Spotlight: A Tale of Two Cities

Thirteen actors tackle about 50 roles in Matt Sciple's Dickens adaptation (directed by Richard Cook)--a story about revolution, justice, and redemption that verges on exhausting but manages to capture the sprawl of the novel. At the 1775 onset we have Dr. Manette (Stephen D'Ambrose), wrongly imprisoned in Paris for 18 years and thought dead by his daughter Lucie (Jaimi Paige). Manette is released and returns home, and along the way the pair meets Charles Darnay (Steve Sweere), a French aristocrat who eventually gets caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the time and renounces his title and ancestral fortune. Sweere has plenty on his plate throughout the night, because he also plays Darnay lookalike Sydney Carton, a fine mind who opts for climbing into the bottle as well as working as an 18th-century equivalent of a paralegal, roughly in that order. The production depicts the sort of multifaceted action that is usually the province of the page or the movie screen, and much of what makes this production work is Joel Sass's set, which includes modular mini-sets, multi-levels, and a textured wood tone that somehow serves both as an English sitting room and as a lowdown Parisian bar. In the second act revolutionary throwdown hits the streets of Paris (the storming of the Bastille is depicted, one case in which the epic scale comes up short), and Darnay is imprisoned and left at the whims of Madame Defarge (Randy Sue Latimer)--who naturally has a complicated, extensively interconnected Dickensian backstory that ties everything together in the end. Amazingly enough the entire story is put through its paces in a little less than three hours. There are moments when one feels the whole undertaking sag under its own weight, there are rushed and unclear passages, and the story telegraphs the ending quite early on. Still, it's a big, loud, unapologetically entertaining thing that hurls itself across time and geography with sometimes alarming force. Flaws and all, this historic epic has a fusty charm.