Tag: John Hildreth
A hopping fantasy adventure
|Lifeline Theatre presents|
|Adapted by John Hildreth
from book by Richard Adams
Directed by Katie McLean Hainsworth
Original music by Mikhail Fiksel
at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N Glenwood (map)
through June 19 | tickets: $20-$35 | more info
Reviewed by Jason Rost
Having not read Richard Adams’ critically acclaimed 1972 novel, “Watership Down”, I was a little concerned about getting lost with the mythology in Lifeline Theatre’s new adaptation, just judging by the length of the novel and how much would need to be condensed. While the world of rabbit gods and legends with names like Frith and El-ahrairah can be a little much to take in at first, John Hildreth’s stage adaptation doesn’t take long to captivate as you escape into this world. If you are the type who found no pleasure in any of the “Lord of the Rings” films, or just can’t get past the idea of humans playing rabbits (mostly without the pointy ears), then this fanciful tale may not be for you. However, if you can allow your imagination to escape in director Katie McLean Hainsworth’s smart, physical, and visually exciting (yet never over the top in spectacle) production, then you’re in for a fun adventure.
Hildreth’s adaptation, as with any good literary adaptation, strives to stay true to the core heart of the book while ensuring that the action on stage is constantly moving the story forward remaining compelling to watch. Hildreth begins Adams’ tale with Fiver (Scott T. Barsotti), a young rabbit who has clairvoyant abilities. He senses destruction coming to this particular rabbit warren (stemming from human intervention). He confides this information to his brother Hazel (Paul S. Holmquist) and they inform the Chief Rabbit of the warren (played with unpredictable eccentricity by Matt Kahler). After the Chief Rabbit ignores Fiver’s warnings, Hazel makes the decision to put together a band of fellow rabbits from the warren and venture out in search of a new home safe from danger. With the help of rabbits such as Blackberry (a perfectly cast Chris Daley), an extremely intelligent rabbit (in a modern context very aptly named), and Bigwig (a strong and complex performance by Christopher M. Walsh), who has the brawn of the group.
Throughout their journey they meet new friends, enemies and obstacles before they ultimately reach their destination of an ideal new home called Watership Down. It is the Lincoln Park condo of rabbit fields, luxury rabbit living with all the amenities. The only issue for their survival is that this troop is all male. They need female rabbits in their warren if they hope to thrive. With the assistance of a wounded gull they help heal, Kehaar (a bold scene-stealing performance by Jesse Manson), they discover female rabbits at a nearby farm in captivity. They manage to bring back one, Clover (a charming Chelsea Paice).
The other expedition proves to be much more treacherous as Bigwig goes undercover in what’s essentially a totalitarian rabbit warren where the females are enslaved and utilized strictly for breeding. Hazel and the gang lead a rescue mission to save the females and ultimately defend their new warren against General Woundwart (a deliciously evil Dave Skvarla) and his fascist army of scar marked rabbits. Hildreth also finds time to integrate scenes involving El-ahrairah (also played by Holmquist), the folk-hero prince of rabbits who characterizes all of the virtues rabbits aspire to. While intriguing, the jumps to these scenes occasionally take the air out of the action. All the while, the audience is free to connect the themes and motifs of the story to a multitude of religious and historical parallels including Christianity, WWII and the founding of Rome including the rape of the Sabine women (pretty thought-provoking for a tale about bunnies).
Hainsworth’s direction keeps things rather simple by choosing to avoid transforming the actors fully into rabbits, and instead focuses on the physicality. At times, she does have some difficulty grappling with stage pictures when the majority of the ensemble is on stage in this compact space. Also, the opening pacing drags slightly but that is coupled with the simple fact that there’s a lot of mythology being thrown at the audience in the initial scenes of Hildreth’s script.
In his double duty as movement designer, Holmquist helps create varied and fascinating choices in the physical performances of the ensemble. Richard Gilbert and Dave Gregory of R & D Choreography enhance the production greatly with their acrobatic and theatrical violence design. Matt Engle is a standout in his dynamic fights. Wenhai Ma’s set creates some excellent levels and provides a good playground for the actors to play scenes in various locations including into the audience. Joanna Iwanicka’s puppet and mask design echoes the recent Broadway Equus, but is entirely appropriate and meshes well with Hainworth’s minimal concept. Her video design provides some gorgeous, yet not too distracting abstract landscapes, however the glowing orb of the god Frith is perhaps a little too makeshift and underwhelming.
Watership Down is a faithful adaptation fit perfectly for the Lifeline Theatre aesthetic. It could certainly have gone in a more fanciful and spectacular direction (imagine a stage full of Easter bunny suits), but Hainsworth’s concept along with Aly Renee Amidei’s contemporary costumes (the farm rabbits’ preppy clothing is a gas) keeps the characters and themes of the story relatable and grounded for us human observers. This certainly requires your mind to fill in some gaps in the imagery, but for the willing audience member, the effort is well worth the journey in the end. With a dedicated and creative ensemble tackling this largely fascinating adaptation, I think it’s safe to say, “Lifeline has done it again.”
