REVIEW: Mrs. Caliban (Lifeline Theatre)

Forbidden love and the rebirth of spirit


Lifeline Theatre presents:

Mrs. Caliban

Based on the novel by Rachel Ingalls
Adapted for the stage by Frances Limoncelli
directed by Ann Boyd
through March 28th (more info)

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Magical Realism, the melding of fable with cold hard reality, is a term not often heard in mainstream American culture. Fortunately. we find magical realism beautifully rendered in Lifeline Theatre new production of Mrs. Caliban.

MrsCaliban1_web As the play opens, the Calibans go through a stultifying ritual of getting on with the day. Fred communicates with wife Dorothy by checklist. There are no loving words or affectionate pecks on the cheek. Fred can barely look Dorothy in the eye as he stumbles over the worn excuse for those working late –  “I’ll call” – before walking out the door. Dorothy seems to inhale the indifference as she closes the door and forges ahead with her household tasks, habitually turning on the radio; losing herself in the world of music, news and the American “fables” called commercials.

A chirpy announcer is heard extolling the virtues of dishwashing liquid and reasoning that a hot TV dinner can corral a straying husband. Dorothy loses herself in the music and mocks the commercials with interpretive dance. (Brenda Barrie , playing the role of Dorothy, is an ethereal delight to watch – exuding a sprite-like joy and wonder in the character.) Dorothy has lost most of the joy in her waking life and her surroundings are stark and white. Matching the minimalistic set-design, she dresses in varying hues of beige – literally fading into the background. Mrs. Caliban’s only human contact involves forays to the supermarket and coffee with her friend Estelle.

Estelle is literally a siren in red, played by Jenifer Tyler. A divorcee who extols the joys of promiscuity and drinking too much coffee, Tyler gives an edgy performance as a woman who tries to make her fantasies come true through promiscuity and betrayal. What could easily have been a scenery-chewing role, the character of Estelle – as honed by Ms. Tyler – is instead shaded with beauty and vulnerability. Her actions are reprehensible but grounded in insecurity and wanting to be loved.

But this life of ritual and fantasy is starkly interrupted by the appearance of an escaped monster. With menacing tones, the media calls the monster Aquarius Man; warning that he dismembers his victims. The monster appears in Dorothy’s kitchen while she prepares a meal for Fred and his business client. He is a hulking creature played with a man-child flourish by Peter Greenburg. He takes in the scenery and the character of Dorothy with animal senses. Greenburg projects the feeling that all of his senses are heightened, absorbing and then becoming his surroundings as he takes everything in with astonished wonder. The monster’s chemistry with Dorothy is instant and believable.

MrsCaliban1 LR MrsCaliban2 LR

There is a lovely comic rapport established between Dorothy and Aquarius Man. She feeds him vegetables and discovers that his name is Larry. The monster speaks tentatively, literally a foreigner learning a new language. Greenberg uses this technique to such skill that it adds hilarity when he tells Dorothy his real name or when he recoils from alleged vegetarian cornflakes and prefers the taste of the box.

Aquarius Man Larry is the antithesis of husband Fred, played by Dan Granata. Fred has become accustomed to ignoring his wife as anything other than someone to go over the checklist as he exits the house. He has long exited her heart or had any intimacy with Dorothy. Mr. Granata imbues his performance with sadness and guilt. Fred is a philanderer and doesn’t have the capability to connect with anything or anyone. Dorothy knows that Fred is cheating but begins to not to care as her relationship with Larry becomes intimate and then erotic. She listens to him and asks about the world of which he longs to return. He listens to her about the loss of her children and then her marriage.

There is a surprising erotic intensity between Larry and Dorothy. The erotic history of the monster and the damsel in distress goes far back in theatre and literature. Dracula and Mina Harker, Quasimodo and Esmerelda, or the Wolf Man and the Gypsy Girl are but a few examples (not to mention pop culture’s “Beauty and the Beast” or “Shrek”). Larry and Dorothy never actually kiss but rather consume each other through their senses of touch and smell. She caresses his odd green skin and seems to become consumed by the tactile sensation.


This is so much more than a story of interspecies mating. It is a fable of redemption, fate, acceptance, and forgiveness by becoming of love more than in love. Larry is brutally honest with Dorothy about his life and his origins. When he commits what is considered a horrific crime in self-defense, Dorothy is called upon to face her perception of wrong and right. Is it harder to defend Larry because she knows one of the alleged victims? Will she still stand by him and help him get to his native home?These wonderful actors make the questions more than simple romantic flights of fancy.

