Tag: Paul S. Holmquist
of the Pirate Ghost
Adapted by Scott T. Barsotti
The Count of Monte Cristo
Check for half-price tickets
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.
Lifeline’s world-premiere adaption bedazzles
|Lifeline Theatre presents|
|Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric
Based on book by Wilkie Collins
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist
at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through March 27 | tickets: $32-$35 | more info
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
Disease, suicide, addiction, murder: can a stolen piece of jewelry inflict pain and destruction on a family? Lifeline Theatre presents the world premiere of The Moonstone. Set in the 19th-century, a disreputable army officer steals a diamond during his service in India. He wills the cursed sacred stone to Rachel, his niece for her eighteenth birthday. Overnight, the adornment is missing. Who took it? The juggling party crashers from India? The maid just out of prison? One of the cousins? Or Rachel herself?
Within 24-hours, the moonstone changes the shiny, happy home to a dark, suspicious lair. Curses? Or just pure greed? Rachel knows something but refuses to speak. It’s a mystery! The intricate story unfolds from the perspectives of the various characters. It’s like playing a virtual reality game of CLUE except Miss Scarlett’s not talking, Professor Plum is addicted to opium and Mrs. Peacock is a crazy evangelizing Christian. The Moonstone unravels the mystery by pulling hanging strings from everywhere and knitting them together for a warm wrap around.
Playwright Robert Kauzlaric penned the script based on the 19th century epistolary novel by Wilkie Collins. Epistolary refers to a collection of letters. The Moonstone originally ran as a series in Charles Dickens’ magazine. Kauzlaric’s challenge was to take episodic based material and condense it down to one solid play. Although a few details could be eliminated to shorten it, Kauzlaric writes witty narrations that cleverly connect the intrigue together. Scenes are entangled with characters reading from letters. Under the direction of Paul S. Holmquist, the audience is fishing for red herrings. The expedition leads to a theatre under detective-fever quarantine. Who did it?
The cast did do it… marvelously. Keeping the audience engaged and enthralled for a three hour period is a mystery… they solved. The entire ensemble bonds together like a shiny, happy functional family. Sonja Field (Penelope) looks amusingly and adoringly at her father during his charming but lengthy narration. He, Sean Sinitski (Gabriel), affectionately scolds her and greets characters with a warm I-haven’t-seen-you-since-Act-1 hug. The cast is enjoying telling the story! Cody Proctor (Franklin) and Ann Sonneville (Rachel) play out perfectly like a Victorian-era couple trying to get it together. Proctor is the zealous hero-wannabe. Sonneville goes delightfully from morose resignation to boyfriend obsession with one letter. With well-placed hilarity, Kaitlin Byrd (Drusilla Clack) hides religious propaganda while delivering judgmental snipes. Byrd is willfully obtuse to comic heights. She responds to being shunned with an ‘I made a private memorandum to pray for her.’ Big nod out to Byrd also for her trust walk with her cast mates. Shivering sands, indeed!
Lifeline Theatre’s tagline is Big Stories, Up Close. With a stage that actually looks like a ‘Gosford Park’ pop-up book (Scenic designer Ian Zywica), The Moonstone is a perfect winter read. The mystery entices with playful ruse. The story is told from intimate perspectives. And at the end, it’s just a nice, cozy fit.
The Moonstone continues through March 27th, with performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm Running Time: Two hours and fifty minutes includes two intermissions
All photos by Suzanne Plunkett.
‘Wicked’ isn’t the only dark Oz
|Lifeline Theatre presents|
|Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric from the novel by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
Through June 20 | Tickets: $30 | more info
Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
For good-hearted, mild-mannered Richard Mayhew, unlikely hero of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy Neverwhere, now in a world-premiere adaptation at Rogers Park’s always innovative Lifeline Theatre, it’s stumbling on and aiding an injured girl that propels him into a strange new world — London Below – a grimmer, underground version of the city he knows, a place of sewers and magic and people who fell through cracks … and from which there can be no return. Like Wicked, the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel from which the lighter, happier Broadway musical was adapted, Neverwhere, gives us an upended and blackly humorous view of a familiar place.
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist, Kauzlaric’s adaptation, ten years in the making, sticks closely to Gaiman’s 1996 novel, which was in turn based on a teleplay Gaiman did for a BBC miniseries. Gaiman’s storyline leaves unanswered questions, and so does this play, but his creatively imagined world overcomes the hanging threads. Kauzlaric’s trimming removes some of the most gruesome and ugly bits, retaining most of the action.
