Tale of Two Cities

Contributing Writer

It is a book within a play within a library; organized literature staged first through upheaval, then resolution of purpose. Its last scene will remain with you for many hours.

Trinity Repertory Company has once again reimagined a classic, culling the epic sweep of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” into a chilling, frenetic, and eventually, taut and heartfelt denouement that will stir the mind and touch the heart.

Trinity has always reinvented classics (Another Dickensian fable, “A Christmas Carol,” staged 42 different ways in as many seasons, for instance, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” last season, mostly good, some horrific).

If you don’t know the tale of London and Paris, the epic first act that predisposes the French Revolution will seem a preponderance of information, uneven at times, eerie at others, powerful occasionally. The piece gets better as it goes, Act II is glass compared to the bumpier Act I, concluding with one of the most famous finishes of any story in the English language and the most famous language of any story.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. A far better resting place I go to than I have ever known.” But to get to that end, audiences must endure large amounts of exposition that longtime Trinity actor/director/writer Brian McEleney has effectively condensed into 2:15, but perhaps too often using a stage device that sometimes upends intention.

Actors first identify who they are and what they do, or want or need to do, THEN say the dialogue furthering that purpose. Sort of like, “But John Barsad denied he was a spy…” “So, Mr. Barsad, you would deny this?” Necessary to tighten the 400-page novel to the stage, but not as smooth as it might have been in transition.

McEleney spent almost three years honing the work and his efforts generally prosper on the magnificent unit set by Tony-Award winning designer Eugene Lee. Lee has interred the play in the Providence Athenaeum, with busts of mythic and historical figures dotting the gothic columns holding up the two levels with thousands of tomes, but no Once Upon a Time follows.

The set almost ensures success.

The library and its multiple levels of books, tables, chairs, desks, are turned on their sides, flipped, serving variously as prisons cells, offices, homes, a court room, and, ultimately, the gallows, with a paper cutter echoing and foreshadowing the inevitable guillotine that ends this tale of sacrifice, love, romance and redemption.

The piece also allows Trinity to do what it has always done best, magnificent ensemble work, each character taking on a main role, then subsidiary roles to advance and give emotional resonance to Dickens’ amazing storytelling, too complex to retell here.

Stephen Berenson, Tim Crowe, McEleney (on stage as well as off), Taavon Gamble, Daniel Duque-Estrada and Rebecca Gibel, move and act as one, supported by a fine ensemble led by Rudy Cabrera, Matt Clevy, Jackie Davis, Rachel Dulude, and David Rabinow.

Rachael Warren, Trinity’s finest yeller, emanates intensity as she literally knits the clothing of the doomed, condemned to die as enemies of the proletariat. 

The eeriness staged by winning director Tyler Dobrowsky is punctuated perfectly by original music by Joel Thibodeau, whose high-pitched siren’s song sets the tone of anarchy, chaos, revenge, depth of heart, and unsettling endings.

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of Darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

In short, it is every time. It is our time, this time, and McEleney’s condensing pillared by Lee’s set and Dobrowsky’s energetic direction, fleshes out the French Revolution that was and the revolution today that just may come.

“A Tale of Two Cities” runs through March 22. www.trinityrep.com or 401-351-4242.

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