It is not easy to write a play, and it is even more difficult to take an already established classic and adapt it to the stage.
But Charles Metten and Charles W. Whitman have taken the Charles Dickens' classic, "A Tale of Two Cities" and woven it into a tight tapestry of theatrical pleasure.Dickens' nearly 500-page novel has been eloquently condensed into a three-hour production.
But don't let that scare you away, because the audience becomes so involved in the characters and the plot that the time seems to fly.
And don't be daunted by the fact that you may not understand what is happening for the first third of the show. The novel was the same way, and by the end, all the questions are answered and the audience is immensely satisfied.
"A Tale of Two Cities" (the two cities are London and Paris) describes the relationships between Frenchmen in England and Englishmen in France, aristocracy and peasant, man and woman, and close friends.
The setting is in the late 1700s at the time of the French Revolution, and Karl Pope's versatile set design makes you forget that only props change and never the basic scenery.
Jarvis Lorry (Eric Robertson) goes to France to help Lucie Manette (Reta S. Patterson) find her father, from whom she was separated at birth.
Lucie's father, Dr. Alexandre Manette (Tom Gleason), has been imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years and is now with Monsieur and Madame Defarge (David P. Knight and Star Hayner Roman), who are hiding him until he can get out of France.
Enter Charles Darnay (Ben Hopkin) and his appointed lawyers Sydney Carton (Geof Addison) and Mr. Stryver (Jason K. Tatom). Darnay is on trial for treason against the king of England and Carton and Stryver help get him acquitted.
Lorry and the Manettes are witnesses at the trial because they met Darnay when they were coming home from France with Dr. Manette.
Now the two stories are combined. Darnay, who falls in love with Lucie and marries her, is really from an aristocratic French family, the one that imprisoned Manette in the Bastille.
And, though the Defarges know and respect Dr. Manette, they are committed to the ideas of the French Revolution that all aristocrats should be extinguished, even relatives of former aristocrats.
It is hard to summarize Dickens, but this BYU production has been able to stage the heart of the novel, without severing too much of Dickens' original intent.
Metten and Whitman do this through deftly placed narration, done by almost all of the characters at various points in the play.
Standout performances for an opening night that seemed to have very few glitches, include Roman as Madame Defarge, whose hate for the French aristocracy is displayed in her knitting and her vengeance.
Strong also were Addison as Carton as he changes his view of the world and of himself by making the greatest sacrifice, Robertson as the banker Jarvis Lorry, Patterson as Manette and Hopkin as Darnay.
And though it is not a comedy, Laurie Koralewski as Miss Pross gives moments of insightful relief.
One might have asked why the opening night audience laughed at the very creative way the spilled wine in the first scene and the spilled blood in the last were tied together (both were very significant themes in the novel). Maybe future audiences will understand.
Edward Carr, a former BYU student, composed the music, which, for the most part, seemed to fit in well. Yet, sometimes there were moments when the lack of music was noticeable.
Others in the cast included R. David Mohlman as Jerry Cruncher, Yannick N. Charriere as Gaspard, Eric S. Martinis, Jim Fife and Todd R. Olsson as the Jacques 1, 2 and 3, Tony Mortimer as Barsad and Monica Barth and the little seamstress who meets her death with Carton.
It is refreshing to see a well-done adaptation like "A Tale of Two Cities." In a world where it seems most people use the best things to make money, this production comes from the heart.