Review: Lifeline’s “Busman’s Honeymoon”

The mystery stew of Busman’s Honeymoon

review by Paige Listerud

Following an explosion in the chimney, Lord Peter Wimsey (Peter Greenberg; right) enjoys a laugh at the expense of Bunter (Phil Timberlake; left; soot-smudged face), in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Busman’s Honeymoon,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Dorothy L. SayersFans 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.

Wedding bells have finally rung for amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey (Peter Greenberg, left) and novelist Harriet Vane (Jenifer Tyler, right), but their quiet, country honeymoon is disrupted by a body found in the wine cellar, in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Busman’s Honeymoon,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, directed by Paul S. Homquist, based on the classic mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers 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.

Bunter (Phil Timberlake; left foreground; holding teacup) offers a toast to his employers, Lord Peter Wimsey (Peter Greenberg; center background) and Harriet Vane (Jenifer Tyler; right background; white dress), on their wedding night, in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Busman’s Honeymoon,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers 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.

Lord Peter Wimsey (Peter Greenberg; left; standing on chair) expresses his joy at finally being wed to Harriet Vane (Jenifer Tyler; right), in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Busman’s Honeymoon,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers.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.

Rating: «««

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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Press Release

Lifeline Theatre Presents Fourth World Premiere

Dorothy L. Sayers’ Adaptation “Busman’s Honeymoon” Reuniting Award-Winning Writing and Acting Team

Lifeline Theatre concludes its 26th anniversary MainStage season with the world premiere adaptation of Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Busman’s Honeymoon,” adapted by Lifeline ensemble member Frances Limoncelli, and directed by Lifeline ensemble member Paul S. Holmquist. Wedding bells have finally rung for amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey and novelist Harriet Vane. But their quiet, country honeymoon becomes a farce full of eccentric locals, exploding chimneys and even a body found in the wine cellar. This inauspicious beginning begs the question – when life gets in the way, can love persevere? Lifeline ensemble members Peter Greenberg and Jenifer Tyler reprise their roles as Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in this sequel to “Gaudy Night,” which premiered at Lifeline Theatre in 2006. The show runs about two and a half hours with one intermission, and copies of the book will be on sale in the lobby.

Lifeline has produced three previous world premiere stage adaptations of Sayers’ Wimsey books – “Gaudy Night” in 2006, “Strong Poison” in 2004, and “Whose Body?” in 2002. Limoncelli adapted all three productions, and “Gaudy Night,” and “Strong Poison” garnered Non-Equity Jeff Awards for New Adaptation. Greenberg received an After Dark Award for Outstanding Performance for his portrayal of Wimsey in “Strong Poison,” and both he and Tyler were nominated for Jeff Awards for their performances in “Gaudy Night.” Holmquist recently directed Lifeline’s adaptation of “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” which won five 2008 Non-Equity Jeff Awards, including Best Production-Play.

WHERE: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, IL 60626Parking available (street and lot – see below); CTA accessible (Red Line Morse stop/buses)Free designated parking lot west of the theatre at the NE corner of Morse and Ravenswood with free shuttle service before and after the show.  Handicapped accessible

WHEN: Press opening on Monday, May 11, 2009, at 7:30 p.m. (media also invited to final preview on Sunday, May 10, 2009, at 4 p.m.) Closes on June 21, 2009

Runs Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 4 p.m. (please note that Thursdays are added on this production). Previews on Fridays, May 1 and 8, 2009, at 7:30 p.m. (no Thursday shows during previews); Saturdays, May 2 and 9, 2009, at 8 p.m. (no 4 p.m. Saturday shows during previews); Sundays, May 3 and 10, 2009, at 4 p.m.

FOR TICKETS: Publish this number – 773-761-4477; HotTix

$30 for regular single tickets , $20 for previews, $25 for seniors, $15 for students (with ID) and rush tickets (half hour before, subject to availability), $10 for industry on first preview weekend

Group rates for 12 or more available upon request.

Rogers Park Theatre Flex Pass at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/42048

STAFF: Ensemble members Frances Limoncelli (Adaptor) and Paul S. Holmquist (Director),

with guest artists Mary Griswold (Scenic Design), Brett Masteller (Sound Design), Joanna Melville (Costume Design), Seth Reinick (Lighting Design), LaRonika Thomas (Dramaturg), Jenniffer Thusing (Properties Design), and Kim Percell (Stage Manager).

