COVID-19 Theater Series: A 70-Year Theater Family Legacy - Ellen Geer and Theatricum Botanicum


Currently the matriarch of a theater dynasty, Ellen Geer followed in the family footsteps from an early age. Both her parents were actors, with her father Will Geer earning national fame as Grandfather Zeb Walton on TV’s 1960s hit, “The Waltons.” Ellen worked in some of the major repertory theatres around the country and has been active in film and television since 1971. Her career stretches to the present. In 1978, Ellen became the producing artistic director of her father’s dream theater after his death – certainly a huge undertaking for a busy actor, professor, theater director, and writer. She has performed admirably in all these roles, including a parental role. Her sister, Melora Marshall, her brother Thad Geer, and her daughter Willow have continued the family tradition as accomplished actors. Ellen still remains very active in theater as actor, director, playwright, adaptor, and producer. She took time from her busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


Will Geer - Photo courtesy of Theatricum Botanicum

Tell us something about Theatricum Botanicum. When did your theater first begin its long career? Who/how/why/where was it founded?

Ellen Geer:  It was really founded in the 1950s. It was the cruel time of the McCarthy hearings, when people were blackballed and couldn’t work in show business. There were actors, technicians, writers, folksingers, all sorts of out-of-work people essential to theater.  We called our home “Geer Gardens.” We made a living selling plants and became a haven for out-of-work artists. At the time, I was around ten years old – so I was almost born into our family theater. And, given my dad’s career, I was most certainly born into show business.  In the seventies, the family returned; and my father Will Geer founded Theatricum Botanicum. We performed our first show in Topanga Canyon in 1973; it was Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream – and we have been performing the play ever since. We also started free workshops in 1973. Hollywood actors wanted to do Shakespeare and other classics, so we had lots of support.

Michael McFall and Melora Marshall in "Midsummer Nights Dream" - Photo by Ian Flanders

When my father died in 1978, the family continued performing and kept the theater going. I took over the running of the theater. We became members of Equity, the actors and stage managers union. My mother was still alive, and the whole family, including brother and sisters, etched out the dream of theater and education. We got our first grant in 1978. That enabled us to begin our educational programs for kids and adults. We have an Academy of Classics; and we also run School Days, a field trip of Shakespeare, and classes for youth in the Los Angeles Unified School District. We have always been a professional theater, but we’re also non-profit and are able to accept grants and donations.

Theatricum Botanicum Company in 1973 - Photo courtesy of Theatricum Botanicum

Theatricum Botanicum has an outdoor stage. Have you had to make any special accommodations to perform on a hillside?

EG:  I absolutely love it. In fact, I like it much more than being indoors with wings and curtains. Nature and art are the best of friends. We have a beautiful natural background, so we don’t have to spend huge amounts of money on sets. Our sets are the great outdoors. But performing in nature also dictates some of our choices. Sometimes, the weather may also interfere. I remember once, a long time ago, it started to rain. The audience opened their umbrellas, so we had to keep going. In Merchant of Venice, a dove of peace flew on the oak tree during the court room scene – it sat there and observed the whole thing! Once a large rat fell from a tree in the middle of a love scene. Our star grabbed the stunned animal by the tale, swung it around over his head, and tossed it far away! There are lots of creative ways to deal with almost anything.

Willow Geer and Christine Breihan in "Twelfth Night" - Photo by Ian Flanders

When did you close the theater due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run?

EG:  It was a week before casting. We planned to open School Days at the end of April. Our main repertory season of five plays runs from June to September; and we have programs for the kids in May and October, as well as a camp in the summer. We were all ready to go. Many theaters were in the middle of a run - so hard. We were lucky.

Over the past weeks, how has COVID-19 impacted your theater?

EG:  We had to let go of some of our staff; now some are on unemployment. It’s interesting that unemployment is paying them more than we could as a non-profit. We really miss our artists and educators. At this point, all education is online.

Willow Geer and Ellen Geer in "Chalk Garden" - Photo by Liam Flanders

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming videos? Do you have virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when you reopen? Any auditions coming up or fund raising?

