adapted by Mark Fitzgibbons
from the classic tale written by Charles Dickens

Directed by Christopher Leonard

Spring 2010

A Tale of  Two Genres

    Charles Dickens, always a lover of theatre and an avid participant, conceived of his most popular novel, A Tale of Two Cities, while he was performing in a play about Arctic exploration. He had just finished reading a monumental account of the French Revolution. His head was teeming with the two influences: the isolation of the Arctic explorers in their colorless world, and the noisy, crowded anarchic world of Paris under siege. And Dickens was living in London, where he daily saw the very injustices that had inspired the French to revolt.
    The two cities would provide the setting for the narrative he was weaving in his mind, but the cold isolation of the North Pole would inspire the character of the lonely alcoholic Sydney Carton, who had to worship his beloved from afar. Dickens thought of  A Tale as "a story of incident." –Which explains its episodic nature. But he also called it "a picturesque story, rising in every chapter with characters true to nature, but whom the story itself should express, more than they should express themselves, by dialogue."
    Despite his jumbled grammar, Dickens clearly sought to emphasize action and setting rather than to rely on his usual interest in character. So we have a novel filled with mighty descriptions of the disintegration of a whole society (French) and comparable descriptions of a society perhaps in need of a similar re-configuring (British).
    From the time that the writing of A Tale began (first serial installment 30 April 1859), Dickens was itching to have the story dramatized. And when he finished (last installment 26 November 1859), he began looking for someone to adapt the novel for the stage. Dickens was so excited by the project that he is said to have inserted himself into the production, practically directing it himself. He even tampered with the adaptor's lines . . . to ill effect. Consider this: When Sydney Carton allows himself to be executed, his act is predicated on his love for Lucie Manette. Carton's speech before dying is one of literature's most poignant and Romantic statements, which the adaptor had kept: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Dickens changed those lines in the play to "Farewell, Lucie! Farewell Life!"
    Such a change gives us ample evidence why we should never assume that novelists are their own best adaptors to stage or film or why we even might want to avoid an adaptation of a great novel in the first place. The latter issue is always a bone of contention between purists and translators (of language or genre).
    Adaptations are necessary. A stage version of A Tale of Two Cities gives in two hours or so the emotional experience that the novel gives in considerably more time. True, the novel is fuller, richer in detail. And, therefore, a play can never truly replace its antecedent. However, if the adaptation is true to the narrative and language of the original, it becomes, like good literary criticism, an insight into the novel itself. The play version becomes an important document in how we perceive Dickens' most popular work, having sold more than 200 million copies since the serial was gathered between one set of covers. The eternal nature of Sydney Carton's sacrifice is preserved in this play. The eternal sense of injustice and poverty and unrest is preserved here. And the profound truths enunciated at the novel's outset are here preserved as well. The novel, now a play, validates these opening words, which will always be true: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. Is it not always the season of Light for someone? Is it not always the season of Darkness for someone else?
    Look around. The play does what it has to do.

                          Patrick McGuire
                          English Department
                          University of Wisconsin-Parkside

Playwright Mark Fitzgibbons describes the concept and direction of the original production of his adaptation of  A Tale of Two Cities
(from the published script: Baker’s Plays, 1986)

A theatrical production of A Tale of Two Cities may sound like an expensive proposition, but in fact this script was originally produced on a university campus in 1974 with a production budget of seventy-five dollars, and it wasn’t reader’s theatre.  This adaptation was conceived with a minimal budget in mind.  However, what’s important is, rather than stifling the development of the adaptation, that seeming restriction was an inspiration.

In the mid-eighteen hundreds, when Charles Dickens was writing A Tale of Two Cities, the English inns were experiencing hard times.  In an attempt to improve business inexpensively produced entertainments were presented in the innyards.  It should also be noted that Dickens’ novels were adapted for the stage even during his lifetime.  Therefore, it’s not inconceivable that, in an effort to turn a profit, innkeepers may have selected for one of their innyard productions the popular, recently serialized novel—A Tale of Two Cities.  Incidentally, the play could not have been set at the time of the French Revolution for Dickens wrote about those events from a distance.  “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times…”) And so the environment of an English innyard in the mid-eighteen hundreds became the setting for this adaptation.  It was a theatrical and economical solution to the problem of literally representing the countless locations in this tale of London and Paris.  Actually, Dickens suggests this solution in the second chapter of the second book of his novel. 

“The Old Bailey (criminal court) was famous as a kind of deadly innyard from which pale travelers set out continually in carts and coaches on a violent passage into the other world.”

However the setting was not the only device inspired by the limited resources. 

