What it's about ... an inspiring adaptation, originally staged in 2001, of the Charles Dickens classic by Lookingglass Artistic Director and Ensemble member Heidi Stillman, who also directs this story about the life and times, and the great divide between the upper class and working class of Coketown, a mining community in the grip of a powerful and arrogant owner who maintains benevolent control until the innocence of circus arts begin to turn widespread despair into hope.
Just the facts ... in and among Mr. Bounderby’s social circle is the upper crust Gradgrind family, a teacher, whose students include his daughter, Louisa, on whom Bounderby has affections, and wayward son Tom, and Sissy, a young girl raised in the circus who is taken in as a ward after being abandoned by her father, a circus clown. The story centers around Louisa’s evolving education and the unravelling of Stephen Blackpool, a common laborer whose morality transcends everyone else. As fate steps in, Blackpool becomes the unwitting victim of the power and greed of those who wish only to hide their darkest secrets from view at the expense of all others. All is not lost as love triumphs, and light, in the smoke-filled recesses of Coketown, ultimately shines through.
What stands out ... Dickens compellingly rich characters spring to life in Stillman’s absorbing production, which reunites many original cast members with gloriously talented actors who have extraordinary circus and acrobatic skills. The aerial artistry, staged seamlessly with the story in sweeping fashion by Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi, is flawless. The versatile set by Dan Ostling, allows our imagination to trip from classroom to sitting room, from the squalor of a shabby apartment through a busy street to the grandeur of an elegant dining room, and back again, in the blink of an eye, enhanced impeccably by Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes, lighting by Brian Sidney Bembridge and sound by Andre Pluess.
Who to watch ... David Catlin, returning to the roles of Sleary and Stephen Blackpool, Raymond Fox, back as Mr. Gradgrind, and, Louise Lamson, who created the role of Louisa but here plays Rachael, are inspiring to watch together, contributing mightily to the vibrant textural and visual masterpiece. Troy West, once again the irascible Bounderby, brings a chilling level of obstinate authority that is perfectly aligned with the powerhouse performances of Cordelia Dewdney, a sultry Louisa, and Amy J. Carle, the diabolical Mrs. Sparsit. The entire ensemble is superb in multiple roles, however, this story unfolds early on through the eyes of Sissy, played exquisitely by Audrey Anderson, an extremely versatile and captivating newcomer in a breakout role. There is no doubt you will be seeing a lot of performances by Ms. Anderson on and above many stages, but don't miss this one. It’s a gem.
A moment or two to savor ... if you have ever been transfixed by a roaring fire and wondered what you see in it, there is a beautiful moment between Ms. Dewdney and JJ Phillips where the answer is revealed. You will also be in awe of the multi-talented Raphael Cruz right at the top.
Why you should go ... Lookingglass Theatre Company is celebrating their 30th season and an on-going association with The Actors Gymnasium, collaborating to develop engaging, story-centered ensemble productions. Hard Times, first created and produced in 2001, is now presented for the first time in their home since 2003, Chicago’s landmark Water Tower Water Works. A perfect holiday treat for the entire family.