EG:  All education is now digital. Our staff has learned how to use different kinds of digital platforms like Zoom. Elizabeth Tobias, our incredible educational director, has set a full schedule of monologue, poetry, movement, and technical approaches to the classics for adults. We’re also going to have a program on rhetoric and language taught by Milan Dragicevich, who’s an Amhurst professor specializing in Shakespeare. He was one of our original company members. We have teen online classes where students write their own monologues, and we even have a sword fighting class!  We want to have them move - even when quarantined! We’re working with the union trying to find a way to do story telling. We also plan to put on concerts. I’m wondering if someday they may unionize people performing in the digital world. Artists need to be paid!

Melora Marshall and Ellen Geer in "The Tempest" - Photo by Ian Flanders

What do you think will be the impact of COVID-19 on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes?

EG:  Until we get a clear understanding about what COVID-19 is, we can’t really make any predictions. We have a huge population in Southern California, and Theatricum won’t open until it’s safe. But I sincerely believe that theater will always come back - maybe in a different form - but theater will still return. Some theaters may die, but new things will come out of it. If a group can’t pay their rent, they may go under for a while. But actors will always start up a new theater, and theater will take on a new form. For sure, the theater we see after the pandemic will be different because actors, crew, and audiences have gone through a life-changing experience. Theatre people will help define it.

Theatricum Botanicum is planning on going green. We’re revitalizing our creek and making other earth-friendly changes. We want people to see what can be done to alleviate climate change. We want to help people grow in their respect for nature.

Mark Bramhall, Willow Geer, and Ellen Geer in "Other Desert Cities" - Photo by Miriam Geer

What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the theater public?

EG:  Return to theater-going! Support young people’s desire to learn about great playwrights, and help them feel comfortable presenting before their peers. Theater helps create the next good society. Theatricum will survive and keep doing what we love. Artists keep going because you know deep in your soul that you have to. Arts have taken a back seat because this plague is so big. But we’re all creating new exciting stories, and the rugged time will change. Stay positive and carry on!

What are some of your future plans?

EG: To open or not to open is up to the scientists and medical world. We will continue our academic and educational work - with social distancing. Actually, social distancing is easier for us because we’re in nature. Where we go in the future will also depend on budgeting and funding and when audiences feel safe again to gather. But we plan to go forward because we have a strong company who have a passion for theater and education. We know that audiences will always have a need to get together and share theater. “O Time, must untangle this, not I: It is too hard a knot for me t’untie!” (Twelfth Night by Shakespeare).


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Lemon Butter: Best of L.A.'s Theatre Adjacent Restaurants and Bars - September Edition

Lemon Butter is a bi-monthly column featuring choice restaurants, lounges, Happy Hours, and other spots where hospitality is offered, that are convenient to theatre venues throughout Los Angeles. For distances and times given traffic and parking are not factored in. Where available, contact all hospitality venues for valet or parking information and/or reservations.

This month's Lemon Butter covers just a few restaurants and theatres on the Westside in Beverly Hills, Malibu, and Santa Monica!

CHEZ JAY

Photo by Monique A. LeBleu - The Jay Dog at Chez Jay The Backyard, Santa Monica, California, August 13, 2019.

Perfect for pre or after dinner theatre, and nearest the Santa Monica Playhouse and Morgan-Wixson Theatre is Chez Jay.

Owned by Michael Anderson and operated by his son General Manager Chris Anderson, the Historical Landmark in Santa Monica on Ocean Avenue recently opened The Backyard, featuring al fresco dining by the ocean and under the stars.

Designed by Chris Anderson and Nataly Lopez, The Backyard is a comfortable, open space–much like your own backyard–and features picnic tables, couches, Adirondack chairs, a fire pit, wine barrels, hanging vintage lanterns, string lights, and a protective canopy from the noon-day sun, and is fenced in where it abuts Santa Monica’s Tongva Park.

Chef "Memo" Guillermo De Arcos G, having been in the kitchen at Chez Jay, now a landmark restaurant in Santa Monica of over 27 years, recently introduced the new Good Eats menu at The Backyard with starters such as the Peppercorn Maple Bacon, Grilled Street Corn, Southwest Steak Nachos, Truffle Fries, Kimchi Guacamole, Rhode Island Calamari, Shrimp Ceviche Bites, and Baked Clams.

