Costume designer Elsa Hiltner photographed at the Flatiron Arts Building… (Hilary Higgins )
In Lifeline Theatre's "A Tale of Two Cities," the intimacy created between the small audience and even smaller cast of 10 actors means Elsa Hiltner's costumes have a big role to play.
The most striking aspect of the costumes in this rendition of the classic Charles Dickens novel, adapted by Christopher M. Walsh and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, was how natural they seemed -- even with actors playing multiple roles. Though I have not personally experienced Europe in the late 1700s, each character's clothing felt perfect for the period.
Costuming also had a big role in the show's symbolism; especially in comparing Charles Darnay (played by Nicholas Bailey), and Sydney Carton (played by Josh Hambrock). Though the actors played their parts flawlessly, the costumes told part of the story through their differences.
Darnay, the former aristocrat, was dressed in fine, light-colored costumes. His cream-colored jacked featured an impressive trim along the outer edges. Not a hair was out of place, and his perfectly polished shoes shone in the spotlight. This all fell in line with the well-spoken and kind man who hoped to win the heart of Lucie Manette (Maggie Scrantom).
In contrast, Carton, who was constantly intoxicated, unconfident and disheveled, was dressed in darker colors, with vests missing the occasional button and shoes that were well-worn and scuffed at the toes. His hair was a little loose, often pushed back in stressful situation -- like when he realized he might not receive Manette's love. There was also a handy front pocket for flask storage.
The two men ultimately reverse their looks, completing their transformation over the course of the play.
The costumes also explained the class system in revolutionary-era France. Chris Hainsworth's characters were most noticeable in this case. Playing the parts of both the Marquis St. Evremonde and John Barsad, Chris Hainsworth reflected both sides of this coin. Barsad wears fairly simple clothes, though as an English spy he's fancier than the French peasants. As noted by the narrator, John Henry Roberts, the upper class dressed for a ball that never ends, including the Marquis, in shiny silver clothing and a perfectly coiffed wig. Without the change in costume, the differences between Hainsworth's characters would have been muddled.
Nearly every actor bore this same duty, switching from one character to another -- like Sean Sinitski's Dr. Manette becoming Gaspard with a simple change of clothing. Without the incredible work from Hiltner, the transitions may have been more distracting and the story much more confusing.
A Tale of Two Cities at Lifeline Theatre
7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday, through April 13
$40, $20 for students; lifelinetheatre.com
3.5 out of 4 stars