Dickens’ story calls for a cast of thousands.  This adaptation can be produced with considerably less.  In order to effectively suggest the crowded galleries at the Old Bailey and at the French Tribunal the audience for the original production was seated on the balconies, stairs and lofts (with their legs dangling over the edge) within the innyard environment, just as their counterparts would have been seated in the 1860s.  However, it was the introduction of the four Innkeepers, who wisely chose A Tale of Two Cities for their innyard production, which significantly reduced the cast size requirement.  In their dual roles as the play’s narrators and directors, they also perform the parts of the story’s minor characters.  In addition, the Innkeepers/Narrators solved another dilemma faced by the adaptor which was to preserve as much of the novel’s narrative as possible.

I have experienced two productions of this play and I believe that the key to a successful production is to reinforce whenever possible the concept that the Narrators are innkeepers and the Innkeepers are storytellers and the play’s directors.  It’s not merely because they’re first to appear on stage that the four Innkeepers are listed at the top of the “Cast of Players.”  They are responsible for telling this story.  Everyone else, whether it’s a Peasant or the individual playing Sidney Carton, is assisting them in their effort.  They are friends, neighbors or aspiring thespians, who are anxious to help out.

Regarding the costume ‘design’ for this period play, the solution was a relatively simple one, when seen through the eyes of those Innkeepers. Without a budget for such things they no doubt would have approximated or suggested the ‘look’ of the period with clothing or portions of costumes, which they may have found in forgotten trunks or valises stored years earlier at the inn.  In 1974 the University theatre costume shop provided a fair assortment of eighteenth and nineteenth century costumes.  The absence of an apparent scheme to the costume design worked to our advantage.  If they all appeared to have been from exactly the same period, or they all fit exactly right or they appeared to have been designed as a whole, they may have had a jarring effect on the overall concept.

As for the unit setting, the Innkeepers no doubt would have had it a little easier than we did in 1974.  However with the use of existing platforms and wood planking removed from the side of a barn (with the barn owner’s permission, of course) the innyard with its balconies, stairs and passageways was effectively suggested.  Old wicker chairs discovered in the basement of a university building, which were positioned on the balconies, complimented the informal ‘loft’ seating described above.

When most people think of A Tale of Two Cities, they think of the storming of the Bastille.  But how could it be effectively yet economically presented on stage?  Two weeks before the original opening all that existed of the scene was a page of the text with the typed words “Storming of the Bastille.”  Blocking of the scene was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon.  It was a beautiful warm spring day.  I moved rehearsal to a large grassy area on front campus.  As we headed outdoors we took with us a tarpaulin to approximate the indoor playing space.  Something happened once we were in the open-air.  Whether it was the smell of freshly cut grass or another sign that spring had arrived and the school year was almost over, we all began to dance and play and fall on the soft ground like children.  Soon the gray-green tarpaulin became the billowing tricolor flag of the revolution, and ring-around-rosey became the dance of the Revolution—the Farandole.  The product of that afternoon, which was documented by a passing staff photographer for the daily campus paper, became the Revolutionary scene as described in the text.

One final comment to directors of this play.  I cannot over emphasize the value of putting yourself in the position of the Innkeepers.  Ask yourself ‘How would they have done it?’  And keep in mind as you make your own choices during the rehearsal period, that no matter how minimal your budget is you probably have more to spend on your production that the Innkeepers had to spend on theirs.

From Mark Fitzgibbons:  "This NEIU productions is opening almost thirty-five years to  the day when the original was produced at Kent State University in Kent, OH.  It was published in 1986 after a successful professional premiere at the Cleveland Play House, in Cleveland, OH.  I had long since moved to New York so it was a coincidence that both premieres occurred in Ohio." 

Narrators: Carrie Ediger, Liliana Mitchell, Mark Penzien, David Ropinski
Mr. Jarvis Lorry: Jeff Wade
Jerry Cruncher: Jesse Adams
Lucie Manette: Caitlin Inman
Dr. Manette: Howard Raik
Ernest Defarge: Ryan Gilbert
Madame Defarge: Tiffiny Blake
Jacques 1: Javier Chavez
Jacques 2: Malcolm Johnson
Jacques 3: Maysin Gappy
Mr. Stryver: Clark Bender
Mr. Barsad: Duncan Macnab
Charles Darnay: Cory Hess
Sidney Carton: Brad Cantwell
Miss Pross: Cheryl Lyman
Marquis St. Evremonde: Tony Gasbarro
Vengeance: Norma Saldana
English Peasant: Jonathan Gronli
French Peasant: Roula Villis

