Forget every A Tale Of Two Cities you’ve seen before, and that includes the 1935 MGM classic. A Noise Within’s United States Premiere of Mike Poulton’s thrillingly reconceived 2014 stage adaptation is in a class by itself, Dickens retold for a 21-century audience, instantly compelling, gorgeous to look at, profoundly moving, and as directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliot, the absolute must-see production of ANW’s all-around smashing Fall 2017 season.

That Poulton’s adaptation has a mind and style of its own is evident from the get-go, skipping chapters of back story to plunge us smack dab into the life-or-death drama of Charles Darnay (Tavis Doucette) on trial for treason, electrifying courtroom suspense that also serves to fill us in on what has brought A Tale Of Two Cities’ major players together at London’s Old Bailey in the year of our Lord 1780.

Testimony introduces us to Dr. Alexandre Manette (Nicholas Hormann), only recently released from eighteen years of unjust imprisonment in the dreaded and despised Bastille, to his lovely daughter Lucie (Emily Goss), and most significantly to drunk-and-dissolute barrister Sydney Carton (Frederick Stuart), whose resemblance to Darnay may not only save the day, it could well prove of utmost importance as A Tale Of Two Cities moves from 1780s London to Paris at the height of la révolution française and one man’s date with Madame la Guillotine.

In the same way that Downton Abbey made Upstairs/Downstairs seem stodgy and slow-moving by comparison, Poulton’s A Tale Of Two Cities trims away the fat of earlier adaptations, and with composer-sound designer Robert Oriol’s pulsating original soundtrack keeping energy levels high even during transitions, audiences are guaranteed edge-of-your-seat excitement from gripping start to tears-and-cheers-inducing finish.

Add to this a grand total of thirty featured roles brought to vivid, distinctive life by ten superb supporting actors (with an additional ten background players* adding local color throughout) and you’ve got the closest thing to a Hollywood “cast of thousands” you’ll see on stage any time soon.

Under the Elliotts’ inspired direction (that gives as much importance to individual performances as it does to spectacle), a couldn’t-be-better Doucette’s dashing Charles and an equally splendid Goss’s angelic Lucie make for a perfectly matched pair of lovers, and Hormann gives us a Doctor Mannette of dignity and grace.

Vivid featured and cameos abound, chief among them a scene-stealing Abby Craden as both a wacky Cockney witness and a damned-and-determined Madame Defarge; a terrific Kasey Mahaffy as Madame Defarge’s relatively sane husband Ernest and (unrecognizably) as Charles’s elderly steward Gabelle; the mellifluous Elliott as the permed-and-powdered Marquis St. Evrémont and the comedically crumpled Jerry Cruncher; Jeremy Rabb, delicious as always as Darney lawyer Mr. Stryver and as a well-meaning but decidedly unlucky tribunal president; Trisha Miller, a force of nature as a Miss Pross you do not want to tangle with and as weathered “night worker” Jenny Herring; an especially versatile Michael Uribes, whose Barsad could give any conniver a lesson in scheming; Michael Stone Forrest, forceful as loyal family retainer Jarvis Lorry; and a touching Rigel Pierce-English, cast deliberately young as proof that the guillotine required no minimum age; with Juan Carlos Sánchez and Johnathan Wallace effectively filling a half-dozen or so roles between them and the entire cast bursting into occasional song under Melissa Sky-Eagle’s expert music direction.

Last but most definitely not least, there could be no A Tale Of Two Cities without precisely the right star to play its antihero lead, and here in particular A Noise Within has scored a bulls-eye in longtime resident artist Stuart (known for years to ANW regulars as Freddy Douglas) in a performance of such heart and soul and poignancy and depth and power, this Sydney Carton is truly one for the ages. (That in hair, goatee, and makeup Stuart is a near dead-ringer to Doucette’s Charles is icing on the gâteau.)

Fred Kinney’s scenic design conceives the action on movable wood slats (some of them in the form of vegetable crates), and though your guess is as good as mine as to why this particular choice, it gives ANW’s A Tale Of Two Cities nothing if not a distinctive look, in addition to serving as a screen for Kristin Campbell’s ingenious scene-setting projections, with Sydney Russell’s props adding detail throughout.

Jenny Foldenauer’s multitude of 18th-century outfits represent period costume design at its best, accessorized by Liz Sowles’s first-rate wig and makeup design and lit to vibrant perfection by Ken Booth.

Kenneth R. Merckx, Jr.’s high-octane fight choreography and Nike Doukas’s expert dialect coaching merit major kudos as well.

Samantha Sintef is stage manager and Kayla Hammett is assistant stage manager. Briana Patillo is assistant lighting designer. Sets To Go and Dani Maupin are scenic painters.

At a mere three years of age, Mike Boulton’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Tale Of Two Cities may well be A Noise Within’s youngest play ever. “Classic Theatre, Modern Magic” indeed. I don’t believe I’ve ever loved an A Noise Within production as much as this.

* Jessamyn Arnstein, Faith Boeke, Nick Bruno, Kate Davey, Fionn James, Nova Mandel, Anusha Mathur, Daniel Rivera, Calista Schlossman

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A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
October 19, 2107
Photos: Craig Schwartz


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