The lofty interior of the First Presbyterian Church, constructed from 1869 to 1872 in the Gothic Revival style, is the perfect setting for Renegade’s splendid adaptation of Victor Hugo’s celebrated French Romantic novel of 1831. Conceived and directed by Michael Durkin, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME . . . A MUTE PLAY captures the narrative, message, emotion, and beauty of its literary source without speaking a word, relying instead on expressive movement (designed by Mason Rosenthal and Annie Wilson), transportive music and sound (Joo Won Park and Adam Vidiksis, who performs live), medievalizing costumes and make-up (Rebecca Kanach), and a superb ensemble, with not a weak link among them.
Durkin’s mimed presentation examines the pain and courage of being different, from the perspectives of the deformed bell-ringer Quasimodo (Dan Higbee) and his beloved Gypsy Esmeralda (Lee Minora). Referencing both the European tradition of Commedia dell’Arte and Hollywood’s 1923 silent film starring Lon Cheney (strobe lights by Eric Baker evoke the look of early black-and-white movies), the skillful performers (Higbee and Minora are supported by Anna Zaida Szapiro, Doug Greene, Eric Scotolati, Shamus Hunter McCarty, Steve Wright, and Vidiksis) give performances that number among the most memorable of their careers to date. An amusing prologue on the Seven Deadly Sins in the church’s narthex employs puppets (by Genevieve Geer of Le Puppet Regime) worked by Scotolati, and audience participation as personifications of the vices; the show concludes with a bonus puppetry epilogue on the sidewalk outside. [First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, 201 S. 21st Street] September 11-22, 2014; fringearts.com/the-hunchback-of-notre-dame-a-mute-play.