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84, Charing Cross Road

Given the decaying state of education and reading habits in America, there are few theatres that could successfully stage a play about the joys of literary erudition. But Germinal Stage Denver boasts a dedicated list of season subscribers who appreciate artistic director Ed Baierlein's penchant for literature as theatre.

Following his recent successful adaptation from Joyce's Ulysses, Baierlein begins GSD's 31st season with 84, Charing Cross Road, based on the letters between Helene Hanff, a New York writer, and Frank Doel, a book trader at Marks & Co. of London.

Performed on a double-tiered stage, with Helene's apartment in the background and Frank's office in the foreground, the story showcases the friendship and genuine fondness that develops between them from what begins a business correspondence concerning antiquarian books.

In addition to discussions of literary tastes and book collecting, we follow the arc of Hanff's career—from script reader for film studios to scriptwriter for television films (later she became a regular contributor to Harper's Bazaar and The New Yorker)—as well as the personal challenges faced by Frank and his co-workers.

Photo of Sally Diamond as Helene Hanff
Sallie Diamond as Helene Hanff
Covering a period of twenty years, from 1949 to Frank's untimely death in 1968, with a brief epilogue that jumps ahead to 1971, James Roose-Evans' script, based on Hanff's book, subtly blends examinations of art, commerce, and human relationships, setting them against the starkly contrasting landscapes of post-war American prosperity and British rationing.

Sallie Diamond brings a quirky, winsome quality to Helene, sliding from eccentric Manhattan apartment dweller to refined wordsmith and rare book aficionado to guardian angel in the space between sentences.

Photo of Jenny MacDonald as Cecily and Frederic J. Lewis as Frank
Jenny MacDonald as Cecily
and Frederic J. Lewis as Frank
Frederic J. Lewis as Frank, holds a well-mannered tension between English propriety and heartfelt concern, revealing emotional details in the nuances of his facial expressions and vocal modulations.

Though Helene and Frank never meet in person, and though Diamond and Lewis never address one another directly, the two actors build a connection that incrementally raises the emotional stakes of the drama, turning an epistolary conversation into a meaningful and, ultimately, bittersweet story.
Photo of Heather Day (Megan), Jenny MacDonald (Cecily), Todd Webster (Bill), and Frederic J. Lewis (Frank)
(L to R) Heather Day (Megan),
Jenny MacDonald (Cecily),
Todd Webster (Bill),
and Frederic J. Lewis (Frank)

Bringing alive the atmosphere at Marks & Co.'s London headquarters are Jenny MacDonald, in a spirited performance as Cecily, Heather Day's luminescent Megan, and a circumspect Todd Webster as Bill. Chip Winn Wells turns a couple of curious cameos as Maxine and Mrs. Todd.

With this well-matched ensemble and literary allusions as far-flung as Horace, John Donne, and Isaac Walton, Germinal Stage Denver's 84, Charing Cross Road is sure to charm bibliophile and theatergoer alike.

Bob Bows

 

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