Dr. Larch (Crook) reads Dickens to the orphans at St. Cloud’s in The Cider House Rules. Photo courtesy Adam Smith.

In the mid-’90s, the Book-it Repertory style made a grand entrance into the local theater scene with a Seattle Rep-produced play: a low-tech, faithful adaptation of John Irving’s novel The Cider House Rules. It starred Ethan Hawke as young Homer Wells—a never-adopted lost boy raised in a Maine orphanage, living and learning under the tutelage of the doctor/abortionist who delivered him. With a script by Peter Parnell that balanced dialogue with verbatim narration (taken with Irving’s blessing, of course), the show played out like a Dickensian saga: two parts clocking in at just under eight hours total. People loved it.

It’s a testament to the strength of Irving’s storytelling and the thoughtful adaptation of his text by Parnell, director Jane Jones and her coconspirator Tom Hulce that such a marathon morality tale—which tackles abortion without fear—is so popular. The latest incarnation, on stage through July 11, is more reprise than revival, now with baby-faced charmer Connor Toms (Twelfth Night) as Homer and the great Peter Crook as Dr. Wilbur Larch. The Cider House Rules, Part I: Here in St. Cloud’s spans 80 years, from Larch’s pre-physician days to the birth of Homer, to Homer’s apprenticeship under the obstetrician and his growing disillusionment with “the Lord’s work.” When a handsome couple comes to St Cloud’s, they draw Homer, not yet 20, to “other parts of the world” (part two) for the first time. Part II is set to open Book-it Rep’s 2010-2011 season in September.

Relying on the strength of its actors, subtle staging and a bare-bones set, Book-it Rep continues to impress the importance of a good story on its audience—and succeeds yet again. The fact that Irving’s novel—and its theatrical adaptation—boils down the abortion debate to its essence and presents it as a conversation, an actual dialogue, is simply a bonus.

The Cider House Rules, Part I: Here in St. Cloud’s runs at Center House Theatre through July 11. The play is is recommended for mature audiences only. It contains adult situations, language, and graphic descriptions of medical procedures.