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March 12th, 2010

Hard Times

I wasn't sure what I was in for when we went to see Hard Times at the Pearl Theatre at City Center last night.  The poster suggested a circus theme, possibly with a trapeze, and quite a large cast.  It's one of Dickens's darker books, so was thinking maybe something like the Oliver Twist we saw at Theatre for a New Audience, lots of grey and exposed brick, and aggressively mid (19th) century costuming and broad acting.  What we actually got could best be described as a miniaturized Nicholas Nickleby (the RSC version, with Roger Rees as Nicholas).  6 actors, multiple parts, costume changes on stage, spoken narrative interspersed with scenes of dialogue, a table, two chests, and four chairs pressed into service as coaches, trains, fireplaces, a deserted mine-head, a forest glade, a bank, a hovel, a rich man's town house, etc., etc.  Not a trapeze in sight (except on the poster).

Once I recovered from my (utterly unreasonable and unfounded) disappointment over that--and got used to the narrative/dialogue thing, which always takes me a little while to pick up the rhythm on--I enjoyed myself very much.  As you know, Bob, I love a melodrama, and Hard Times is very melodramatic indeed.  Very bitter, too, and a little heavy on the irony for my tastes.  But I had a great time hating Mr. Bounderby and The Designated No-Good Brother Tom and Mrs. Sparsit and wondering what on earth Louisa sees in the world-weary fribble Mr. Harthouse and how anybody could have missed that Mrs. Pegler was Mr. Bounderby's mother (oops, Spoiler--except for it's being all too obvious from the beginning).

The six actors were wonderful in all their roles.  What I love about this kind of doubling and tripling and quadrupling of parts is that you can really see the actors transform from one person into another with a stoop, a hat, a shawl, an accent, a gesture, a way of standing or holding their hands.  I also love the Fun With Props, which helps move the action along.  And this script was a gem of its genre--lean, clean, and (truth to tell) a lot more dramatic than the novel itself, which is thoroughly Gradgrindian in its pedantic tone and constant sermonettes.  The fact that they're on the value of imagination and the injustices of the class system and the rigid divorce laws and the treatment of the working poor doesn't make them less annoying.  In fact, the play is much better off without them.


A Weekend in the Country

We've been invited to a friend's house Upstate (near Kingston where Patricia McKillip used to live, in fact).  Leaving tomorrow morning, coming back Sunday night, just like Real New Yorkers.  I'm not taking my computer.  It'll be fine.  Really.  I'll stop hyperventilating any moment now.

In other news, my taxes are all entered neatly into my Tax Worksheet (thank you, rm ) and on their way to the Tax Guy.  I've handed in my introduction to the new edition of Suzy McKee Charnas's wonderful Dorothea Dreams (coming from Aqueduct Press some time this summer).  Ellen sat on the phone all morning (poor pet), and now all our frequent flyer miles (and we had LOTS) have magically become tickets to Australia in August.  I've cleaned up my desk (for a not-very-rigorous value of "clean").  And I'm getting ready to put on something black and head down to the Rubin Museum to hear Ellen introduce Zefferelli's immortal (to me, anyway) Romeo and Juliet.

See you next week!

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