Lifeline Theatre presents Watership Down, running April 29—June 19, 2011 at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. (free parking and shuttle). Regular performance times are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets are $35 for regular single tickets on Saturdays and Sundays, $32 for regular single tickets on Thursdays and Fridays, $27 for seniors, $20 for students, and $20 rush tickets. Tickets may be purchased at the Lifeline Theatre Box Office, 773.761.4477, or by visiting www.lifelinetheatre.com.
Blago spoof still funny, if more painful
|The Second City presents|
|Rod Blagojevich Superstar|
|Book by Ed Furman, songs by T.J. Shanoff
Directed by Matt Hovde
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights (map)
Through Sept. 18 | Tickets: $28.50–$33.50 | more info
Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
The jury’s still out on the Rod Blagojevich trial, but the verdict on Rod Blagojevich Superstar is "guilty."
No one yukking it up it in the audience at The Second City’s remount of their clever 2009 hit, now at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, could have had any doubt that the whole silly story of our big-haired, big headed, impeached governor is all too painfully true.
Blago and Company are much funnier than our previous crooked gubernatorial band, poor old George Ryan and his Inept GOP Grafters, who barely caught any comedy coverage at all, but their antics have been so over the top that it takes some doing to turn them into bigger buffoons than they made themselves.
The mini-musical doesn’t provide any answers to important questions like, "How come we keep electing such losers?" but confines itself to chronicling the career of the not-too-bright, Serbian-American "scrapper" from the Northwest Side who gets a party-school law degree, meets and marries the foul-mouthed daughter of a powerful Chicago alderman and rides the well-greased Illinois machine all the way to the top.
Joey Bland — in a remarkable wig — and Lori McClain ably reprise their roles as those already larger-than-life characters, Rod and Patti Blagojevich, supported by Dunbar Dicks doubling as Patti’s now-estranged dad, Ald. Dick Mell (D-33rd), and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald; Lauren Dowden as Ill. Attorney General Lisa Madigan; and John Hildreth in a hilariously restrained take on now-Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.).
Even as parodies go, this is no great musical. The best song is the opening nod to "Jesus Christ Superstar," which asks, "Are you as nuts as we think you are?" Other numbers take off on tunes from such musicals as "Godspell," "Pippin" and "The Wiz," but the music just supports the japes. None of the cast are notable singers, but they belt out the lampooning lyrics clearly enough for comedy’s sake. "Pay to Play" might just as well be the official state song.
Laughable as it is to those who’ve been following along, you do need some state-of-Illinois savvy to get all the jokes. If the name "Tony Rezko" means nothing to you, you might have to do some homework before the show. On the other hand, if you’re hep to the whole Blago megillah, you’ve heard a lot of these jokes before. They’re still funny, but I can’t help but think that this revival is a bit like beating a dead donkey.
When "Superstar" premiered last year, Blagojevich himself appeared onstage to open the show. There’s just no way they can top that.
The play has not been changed to reflect any current events, so the cast has added on some post-show improv games in which the audience can ask "Rod" questions and suggest additional "crimes" he might have committed (as if 24 counts weren’t enough!). Like all such shticks, it’s only as good as the audience’s idea, which on opening night wasn’t very. Even with the extras, it’s all over in about an hour and a quarter. So much for our first Democratic governor in 30 years. You have to laugh. Or cry.
Note: As educational as this might be for the kids, the language is extremely uncensored.
Lifeline creates an all-hands-on-deck winner
Lifeline Theatre presents:
reviewed by Catey Sullivan
“There are two kinds of men in the world, ” the impeccably honest innkeeper Mr. Hawkins impresses upon his impressionable young son Jim early on in Treasure Island. “There are decent, God-fearing men who honor God, King and Country.” And here, the good father stops in a fraught pause worthy of Pinter before darkly concluding: “And pirates.”
The moment loses much of its impact on the page, but on stage it captures the marvelous duality of John Hildreth’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s coming-of-age-with-pirates classic. On the one hand, this is a violent and sobering story thick with casual, brutal killing and unbridled greed. On the other hand, it’s rich with wry humor, even if that humor is often as black as Blackbeard’s beard.
Directed by Robert Kauzlaric, Treasure Island is a complex adventure that skimps on neither bloodshed nor labyrinthine plot details. Although older children may well find the production thrilling, this is not children’s theater – the stabbings, shootings, stranglings and other assorted murderous goings-on are staged with nightmarish impact. (An early bloodletting scene that looks wincingly real turns out to be only the amuse bouche of the evening.) Moreover, Stevenson’s story sometimes seems to have as many threads as the massive ship’s rigging that stretches in great, ropey arms from stage floor to flyspace. As Jim Hawkins’ allegiances shift from pirates to decent men and back again, you’ll be forgiven if you start to feel that you’re watching an elaborate sort of ping-pong game between scurvy rapscallions and proper British gentlemen. The primary flaw in Hildreth’s adaptation is that characters sometimes get lost amid the plot’s complexities. Amid flashbacks, cannon blasts, and hordes of seamen both jolly and evil, it’s not hard to lose track of who’s who among treasure seekers.
