Saturday February 24th 2018

“Hard Times”

Highly Recommended **** As Lookingglass Theatre embraces its 30 seasons of bringing quality theater to Chicago, they have taken a step back in order to once again bring back one of their previous success stories, “Hard Times”. Part of their magic is the pairing of actors and circus. They do this by partnering with The Actors Gymnasium ( an Evanston institution that creates some of the finest performers in our area), making their productions more exciting than a normal one would be. “Hard Times” is very “circus-infused” as they take the book by Charles Dickens to a different, and somewhat unique level. It has been 15 years since they performed this play, and several of their company members are back in the roles they originated then.

The adaptation by Heidi Stillman, who also directed this powerful production, takes us to a time after the industrial revolution in England. The fictional city represented in this play is Coketown, where all is rigid until the circus comes to town. Work and education have taken over the townspeople’s lives, allowing no time for fun and pleasure. In other words, the lives these people are leading are not fun-filled. And yet, those in the circus that is travelling through appear happy all the time. Perhaps it is their lives that open up the longings of our unhappy townspeople. Can these people break away from their lives of routine and have the joy and happiness that they deeply desire?

Some of the Lookingglass cast members play several roles in this two-hour-forty-minute production (two acts and a 15 minute intermission). Returning cast members, David Catlin (in the roles of Stephen and Sleary, a circus member), Raymond Fox (as Mr. Gradgrind, Sissy’s father and Slackbridge), Louise Lamson (in the role of Rachael, Mrs. Gradgrind and Scherezade) and Troy West (as Mr. Bounderby).  Louisa (deftly handled by Cordelia Dewdney) who is inspired by the circus performers ,ends up married to  Bounderby, not for love, but for “station” and to appease her father ( Fox is brilliant in this role). I must say, West is very impressive as the powerful Bounderby. What we watch is the characters that Dickens created searching for ways to have a real life.

This entire cast is energetic in doing all that it takes to keep the audience in the story with the added value of watching wonderful circus infusions; trapeze, silks, and more. Audrey Anerson, Atra Asdou, Amy J. Carle who brings several characters to life and each one is far from the others, Raphael Cruz (quite the circus performer), Chicago favorite, Marilyn Dodds Frank ( at least one of my favorites), Nathan Hosner,  and JJ Phillips. This cast brings Dickens to a whole new level, thanks to the sharp adaptation by Stillman.

Dan Ostling has designed a set that uses movable metal frames and stairways, and Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes are sheer perfection. The lighting (Brian Sidney Bembridge ) sets the mood, and the sound (Andre Pluess who also composed the incidental original music) is ideal. The Circus bits and choreography were done by Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi , who is herself a vibrant circus performer. Because the show is circus-infused we have something that most plays do not, a rigging designer (Isaac Schoepp) who makes sure that the circus numbers fall into place rather than the circus performers falling (a joke, my friends) and the props are handled by Amanda Herrmann.

FYI- there will be some post-discussion sessions called REFLECT during the run. These are on Sundays, right after the 2 p.m. shows. The topics they deal with: can the information age change our world situation like the industrial revolution did back in Dickens’ days? Will differences in class, gender, race and other dividing lines keep us, as a people apart? Will new technology, where jobs are replaced by robots have an effect on our future economy? There are also special accessible performances:

“Hard Times” will continue at Lookingglass Theatre located  at 821 N. Michigan Avenue (at Pearson) in the Historic Water Tower thru January 14th with performances as follows:

Tuesdays   7:30 p.m. 11/21, 12/12, 12/19 and 1/1/2018 ONLY

Wednesdays  7:30 p.m.

Thursdays  2 p.m. 10/19, 10/26, 11/16, 11/30, 12/21 and 12/28 ONLY

7:30 p.m.  except 11/23

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Sundays  2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (except 12/24 and 12/31)

Tickets range from $50- $85 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling  312-337-0665 or  online at

student tickets at $20 day of show with valid ID

To see what others are saying, visit, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Hard Times”


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