A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Sometimes story-telling can be too efficient: adapter Laura Eason’s speedy treatment doesn’t do justice to the novel. More condensation than adaptation, this family-oriented show covers nearly 20 years–from 1775 to 1793–in 75 minutes. Coherent as it makes Dickens’s sprawling story of the feckless Sydney Carton’s sacrifice for the woman he loves but lost, Lucie Manette, it reduces this tale of the French Revolution to a treat for multitaskers.

Jessica Thebus’s staging is equally concentrated. With the exception of Niki Prugh as Lucie Manette–she’s too matter-of-fact for the role–the cast members pull more than their weight in this terrible swift show. Wayne Brown as persecuted Dr. Manette, “called to life” after 18 years in the Bastille, delivers the pathos of a promising physician imprisoned for knowing too much. Nigel Patterson is admirable as redoubtable banker Lorry but curiously sports an English accent when no one else bothers with such a detail. Elizabeth Rich breathes damnation as Madame Defarge, though unfortunately her demise falls victim to Eason’s cuts. Brian McCaskill is appropriately stalwart as Charles Darnay, Lucie’s husband, while in the complicated part of Carton, Mark L. Montgomery manages to restore the semisuicidal character’s self-respect–at the foot of the guillotine.