Review: ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater

When a story is so well-known and well-loved by many people, audience members tend to have high expectations and Aldersgate Church Community Theater’s production of The Count of Monte Cristo will delight even the most discerning theatergoer.

Emily Golden, Steve Rosenthal, Ilyana Rose-Davilla, Tim Caron, and James McDaniel in The Count of Monte Cristo. Photo by Howard Soroos.

The story, written originally by Alexandre Dumas and adapted for the stage by Charles Morey – in addition to several screen adaptations – begins with a prisoner (Tim Caron) alone in a cell in Chateau D’if, a heavily fortified prison on a small island off the coast of France. Another prisoner accidentally tunnels into the cell and introduces himself as Faria (James McDaniel). Through flashbacks, we learn that the first prisoner used to be a sailor named Edmund Dantes, and he has been falsely imprisoned for treason. After realizing he knows the people responsible for his imprisonment, Dantes vows to seek revenge.

In the first twenty minutes of the play, several years pass by. Faria teaches Dantes philosophy, several languages, mathematics, and combat, all while working on a tunnel to escape the formidable Chateau D’if. Meanwhile, Dantes’s betrothed, Mercedes (Emily Golden), has been left alone after Dantes was arrested, and after some time, marries Fernand Mondego (Michael Schwartz), one of the people chiefly at fault for Dantes’s imprisonment.

Faria dies before they can both escape and bequeaths a huge fortune to Dantes, hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. Dantes escapes prison, finds the treasure, and styles himself as the very wealthy Count of Monte Cristo. The rest of the play follows Dantes finding and taking revenge on the people who imprisoned him.

Director Eleanore Tapscott’s blocking is excellent. This adaptation calls for several scenes to occur on top of each other, with some characters having to jump from one scene to the next, often set in completely different locations. Tapscott maneuvers the cast deftly to make it clear when there is a passage of time or a change of setting without having to do much in the way of a set change.

To assist with the passage of large blocks of time, the lighting designer (JK Lighting) includes a projection of years passing, which I found very useful. Interspersed within the play are wordless scenes with people dancing (choreographed by Victoria Bloom), which are performed very well and again aided with showing that years had passed.

Caron began the play as a naïve young man and morphed seamlessly into a man bent on vengeance. His palpable rage was contrasted by moments of truly moving tenderness. As the titular character, Caron seldom left the stage, but he never lost energy or intensity. McDaniel’s Faria is hilarious and scatterbrained, making what could easily have felt like exposition at the beginning of the play feel meaningful and fun.

Tim Caron and Jim Pearson in The Count of Monte Cristo. Photo by Howard Soroos.

Three other major standouts in an already excellent cast were Haydee (Lorita Jackson), Lauren Sutton (Eugenie Danglars), and Valentine de Villefort (Ilyana Rose-Dávila). Jackson was measured and dignified while still passionate. My eye drew almost immediately to Jackson anytime she was onstage.

Sutton dazzled during the show’s only musical number, singing not just with a great and clear tone, but also with great animation. She did all this while seated semi-obscured behind a piano. Rose-Dávila’s line delivery was wonderful and spirited, and her dancing in party scenes was flawless. Sutton and Rose-Dávila were both charming and very entertaining to watch during larger scenes, even when they were in the back interacting soundlessly.

“Vengeance is a harsh mistress.” This line is delivered first by Faria and later repeated by the Count of Monte Cristo himself. It also serves as the play’s driving force. The Count of Monte Cristo performed by Aldersgate Church Community Theater is an action-packed tale with something for everyone – intrigue, swashbuckling, singing, dancing, love, forgiveness, and a healthy dash of murder!

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Count of Monte Cristo plays through October 14, 2018, at Aldersgate United Methodist Church- 1301 Collingwood Road in Alexandria, Virginia. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.