Like a not-so-bright English major, I didn't realize that Hard Times was based on the Charles Dickens novel of the same name. Walking into the theatre on opening night, after a long first day at my summer internship, I was expecting a long, boring adaptation of Charles Dickens' long, boring novel. The production, however, turned out to be much lighter than Dickens' hearty novel.
The show, put on by Chicago's Lookingglass theatre company, managed to do a wonderful job breathing life into the novel. Set during the Industrial Revolution in a small mill town of northern England, the story revolves around Louisa Gradgrind (Louise Lamson).
Louisa's curiosity for a world of wonder and imagination is set in motion by the young circus performer Sissy (Lauren Hirte). Throughout the story, Louisa finds herself drawn back to the wonders of the circus. The metal factory-inspired stage production, and the amazing acrobatics performed by Hirte, highlight the stark contrast between the cold industrial world Louisa has been raised in, and the wonderfully ethereal fantasyland that Sissy introduces Louisa to.
While the production ran close to 2 hours and 45 minutes, it transitioned well between the main story line and the character sub-plots. The performances were a bit grandiose at times, confusing the audience as to what was meant to be intentionally funny. Characters like Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Harthouse (Philip R. Smith), however, helped create an enjoyable show.