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Tom Jones, endearing cocksman

Northlight Theatre rollicks mightily with a stage version of Henry Fieldings's classic novel.



He's just a boy who can't say no. And why should he, with so many desirable women anxious to offer him what's quaintly referred to as their charms? Tom Jones is one of those magical young men whose very passivity is a turn-on. Handsome, earnest, well-mannered, self-effacing, doggedly honorable, puppyishly sweet, oddly innocent, and totally buff, he incites maternal feelings as a prelude to something steamier.

Even so, he's got an excellent reason to keep it in his pants: Sophia Western, the passionate yet virtuous daughter of a country squire and Tom's one true love. In Jon Jory's stage adaptation of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, Tom's got to confront not only the damnable curse of his own sexiness but a plotting lover, a jealous husband, a pious fraud, an Eddie Haskell-esque rival, an unwanted pregnancy, a hangman's noose, and the secret of his birth before he can even hope to win Sophia's hand.

Henry Fielding's 1749 coming-of-age novel is at once comic, racy, and moralistic. Jory's 2012 script pretty much dispenses with the morals, quoting the Bible only in the most subversive way (Ezekiel 23:19—look it up). There are moments of darkness that might accommodate a somber approach. But director William Brown maintains a steely resolve to ignore them. His Northlight Theatre staging is swift even at nearly two and a half hours, very funny, and—let's face it—rollicking.

Many of those rollicks trace back to a sharp ensemble. Sam Ashdown looks like something out of a Georgian Abercrombie & Fitch ad as Tom, entirely justifying the magnetism he's supposed to project. Chris Amos is perfect as various malign doofuses, while John Lister and Eric Parks seem to have fallen out of a Hogarth satiric print as Squire Western and a pedant called Thwackum. Nora Fiffer's Sophia maintains a nice balance between the earthy and the ethereal. But it's the sadder but wiser women—Molly Glynn, Melanie Keller, and Cristina Panfilio—who rule here.

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