Last week, the Hedgerow Theatre’s current production of The Prisoner of Zenda was “Barrymore Recommended for Excellence in Theatre.” It is the second Hedgerow show this year (following Uncle Vanya) to be so designated by the Barrymore Awards program, which annually recognizes the finest achievements in Philadelphia professional theatre and calls attention intermittently throughout the year to outstanding productions.
The Hedgerow’s Zenda is a world premiere adaptation of the classic Victorian adventure novel by Arthur Hope. This adaptation by Philadelphian Matt Tallman retains the essential components of the story of Ruritanian palace intrigue, which has been rendered in dozens of versions, from over-the-top silent films to sly modern satires. Tallman retains the humanity that runs deeply through the story, even as he amps up the comic manifestations of the melodrama, and the innate absurdity of a production where each actor plays several roles.
Tallman said that in reading the original novel, he found humor, romance, adventure, and a moving human story. “Zenda is different from other plays in its genre by virtue of the depth of the emotional life in it, which was inherent in the source material. At the end of the day, having an emotional impact was key for me,” he said.
Tallman gets to play out his script as Rassendyl and King Rudolf, two of more than a dozen characters whose comings, goings and entanglements are accomplished with balletic precision by a nimble cast of five actors. As director, he shapes and integrates performances by Allison Bloechel, Anna Marie Sell, Mark Swift, and Josh Portera, all of whom are familiar to Hedgerow partisans as company members or guest artists.
The curtain will rise at 7:30 p.m. this Friday on The Prisoner of Zenda, and again on Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. The run continues through April on the same schedule, with the addition of matinees on Sundays, April 23 and 30, at 2 p.m. Hedgerow’s historic stage is in a former grist mill at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley. For tickets and more information, see hedgerowtheatre.org.