The glorious exception – and lynchpin of this able-bodied adventure – is Sean Sinitski. If there’s a Chicago actor better suited to play the uni-ped antihero Long John Silver, well, we’ll eat a fried parrot stuffed with counterfeit doubloons and basted with rancid rum for Sunday dinner. Young Master Hawkins (Warren Weber, in a solid, if somewhat distant performance) might be the moral center of the story, but Sinitski’s Long John is its moral compass. And a fascinating, conflicted compass he is indeed. Stumping along on prosthetic designer David Rende’s marvelously realized peg leg, Sinitski is a father figure of surprising and unconventional virtue. There is indeed honor among thieves, or pirates as the case may be, as decent men and scalliwags alike enlist Jim’s help in recovering the long lost treasure of the late, unlamented Captain Flint.
The supporting cast is an exemplary ensemble. Kauzlaric accomplishes that signature Lifeline feat of making 10 actors seem like dozens, filling the two hours stage traffic with an epic array of buccaneering rascals and proper Brits. Chief among equals: Christopher Walsh as the rum-and-rickets-infused Billy Bones, a rogue whose “thundering apoplexy” proves the catalyst for the story’s rollicking treasure hunt. Also notable is John Ferrick’s Squire Trelawney, an imperious fusspot who manages to keep his wig perfectly powdered even while under siege in the torrid climes of a tropical isle. Chris Hainsworth’s villainous Israel Hands is a fine, blackhearted reprobate while Patrick Blashill’s Dr. Livesey is a suitably multi-layered good guy foil to Sinitski’s oceanic outlaw. Sea chanteys play a lively part in creating the on-stage community, and for that, Andy Hansen’s original music and sound design should be applauded.
Set designer Alan Donahue (with the atmospheric assistance of Kevin D. Gawley’s lighting design) outdoes himself, creating a wonderfully flexible world of ropes and planks and pulleys that easily shifts from ship to shore. As for all the brawling inherent to any story involving pirates, fight director Geoff Coates creates all-hands-on-deck fisticuffs of skull-thumping veracity.
In all, it’s been a cracking fine year for Robert Louis Stevenson: Lifeline’s Treasure Island is the second world premiere adaptation of the tale this season. (A musical version, penned by former Chicagoans Curt Dale Clark and his husband Marc Robin, debuted at Indianapolis’ Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre in April.) The book can be a tough read – Stevenson’s speech patterns might not flow so easily to those used to the 21st century vernacular. A trip to Lifeline will make it abundantly clear just why the story is a classic.
Treasure Island continues through Nov. 1 at Lifeline Theatre, 6901 Glenwood. Tickets are $30, $25 seniors, $15 students and rush tickets. For more information, call 773/761-4477 or go to www.lifelinetheatre.com
Allison Cain Joins Lifeline Theatre as Managing Director
Lifeline Theatre welcomed Allison Cain as their new Managing Director starting March 24, 2009. In this fulltime, on-site position, Cain will be responsible for all the theatre’s non-artistic functions, including operations, finance, marketing and strategic planning, and hsave oversight of all development and fundraising. Together with Artistic Director Dorothy Milne, Cain will continue to work on the ensemble’s 26th anniversary, 2008-2009 season, which will feature the “Mystery3” (or “Mystery Cubed”) benefit with Sara Paretsky on April 16 at the Chicago Cultural Center, and concludes with the world premiere adaptation of Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Busman’s Honeymoon,” running May 1–June 21, 2009. Lifeline Theatre is also a member of the community partnership that will present this summer’s Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest (August 22–23, GlenwoodAve.org). The non-profit’s 2009–2010 season begins with two world premiere stage adaptations – the MainStage production “Treasure Island” (running September 11–November 1, 2009) , and the KidSeries musical “Dooby Dooby Moo” (running October 17–December 6, 2009).
From 2001-2008, Cain was Factory Theater’s Executive Director (where she remains an ensemble member), and was Artistic Director of Studio 108 from 1991–1998. She received her training at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and at Chicago’s Columbia College, and, since 1990, has worked almost exclusively on new work in Los Angeles, Connecticut, and Scotland, in addition to Chicago. Lifeline audiences will recognize Cain from her work as an actor in the MainStage productions of “Johnny Tremain,” “Crossing California,” “The Mark of Zorro,” and “Mariette in Ecstasy,” as well as in numerous productions over the past 17 years with Factory and other Chicagoland theaters. Cain had been concurrently working in the corporate world for the past 25 years, and for 13 of them as a Human Resources professional. She said, “I am thrilled to make the full-time transition to the not-for-profit theater world, and remain committed to the development and production of new works.”