WEST VALLEY CITY — A Tale of Two Cities is a powerful and emotional show. The story is complicated, which I should have expected, having been based on the novel by Charles Dickens. Maybe it wasn’t Dickens, though, since Jill Santoriello did write the script, music, and lyrics. It was written beautifully, but honestly, I was lost for the first twenty minutes of the show. I felt the emotion, though, and I saw the pain in this story of love and remorse.
Things in France were volatile, with the poor and oppressed biding their time until a revolution. In the middle of the tension, a love story begins. Lucie Manette (Megan Lynn Heaps) grew up as an orphan, but she is reunited with her father, who was wrongfully imprisoned by the French aristocracy. On the way home from France, Lucie and Dr. Manette (Joseph Paur) meet Charles Darnay (Paul Cartwright), a Frenchman, who is instantly smitten with Lucie. Charles, though, is promptly accused of treason and arrested. Darnay’s clever attorney, Sydney Carton (Casey Elliot), saves him from the false charges. But then he falls in love with Lucie, too. Charles’ hidden past as a member of France’s wealthy society is revealed later on, and the main characters all end up in France in the middle of a revolution.
The story is about Carton, really, who doesn’t enter until the fourth scene. But from the first moment he was introduced, I was glued. Carton is a drunk, basically, who doesn’t care about much in life. His admiration for Lucie, though, gives him a spark of hope. She is so lovely and good, so unlike himself. But his love is unrequited, and he loses the only dream he ever had when Lucie and Darnay are married. It’s a sad story, as we experience his regrets, and see him wishing for happiness. Elliot had an amazing performance with excellent acting and a wonderful voice. He ripped my heart out every time he sang.
Megan Lynn Heaps was beautiful as Lucie. She carried herself with dignity and simply radiated with kindness and love. She’s not one dimensional, though; we see her sad and even angry when Darnay leaves suddenly; Heaps sings “Without a Word” with conviction.
It was a relief to have some lighter moments. Elliot, though he was a scoundrel, was a charming and witty one. His comedic timing was spot on. He shares his pub lifestyle with Cruncher (Jeffrey Whitlock), the gravedigger, and Barsad (Bruce Bredeson), the all-around shady sidekick. Whitlock was a highlight of the show; his character was so complete and wonderful to watch; I’d be shocked if I met him on the street and he didn’t still call himself a “resurrectionist.” A heavy show like this really needs those fun characters.
I mentioned that the production was difficult for me to follow. At the beginning, there are two plots going on, one in London, and one in Paris. The script bounces back and forth rather quickly between the two, and it was a bit confusing. I definitely caught on by the middle of the first act, but I would have liked some help to understand the story earlier on. Had director John Sweeney have encouraged his cast to adopt French and English accents, it may have helped the audience distinguish the two cities. Hale has such great actors that I’m sure they could have managed a French accent, especially for Darnay.
I have been to Hale Centre Theatre before, and it is always fun to see the new and inventive ways they stage their space. For Two Cities they had a cool bridge spanning the center stage, and they used separate doorways for England and France. The rotating stage in the center did not disappoint; it added so much to scenes like “If Dreams Came True,” when Carton watches his happiness pass him by. Details like bottles and jars in the DeFarges wine shop, and the cobblestone streets, added to the feeling of authenticity.
I need to mention the ensemble, which was great and also Madame DeFarge (Adrien Swenson), whom I loved. She had an awesome character voice; “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” was a strong and haunting song. It helped me to finally understand the discontent of the peasantry.
Hale delivered a moving show and I was on my feet with the rest of the audience, with tears in my eyes, applauding the outstanding job of this talented cast and crew. Dickens’ marvelous characters, and Santoriello’s heartbreaking music, really got to me; they won’t soon be forgotten.