It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Most of us have read or heard those lines before–in a high school or college literature class, perhaps?
I can honestly say I didn’t remember anything about the story other than those lines. But last night I had the pleasure of experiencing the Dickens classic tale as a musical at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake, IL. I was simply blown away by the quality production they put on.
By way of full disclosure, my nephew Connor Pils had one of the lead roles as Charles Darnay. Disclosure aside, this production was simply gorgeous. From spot on period costume to simple set design that allowed the music and characters to tell the story, if I wasn’t in a high school auditorium in the far reaches of suburbia I would’ve sworn I was in a theatre right in the middle of downtown Chicago.
For those of you who don’t remember the story, Darnay was the French aristocrat who denounces his evil uncle, the Marquis St. Evermonde, and all the family riches, takes his mother’s maiden name Darnay, and heads to London to be a tutor.
The Marquis vows revenge on his nephew, and plots to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit. Meanwhile, the love story. Charles meets the lovely Lucie Manette, they fall in love, marry and have a daughter.
The plot twists and turns between France and London. Lucie’s father, falsely imprisoned in the Bastille for nearly two decades, was thought to be dead. Lucie gets her father back only to be on the verge of losing her husband to the same fate, only this time for real.
Enter Sydney Carton, the drunken, self-serving lawyer who represented Darnay the first time he was arrested. Carton ultimately finds redemption through Lucie’s kindness, and repays that kindness with the ultimate sacrifice in the end.
For a story filled with such darkness and despair, there are also moments of hope, and love, and the possibility that dreams can come true.
Yes, I adored seeing my nephew up on that stage, hearing those clear, beautiful notes coming from somewhere deep inside him and filling the theatre with glorious music. I appreciated the enormous talent of this young cast and crew, and the hard work and dedication they put in to making this a first-rate production. But what also struck me about it was how perfect a message it was for the times we are living in right now.
In A Tale of Two Cities, there’s darkness and hatred and fear, and division between the aristocracy and the peasant class, the oppressors and the oppressed. Yet there’s hope for a brighter future that takes shape in the form of Charles Darnay, who in spite of his birth into the aristocracy feels a strong sense of justice, morality, and right and wrong. He’s determined to do what he believes is right and good no matter what is going on in the world around him, and hopeful that good wins out in the end.
Similarly, in the world we’re inhabiting today, there’s a darkness that has overtaken many of us. A fear that life as we’ve known it is over. A growing divide between the haves and the have nots, the 1% and the 99. And yet, there remains a glimmer of hope, that if we are good, and kind and true, that we will prevail and all will be right in the world again.
That is the message that I took from last night’s production, from the soul searing chords sung by my nephew and the rest of the cast. Good will prevail. It has to. Doesn’t it?