There are also salads, such as the Crispy Calamari Salad, prepared with fried calamari, frisée, romaine radicchio, tomatoes, pickled red onion, and French Dijon vinaigrette, The Cobb Salad served with grilled chicken, romaine, bacon, egg, blue cheese, tomato, avocado, and lemon honey vinaigrette, or the NY Steak Salad prepared with Angus New York Strip, arugula, mixed greens, blue cheese, cranberries, walnuts, pickled onions and balsamic vinaigrette.

The Mains features seafood selections such as the Mahi Mahi Sandwich of grilled filet of Mahi Mahi, lettuce, tomato, onion and tartar sauce on a toasted bun, or the Fish & Chips with Allagash beer-battered cod and french fries. There is also the Chez Burger of a ½ pound Angus beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion, served on a toasted bun. There is also the Steak Au Poivre Sandwich with a Peppered Angus NY Steak, cream of horseradish, picked cabbage, arugula on sourdough, Memo's amazing Jay Dog prepared with a grilled 10 inch Wagyu hot dog, tomato, pickles, onions, relish, peppers and mustard on split-top brioche, or the appropriately named Mike’s Melt, in honor of Michael Anderson, prepared with a pressed ½ pound Angus beef patty, melted cheddar, and caramelized onions on rye, and–a personal favorite–the Crispy Chicken Sandwich of fried chicken, house coleslaw, apple, frisée, chipotle aioli, and pickles on a toasted bun.

To finish, you can choose the ultimate comfort food! Chef Memo’s Fried Oreos are crisply fried with a batter, remaining soft and sweet inside. A most decadent dessert!

Cocktails are served at the bar, exclusive to Chez Jay's The Backyard, such as the  Hotel California of Bombay Sapphire, grapefruit, lemon and rosemary, the Chevy To The Levy comprised of mezcal, pineapple, Ramazzotti Rosato, lemon and sage, The Juan Margarita spicy margarita prepared with Casamigos Tequila, jalapeño, cucumber, cilantro and lime, a Pimm’s Cup made of Pimm’s, cucumber, mint, ginger, and lemon, the Dark & Stormy prepared with Gosling’s Rum, ginger beer, and lime, the Never Old Fashioned with Slow & Low Rock and Rye Whiskey, orange peel, Luxardo Maraschino Cherry and bitters, or the Tecate Michelada made with veteran Chez Jay Bartender Petter Wichman’s Wickie’s Bloody Good Mix, and lime with a Tajin rim. Wines by the glass are offered, including the Cupcake Prosecco, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Ferrari Chardonnay, Bev Rose, Meiomi Pinot Noir, and the Josh Cabernet. Their beer selections are the Allagash White, Heineken, Santa Monica 310, or Angel City IPA, Palmia Light, Tecate, Angel City Pilsner, Golden Road Wolf Pup, Corona, Bud Light and Angry Orchard.

The Backyard at Chez Jay is open every Wednesday and Thursday from 4pm to 10pm, every Friday from 4pm to 11pm, and every Saturday from 12 noon to 11pm, and every Sunday from 12 noon to 8pm.

The Good Eats menu at The Backyard ranges from $6 to $16, with beer, wine and custom cocktails from $7 - $14. Happy Hour specials at Chez Jay are every Monday through Friday from 4-6:30pm., with dinner starting at 5:30 pm.

CHEZ JAY - 1657 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401 - 310.395.1741

Distance to the Santa Monica Playhouse  - (0.9 miles, 5 min. drive)

Shows to look for at the Santa Monica Playhouse on Better Lemons' Calendar:

(IM)Perfect
Absolutely Halloween
Binge Free Festival
Binge Fringe Free Festival
Love in Bloom
Magic Monday

Distance to the Morgan-Wixson Theatre   - (2.3 miles, 7 min. drive)

 


DUKE'S MALIBU

Nearest to Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum and the Malibu Playhouse is Dukes's Malibu.

Photo by Monique A. LeBleu - The Crab Cakes at Duke's Malibu by the beach, Malibu, California, August 17, 2019

Named after Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, Hawaii's Olympic Gold Medalist in surfing, Duke's Malibu is a Hawaiian themed restaurant situated on the Pacific Coast Highway with pristine and open views of the Pacific Ocean. The expansive restaurant features a central bar and the Barefoot Bar, which also includes seating at an outside patio.

