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  Hard Times at Lookingglass Theatre

Hard Times

Lookingglass Theatre
821 N Michigan Ave Chicago

A Dickensian carnival of characters inhabits the streets of smoke-choked Coketown: grim Mr. Gradgrind's school churns out joyless students; poor Stephen Blackpool toils in the nearby mines; and mill-owner Mr. Bounderby, full of bluster and bombast, presides over it all. Only when a traveling circus alights nearby, and young orphan Sissy Jupe enters their world, does a ray of hope shine through. Artistic Director Heidi Stillman adapts and directs this timeless love-letter to the power of beauty, hope, and imagination.

Thru - Jan 14, 2018

Price: $50 - $85

Show Type: Drama

Box Office: 312-337-0665

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  Hard Times Reviews
  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

Chicago Tribune - Recommended

"...Like most of Dickens' prose, "Hard Times" is a multicharacter extravaganza. Unlike, say, "Oliver Twist," the story is not dominated by one obvious figure, although most of Dickens' authorial sentiment is wrapped up in the persona of the worker Stephen Blackpool (David Catlin), unfairly assailed by the bosses and a kind soul, fallen on hard times not of his own making. But Stillman, even more than in 2001, wraps her adaptation around the journey of Louisa (Cordelia Dewdney), the young daughter of the utilitarian Gradgrind (Raymond Fox), married off by her dad to the creepy bounder Bounderby (Troy West) without regard to her own affection or well-being."
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Chris Jones

Chicago Sun Times - Highly Recommended

"...The world of "Hard Times, as in many of Charles Dickens' novels, is a sharply divided one, with unyielding technocrats helming the brutal, spirit-sapping Industrial Revolution on one side, and humane artists and eccentrics on the other. The former deal strictly in facts and figures, measuring success in terms of money and status, while the latter thrive on imagination and joy. And even if some might call these dreamers irresponsible, they possess an instinctual understanding of what makes life bearable."
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Hedy Weiss

Chicago Reader - Highly Recommended

"...But for those with a touch of patience and a taste for literary theater, the production offers many rewards-like pitch-perfect acting under Stillman's direction (Audrey Anderson and Cordelia Dewdney particularly shine), fine costumes (designed by Mara Blumenfeld), and ear- and eye-pleasing design from Andre Pluess (sound) and Dan Ostling (the superb set)."
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Jack Helbig

Time Out Chicago - Highly Recommended

"...With its stark juxtaposition between the free-living world of the circus and the hard-bitten life of a northern English milltown, Charles Dickens’s Hard Times is not just a perfect fit for a Lookingglass/Actor’s Gymnasium collaboration, it’s also a perfect fit for our present times. And it’s not as though this is news to anyone."
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Alex Huntsberger

Stage and Cinema - Recommended

"...This second time around, this time as a very conditional holiday special, Hard Times—more than before—underlines and italicizes Dickens’ schematic intent. He means to demonstrate the amoral consequences of a materialistic mindset that sacrifices make-believe for pragmatism. The crime that climaxes Dickens’ repudiation of an experiment in relentless rationalism seems more perfunctory than inevitable. Its exposure delivers a bit less satisfaction than it did 16 years ago—four months ahead of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, not to mention 15 years before the advent of a serial liar. Alas, that may well be a sign of the (hard) times."
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Lawrence Bommer

Around The Town Chicago - Highly Recommended

"...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."
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Alan Bresloff

NewCity Chicago - Somewhat Recommended

"...Despite elegant and expressive aerial routines (courtesy of Lookingglass’ regular artistic partner The Actors Gymnasium), much of the play’s lengthy run time is stiff and its messaging broad. What Dickens could capture in a single sentence, Stillman is forced to reckon with in three dimensions, individual results of which can be seemingly at odds with intention. "
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Kevin Greene

Chicago Theatre Review - Highly Recommended

"...Heidi Stillman's visually stunning and emotionally inspiring production of Charles Dickens' novel is magnificently rendered at Lookingglass Theatre by a team of gifted artists, both on and offstage. The story is bound to move audiences to consider the importance of an individual's creativity and, hopefully, the relevance of the arts in our educational system. Plan on spending the better part of three hours with this talented company of actors and be rewarded at the curtain call with a renewed view of the world."
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Colin Douglas

Chicagoland Theater Reviews - Highly Recommended

"...Dickens wrote novels made for the stage with their vivid characters and pungent dialogue. There is a reason why so many of his works have succeeded in motion pictures and on the straight and musical stage. But fine adaptations don’t happen automatically. It requires the vision and talent of a Heidi Stillman. She has plenty of help on stage and back stage in assembling “Hard Times,” but Stillman remains the hero of this amazing enterprise. She has created an engrossing time travel journey back to Dickens’s world through staging that is a marvel of intricacy, yet comes across as clear and inevitable. Stillman and Dickens are a match made in theatrical heaven.'
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Dan Zeff

Third Coast Review - Somewhat Recommended

"...the production doesn’t always reach the heights of its circus theatrics. As director, it seems that Stillman could have gone further in establishing the stakes of the piece and further fleshing out the setting. Well-crafted by a talented team of designers, it doesn’t always feel as if people are populating this world, nor is it always clear what external pressures are motivating each character. This causes the narrative to dip and sag across its nearly three hour running time, despite strong work from many of the actors, most notably Cordelia Dewdney as Louisa. Dewdney offers a layered and expressive performance fraught with considerable emotional weight, helping to dispel some of the play’s murkiness. Current parallels aside, fans of literature may rather choose to read Dickens’ novel than experience it, especially considering it is one of his shortest works."
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Brent Eickhoff

Chicago Theater and Arts - Recommended

"...Originally adapted and directed by Heidi Stillman in 2001, the production returns to Lookingglass with gorgeous, dream-like circus sequences in the background that emphasize the longing of its two main female characters: Louisa, the daughter of a utilitarian-style school superintendent, Mr. Gradgrind, and Sissy, who performed in a traveling circus until her father, a clown, left her so she could become educated."
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Jodie Jacobs

Picture This Post - Highly Recommended

"...Stillman and Hernandez-Distasi utilize the choreography not only to represent the circus acts, but also to add life to moments of fantasy and imagination. When Louisa for example is watching a fire burn in her fireplace, the audience sees Anderson dance in the air behind her. Lighting Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge fills the stage with deep red lighting, and when combined with the use of red silks for Anderson's routine, the stage picture is absolutely gorgeous."
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Lauren Katz

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   This show has been Jeff Recommended*

*The designation of "Jeff Recommended" is given to a production when at least ONE ELEMENT of the show was deemed outstanding by the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee.

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