(L to R) Rupert Hinton, Claire Golden Drake in a scene from HARD TIMES playing at Allens Lane Theater through February 5.

HARD TIMES is Hard to Judge

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Allens Lane Theater’s latest production, Charles Dickens’ HARD TIMES, is an interesting piece. The play is based on the tenth novel by the famous author, first published in 1854, and is aimed at highlighting the social and economic pressures of the times. The novel was serialized in its initial publishing, which made it very difficult for Dickens to write in many ways. Serialization stripped HARD TIMES of most of Dickens’ trademark humor, rich characterizations and subplots. As such, it also is Dickens’ shortest major work. The adaptation for the stage by Stephen Jeffreys captures the story with four (!) very hard-working actors.

(L to R) John Schultz, Claire Golden Drake in a scene from HARD TIMES playing at Allens Lane Theater through February 5.

The performers who tell Dickens’ story are Claire Golden Drake, Rupert Hinton, Carole Mancini and John Schultz. Each of them portrays 4-5 of the characters in the story as well as filling in narration. I was extremely impressed with each actor’s ability to distinguish their characters with changes in accent, body language, attitude, etc. Each of the disparate accents seemed to be spot on…kudos to the dialogue coach. Director Travis A. Whitaker keeps things moving along well, using minimal set changes to indicate passage of time and space, the actors also acting as stage crew as they move from once scene to the next. Maggie Baker (costume designer) gives the performers beautiful base costumes that they accessorize quickly to indicate their various characters.

So…the performances were stellar, the direction very good, technically the show is sound…why didn’t I love this show? After much thought, I decided it was the paradox of Dickens’ writing. The language that provides beautiful, lush, descriptive scenes when you read his novels is the very thing that makes this stage adaptation stagnate at times. The plot is winding, hard to follow, and extremely long even with the brisk pace set by the actors. It almost seemed to be at least three stories in one at times. And, at a lengthy three hours and fifteen minutes (with one intermission) it makes for a very long evening.

I found the show to be worth the evening, with a warning…fans of Dickens will enjoy the production, as will people who appreciate excellent performances by four very talented actors. The casual fan may find the show to be a bit long and plodding for their tastes. That being said, I congratulate Allens Lane for taking a chance with a very non-traditional type of classic theatre.

HARD TIMES
Adaptation for the stage by Stephen Jeffreys
From the novel by Charles Dickens
Directed by Travis A. Whitaker
January 21 – February 5, 2011
601 Allens Lane
(Allens Lane and McCallum Street)
Philadelphia, PA 19119
215-248-0546
www.allenslane.org

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Walter Bender

Walter Bender

Walter Bender is a veteran of over 35 years performing all over the country. He attended Texas Lutheran University as a Theatre Arts and Vocal Performance major. While in college he toured much of the Southern and Western states with various acting and singing groups. He appeared briefly on radio in San Antonio and on TV in Miami while in college. Moving back to PA, he has performed in well over 100 amateur and professional theatrical productions, and directed dozens more throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Among his favorite roles are Lt. Colonel Jessup (A Few Good Men), Daddy Warbucks (Annie), and most recently he was George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Arguably his favorite theatrical memory was creating the role of Alan Frick in A Fast Train to Heaven for Bill Gottshall Productions. He is co-founder of Spring-Ford Community Theater, has served as Managing Director of 2 different theaters, Artistic Director of a third and President of another. He worked for the Delaware Valley Arts Institute, where he worked with many wonderful artists and instructors, culminating in being selected to facilitate a post-graduate course at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Currently he serves on the board of directors for dcp theatre as their Director of Corporate Communications.

2 Comments

  1. That is John Schultz in the photo, not Rupert Hinton.

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