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THEATER REVIEW A Tale of Two Cities
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2014-03-05

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Playwright: adapted by Christopher M. Walsh from the novel by Charles Dickens. At: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. Tickets: 773-761-4477; www.lifelinetheatre.com; $40 . Runs through: April 6

A man who doesn't think that he deserves love can never be loved by others—and therein lies the paradox of tragic romantic heroes in literature from Cyrano de Bergerac to the present day. What distinguishes the two suitors to Miss Lucie Manette in the love triangle that anchors Charles Dickens' novel is that Charles Darnay declares his affection and then asks the lady to marry him, while Sydney Carton, after confessing same, expresses relief that his devotion is certain to be unreturned. What's a girl to say to that?

This is not Jane Austen's England, however, where such domestic tangles are quickly resolved, but a nation menaced by global unrest preceding cataclysmic social upheaval, both across the channel in allied France and across the Atlantic in its U.S. colonies, during an era still fresh in the memories of Dickens' readers. French expatriates like Darnay and Lucie's own father cannot escape their connections with a country embroiled in near-anarchy, leaving their salvation in the hands of heroic British sympathizers, bred of upright societies where masters and servants share a united moral accord.

Christopher M. Walsh's adaptation facilitates the multiple dimensions of his epic narrative through the introduction of a protean Everyman, dubbed "The Resurrection Man" ( euphemism for a "corpse-snatcher" ), to play all of the commoners, and to act as our guide to the volatile world of coups d'état. His commentary allows Walsh to focus on the intrigue associated with a Parisian merchant family's revenge upon the estranged Darnay's aristocratic ancestors—a vendetta that will endanger him and those he loves, while exacting terrible risks in unexpected quarters.

Fitting big stories into small spaces is Lifeline Theatre's specialty, its stage's restrictive floor dimensions and high ceilings easily accommodating 10 actors portraying citizens on two continents ( with the assistance of Elise Kauzlaric's dialect instruction and Andrew Hansen's audio score that replicates the descent of the guillotine blade with chilling accuracy ). John Henry Roberts deftly keeps us apprised of his diverse personae with never a trace of disruptive jocularity, his unswerving focus matched by an ensemble capable of riveting our attention for the swift-paced two-and-a-half hours necessary before the villains are dispatched, the innocent rescued and the noble rewarded for their sacrifice.


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