It's easy to gloss over the filth, squalor, and intense social inequities of the 19th-century world, but Park Square Theatre's production of Oliver Twist puts it all in front of us in a version that amps up the volume to let us inside the dirty heart of the story. Adapter Neil Bartlett has done a solid job of compressing Dickens's story down to its bare elements, but it is the work of director Joel Sass and a terrific company of actors that brings it to fruition. The show is quickly paced and sports a visual effect that borrows as much from the German Expressionists as from early 19th-century England. The single, confined set (also designed by Sass) creates a claustrophobic world for our young orphan, even when out on the open streets of London, while the mixing of music, narration, and melodramatic effects heightens the nightmare qualities of the story. After all, our titular character is moved along through the story by forces beyond his control, constantly working to escape to a better life while being chased by the terrors he left behind. That comes into perfect focus with Steve Hendrickson's Fagin. His scarecrow-like figure makes him appear to envelope Oliver (Noah Coon) in his clutches, never wanting to let go even when, by play's end, he has lost everything. Also good are Hope Cervantes as Nancy, the poor girl who helps Oliver find safety, and Stephen Cartmell as the main narrator and, more importantly, as the Dodger, whose recruiting of Oliver sets the London story into motion and whose spying eventually brings the tale to its conclusion. $28-$58. 20 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651.291.7005. Through November 6
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