Inside, through picture windows, the booths overlook the pristine and open views of the Pacific Ocean. On weekends, Happy Hour is in the central and Barefoot bar for those who are awaiting the dinner seating crossover, which begins at 4pm.

To start, there's Crab Cakes of lump crab, old bay seasoning, preserved lemon, Meyer lemon remoulade, or Korean sticky ribs, a Lobster Mac 'n Cheese with creamy white cheddar and ditalini pasta, Crab Wontons with crab meat, cream cheese, macadamia nuts, mustard plum sauce, or the Crispy Coconut Shrimp with Lilikoi chili water for dipping. For salads, there is the Rocket with arugula, Maui onion, bacon, roasted beets, goat cheese, and white balsamic vinaigrette and the Maui Farm Salad of local greens, marinated hearts of palm, pickled mango, Pohole fern, Maui onions, and miso lime dressing.

For the main course, there's the Seafood Hot Pot filled with lobster, shrimp, mussels, fresh fish, coconut cilantro broth, oyster mushrooms, peanuts, served with Jasmine rice, the Furikake Ahi Steak with fire-grilled sashimi-grade ahi, chili oil, truffle unagi glaze, shiitake mushroom, black bean-peanut charred bok choy, served with coconut bamboo rice. The Fish Tacos are with grilled fish, corn tortillas from La Chapalita, tomatillo sauce, cabbage, pico de gallo, queso fresco, and chips, and the Roasted Tristan da Cunha Lobster Tails, which are the “world’s only sustainable lobster tail”, are served with herbed Jasmine farro rice, roasted asparagus, and drawn butter. The Steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs are available in two sizes, served with herbed Jasmine farro rice, broccolini, and drawn butter, and in addition to all this, there are daily fish specials.

For land lovers, there's a Prime Sirloin from the Double R Signature Ranch, with miso brown butter, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, and broccolini, the Roasted Huli Chicken –an all natural half chicken seasoned with a garlic shoyu marinade and served with horseradish mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, snap peas & summer squash, and the Chef's Cheeseburger of 1/2 lb Angus chuck, brisket & hanger grind, white aged cheddar, bacon dijon aioli, Maui onion jam, heirloom tomato, mixed greens, brioche bun, and served with fries. They also have a vegan option, which is the Lilikoi Glazed Tofu with charred bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, sesame grilled asparagus, served with jasmine rice.

Happy "Aloha" Hour provides items that range from $6 to $15 in the Barefoot Bar, with lunch in the main dining from $8 to $19, and for dinner, from $8 - $18 for starters and $16 to $51 for entrees.

DUKE'S MALIBU - 21150 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265 - 310.317.0777

Distance to Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum - (9.7 miles, 15 minute drive)

Distance to the Malibu Playhouse - (11.6 miles, 15 minute drive)


Photo by Monique A. LeBleu - Vinoteca Wine Bar at the Four Season Beverly Hills, California, August 23, 2019.

VINOTECA

Nearest to The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and the Beverly Hills Playhouse is Vinoteca.

Adjacent to the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, Vinoteca is a standalone dining and drinking destination and great for Happy Hour.

Vinoteca's bar and outdoor patio accommodate hotel guests, locals, and movers and shakers of the entertainment world, featuring all of the hospitality and amenities that you would expect from a Four Seasons Hotel.

Chef de Cuisine Luca Moriconi’s menu at Vinoteca provides easily shareable bar bites, crisp pizza breads, hot wings, fried stuffed olives, oysters on the half shell, and a variety of wines, beers, and cocktails.

Happy Hour at Vinoteca features a special food item and specialty drink, and are offered for every day of the workweek.

Mondays start with $1 Oysters and $10 rosé. Tuesdays they have $1 Spicy Chicken Wings and $5 bottled beer. The market oysters are often Pacific or Pacific Northwest, which couple well with the rosé or a nice brut. Served with a creamy Gorgonzola dipping sauce, the Spicy Chicken Wings are a beautiful sweet-spicy mix that pair well with a cool, crisp beer.

On Wednesdays they offer 50% off of Wine Bottles selected by Sommelier David Gary which is served with a complimentary Cheese Plate for each bottle ordered. On Thursdays, Chef Moriconi features selected Pasta and a glass of Prosecco for $7 each, and on Friday's they offer M&M – a crisp Pizzetta Margherita and a Margarita each for $7.