Special attention must be given to Monica Dionysiou who plays three supporting roles as Estelle’s out of control adolescent daughter Sandra, a pushy saleswoman, and is scary funny as the Supermarket Cheese Majorette. It is a surreal experience that will make you look askance at the sample lady at the market.

Mrs. Caliban” is adapted by Frances Limoncelli from the novel by Rachel Ingalls and directed by Ann Boyd. Ms. Boyd does an exemplary job of bringing archetype and fable into the realm of reality, creating a production void of flat moments or missed beats,.

Brandon Wardell’s lighting add beauty to the action, creating a chiaroscuro effect that enhance the actors without the use of physical props. The silhouette of Larry as he feeds from the energy of the sea was touching and more so when Dorothy becomes one with the sea as well.

“Mrs. Caliban” is an ensemble piece at its best. It is a great theatre experience that leaves the viewer with many things to ponder. I was left wondering about my own fears and presumptions about other beings. Also, it’s a sly and funny indictment of our advertisement-drenched sensibilities. It’s possible that we have all had moments when the box would have tasted better than the contents but let ourselves be deluded into what is supposed to be good or look good by 30 second blurbs.

Take 90 minutes and get a better look at the Lifeline Theatre’s highly-recommended production.

Rating: ★★★★

“Mrs. Caliban” is at the Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. It is accessible by CTA and there is ample parking at the NE corner of Morse and Ravenswood with free shuttle service before and after the show. The play runs Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30PM, Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00PM, and Sundays at 4:00PM, through March 28th. Contact Lifeline at 773-761-4477 or

Mrs. Caliban: Cast & Crew

Feb 5 – March 28, 2010


Brenda Barrie (Dorothy)
Brenda gratefully returns to Lifeline Theatre where she previously portrayed the title role in Mariette in Ecstasy (Joseph Jefferson Nomination: Principal Actress & Ensemble). As an Ensemble Member with BackStage Theatre Company, some of her favorites are Aunt Dan and Lemon, How I Learned to Drive, and Waiting for Lefty (Non-equity Jeff Nomination: Ensemble). Select Chicago credits include: The Ruby Sunrise (Gift Theatre – remounting at Theatre on the Lake in July); Graceland (Profiles); understudying Of Mice and Men (Steppenwolf Theatre – SYA); A Streetcar Named Desire (Metropolis); and Caravaggio (Silk Road Theatre Project). She received her BA in Theatre from the University of Indianapolis and studied theatre at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland.

Monica Dionysiou (Sandra, Majorette)
Monica is making her first appearance on the Lifeline stage. Her Chicago credits include Unsung Stars (Moving Dock Theatre Company); New Anatomies (20% Theatre Company); Be, and a staged reading of Lower Debts (LiveWire Chicago Theatre Company). Other Credits include, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress (Richmond Triangle Players) All My Sons, Anti-bellum: A Reclamation of the Southern Belle, and Balloons and Bondage (Shaffer Street Lab). By day, Monica works as an actor with Chicago-based BOOM TROUPE, bringing quality assemblies to young audiences all around the Chicagoland area. Monica has a BFA in Performance from Virginia Commonwealth University, has studied with the DAH Theatre in Belgrade Serbia, and has trained locally with the Moving Dock Theatre Company.

Dan Granata (Fred)
Dan is pleased to make his Lifeline debut with Mrs. Caliban. He most recently appeared in New Leaf Theatre’s The Man Who Was Thursday and Touch, and as part of the ensemble in Caffeine Theatre’s Under Milk Wood. Other Chicago credits include Raven Theatre (Hedda Gabler, Laughter on the 23rd Floor), Signal Ensemble Theatre  (1776), Open Eye (Trust), and the Right Brain Project (Chalk). Elsewhere in Rogers Park, Dan serves as Managing Director of the side project theatre company.

Peter Greenberg (Larry)
Peter has performed many roles on the Lifeline stage. Some of his favorites include Rochester in Jane Eyre, Lord Peter Wimsey (in four shows), Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days, Tristram in The Talisman Ring, and a sheep. Peter has directed and adapted for the Lifeline stage, and he has acted extensively in regional theater in everything from Shakespeare and Moliere to Neil Simon and Sam Shepard. He also co-founded The Actors Shakespeare Company, a classically-based theater company in Albany, New York.

Jenifer Tyler (Estelle)
Jenifer has been a Lifeline ensemble member since 2001. Most recently she was delighted to make her third appearance as Harriet Vane in Busman’s Honeymoon. Other Lifeline credits include: Mina in Dracula; Lydia in Pride and Prejudice; Kitty in Cotillion; Jane in Jane Eyre (for which she received a Jeff Citation for Outstanding Actress in a Principal Role); Ida/Phyllis in Trust me on This; Bathsheba in Far From the Madding Crowd, and Harriet Vane in both Strong Poison and Gaudy Night. Jenifer also directed The Velveteen Rabbit for Lifeline’s KidSeries.