The hapless Richard (guilelessly portrayed by Robert Kauzlaric, the playwright) journeys through the bizarre and deadly London Below with the hunted girl, Lady Door (plucky Katie McLean), and her companions, the dodgy, sardonic Marquis de Carabas (a wonderfully dry and laconic Chris Hainsworth) and the enigmatic bodyguard Hunter (Kyra Morris, in fighting trim). They’re off to see the angel Islington (somewhat over-deliberately played by Phil Timberlake) in an effort to find out who ordered Door’s whole family murdered and how Richard can, like Dorothy, go home again. The wizard … er, angel … sends them on a quest to bring back a mysterious key.
Lifeline does its usual beautifully inventive job of bringing the written word to the stage, with just a few minor flaws. Here and there, unexplained lines leftover from the book may be puzzling to those who haven’t read it. Mikhail Fiksel‘s eerie original music fits the mood quite well, but in several places underlying music or sound-effects distract from the dialogue. A few longish monologues slow the action (and add up to a 2½-hour-long production).
Alan Donahue’s multi-level set, full of doors and tunnels and ladders, goes a long way toward evoking the forbidding London Below, aided by puppets created by Kimberly G. Morris and rich performances from Patrick Blashill, Christopher M. Walsh and Elise Kauzlaric as a series of creepy, colorful, underworld characters. Sean Sinitski is spine-chillingly funny as the loquacious and sinister Mr. Croup.
Gaiman fans should be thrilled, but you needn’t know the novel to enjoy this lively fantasy adventure on stage.
Note: Not suitable for young children. Free parking available in the lot at the northeast corner of Morse and Ravenswood avenues, with free shuttle-van service before and after shows.
A scene from the BBC’s Neverwhere
Neil Gaiman on Neverwhere, Naperville, Feb. 2010
“Under Milk Wood” misses the mark
Caffeine Theatre presents:
Under Milk Wood
by Dylan Thomas
directed by Paul S. Holmquist
thru September 27th (buy tickets)
reviewed by Paige Listerud
Few things irritate more than a production that, however outstanding and finely wrought, still fails to gel, to become the whole it was intended to be. Such is the case with Caffeine Theatre’s production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, now onstage at the Storefront Theater. Director Paul S. Holmquist and the producers have done yeoman work transforming what was originally a radio play into full-scale theatrical storytelling, with 9-member cast taking on 47 roles.
The choice of this DCA space is particularly conducive to their artistic intentions—open and spacious enough, yet still conveying intimate communication between audience and cast. Holmquist’s staging and direction is a marvel of agility and grace in the production’s mercurial shifts from scene to scene. His utilization of the set design’s multiple levels successfully hints at the thin veil between dream and waking life; between hidden desires and performed social roles; between life and death.
How frustrating that, in spite of the cast’s talents, the resulting work lacks cohesion and wholeness through the lack of a uniform narrative performance style. Thomas, when he composed the radio play, constructed its narration with Voice 1 and Voice 2. But Holmquist and company divide the two narrative voices among all 9 cast members. That alone might not have defeated the work. However, the cast is uneven in its presentation of the play’s narrative voice.
By far, Dave Skvarla (Captain Cat) performs this narrative feature best. He owns the stage when he speaks and creates three-dimensional space by the use of his voice alone; Dan Granata (Mr. Mog Edwards) and Elise Kauzlaric (Myfanwy Price) exhibit this ability to a lesser, but still tangible degree. Sadly, that same technique falls off with the rest of the cast, whatever their other abilities.
That is really unfortunate, because the cast creates fully committed and indelible characters. The moments of Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard (Kaitlin Byrd) drilling her two deceased husbands, Mr. Pritchard (Paul Myers) and Mr. Ogmore (Dan Granata), through their daily and nightly routines, lasts long after the show has ended; as do Kate Nawrocki’s saucy Rosie Probert and her Bessie Bighead, ethereally fading into death’s oblivion. Paul Myer’s full range in the use of his body suggests the strains and twists life molds into the human character by time.
