Brigham Young University's new version of "A Tale of Two Cities" opening March 28 should be retitled "A Tale of Three Charleses" - Charles Dickens, Charles Metten and Charles Whitman.
Metten and Whitman have adapted Dickens' classic tale of the French Revolution and added new costumes and music to honor one of the great works of English literature.Curtain is 7:30 p.m. in the Pardoe Theatre, Harris Fine Arts Center. Fifteen performances are scheduled after the opening: March 29-30, April 2-5 and 9-13 at 7:30 p.m., April 6 at 8:30 p.m. and April 8 at 4 p.m. For reservations, call 378-7447.
Collaboration is not new to veteran BYU theater professors Metten and Whitman. Metten helped Whitman with his "Papa Married a Mormon" script several years ago (just recently revived and now being staged at the Pages Lane Theatre in Centerville), and they co-starred as two crusty former vaudeville partners in "The Sunshine Boys." They also both acted in "Semmelweiss" and "Caine Mutiny Court Martial."
"A Tale of Two Cities" also reflects the efforts of the BYU's PDA (playwright/director/actor) Workshop where Metten, Whitman and others made refinements and provided further development.
"I've long wanted to take one of Dickens' masterworks and give it full life and scope on a BYU stage," says Metten, who also directs the play. "I've championed the integrity of Dickens' original story and believe what comes through are the vital aspects of Dickens' prolific works. These include the tribunal and the guillotine, the riots and, of course, the love story."
Metten sees part of the story as a way to demonstrate how Dickens dealt with personal challenges he faced when he wrote it in 1859.
"I believe Dickens uses the two main male characters to exemplify himself," Metten says. "With Charles Darney, who has Dickens' first name and initials, we see the perfect man, the man Dickens idealized for himself. With the drunken Sydney Carton, whose life is uncertain, he sees the other side of himself.
"Dickens was undergoing a great deal of psychological trauma when he wrote `A Tale of Two Cities.' By this time he was enamored with a young woman, Ellen Ternan, and was in anguish about the pain this inflicted on his wife and 10 children," Metten adds. "Dickens emerges from the book by having both Darney and Carton saved in different ways."
Metten and Whitman also use the more than two-hour-and-20-minute play to illustrate Dickens' clear view of class distinction where a prison-like society has little choice but to crumble into anarchy. Its regeneration, when it comes, is through friendship and heroic sacrifice.
Metten found a diverse cast from ages 7 to mid-40s to help create his interpretation of "Tale." Starring will be Ben Hopkin as Darney and Geof Addison as Sydney Carton. Lucie Manette, whom they both love, will be played by Reta S. Patterson.
Recognizable to many Utah audiences will be Star Hayner Roman, a popular actress with more than 20 years experience at Sundance Summer Theatre. She will create the role of Madame Defarge, a fervent, vindictive woman who uses the Revolution for vengeance on her enemies and upper classes.
Set designer Karl Pope will flank the set with three large 24x14-foot flags, one of the British Union Jack, one with a fleur-de-lys, and one with the blue, white and red colors of the revolution.
As the story progresses, the flags reflect the changes on stage by creating a metaphor for the death of the aristocracy and the beginning of a new France.
Costume designer Janet Swenson is creating new costumes and is wig and makeup designer with Karl Wesson. Eddie Carr will conduct an orchestra with his original music. Also brought from the Dance Department is Pat Debenham as a movement consultant.