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Review: A Bawdy ‘Bastard Jones,’ Dancing With a Peg Leg


Evan Ruggiero, left, and Rene Ruiz in “Bastard Jones” at the Cell Theater.

Carol Rosegg

“Bastard Jones” opens with our hero, Tom Jones, in a close encounter of the sexual kind with a randy maid. When they emerge from behind a sheet, happily sated, she helps him screw his peg back onto his stump.

This is meant to be taken literally: The actor Evan Ruggiero lost most of his right leg to cancer, something that hasn’t stopped him from taking on a part involving fighting, dancing and acrobatic sex.

Although the lead’s name and the role’s demands may sow confusion, this is not a biopic of the popular Welsh singer Tom Jones but an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s picaresque 1749 novel “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.” The show is decidedly, even proudly, low-budget and lowbrow, but it’s also high-spirited. (And good-hearted: Proceeds go to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender homeless youths.)

Adapted and directed by Marc Acito (Broadway’s “Allegiance”), who also helped write the lyrics, the story mainly concerns Tom’s farcical romps with the fairer sex, with a subplot about the search for his father. Our winsome scamp loves all women, from scullion to lady, though his heart belongs to the plucky Sophia, who is given can-do determination by Elena Wang. That Sophia is here pronounced to rhyme with Mariah (Carey) may be interpreted as a jokey allusion to Ms. Wang’s powerful soprano.

But then everything in the show can be interpreted as a jokey allusion, especially when Tom’s servant, Partridge (Rene Ruiz), is around. Doubling as narrator, Partridge is like that uncle who spouts inappropriate jokes at weddings — at one point, he taps Tom’s peg, as if testing a mike, and asks “Is this thing on?” (Unlike Theater Breaking Through Barriers’ recent revival of “The Artificial Jungle,” which doesn’t draw attention to the cast’s physical disabilities, “Bastard Jones” is very much upfront.)

Mr. Acito mostly succeeds in turning the Cell company’s limited resources into an aesthetic choice. The main element on the bilevel set is a table, and the biggest props are ropes, bringing to mind Fiasco Theater’s economical productions of “Into the Woods” and “Cymbeline.”

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