Hard Times | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Hard Times



Lookingglass Theatre Company remounts its 2001 Jeff Award-winning production as the first show of its new season--and the last at the Ruth Page Center (the company moves into new digs at the Water Tower next spring). Director Heidi Stillman's warmhearted, intelligent adaptation of Dickens's 1854 novel about the conflict between facts and fancy, lucre and love, is still lovely, moving, and remarkably faithful to the sometimes melodramatic original, though she may give a bit more weight than before to the tragedy of Stephen Blackpool, a mill hand unable to obtain a divorce from his alcoholic wife. Most of the original cast has returned in one capacity or another. Eva Barr plays several parts but relinquishes the role of the meddlesome Mrs. Sparsit to the formidable Barbara Robertson (who also shows off some fine acrobatic skills in the play's circus sections). Louise Lamson is still perfectly heartbreaking as Louisa, the forlorn daughter of utilitarian educator and fact fetishist Thomas Gradgrind (Raymond Fox). Lauren Hirte remains winsome as Sissy Jupe, the good-hearted circus girl adopted by the Gradgrinds, and her "cloud swing" acrobatics (choreographed by Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi) are more impressive than ever. Troy West as villainous mill owner Mr. Bounderby is even creepier than I remembered--his leering attentions to Louisa, 30 years his junior, are so slimy it's no wonder she wipes her cheek after an unwanted kiss. The smarts and heart of Daniel Ostling's industrial set, Brian Sidney Bembridge's layered lighting, Mara Blumenfeld's sumptuous costumes, and Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman's sweet, mournful score again bring Dickens's grim Coketown to vivid life. Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, 773-477-8088. Through November 24: Tuesdays, 8 PM; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7 PM. $25-$45.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.

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