Mallory Nees (Understudy)
Mallory is a recent graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University. Some favorite roles include Pennywise in Urinetown (dir. Dexter Bullard), Florina in Mad Forest (dir. Carlos Murillo) and Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Before coming to Chicago, Mallory performed at various venues in her home state of Wisconsin as Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Gilda in Design for Living, and Sarah in Spinning Into Butter. Since graduation, she’s worked with a few companies in Chicago, but none as often as Lifeline. This season, she’s been in Lifeline’s KidSeries productions of Dooby Dooby Moo, The Last of the Dragons, and The Blue Shadow. Next up, she’ll appear in The Good Soul of Szechuan at Strawdog Theatre.

Andrew Strenk (Understudy)
Andrew is thrilled to be working with Lifeline in his debut performance. Credits include The Real Thing with St. Sebastian Players, Into The Pool and Margaret Fleming with Blackbird Theatre, where he is also a company member, and most recently BENT with Hubris Productions. This past summer he also filmed a feature with Glass City Films.

Frances Limoncelli (Adaptor)
Frances is proud to be an ensemble member at Lifeline. She has appeared in their productions of Pistols For Two, Precious Bane, Pinocchio, Bunnicula and as the title role in Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. She has also directed several productions at Lifeline including Simple Jim And His Four Fabulous Friends, The Story Of Ferdinand, Miss Bianca, Half Magic, Cooking with Lard, and Queen Lucia: A Musical Romp. As an adaptor she created The Emperor’s Groovy New Clothes and Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch with Queen Lucia’s composer/lyricist George Howe and Lifeline’s popular Dorothy L. Sayers series, including Whose Body?, Strong Poison (Non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Award: New Adaptation), Gaudy Night (Non-Equity Jeff Award: New Adaptation), and Busman’s Honeymoon. Around Chicago she has appeared in Shear Madness at the Blackstone; The House Of Martin Guerre and Cry, The Beloved Country at the Goodman; Master Class at Northlight Theatre; Falsettos at Appletree Theatre; Lifeline’s Pride And Prejudice for Chicago Theatres On The Air to name a few. At Vermont’s Weston Playhouse she has played some of her favorite roles including Mary in Merrily We Roll Along, Emma Goldman in Ragtime, Carrie in Carousel, Fraulien Kost in Cabaret and Mrs. Montgomery in The Heiress. Most recently she directed The Memory of Water for Backstage Theatre Company and Click, Clack, Moo at the Weston Playhouse. Frances graduated from the Boston Conservatory with a BFA in theatre performance and an emphasis in directing.

Ann Boyd (Director)
Ann is a performer, choreographer, director, writer and teacher. Recent production work includes creating an original physical theater performance Coming Home with Freshman at Columbia College; directing the Sweat Girls in Sweatily Ever After; choreographing Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Steppenwolf; performing her solo No Time Like the Present at Finch Gallery; directing Maia Morgan’s solo And now, the octopus for Live Bait Theatre‘s Filet of Solo Festival; directing Arlene Malinowski’s one-woman show Aiming for Sainthood at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn; and performing her original story Naguales at Chicago Public Schools as part of Urban Gateways Touring Program. Ann currently teaches movement for actors at Columbia College Chicago, Solo Performance and a physical approach to text at the University of Chicago. She teaches with Urban Gateways and is influenced, both in her teaching and her craft, by her interdisciplinary background and she draws upon Viewpoints work and constraint-based composition as generative tools.

Stephanie Ehemann (Stage Manager)
Stephanie returns to Lifeline where she previously stage managed Mariette in Ecstasy. Previous SM credits include The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Birthday Party, 1776 (Jeff Award – Best Musical), Fool for Love, Hamlet, The Weir, Closer, She Stoops to Conquer, and Waiting for Godot with Signal Ensemble Theatre, where she is also Managing Director. This spring, she will SM Signal’s production of Aftermath. Other Chicago companies she has worked with include First Folio, Bailiwick and Big Picture Group. Stephanie holds a BA in Theatre and Business from Illinois Wesleyan University.

