Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
For me, the most pleasant surprise in Book-It's hugely ambitious and accomplished production of "A Tale of Two Cities" was the reminder of just what a masterful storyteller Charles Dickens was. The array of distinctive characters, the intensity of the plot and the arresting sweep of a dynamic historical period made this sprawling, complex story gripping and exciting. It's big - there's no way around that - and this adaptation takes a full three hours to play out its three acts, but the action is swift, the drama decisive, and the characters intriguing and sympathetic. The adaptation by Jane Jones and Kevin McKeon is impressively literate and never bookish, passionate in its fidelity to the politics and personalities of the original and smart in its pure theatricality.
Ms. Jones, who also directs, has assembled a fine cast, led by a very impressive Andrew DeRycke as Sydney Carton, the wastrel who ultimately finds nobility in "a far, far better thing." The dashing young hero, Charles Darnay, was played with appealing clarity by Colin Byrne and was nicely balanced against the beautiful young Lucie Manette, elegantly portrayed by Stephanie Danna. In the critical character roles of the banker Jarvis Lorry, and especially as the unfeeling aristocrat the Marquis Evr_mond, Brian Thompson was spectacular. His pomposity and indifference toward the parents of a child the Marquis runs over with his coach encapsulated all we needed to know about the social injustice and inhumanity behind the French revolution. Equally well-devised was the characterization of Dr. Manette, played with subtlety and compelling decency by Todd Jefferson Moore. The invention of a woman in red (Annette Lefebrve) to play "Madame De Guillotine" was interesting, but not particularly effective. The violent action was quite sufficient and didn't need the embodied symbolism of a real woman to emphasize the terror. The bodies dragged out on stage with their heads replaced by streamers of gory red yarn made the point far more theatrically.
The physical production was inventive and attractive, allowing imagination and theatrical suggestion to make the show feel richer and much more extravagant than it actually was. Curtis Taylor's scenic design, the well-designed costumes by Ron Erickson and the dramatic lighting by Tom Wisely all combined to give this production an epic scale while remaining modest in its means. Jane Jones accomplished a strong sense of fidelity to both Dicken's morality and his deft characterizations of people on all levels of society. She kept the characterizations focused, the dramatic action tight and the progress of the story fluid. This production was thoroughly entertaining, and a reminder to me that very often when we pull down one of those dusty old classics from the shelf, what lies inside is surprisingly fresh, captivating and full of life.