Production Staff_____
Director: Christopher Leonard
Stage Manager: Mike Jando
Assistant Stage Manager: Mary Issa
Light Designer: John Rodriguez
Scenic Designer: Jessica Kuehnau
Costume Designer: Jana Anderson
Choreographer: Danielle DiBianco
Wardrobe: Caitlin Varpness
Sound Board Operator: Yesenia Rodriquez
Light Board Operator: Tania Saavedra
Running Crew: Kimberly Greenberg, Nicole Ross
Set Construction:Theatre Practicum

Theatre Personnel_____
Artistic and Managing Director: Anna Antaramian
Theatre Bookkeeper: Becca Raven Uminowicz
Theatre Manager: Blagovesta Ranguelova
Newsletter Editor: Jessica Slizewski
Assistant to Theatre Manager: Carolyn Bernal
Box Office Manager: Herschel Slosberg
House Manager: Melissa DeJesus
Assistant House Manager: Albert Bautista

The action of the play takes place in and around London and Paris between 1775 and 1792.
There are three acts with scenes in many different times and places, and there will be one ten-minute intermission. 

Maysin Gappy (Jaques 3) is appearing for the first time with Northeastern Illinois University's Stage Center Theatre  Previously you might have seen Maysin performing in Baal at EP Theater in Chicago  Prior to moving from Detroit, Maysin performed in Wit at SRO in Southfield, MI and worked behind the scenes for Heartless which was filmed in New Orleans  He also appeared in numerous independent films including Down in New Orleans, The Cemetery Precincts and A Fishy Situation  He currently attends Chicago's Second City  Maysin is thrilled to be in this production and would like to dedicate his role in memory of his grandmother.

Tony Gasbarro (Marquis St Evremonde) is delighted to have the role of a living, breathing person in the current production of A Tale of Two Cities, which brings him back to the NEIU stage after his appearance as the dead “Body of Tony Hendon” in the 2009 production of Lucky Stiff Tony performed most recently in the dual roles of “Policeman” and “Detective Sinfeld” in Point of Contention Theatre’s March 2010 staging of Vanishing Points by Martin Jones, directed by Dan Foss Tony expresses his gratitude to Anna Antaramian for believing in him and suggesting to director Chris Leonard to give him a shot, and to Chris for not thinking Anna was out of her mind for doing so.

Howard Raik (Dr Manette) is very happy to be appearing at the Stage Center  for the first time  Howard was recently seen in The Wedding Reception and The Only Way Out (Chekhov’s Shorts) at Saint Sebastian Players  Other credits include Feiffer's People and The Marriage Proposal at Unity Players, The Garden of The Three at Gorilla Tango Theater, and Equally Divided produced by Revolution Theater Company at the Abby Hoffman Festival  Howard has also appeared in Sarantos Studios Actors Showcase.

David Ropinski (Narrator)  is pleased to make A Tale of Two Cities his tenth stage production at the Stage Center Theatre His most recent performances include the Stage Center Theatre’s The Good Doctor, Little Murders, Ghosts, The Three Cuckolds, and Arcadia, and several one act performances at Bailiwick Repertory Theatre David is an NEIU graduate double majoring in Art and Communication, Media and Theatre and is a graduate of the Comedy Sportz Training Center David would like to thank all his friends and family and especially this very talented cast and crew.

Brad Cantwell (Sydney Carton) recently appeared at the Stage Center Theatre in Vaudeville America, as Richard in Living Out, as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Amenuensis/Geronte in The Illusion and as Teddy in How He Lied To Her Husband  Brad is thrilled to work with this wonderful group in the adaptation of this classic Dickens novel, and he thanks Lisa and McCoy for filling his life with love.

Carrie Ediger (Narrator) appeared in the NEIU Stage Center productions of Boy Gets Girl, Don Perlimplin, Simply Maria, and Way of All Fish  Carrie has also appeared in the NEIU Studio Series productions of Was He Anyone? and Finding the Sun  "Profitez de bon moment!"

Jonathan Gronli (English Peasant)  is happy to finally return to the stage after a long hiatus from acting for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is education  He recently got his BA in Philosophy  He hopes to return to the stage in more prominent roles very soon  He would like to say thank you to friends and family who have supported his decisions, especially the one to act  Lastly, he would like to thank the cast and director for an enjoyable time returning after years of inactivity.

Caitlin Inman (Lucie Manette) is a rising star that hails all the way from Jackson, Michigan She is very happy to  be performing in her third NEIU show this year She was most recently seen in Vaudeville America! and An Inspector Calls Caitlin would like to thank Chris for his hard work and dedication to this wonderful masterpiece, and the cast for always being amazing Caitlin is a senior majoring in Communication, Media, and Theater, and will be graduating next spring.

