March 31 2010 12:00 AM

Adaptation of John Irving’s novel not for the faint-hearted — or the closed-minded

There is a chillingly ice-cold clinical feel to the lighting and set for Lansing Community College’s spring offering, “The Cider House Rules, Part One: Here in St Cloud”. Gauzy 21-foot-tall columns of fabric shift in the breeze like silent watchful sentinels. One can almost Review smell the ether, sense what is about to unfold here.

Bartley H. Bauer is responsible for the austere abstract set, and Jeremy Winchester for the lighting, which is a force of its own in this production: Pastel colors change with the mood of the moment, as if alive to the emotional nuances of the action on the stage. One is uncomfortable even before the first line is uttered.

Those who appreciate thoughtful attention to all the details of a production will be quite taken with Chad Badgero’s direction of this play based on the first half of John Irving’s once-controversial 1985 novel.

“Cider” is not for the faint-hearted. It includes everything you never wanted to know about the medical details of an abortion procedure, spelled out articulately by J.C. Kibbey, who plays the teenaged central character, Homer Wells.

Wells is raised as a difficult-to-place orphan in a grim institution that provides a home for unwanted children, as well as functioning as a place where women can get illegal abortions. Wells, at the age of 13, becomes the medical assistant to the home’s doctor.

Jason Carlen is the good Dr. Wilbur Larch. Dialogue between Kibbey and Carlen occupies much of the play as Wells grows from having a hero-worship kind of relationship with the doctor to a bond in which love is balanced against differing perspectives on the morality of abortion. Both actors deliver stunningly good performances here, with a crisp delivery of lines and a compelling range of emotions that roller-coaster from adoration to hate and back again. Carlen’s characterization of Larch seems stony at first, then grows with the play as we begin to see and feel the gentle but tortured soul within.

Kilashandra Waters leads a strong supporting cast as the tortured orphan Melony, something of a pubescent love-interest for Wells. Waters brings a dynamic sexual physicality to her role, with a herky-jerky way of walking that captures audience attention and makes her a viable, sophisticated adversary for the more innocent Wells.

Right behind Waters are Samantha Seybert and Teri Brown as the arch-nurses who assist Larch, navigating every aspect of the hush-hush medical procedures that go bump in the middle of the night.

This adaptation by Tom Hulce, Jane Jones, and Peter Parnell is presented in a talk-to-theaudience, once-upon-atime storytelling format that at first takes some getting used to, but it is increasingly effective as the dramatic aspects of the play unfold.

Under Badgero’s direction, simple orphanage benches become multiple props. At times held up facing the audience, they become a wall, and then in another scene they are rearranged to form a path along a stream. This adds additional visual interest to the lighting and the set while Charlotte Deardorff ’s costuming recreates 1920s rural Maine.

The 13 additional actors, many of whom play multiple parts, round out a well-directed production.

The themes presented are as politically volatile in 2010 as they were in the 1920s. Audience members will leave with their sensibilities challenged, their beliefs about abortion requiring new reflection — and their hearts in their throats.

’The Cider House Rules, Part

in St. Cloud’

8 p.m. Friday, April 2 and Saturday, April 3 Dart Auditorium,
Lansing Community College $10, or $5 students, staff and seniors (517)