Christopher Borg, Jamie Heinlein, Jason O'Connell,
and Ellen Reilly in Penny Penniworth
(© Ned Thorne)
Christopher Borg, Jamie Heinlein, Jason O'Connell,
and Ellen Reilly in Penny Penniworth
(© Ned Thorne)
Penny Penniworth, now at TADA, has plenty of charm. Chris Weikel's 70-minute play, presented by Emerging Artists Theatre, started out life in the 2003 New York International Fringe Festival, and its current Off-Broadway remounting reunites that production's director, Mark Finley, with cast members Christopher Borg, Jamie Heinlein, and Ellen Reilly (who are joined for this staging by Jason O'Connell).

The play is an homage to the novels of Charles Dickens and includes sly references to such works as Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. The story centers on the titular Penny Penniworth (Heinlein), whose childhood love Hotchkiss Spit (Borg) was forced to flee their small English hamlet after nearly killing the wealthy Rupert Stryfe (O'Connell). Her father's bad investments have rendered her penninless, forcing the girl to eke out a living as companion to Miss Havasnort (Reilly), who is perpetually in mourning due to the loss of her fiance many, many years ago.

The four versatile actors play several other roles, as well, freely transgressing gender lines, aided by the Victorianesque costumes by House of Goody, in which a cape easily turns into a skirt, and vice versa. They also all address the audience, narrating segments of the plot and maintaining a nice balance between awareness of the parts they're playing and inhabiting their roles -- many of which are comically exaggerated. For example, Borg's Hotchkiss speaks in a hilariously impenetrable brogue that sometimes has the audience -- and the other characters on stage -- wondering what he's just said, while O'Connell's turn as the clerk Mr. Pinchnose requires him to employ a bizarre (and not always consistent) speech impediment.

Weikel's use of language is peppered with puns, while his plot includes an amusing twist or two (particularly towards the show's end). Indeed, the entire production is suffused with a sense of fun.