Malcolm Johnson (Jacques 2) is a junior at Northeastern Illinois University and has been attending since spring of 2009 He has an Associate’s Degree in Fine Arts from Wright College Wine in the Wilderness was his first theatrical performance on campus here at NEIU, and he is also working on the production of Totally Red.

Mark Penzien (Narrator) recently performed in Point of Contention Theatre's producton of Vanishing Points as well as PoC's Chaos Festival as the Great God Ray in The Ray Play As a member of Appetite Theatre, Mark enjoys acting as well as many aspects of technical theatre Break a leg, all!

Clark Bender (Mr Stryver) has been away from acting longer than he’d care to admit, but hopes the audience is in a forgiving mood He thanks Lisa and Brad Cantwell for badgering him into auditioning and applauds their dedication to NEIU theatre Clark’s highest praise is reserved for his wonderful wife Kim who encouraged his drama bug while sharing him with his demanding mistress, the stage To the other members of the cast: Thank you and break a leg!

Liliana Mitchell (Narrator) is making her debut at Northeastern Illinois University’s Stage Center Theatre  She has appeared in numerous community and regional theater productions in Illinois, Indiana and California  She is excited to work under the direction of Chris Leonard!

Javier Chavez (Jacques 1) is excited to be able to participate in a Stage Center Theatre production Although Javier has seen many shows at the Stage Center Theatre, this is his first time appearing on its stage Javier would like to thank his family for all their support, the fearless director, and the very talented cast members who made this a very friendly experience.

Ryan Gilbert (Ernest Defarge) is thrilled to be a part of the cast of A Tale of Two Cities This is the third production he will be appearing in at the Stage Center Theatre After playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Harry Witherspoon in Lucky Stiff, Ryan is excited to take on the role of Ernest Defarge He would like to thank Chris, Mike, and Mary for all their hard work in helping to make the show so amazing He would also like to thank all of his family and friends for all their support.

Duncan Macnab (Mr Barsad) is excited to return to the Stage Center Theatre for the second consecutive time, after appearing in Vaudeville America! as the non-regular actor and stick juggler He graduated NEIU with a BA in Communication, Media & Theater in December, 2008 Other acting education includes Actor’s Gymnasium and Piven Theater Workshop His other favorite stage appearances include a conveener in Skin of Our Teeth (Stage Center, NEIU) and Fergus in Finding the Sun (Studio Series, NEIU) He would like to thank Chris for casting him He would also like to thank his parents, sister (the better actor), this wonderful cast, and friends for their support and guidance throughout life.

Norma Saldana (Vengeance)  is appearing for the fourth time at the Stage Center  Theatre She was previously seen  in the Children’s Theatre Workshop Productions of  The Jungle Book and Senora Tortuga and in the Studio Series production of  Living  Out She is a 2009 NEIU graduate from the Department of Communication, Media and Theatre and has a minor as well, in Theatre Thanks to Chris for the opportunity of joining  this wonderful cast Special thanks to Anna Antaramian for everything she has done for me, my mom who has always been my best friend in life, my boyfriend who has shown me his everlasting support, and to all my girlfriends for being there with me always.

Jesse Adams Jr (Jerry Cruncher) is currently a student at Northeastern Illinois University, majoring in Communication, Media and Theatre, and formerly, a Chicago Circle Player at UIC’s theatre department in the 1970’s, working mainly behind the scenes Recently he was seen in NEIU’s Studio Series production of Wine in the Wilderness as Oldtimer His thanks go to God and the many souls along life’s way who have tolerated his inconsistencies as he evolved into the person he is today.

Cheryl Lyman (Miss Pross) is a Communication, Media and Theatre major at Northeastern, and is delighted to be part of such a wonderfully talented cast This semester she was seen in Vaudeville America, and she directed the Studio Series production of Wine in the Wilderness Some of her other credits at NEIU include: Electra (Clytmenestra), Charley’s Aunt (Donna Lucia D’Alvorez), Queer Strindberg (Queen Christina Wasa), Arcadia (Lady Croom), and Mrs Warren’s Profession (Mrs Warren) She would like to thank Chris for this opportunity and Janna for shoes that don’t hurt And, as always, love and blessings to her children, Alex, Katryna and Aaron who put up with the insanity.

Roula Villis (French Peasant) is  thrilled to be making her first appearance at Northeastern Illinois University’s Stage Center Theatre She is happy to be working with the amazing cast and crew of A Tale of Two Cities  She has previously worked as an extra in a couple of films and would like to thank Chris for the opportunity to be a part of this production and the chance to gain more experience.