Should you choose to expand on your meal, either before or after the theatre, there is also the fine dining option of the adjacent Culina.

Outside of the Happy Hour specials at Vinoteca, bar bites, pastas, pizza, and panini's range from $9 to $24.

VINOTECA - 300 South Doheny Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90048 - 310.860.4000

Distance to The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts - (0.7 miles, 4 min. drive)

Shows to look for at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Better Lemons' Calendar:

LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE

Distance to the Beverly Hills Playhouse  (1 mile, 6 min. drive)



Ashton's Audio Interview: The cast of “Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People” at Theatricum Botanicum

When the water in a popular tourist spa at the heart of a local town’s economy is discovered to be contaminated, powerful people have to decide whether to put the health of visitors above the town's commercial interests. Geer’s adaptation resets the play in the small town of South Fork, South Carolina in the 1980s, where issues of race serve to further compound the economic concerns at stake.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People” at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, playing through Sep 28th. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.

*taken from the website


Now registered this week on the Better Lemons Calendar through July 1, 2018

New shows registered on the Better Lemons calendar. For more shows visit our Calendar. For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

Visit our Wakelet for more stories: https://wakelet.com/@BetterLemons


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE FAMILY IMPLODES (On Stage and Screen)

Paul Simon wrote that there are 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, and that sounds about right.  But it's much harder to change the world around you when things are going wrong. Even harder perhaps to change oneself.

Because when the world breaks down and things aren't working out as we hoped, then we need someone to blame.  It has to be someone's fault.  Your husband, your wife, the Arabs, the Jews, the Aristocrats.  But if it's yourself?  Then how do you deal with that?

YEAR BY THE SEA, a movie written and directed by Alexander Janko, adapted from Joan Anderson's memoirIn the opening scene of this movie, Joan (Karen Allen) is at her older son's wedding reception when she finds out from her realtor that her husband Robin (Michael Cristofer) has put their home on the market without even bothering to tell her.  Her son the groom gives a toast without even mentioning her.  Her other son doesn't even ask her to dance.  She has somehow become a non-person even to her nearest and dearest.  The only friend she seems to have is her publisher (S. Epatha Merkerson), who keeps asking Joan when she's going to write her next book - which is curious, since we never even see Joan open a book, much less make any attempt to write one.  In any case, Joan finds a coupon ad for a rental cottage in Cape Cod, and she impulsively calls and rents it rather than go off to Wichita, Kansas with her husband for his new job (whatever that may be - we never find out).

The good news about this movie is that Karen Allen's smile is still an elixir for whatever ails you, lighing up the screen with her inner glow.  The camera still loves her, and her likeability quotient is as high as ever too.  You want to like her character, just as you want to like this movie, a true independent with lovely shots of seals playing on the beach and small town eccentrics doing eccentric things.  But this is where the bad news comes in, because writer-director Alexander Janko has no clue how to write a screenplay.  Even more, he's clueless about his cluelessness, saying at the Q&A after the screening that "the creative aspect of this movie was never a problem" - ha!  It's a huge problem when your main character says "my sons are going to hate me" for leaving their father, and then there is no follow-up phone call or scene addressing this.  When she tells her husband, "We had a successful marriage, we did a great job raising our kids," but the one time she tries to reach her sons (at her husband's prompting), they don't even pick up the phone and apparently never call back.  And then what's really the state of this marriage?  Did these people ever love each other?  Michael Cristofer does an admirable job trying to invest his character with some sense of reality when in fact there isn't any - he's just a type, not a human being.  And every time there's a scene between him and his wife, it is interrupted by the wife of psychologist extraordinaire Erik Erikson (how specific is that?), who wants to go dancing on the beach, scarves flying like some Cape Cod protege of Isadora Duncan.  Instead of genuine emotional discovery, we get self-help slogans and New Age psychobabble. And still, Joan never even makes a notation in her journal until suddenly in the Third Act she turns out a memoir at the same time that Mrs. Erickson is writing hers (pre-sold, of course).  Because it's just that easy!

