Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sheila Barth Review

Chelsea Times, Everett Independent, Salem State Newspaper
Wednesday November 18, 2009

Many will remember studying Charles Dickens’ classic tale of the French Revolution, “A Tale of Two Cities,” as high school freshmen, so the fact that Wheelock Family Theatre is recreating it on stage with an impressive cast is exciting.
Dwayne Hartford’s over two-hour adaptation of Dickens’ gut-wrenching tale is intriguing enough to keep the audience’s attention, interweaving its bi-country characters and plot in this 18th century of class separation, nobility vs. selfishness and romance, with deadly festering, vengeful overtones.
However, something gets lost in the shuffle, which, hopefully, can be easily corrected. The production has several elements of good theater- a stark, barren, ugly structure of tri-level, angular wooden posts, with platforms, designed by Anita Fuchs, and simplistic props that emphasize the ugliness of the era. Lisa Simpson’s costumes with brocade and lace elegance and elaborately, curled wigs for noble’s strike an overt contrast to the peasants’ homely attire. However, when actors playing multiple roles wear the same costume but are thinly camouflaged by simple touches, it’s confusing. Also because the play switches quickly from Paris to London, yet everyone is speaking English regardless of their role. M. Lynda Robinson’s line as proper British nanny Miss Pross is laughable when she laments in Paris, “Oh, why doesn’t everyone speak English?” Uh, they are…
There are real attempts at humor to lighten this masterful story of self-sacrifice, love and revolution, which seem sorely out of place. With a festering revolution, a child killed by a nobleman’s carriage, murder, unreasonable incarceration In France’s Bastille, the ultimate, frightening guillotine execution committed offstage but with Dewey Dellay’s terrifying sound effects and recorded crowds cheering at each bloody swipe of the blade-this isn’t funny, folks.
The problems rest with Susan Kosoff’s direction. The actors don’t project enough, making it difficult to hear them, so the audience is reliant on two stage monitors projecting the dialogue. While reading the monitors, we’re distracted from powerful scenes.
Lighting designer John R. Malinowski adds poignant touches, especially during bloody scenes, when he drenches the background in red light, but overall, rapid scene changes from Paris to London are indistinguishable.
Also, there’s allegedly a strong resemblance between self-effacing, alcoholic, cynical British lawyer Sydney Carton and French aristocratic immigrant Charles Darnay, but with slender Paul Melendy as Darnay and larger-built Bill Mootos as Carton, the only apparent likeness is their brown wigs. Both deliver find performances, though. Melendy is believably honorable as a French nobleman who renounces his birthright and heritage because of his father and uncle’s cruelty to the lowly masses and servants, while Mootos is impressive as the play’s narrator and hero. His soliloquies and ultimate sacrifice are moving.
Jane Staab as bloodthirsty, vengeful revolutionary Mme. Therese Defarge, who knits incessantly as she calmly plots her overthrow of royalty and nobility, is effective, as is John Davin as her husband, Ernest Defarge. Pretty Robin Eldridge as sweet Lucie Manette is also fine, but she speaks too softly. David Rothauser as her befuddled father, Dr. Alexandre Manette, who was unjustly tossed in the Bastille Tower-No. 105- arouses our sympathy; Cliff Odle as banker Jarvis Lorry and in two lesser roles is fine, as is veteran actor Dale Place in three roles- the evil Marquis de Evremonde, British lawyer Stryver, and governor of the Bastille.
Playwright Dwayne Hartford said his adaptation is relevant to today’s society and times- the best of times, the worst of times, with genocide, revolution, poverty and greed occurring globally. This is the right time to see “A Tale of Two Cities,” but with some simple changes.

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