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Review Roundup: HARD TIMES at Lookingglass Theatre

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Review Roundup: HARD TIMES at Lookingglass Theatre

HARD TIMES runs at Lookingglass Theatre through January 14, and is based on the Charles Dickens novel of the same name. A Dickensian carnival of characters inhabits the streets of smoke-choked Coketown: grim Mr. Gradgrind's school churns out joyless students; poor Stephen Blackpool toils in the nearby mines; and mill-owner Mr. Bounderby, full of bluster and bombast, presides over it all. Only when a traveling circus alights nearby, and young orphan Sissy Jupe enters their world, does a ray of hope shine through.

The cast stars Audrey Anderson as Sissy, Atra Asdou as Rachael/Mrs. Gradgrind/Sherezade (12/19), David Catlin as Sleary/Stephen, Amy J. Carle as Mrs. Sparsit/Drunk Woman/Pufflerumpus, Raphael Cruz as Bitzer/Le Papillon, Cordelia Dewdney as Louisa, Marilyn Dodds Frank as Mrs. Pegler, Raymond Fox as Mr. Gradgrind/Sissy's Father/Slackbridge, Nathan Hosner as Mr. Harthouse/Mr. M'Choakumchild/Kidderminster, Louise Lamson as Rachael/Mrs Sherezade (through 12/17), J.J. Phillips as Tom, and Troy West as Mr. Bounderby.

The show is adapted and directed by Heidi Stillman, with scenic design by Daniel Ostling, costume design by Mara Blumenfeld, lighting design by Brian Sidney Bembridge, sound design and composed by Andre Pluess, circus choreography by Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi, and properties design by Amanda Herrmann.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Lawrence Bommer, Stage and Cinema: There's seldom a false moment among an affecting ensemble, each member plumbing his or her part with deep-sea devotion. JJ Phillips details Tom's by-the-numbers corruption, his natural freshness coagulating into guile and calculation. Infuriating and pitiable, Raymond Fox repeats his role as life-diminishing Mr. Gradgrind, a literal-minded drudge who holds that flowers do not belong on carpets, if only because we're not meant to walk on them... This second time around, this time as a very conditional holiday special, Hard Times-more than before-underlines and italicizes Dickens' schematic intent. He means to demonstrate the amoral consequences of a materialistic mindset that sacrifices make-believe for pragmatism.

Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: The upside of this perfectly valid approach is that you have an anchor on the open Dickensian ocean of human pain and kindness, a character who comes into her own and even, thanks to some subtle anachronisms in the very last scene, seems to cross over into our own times... They call the show "Hard Times for These Times" and a worthy lesson is on their minds. With just enough amusement to bring a great and complicated novel to life.

Alan Bresloff, Around The Town Chicago: This entire cast is energetic in doing all that it takes to keep the audience in the story with the added value of watching wonderful circus infusions; trapeze, silks, and more. Audrey Anderson, Atra Asdou, Amy J. Carle who brings several characters to life and each one is far from the others, Raphael Cruz (quite the circus performer), Chicago favorite, Marilyn Dodds Frank ( at least one of my favorites), Nathan Hosner, and JJ Phillips. This cast brings Dickens to a whole new level, thanks to the sharp adaptation by Stillman.

Lauren Katz, Picture This Post: Ostling's set has two levels, and Stillman creatively utilizes this feature to showcase the various spheres of Coketown. One particularly striking example is when the factory and school split the space, with the factory workers taking the top level, and the school children on the bottom... Lookingglass' approach to this abstract form of storytelling requires actors to play multiple roles, and demonstrate abilities not only in the dramatic form, but also circus performing. The ensemble rises to that challenge, and works together to tell a difficult but exciting story.

Photo: Liz Lauren

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