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.
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.
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