REVIEW: Wuthering Heights (Lifeline Theatre)

 

Gothic gone ghostly

 

 Nelly (Cameron Feagin, right) comforts Cathy (Lindsay Leopold, left), who suffers from tortured visions; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Wuthering Heights,” adapted by Christina Calvit, directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the classic novel by Emily Brontë

   
Lifeline Theatre presents
   
Wuthering Heights
   
Adapted by Christina Calvit
From the novel by Emily Brontë
Directed by Elise Kauzlaric
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
Through October 31   |  
tickets: $20–35  |   more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

In a sense, Emily Brontë’s classic romance is about an anguished love that endures beyond the grave. Despite many gothic elements, it is not, however, a ghost story.

Yet in Lifeline Theatre’s disappointing version of Wuthering Heights, Lindsay Leopold as Cathy Earnshaw, spends way too much time creeping about the stage in a white gown, grasping hands out claw-like, while the rest of the company stands around dismally making "woo-woo" sounds in the background. Where’s the Halloween candy?

Heathcliff (Gregory Isaac, right foreground) is haunted by the memory of his lost love Cathy (Lindsay Leopold, left background); in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Wuthering Heights,” adapted by Christina Calvit, directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the classic novel by Emily Brontë Adaptor Christina Calvit dumps the eminently dispensable Mr. Lockwood, who frames the original story, and leaves all of the narration in the hands of Nelly Dean (the capable Cameron Feagin), who does most of it in the novel, anyway. But Lockwood’s nightmare about Cathy at the start of the book makes it clear that the dead Cathy’s influence is psychological, not supernatural, paving the way for the dying Heathcliff’s visions of her. Here we have a very solid Cathy pounding at the window to get in, over and over again.

Calvit also excises the pious Joseph, removing the whole theme of religious intolerance and hypocrisy that’s in the novel. Even at that, the production runs nearly 2½ hours.

We’re left with the everlasting triangle of the brooding and increasingly dangerous Heathcliff (darkly handsome Gregory Isaac), the highly strung, self-centered Cathy and the prissy Edgar Linton (nicely played by Robert Kauzlaric), and the second-generation repetition of Cathy’s daughter (a straightforward performance by Lucy Carapetyan), Healthcliff’s sickly and selfish son (Nick Vidal) and the degraded Hareton Earnshaw (Christopher Chmelik), here turned into a kind of cringing Gollum.

The deteriorating Hindley Earnshaw (John Henry Roberts), Cathy’s mean and profligate brother, and Healthcliff’s unfortunate wife (Sarah Goeden) get short shrift. The comparison between Earnshaw’s decline at the death of his beloved wife and Heathcliff’s reaction to Cathy’s marriage and subsequent demise is all but buried.

For all their scenes together, we never really see the sensual attraction that so haunts Heathcliff that he spends his life plotting revenge over his lost love, or Cathy to say that Heathcliff is her self. (Which, of course, makes it OK for her to marry another guy.)

WutheringHeights2Calvit juxtaposes the two generations fairly well, but she introduces each character in such a way that audiences are never left in any suspense about what’s going to happen and who’s going wind up with whom. So she tells us that Cathy marries Linton, not Heathcliff, and that her daughter ends up with Hareton well before the scenes that show us. Perhaps Calvit assumed that no one would go to see this play who wasn’t familiar with the novel. She might be right.

Certainly, no one who isn’t already a fan of the Brontë will become one as a result of this very screechy play, in which the characters are constantly yelling at one another. (To be fair, some of that is straight out of Emily Brontë melodrama — but it’s not comfortable to hear.)

Stylized. dancelike sequences add nothing to our understanding of the story and only take up time and slow the action. So much of the script and Elise Kauzlaric direction get in the way, that it’s hard to tell whether the cast does a good job or not.

Alan Donahue’s platform set captures little of the vastness of the Yorkshire moors and the up and down slide of the window and door become tiresome quickly.

If you’re an avid fan of the novel, you might want to see this. If not, skip it.

   
   
Rating: ★½
  
  

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Review: Lifeline Theatre’s “Treasure Island”

 Lifeline creates an all-hands-on-deck winner

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Lifeline Theatre presents:

Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson
adapted by John Hildreth
directed by Robert Kauzlaric
through November 1st (buy tickets)

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.

Treasure_Island1 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.

Rating: «««½

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

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