Cory Hess (Charles Darnay) has been involved in theatre since High School and is enjoying his acting debut at NEIU  While he spent most of his time before now as part of the backstage staff at numerous theaters, he has made his way to center stage playing Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities  While some would call it talent that got him here, he'll always tell you it is his dashing good looks He thanks his fiancée Jesse for her love and support through out his rehearsals, and promises he will get to finishing up that honey do list as soon as the show wraps up.

Tiffiny Nicole Blake (Madame Defarge) is a CMT major at NEIU She has performed before at the Stage Center Theatre in The Jungle Book, Senora Tortuga, and Vaudeville America Tiffiny has choreographed and performed previously in Aida, Once on this Island, My Favorite Year and Once Upon a Mattress  Along with acting and dancing, Tiffiny also enjoys performing and teaching the violin She is pleased to be working with Chris again and thanks him, the cast, and the crew for such an unforgettable experience She would like to thank Anna for her guidance, Kristen for her skill, and B for his patience.

Jeff Wade (Mr Jarvis Lorry) is thrilled to be back at the Stage Center Theatre where he debuted in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (2000) Additionally, he appeared in The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) and Thymely Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing (2006) He has also performed in Infamous Commonwealth Theatre’s 24-Hour Project (2007) and Halcyon Theatre’s Trifles (2008) A Chicago-area native, Jeff is also a free-lance violinist, having performed in recital and with many local orchestras and bands for nearly thirty years He also works as voice-over talent and as a researcher/archivist He holds both a BA (Liberal Arts, 2003) and MA (History, 2009) from Northeastern Illinois University He wishes to thank Chris for having faith in him and, as always, Marcella for her steadfast love and support.

Christopher Leonard (Director) is very excited to be directing his fourth production at Northeastern Illinois University’s Stage Center Theatre  His previous directing credits include The Illusion, The Actor’s Nightmare, Joe and Stew’s Theatre of Brotherly Love and Financial Success, and Oedi  He has also acted in numerous productions at the Stage CenterTheatre including The Real Inspector Hound, Dracula, and Much Ado About Nothing  Elsewhere, Chris has appeared in professional productions of And on the 8th Day, The Giver, and Cold Sassy Tree   Chris holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Central Florida and an MA in Linguistics from NEIU  Besides acting and directing, Chris also teaches here at NEIU and Truman College

Jessica Kuehnau (Scenic Designer) is pleased to be designing her third season for the Stage Center Theatre and third year as technical faculty for NEIU  Since completing her MFA in Scenic and Costume Design at Northwestern University, Ms Kuehnau has been designing sets and costumes for such notable theatres as Pegasus Players, Circle Theatre, Griffin, Lifeline Theatre, MPAACT, Adventure Stage Chicago, Metropolis Performing Art Center and Backstage Theatre  She is also the resident set designer at North Park University and a founding ensemble member of Adventure Stage Center Chicago

John Rodriguez (Lighting Designer) joined the theatre faculty at NEIU six years ago and has been teaching courses in technical theatre as well as working as a designer on Stage Center Theatre productions  Most recent designs include Lucky Stiff, An Inspector Calls, Arms and the Man, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lettice and Lovage, The Illusion, Electra, and Charley’s Aunt as well as Thymely Theatre’s productions of Taking Steps and Stage Door

Jana Anderson
(Costume Designer) has worked with the Stage Center Theatre for the last few years  Her work has also been featured by numerous theatre groups including Redmoon Theatre, Light Opera Works, Irish Repertory Theatre, just to name a few  Prior to coming to the United States, Jana created elaborate costumes for classical opera productions at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia  When she is not preparing costumes for theatre productions, Jana is busy designing and creating unique haute couture fashions for individual clients in the US and Europe

Mike Jando (Stage Manager) was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois At a very young age, he discovered his love of comedy, and making people laugh   As he got older, he began to help create and star in many short films, as well as perform in live theater around the Chicagoland area Mike has begun his training in the art of Improv He has graduated from Chicago's IO theater and can be found studying at Second City His future goals include working at Second City Theater, and performing with an improv troupe around the city


Additional pictures from the collection by David Ropinski

Special Thanks to_______
The Department of Communication, Media and Theatre Faculty and Staff, Dr Katrina Bell-Jordan, Dr Anthony Adams, Anna Antaramian, Jeff Wade, David Ropinski, Clark Bender, Mark Penzien, Cheryl Lyman, and Lisa Cantwell

Return to the Home Page of the Stage Center Theatre

Go to the Scrapbook of the Stage Center Theatre