Androcles and the Lion
Staged reading befuddles intriguing Shaw work
|Androcles and the Lion|
Review by Katy Walsh
ShawChicago presents Androcles and the Lion. The Romans like a good game. The coliseum packs the spectators in to watch death by lion. The prey is Christians. When the Christians decide to not fight back, the sport loses its competitive edge. The martyrs are ruining the entertainment value. Caesar doesn’t know what to do. The crowds want a real tournament. But the Christians are becoming pacifists. And a slave is even championing lion rights. In the arena, the lion remembers the slave’s act of kindness. Game over! Androcles and the Lion is a thorny look at the origins of the Roman Catholic Church.
One hundred years ago, Playwright George Bernard Shaw presented a satirical play based on a well-known fable. Shaw’s version cranks up the buffoonery surrounding religious persecution. He also works in animal advocacy. It’s a clever adaptation. ShawChicago, known for its public reading style performances, takes on the farce. Under the direction of Kevin Christopher Fox, the large cast brings voice to the madness. With only a lion mask prop, the talented ensemble takes on the spoof. On one paw, it works. The animated Christian Gray (Androcles) anchors a pro-lion movement. Gray hits the comedic moments as an animal-loving, hen-pecked husband. The cast bring their own interpretation to the humor. It’s definitely funny. But on the other paw, there are 15 parts played by 10 actors in a short amount of time. It’s ambitious! But without the aid of costumes, it can be confusing. (the ladies behind me were quite befuddled!) In addition, minus staged movement, the physical slapstick isn’t actualized. And some jokes go unrealized.
Still, Androcles and the Lion is thought-provoking. I hadn’t connected before the injured lion with Christian-eating lions. I hadn’t thought about the inspirational martyrs choosing not to put on a show for the crowd. And, I had never quite understood the irony of the Christian-hating Rome becoming the Catholic home-based Rome. Androcles and the Lion is worth stepping into the den.
Androcles and the Lion continues through February 27th at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, Mondays at 7pm. Tickets are $12.50-$25, and are available by phone (312-578-7390) or online at BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ShawChicago.org. (Running time: 90 minutes, which includes one intermission)
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