Josh Horvath (Sound Designer/Original Music)
Lifeline: The Piano Tuner. Off Broadway: Clay (Lincoln Center) Chicago: Ma’ Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Carousel, End Game, Titus Andronicus, Caroline or Change (Court Theatre); Electricidad, Proof, Rock n Roll, Ain’t Misbehavin, The Crowd You’re in With (Goodman Theatre); Taking Care, Jesus Hoped the A’ Train (Steppenwolf); 1984, They All Fall Down, Fedra, Around the World in 80 Days (Lookingglass Theatre); Winesburg, Raising Voices (About Face); Rose and the Rhime (The House Theatre). Regional: Kansas City Rep, Madison Rep, Milwaukee Rep, Great River Shakespeare, Kirk Douglas Theatre, Hartford Stage, Long Wharf, and Milwaukee Shakespeare. Josh has three Joseph Jefferson awards, and LA Weekly nomination, teaches sound for film and theatre at Northwestern University. Recent and upcoming shows: The Long Red Road, The Good Negro, Sins of Sor Juana (Goodman); Venice (Kansas City Rep).

Branimira Ivanova (Costume Designer)
Branimira is a graduate of the University of Connecticut – MFA Costume Design and the International Academy of Design and Technology- BFA in Fashion Design. She is thrilled to be back at Lifeline Theatre, where she designed costumes for Treasure Island, Mariette In Ecstasy, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Mark of Zorro, and Talking it Over. Other recent work includes Little Brother at the Griffin Theatre, Of Mice and Men at Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Talk Radio at Gift Theatre. Other theater companies she has worked with in Chicago are The Gift Theatre Company, City Lit, Emerald City Theatre, Pegasus Players, Infamous Commonwealth Theatre, Bailiwick Repertory, Black Sheep Productions, and dance companies: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance, Breakbone Dance Company and Thodos Dance Company. Out-of-state she has worked with Connecticut Repertory Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Festival (MA) and Miniature Theatre of Chester (MA). Internanionally she has worked with the National Portuguese Ballet and Introdans, Nl. Branimira is a recipient of Certificate for Excellence in Theatre Design by USITT in 2007. Her work was part of the United States National Exhibit at the Prague Quadrennial World Stage Expo in Prague 2007.

Brandon Wardell (Lighting Designer)
Brandon is a freelance Lighting and Scenic Designer in Chicago. He earned his MFA from Northwestern University, teaches at several Universities, and is an Ensemble Member at Adventure Stage Chicago. Recent lighting credits include Aunt Dan and Lemon (BSTC), The Hollow Lands (Steep), On An Average Day (BSTC), The Arab-Israeli Cookbook (Theatre Mir), John & Jen (Appletree), and The Robber Bridegroom (Griffin Theatre). Scenic Designs include Maria’s Field (TUTA), In Arabia We’d All Be Kings (Steep Theatre), Holes (Adventure Stage), Dracula (The Building Stage), and Be More Chill (Griffin Theatre). Teaching credits include Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, The University of Chicago, Illinois Wesleyan University, and North Park University.

Chelsea Warren (Scenic & Properties Designer)
Chelsea is excited to return for her fourth project with Lifeline Theatre, having designed Flight of the Dodo (scenery), The Dirty Cowboy (scenery) and The Piano Tuner (shadow puppets). Other Chicago projects include: production design for Acis & Galatea (Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park Stage), scenery for The Hollowlands (Steep Theatre), costumes for boom (Next Theatre) and Harper Regan (Steep Theatre). International project include: designing the unveiling event Stones/Air (Barossa International Sculpture Park in Southern Australia); sceneography design for Woman In the Dunes (Parisian company, Unikaji residency in Zagreb, Croatia). Chelsea received her MFA in Stage Design from Northwestern University. Upcoming projects include: scenery for A Separate Peace (Steppenwolf) and Ghosts of Treasure Island (Adventure Stage Chicago).

Ian Zywica (Technical Director)
Ian works throughout Chicago as a freelance Scenic Designer and Technical Director. While being the staff Technical Director at Lifeline Theatre, he has also designed and built The Robber Bridegroom (Griffin Theatre); Once On This Island and Miracle on 34th Street (Porchlight Music Theatre); and The Last Barbecue (16th Street Theatre). Upcoming designs include Over the Tavern (Noble Fool Theatre), Into The Woods (Porchlight Music Theatre), and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (The Gift Theatre).

Cortney Hurley (Production Manager)
Cortney is excited to be kicking off her fourth season with Lifeline after working on such productions as The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Mark of Zorro. Previous production management positions include the last three seasons at Strawdog Theatre, Ellen Under Glass with the House Theatre of Chicago, and One False Note with Plasticene. She currently serves as the Production Manager and General Manager at Strawdog Theatre, as well as the Assistant Production Manager at Theater on the Lake since 2004.

One Response

  1. […] Barrie:  Mrs. Caliban – Lifeline Theatre  (review ★★★★) LaNisa Frederick:  The Gimmick -  Pegasus Players (review ★★) Millicent […]

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