Well, for the want of a nail, the battle was lost and for the want of a critical performance technique, the world of this play dissipates into fragilely connected scenes. This leads to what Caffeine Theatre’s production lacks most–a sense of place. A tragically missing element, since Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood as his response to the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here, in his imaginary Welsh town, fecund with dreams and desire, with the power of language alone, he took his stand against total nuclear annihilation.
Also, check out postings and pics from Under Milk Wood rehearsals.
The mystery stew of Busman’s Honeymoon
review by Paige Listerud
Fans of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, by Dorothy L. Sayers, are sure to be delighted by the well-produced world premiere of Busman’s Honeymoon, adapted by Frances Limoncelli and directed by Paul S. Holmquist, both Jeff Award-winning ensemble members of Lifeline Theatre. This is the fourth in a line of Sayer’s Wimsey novels that Limoncelli has adapted for the stage at Lifeline; preceded by Gaudy Night in 2006, Strong Poison in 2004, and Whose Body in 2002. Peter Greenberg and Jenifer Tyler respectively reprise their roles as Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane from Gaudy Night, for which they both received Jeff nominations.
Famous crime sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey and equally famous mystery novelist Harriet Vane escape the glare of publicity by eloping to their newly-purchased English country house. There, with the aid of Lord Wimsey’s long-suffering, perfectionist butler, Bunter, they amiably manage the blighted amenities of their run-down home and the intrusions of eccentric locals on their honeymoon, until murder disturbs everyone’s peace. Embroiling themselves in the mystery threatens their relationship, as much as the crime and their celebrity disrupt the English countryside.
This production is filled with nostalgia, not just for Sayers’ characters in particular, but also for all those crime-solving couples from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Elegant pairings of men and women who are just as likely to toss off a witticism as detect an overlooked clue, all while keeping the romance between them frothy and bubbling. Limoncelli’s adaptation, in accordance with Sayers’ novel, attempts to take Lord and Lady Wimsey to deeper levels. They struggle with intimacy, with keeping their integrity, with staying together while forces pull them apart, and withstand the darkness of bringing someone to execution, according with the law of the land.
There is much here that fans, familiar with both Sayers’ books and/or Lifeline’s series of adaptations, will thoroughly enjoy. The scenes of the rapacious press on Wimsey’s heels are fun and precise in their execution. The scene of the villagers bursting into song creates a much-needed sense of community. The vicar with his blunderbuss is a riot. The rant that Bunter (Phil Timberlake) breaks into over the disturbance of his lord’s delicate port is precious, as is the enmity that it sets up between him and Mrs. Ruddle (Millicent Hurley) from thereon.
People unfamiliar with this series will find enough that detracts from the complete enjoyment of the play, despite the yeoman-like work of the cast and crew.
It takes a deft hand, in writing or in acting, to shift from clever, lighthearted sleuthing to more serious melodrama without a hitch. The challenge is always to create a seamless whole in the characters’ progression, while building and maintaining suspense in resolving the murder.
Here is where one threatens to overweigh the other. Here is when the necessary introduction of stock mystery characters threatens to distract from the deeper development of the central love relationship on stage. Here is where one wonders whether too much is being crushed into an already 21/2 hour-long production. Here one questions whether another form, similar to a mystery television series, would better serve.
What cannot be fulfilled through the structure of the play must be carried by the actor’s performances. Let it just be said that, across the board, these are stock provincial English characters. It is harder to play a stock character than one realistically written. So much of the actor’s performance relies on what is not contained in the script, which is by nature stereotypical, at least in such a predictable genre as mystery. The actor must make three-dimensional a two-dimensional and cliché figure, yet not exceed the boundaries of the character.
Still, these characters must be inhabited in order to keep them from seeming predictable or trite. While the entire cast is technically excellent and uniformly pulls off dialect, character intentions, and complex scene changes with aplomb, nothing replaces the performance that makes one believe that an actor is the gardener, is the jilted old maid, is the vicar, etc.
It’s very possible that in the course of the run each of the cast members will grow deeper connections to their characters and make them seem less superficial. It’s also quite likely that Greenberg and Tyler will better negotiate their characters’ shift between sleuthing with elegant charm to the graver, more precarious pursuit of truth and love.
Info: Previews beginning Friday, May 1, 2009, opening Monday, May 11, 2009, and running until June 21, 2009. Lifeline Theatre is located at 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. Chicago, IL 60626. For tickets call the box office at 773-761-4477 or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com. Photos by Suzanne Plunkett.
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