CAST: Ensemble members Peter Greenberg (Lord Peter Wimsey), James E. Grote (Mr. Puffet), Robert Kauzlaric (Frank Crutchley), Phil Timberlake (Bunter), and Jenifer Tyler (Harriet Vane), with guest artists Adam Breske (Constable Sellon), Kate Harris (Miss Twitterton), Millicent Hurley (Mrs. Ruddle), Paul Myers (Rev. Goodacre), Will Schutz (Superintendent Kirk) and Christopher M. Walsh (Mr. MacBride).

NEXT: KidSeries production of “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” runs March 14–May 3, 2009.

The 8th Annual Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival will run August 22-23, 2009, and takes place on 6900 – 7000 North Glenwood Avenue (between Farwell and Lunt), and the 1400 block of Morse Avenue, steps from the Morse Ave stop on the CTA Red Line, with free parking nearby. This popular Northside festival features arts and crafts, theater, music, food and drink for the whole family on the brick streets of historic Rogers Park. More details will be available later at 773-262-3790 and www.rogerspark.com

Lifeline Theatre’s 27th anniversary, 2009-10 season, is slated to be announced in February 2009.

INFO: General theatre info, 773-761-4477, www.lifelinetheatre.com Marketing info, Robert Kauzlaric, Marketing Director, 773-761-4477 x704, rob@lifelinetheatre.com

Lifeline Theatre’s programs are partially supported by The Albert Pick, Jr. Fund; Alphawood Foundation; The Arts Work Fund; Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; The Chicago Community Trust; CityArts 3 grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs; Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation; The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust; Lloyd A. Fry Foundation; The Grover Hermann Foundation; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; Mayer and Morris Kaplan Family Foundation; MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture and the Prince Charitable Trust; The Polk Bros. Foundation; S&C Foundation; and the annual support of businesses and individuals.

MISSION: Now in its 26th season, Lifeline Theatre is known for specializing in original literary adaptations. Its ensemble of artists uses imaginative, unconventional staging to portray sprawling stories in an intimate space. Lifeline is committed to promoting the arts in its Rogers Park neighborhood and is an anchor of the Glenwood Avenue Arts District. We aspire to create art that is relevant to our culturally diverse, increasingly youthful neighborhood. Lifeline Theatre – Big Stories, Up Close.

7 Responses

  1. Purely a sartorial point, although followers of Lord Peter’s adventures will know very well that sartorial matters were of great importance.

    Had Bunter seen Lord Peter apparelled thus on his wedding day I feel sure he might well have murdered him, or at least resigned which would be tantamount to the same thing.

    And that hat! Dear me…

  2. It sees a little superfluous to adapt for the stage a novel which was itself an adaptation of a original stage play by Miss Sayers herself….

    And – oh my! That hat!

    • you mean, this play is an apaptation of book adaptation of a play? talk about vicious circle. so now there needs to be a book adaptation of the adapted play, right?

  3. Yes, Mary – shocking, first for its “design” and second for the fact that Lord Peter would wear his hat whilst standing next to his bride on such an occasion.

    And why did Bunter permit him to be married in his dinner-jacket? He would of course have been married in a morning coat, with silk hat.

    • I seem to remember that the delivery of Lord Peter’s silk hat to Talboys, by post, in time for a funeral fully three days after the wedding, is a feature of the book.

      Of course, far more importantly, Harriet was married in gold, not white – an elegant concession that she had a very public past, and was not coming to the altar as a blushing virgin.

      It may seem a recherche detail, but to fail to understand why Harriet could not wear white is to misunderstand the very nature of the love story at the heart of this story.

  4. Yes Mary,

    Whilst I do not have my copy to hand, I recall that Harriet chose a coloured wedding dress for the reasons you mention.

    And of course your conclusion is absolutely correct. I wonder of those responsible had read all the necessary episodes in the story of the romance.

    Meanwhile that picture at the top of the page, with Bunter covered in soot and “Wimsey” laughing like an oik – aaarrgghh – he isn’t even wearing his tie: impossible. No wonder Bunter looks fed up.

    Hair colour’s wrong and the hair was not cut at Trumper’s either!

    I should go out more I think!

  5. […] Honeymoon – Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★) Death of a Salesman – Raven Theatre (review ★★★½) Killer Joe – Profiles Theatre […]

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