Adapted by Christopher M. Walsh
Directed by Elise Kauzlaric
At Lifeline Theatre, Chicago
Sprawling novel effectively comes to life at Lifeline Theatre
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
-opening passage from A Tale of Two Cities
Adapter Christopher M. Walsh skillfully reduced Charles Dickens’ sprawling 1859 novel into a fine stage production now playing at Lifeline Theatre. They specialize in mounting terrific stage versions of novels. Their A Tale of Two Cites, directed by Elise Kauzlaric, continues the fine work of bringing classic novels to life on stage.
A Tale of Two Cities is set in Paris and London in 1775 during The Reign of Terror that swept through Paris that ignited the French Revolution that led to the downfall of the French aristocracy. We meet victims of both the aristocracy and the revolutionaries as many suffered the guillotine as social and political change swept France.
We meet Monsieur Defarge (Dan Granata) and his wife Madame Defarge (Carolyn Klein) – two fledgling revolutionaries as they aide Doctor Manette (Sean Sinitski) – a victim of 18 years imprisonment by the King by reuniting him with his daughter Lucie (Maggie Scrantom). Together with Miss Pross, (Katie Hainsworth) Luce’s governess, the three migrate to London to start a new life in freedom.
Also leaving Paris for London is the heir to the estate of the Marquis St. Evremonde, now known as Charles Darney (Nicholas Bailey) after he leaves the estate in the hands of his butler (John Henry Roberts). Once in London, Darney meets and falls in love with Lucie Manette after she helps him win a court case from anti-government charges leveled against him. Darney’s lawyer, Sydney Carlton (Josh Hambrock) also falls for Lucie as the two look-alike men court the lovely Lucie.
As life becomes pleasant for the Manette’s, Darney and somewhat for Carlton, The Reign of Terror rages on in Paris. Darney receives a letter from the servant who is running his former estate in France informing him that said servant is impressed by the Citizens now in power in France. He is charged with capital offenses that could lead to the guillotine. Darney feels duty bound to return to France to defend his former servant despite the risk of retuning since former aristocrats are no longer welcome in France. But Darney, after marrying Lucie, returns to Paris but is arrested after being betrayed. The Manette’s followed Darnay once they learn that he has been arrested.
Things get complicated as the Defarge’s now have power to convict or release Darney. I’ll not say more so as not spoil the plot twists that Walsh’s adaptation so nicely presents. The violent social upheaval is vividly presented. The lawyer Carton, suffering from depression and the loss of Lucie’s hand, decides to make his life mean something by going to Paris to help Darnay. His self-sacrifice is the embodiment of redemption and sacrifice. He emerges as the true noble person. His unrequited love for Lucie requires his actions.
Despite a slow pace early on, A Tale of Two Cities eventually grabs us and keeps us engaged until the strong second act becomes a powerful one. using the thick accents, some actors speak too fast thus rendering their speeches hard to understand. Once the players slow down a tad, this production will improve . There is enough craft from the game cast of tn to make Lifeline Theatre’s production of the Dicken’s classic worth seeing. Josh Hainsworth and Nicholas Bailey were particularly effective with John Henry Roberts’ lively narration the glue that holds the show together.
At Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, Chicago, IL, call 773-761-4477, www.lifelinetheatre.com, tickets $40, $30forseniors, $20 students, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.