Adapted and Directed by Kirk Anderson
Beautiful visuals elevate flimsy adaptation
|TUTA Theatre Chicago presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
TUTA Theatre Chicago always has an excitingly unique vision, and has steadily built up a reputation for exemplary production values. Their latest production and world premiere, The Jewels, is no exception, and has the added bonus of solid acting. However, none of this can sufficiently mask The Jewels’ core issue: its extremely weak script. The Jewels is pretty-to-look-at proof that all the flash in the world can’t make up for a lack of substance.
“Loosely” set in Paris in the 1920s (with at least one glaring anachronism in the dialogue), The Jewels follows government drone Rene Lantin (Layne Manzer) through a life tinged with love, money and greed. Coaxed out on the town by colleague Alfred (Max Lotspeich), Rene meets the luminescent recent city transplant Emily (Carolyn Molloy). Six years later, they’re still ensconced in a happy marriage, but differing interests soon threaten their love. As in, Emily likes dressing up and going to the theater and Rene doesn’t. When an unexpected tragedy occurs, Rene begins to lose his mind, becoming obsessed with the jewels Emily once loved and the money he can gain from them.
According to The Jewels’ press release, the play is adapted from a short story by Guy de Maupassant, who is rarely adapted or produced in the United States. As was the case with last year’s The Birthday Party at Steppenwolf, The Jewels proves that some material goes unproduced for a reason. And literary adaptations can be very tricky. Onstage, the story moves at a glacial pace, feeling much longer than 90 minutes. The ending is odd and abrupt – if not for the blackout, in fact, I wouldn’t have known the play was over.
Anticlimax aside, The Jewels boasts strong production values and some promising direction. Overall, the play gives off a Parisian feel, thanks in large part to music director Wain Parham’s original score, tinkly and old-timey but not twee. Director Kirk Anderson (who also adapted the short story) has opted to have the cast move scenery and props, resulting in lightning-quick transitions that pull the audience right into the moment. The actors also do a bit of movement to illustrate Rene’s daily routines and the magical night when he and Emily first meet. Choreographer Aileen McGroddy does a lovely job of giving these steps a simple, dreamlike quality that nicely complements the music. Izumi Inaba’s costumes are sweetly evocative of days gone by. Standout cast members include leading man Manzer, who can always be counted on for a strong emotional performance; Molloy, joyous and bubbly even when her character is less than substantial; and Dave Belden, in multiple roles including that of a wounded bird. Also, even when her youthful exuberance borders on shrieky, supporting player Lauren Demerath displays serious potential as an actress.
The Jewels is a very pretty production – everything from the beautiful score to the balletic transitions is thoughtful and well-placed. If only the spoken dialogue was so compelling.
The Jewels continues through April 27th at DCASE Storefront Theatre, 66 E. Randolph (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $15, and are available by phone (800-595-4849) or online through Tix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at tutato.com. (Running time: 90 minutes without intermission. Note: recommended for ages 13 and up.)
Photos by Anthony La Penna
Layne Manzer (Rene Lantin), Carolyn Molloy (Emily Dubonnet), Max Lotspeich (Alfred), Dave Belden (Bird), Lauren Demerath (Girl, ensemble), Sean Ewert (Second Jeweler), Jeff Duhigg (Man, ensemble), Molly Bunder (Waitress, ensemble), Ryan Czerwonko (Coal Purveyor, First Jeweler, ensemble), Nicole Tuthill (Wife, ensemble)
behind the scenes
Kirk Anderson (director, adaptor), Wain Parham (original music, music direction), Aileen McGroddy (movement direction), Keith Parham (production design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Thomas Dixon (sound design), Leticia Guillard (prop design), Allison Raynes (stage management), Helen Lattyak (production management), Mel Gill (asst. stage manager), Anthony La Penna (photos)