Theater 2014-15: Women finding power set tone for romance, mystery, superheroes at Lifeline
Seventh in a series of season previews: Two world premieres, including a female cyborg musical, head the lineup of adaptations from books; reprise of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” leads off Sept. 15.
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
A thematic thread of young women connecting with their strength as adults runs through the three main-stage plays of Lifeline Theatre’s 2014-15 season. But what jumps out just as clearly is the wide – or maybe the right word is wild – range of stories sharing that motif.
Two world premieres are featured in the lineup of this season’s stage adaptations from novels, which is Lifeline’s distinctive mode of fashioning drama: “One Came Home,” based on the prize-winning 2013 historical adventure by Amy Timberlake, is a murder mystery set in 19th-century Wisconsin. “Soon I Will Be Invincible” turns Austin Grossman’s 2007 psychologically complex superhero novel of the same title into a musical.
The main-stage series opens with Lifeline’s second reprise of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” as ensemble member Christina Calvit reconsiders her adaptation of this classic story of a quest for true love, previously staged at Lifeline in 1990 and 2000.
“We have literally stacks of books we’d like to stage,” says Lifeline artistic director Dorothy Milne. “The challenge is to turn a 600-page novel into a two-hour play. In our 30-year history, we’ve come a long way in the sophistication we bring to that task.
“It’s an ambitious and long process, and something we all work out together as an ensemble. One member writes a draft, then we go through it as a group, making suggestions that may or may not be incorporated by the writer. It’s a distillation, and it’s all about making choices – which characters or subplots or scenes will stay and which will be omitted. We see a first draft six months or even as much as a year before the first rehearsal, and the developmental process often extends to final nips and tucks made during the preview performances.”
The 2014-15 season in brief:
- “Jane Eyre,” adapted by Christina Calvit from the 1847 novel by Charlotte Brontë (Sept. 15-Oct. 26): After a troubled childhood, Jane Eyre searches for new purpose as a governess at Thornfield Hall. But a fragile peace gives way to turbulent passion when she meets Mr. Rochester, a man concealing a dark secret. Their unconventional relationship leads to a terrible revelation, and Jane must forge a new future from the ashes of her ravaged dreams. As she struggles to free herself from the ghosts of her past, Jane realizes that her only hope is to find love on her own terms. “The first time around with this story, Christina was young and the company was young, and the result was a more traditional adaptation,” says Milne. “It was full of characters and subplots no longer in the script. In 2000, she rewrote the script, with the voices in Jane’s head – abusive voices from her past — actually appearing as ghosts. The book, with its class and gender issues, still has an enthusiastic audience of readers today.”
- “One Came Home,” adapted by Jessica Wright Buha from the 2013 novel by Amy Timberlake (world premiere, Feb. 23-April 5, 2015): During the great passenger pigeon migration of 1871, throngs of strangers descend upon Placid, Wis., bringing prosperity in their wake. But as the skies clear, tragedy strikes and Georgie Burkhardt’s sister Agatha goes missing. When a body is found and the town goes into mourning, Georgie sets out on her own to uncover the truth behind Agatha’s disappearance. The journey that follows, both humorous and heartbreaking, will test the limits of her courage. “It’s a coming of age story and murder mystery, and it has won so many awards,” says Milne. “But we chose it before it got so much attention, which makes us all feel very smart and special. The missing girl’s little sister refuses to believe her sister is dead, as she is presumed to be. The story has wonderful characters, and it’s full of surprises.”
- “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” a musical adaptation with book by Christopher M. Walsh from the novel by Austin Grossman, music and lyrics by Christopher Kriz (world premiere, June 8-July 19, 2015): The devious Doctor Impossible has escaped from prison and legendary superhero CoreFire has vanished without a trace. With the fate of the world in their hands, the New Champions have mere hours to recover their fallen comrade and stop their arch-nemesis before his doomsday device is complete. Joined by Fatale, a cyborg with an arsenal of deadly hardware and a host of self-esteem issues, the mighty super-team must face their darkest hour – and the truths buried in their deeply troubled pasts. “When we read it, everyone loved it,” says Milne. “The young woman Fatale is a cyborg, like the Six-Million-Dollar Man. But she’s a marginal superhero among great and famous ones. When one of the celebrated superheroes is taken out of action, Fatale gets moved up to the A team. She has a lot of issues, not least that she’s trim but physically dense – she weighs 400 pounds. We’re shown the vulnerable sides of these people, which is more interesting than just throwing punches. It’s very funny and taps into human stuff, only supersized.”
Lifeline also presents a series of plays for children. Here is this season’s lineup:
- “The Velveteen Rabbit,” adapted by Elise Kauzlaric from the story by Margery Williams (Oct. 19-Nov. 23): One Christmas morning, a shy stuffed bunny enters the world of a young boy’s nursery. Initially ignored in favor of more modern toys, she waits patiently to be noticed, wondering if she will ever be loved like the others. When the wise old Skin Horse reveals the majesty and mystery of what it means to become real, the Velveteen Rabbit begins an odyssey of the heart to make a lasting connection with her boy.
- “Lions in Illyria,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric from William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” (world premiere, Jan. 11-Feb. 15, 2015): Separated from her brother by a storm at sea, the young lioness Violet must brave an unknown country all alone. Disguised as a boy, she joins up with a preposterous peacock on a quest to claim the attentions of a graceful gazelle in town. But soon Violet is torn between multiple masters and her adventure takes a turn for the absurd when she becomes entangled in the clownish antics of a wacky warthog and a feather-brained dodo.
- “The One and Only Ivan,” adapted by James E. Grote from the book by Katherine Applegate (world premiere, March 22-April 26, 2015): For 27 years, the world of Ivan the gorilla has been a dull cage in a roadside shopping mall. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant captured in the wild, Ivan’s ambitions and imagination must grow to meet the challenge of rescuing his endangered new companion. Aided by Bob the scrappy dog and a young human ally, Ivan sets out to become the great silverback and protector he was always meant to be.
Lifeline Theatre is located at 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. Founded in 1982 by five graduates of Northwestern University, Lifeline moved into its permanent home in Rogers Park, a converted Commonwealth Edison substation, in 1985. The facility includes a 99-seat theater, rehearsal and office space, a scene shop, and costume, prop and scenery storage.
- Official website of Lifeline Theatre: LifelineTheatre.com
- Review of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ at Lifeline: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of China Miéville’s “The City & the City” at Lifeline:Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” at Lifeline: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White” at Lifeline: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
Tags: Amy Timberlake, Austin Grossman, Charlotte Brontë, Chrisopher Kriz, Christina Calvit, Christopher M. Walsh, Dorothy Milne, Elise Kauzlaric, James E. Grote, Jane Eyre, Jessica Wright Buha, Katherine Applegate, Lifeline Theatre, Lions in Illyria, Margery Williams, One Came Home, Robert Kauzlaric, Soon I Will Be Invincible, The One and Only Ivan, The Velveteen Rabbit