A Whale of A Tale of Two Cities
Also see David's review of Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life
Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities was not required reading for me in high school, and the old Ronald Colman film version has always eluded my viewing. Therefore I came to Book-It's adaptation with little in the way of pre-conceived notions, and a remarkably brisk three and three-quarter hours later exited the Seattle Center House Theatre having been grandly entertained. A nearly packed Wednesday night house seemed as impressed as I, as this mid-size theatre company struck theatrical gold once again, with a property that could, in lesser hands, have gone wildly awry.
One of Dickens' later and lengthiest novels, A Tale of Two Cities has been skillfully and never ponderously adapted by Jane Jones and Kevin McKeon, and is directed by Jones with style, invention and passion. The French revolution and its impact on the French and English alike is a spellbinding story, peopled with the kind of fascinating characters only Dickens could create, and Jones and her actors take them from the page to the stage with aplomb.
Book-It veteran Andrew DeRycke skillfully depicts the growth and maturation of Sydney Carton, the central character and narrator of the tale, from gad-about to martyr, and DeRycke's reading of the pivotal "Tis a far, far better thing I do ..." is anything but a cliché.
The romantic hero Charles Darnay is given an excellent account by the talented Colin Byrne, and the appealing Stephanie Danna portrays his beloved Lucie Manette with exceptional warmth and strength. Particularly fine character work is turned in by Todd Jefferson Moore as the long-incarcerated but always valiant Dr. Darnay, and especially by Brian Thompson, triumphant in delineating two very opposite roles, that of the cruel and cold-hearted Marquis Evrémond and the sympathetic and stalwart banker Jarvis Lorry. Annette Lefebvre cuts a striking figure as Madame De Guillotine, even if this invented character is a rather too literal representation of an obvious aspect of the story. Ken Holmes has a delicious comic cameo as Lucie's pompous would be intended Mr. Stryver; Kate Wisniewski is an engaging, and not overly eccentric, Miss Pross; and Sam Wykes and James B. Winkler are strong presences as the bloodthirsty Madame and Ernest Defarge.
Joshua Kohl's musical compositions underscore the action masterfully. Curtis Taylor's set satisfyingly conjures up just enough of each locale in the story, aided greatly by Tom Wisely's lighting design, and Ron Erickson's costumes are a triumph of invention over budgetary constraints.
Unless an extension is possible, A Tale of Two Cities will conclude its hugely successful run this weekend. "It was the best of times ..." wrote Charles Dickens. And thanks to Book-It, that it was.
A Tale of Two Cities by Book-It Repertory Theatre plays at the Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, through March 4. For more information go online at www.book-it.org.