It's understandable that Mr Janko has discoveries of his own to make about screenwriting and directing, since he has made his living up until now as a movie composer.  What is less understandable is how terrible the score for this movie is.  There are so many songs, and every single one so on the nose.  I mean, it's just cheesy to use a song about feeling depressed when you're feeling depressed.  Isn't that in Movie Scoring 101?  Against all odds, I still think this movie is worth catching - first for the seals, and then for the luminous, inventive performances of Karen Allen and Michael Cristofer.  Just imagine how great they could have been if they'd actually been given something to act!

Alan Blumenfeld and Kevin Hudnell, 2 Venetian Jews

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by William Shakespeare, directed by Ellen Geer - There are only 3 more performances of this remarkable production at Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga - on 9/17 at 7:30, 9/23 at 3:30 and 10/1 at 3:30.  I urge to catch this show before it closes.  The cast is excellent, none more so than Los Angeles theater stalwart Alan Blumenfeld.  His Shylock is a proud Jewish man in a city that hates Jews, and that does not allow a Jew to hold any job that a Christian can do.  He is a legal alien, and he has become a money-lender because this is the only way he can provide for his family.  He has in fact become the most successful Jewish money-lender precisely because of his pride - he is determined to succeed in spite of all the obstacles that the Christians have put in his way.  The object of his deepest affection is his daughter Jessica, but early in the play we see she has fallen in love with a cavalier young Christian man, and she elopes with him, taking a huge portion of her father's wealth with her.  So when rabid anti-Semite Antonio comes to him for a loan of 3,000 Ducats for his friend Bassanio, Shylock draws up a contract demanding a pound of flesh if Antonio defaults on his loan.  Director Ellen Geer and her artistic associates have edited the play a bit to emphasize the cruelty at the core of it.  When Portia - played wonderfully by Willow Geer - recites her "The quality of mercy is not strained" speech, it seems deeply hypocritical, as she delights in Shylock's destruction, just as she has earlier delighted in the defeat of the Prince of Morocco, wishing that "no more of his hue come to court me."  Far from seeing the play as a triumph of "mercy," the Botanicum production shows us a narcissistic, self-satisfied society with no problem demonizing the Jew as "the other."  Far from diminishing the play, it has never seemed so gloriously cogent to me before.

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

A TALE OF TWO CITIES, adapted by Mike Poulton from the novel by Charles Dickens, directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott at a Noise Within - "It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times" is the famous opening of Charles Dickens's novel, A Tale of Two Cities.  Regarding Mike Poulton's adaptation, I would call it "the best of adaptations and the worst of adaptations" - well, maybe not the worst, but definitely lacking.  What it does best is to create the terrifying reality of the French Revolution, that began as a blow for populist justice and morphed into a frenzy of bloodlust and revenge.  The staging at A Noise Within is very inventive in creating tableaux that bring this national nightmare to blazing life.  This is embodied in the character of Madame Defarge, brought vividly to life by Abby Craden.  Madame Defarge's need for justice is entirely understandable, but her thirst for revenge has become insatiable, and Ms Craden forces us to experience the erotic urge that this has come to represent for her.

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

Where Mr Poulton's adaptation is lacking, however, is in developing characters of any depth that we can understand and care about.  There is simply so much plot - so much story, so many twists and turns - that it's hard to get beneath the glossy surface of the scenes from the French Revolution and feel anything for those who are trapped there.  This is not an easy problem for any adapter - Dickens's novel is bursting with storylines, and it has dual heroes - Charles Darnay (Tavis Doucette), who is at first accused in British court of being a French spy, only to end up a prisoner in the Bastille; and Sydney Carton (Frederick Stuart), a lawyer's associate who is responsible for Darnay's London acquittal.  But who is Darnay?  It's hard to get a grasp on his character in the midst of his continuing peril.  And who is Sydney Carton?  Well, that comes through more clearly, thanks in large part to Mr Stuart's memorably persuasive portrayal. Carton is intriguing but quite an enigma.  I could have used more scenes deepening his motives, especially with Lucie, the central female figure, to make his actions at the conclusion feel more inevitable.

I did love the theatricality of this production, as well as its ambitiousness.  At the very end, a young actress gives a speech in the shadow of the gallows which was genuinely heart-wrenching.  It demonstrated what happens when the human family gives way to self-destruction.  I just wish this production had more of that.