co-director Jane Jones, they’ve done a spectacular job of theatricalizing Irving’s novel, a meditation on people’s ambiguous feelings about babies -- wanting them, not wanting them, having them and mistreating them, not having them and longing for them. Wilbur Larch (the movingly restrained Colm Meaney) is a turn-of-the-century obstetrician and orphanage director whose horror at back-alley butchery moves him to become an abortionist as well. Homer Wells (gawky and ever-appealing Josh Hamilton) is the orphan he raises as his own son. Among the dozens of other characters played by an exceptional cast of 17, none is more memorable than Jillian Armanente as Melony, a ferocious archetypal tomboy who befriend Homer. Besides its deeply touching portrait of a surrogate father-son relationship, *The Cider House Rules* delves as thoughtfully into the layers of soul-searching around the issue of abortion as is possible for a work by a man to do.

Thanks to a negative review in the *New York Times*, the show closed June 5. Let’s hope that doesn’t deter the Atlantic Theater Company from letting New York see Part Two of Irving’s epic next season.

The Advocate, June 22, 1999

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