Campus theater opens 'A Tale' without hitch

By Danielle C. Malka

Arizona Daily Wildcat

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times as the University of Arizona theater department prepared for the grand opening of its new Laboratory Theatre and the production of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities."

The new theater is 5,000 square feet, five-sided and similar to a theater-in-the-round, but allows even more flexibility with its second-floor mezzanine and movable wall panels, railings and seating banks, said Jeffrey Warburton, theater arts professor.

"Tale of Two Cities" director Harold Dixon said the Lab Theatre is unique to Tucson and maybe even to the world of theater.

"To the best of my knowledge, there's not another theater exactly like this anywhere," he said.

In addition to the flexibility and style of the theater, Dixon said it is also unique in its size. While most black box theaters seat about 90 people, the Lab Theatre, located in the fine arts complex, can seat up to 400.

But last month the department was still scrambling to smooth out the kinks, waiting with crossed fingers for lighting, seating and stage equipment that Warburton said had been delayed by the university bidding process.

"We're in a state of massive confusion right now, wondering if it's going to get done," Warburton said last month. "But we will be ready for the show to open," he said. "We just have to. We have season subscribers. Whatever it takes, we will do it."

And so they did. The show opened without a hitch last Wednesday as audience members were surrounded by the romantic epic of Dickens' 1859 novel brought to life.

"I chose this play because it seemed like a good one to open the new theater," Dixon said. "It's a big story, larger than life, an epic.

"The action swirls around the audience," Dixon said. "There isn't just one place to look or one point of view to see it from. The play is different for everyone, because audience members see things from a different perspective depending upon where they're sitting," he said. "The action is going on behind people, above them, everywhere," he said.

"A Tale of Two Cities," has traditionally been difficult to stage because of its epic proportion and the number of transitions and time covered in the novel, Dixon said.

The UA version, adapted for stage by Nagel Johnson in 1989, had been done only twice before.

"It's three hours long, but audiences enjoy it because it's different from what they're used to seeing," he said.

"The actors touch every area of the theater," said Julie Mack, lighting designer. "There are really no defined 'actor areas' versus 'audience areas.'

"The actors surround the audience and the audience surrounds the actors," she said.

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