Highly Recommended ***** If you’ve never been to Lifeline Theatre, you’re missing something really special. At Lifeline, a small (99 seats) theater in Rogers Park, every play they do – for adults and children – is their own literary adaptation. Their absolutely delightful new production, “Northanger Abbey” was adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, with original music and lyrics by George Howe. I give it 4 enthusiastic Spotlights.
Over the years, I’ve seen adaptations of many of my favorite books at Lifeline. If your preference is the classics, they’ve done “The Three Musketeers”, “A Tale of Two Cities” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”. If you like books about specific historic periods, they’ve done “Jane Eyre”, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Wuthering Heights”; and mysteries like Dorothy L. Sayres’ “Gaudy Night” and “Busman’s Honeymoon” with Lord Peter Whimsey.
They’ve also done some brilliant adaptations of diverse novels like Amy Timberlake’s YA historical, “One Came Home”; China Miéville’s fantastical police procedural, “The City and the City”; “Monstrous Regiment”, set in Terry Pratchett’s Disc World; Austin Grossman’s comic-book style, “Soon I Will Be Invincible”; and Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel about London Below, “Neverwhere”.
In “Northanger Abbey”, the heroine, Catherine Morland (Stephanie Stockstill), one of 10 children of a country clergyman, is obsessed with gothic novels. Whenever she sits down to read one of her books, chanting monks carrying candles appear around her, only to disappear when she closes the book. By the way, Stockstill has the naïve, giggly, breathless teen thing down pat.
Now that Catherine is 17, Mrs. Allen (Jenifer Thyler), a family friend, has invited her to Bath for the social season. When Catherine meets a handsome young man, Henry Tilney (Javier Ferreira), at her very first Bath assembly, he defies convention – they haven’t been introduced – and asks her to dance. She is immediately infatuated. At another assembly, Mrs. Allen introduces her to Isabella Thorpe (Lydia Hiller). The two young girls discover they have a love of novels in common.
Catherine’s brother James (Chris Ballou), just out of school, turns up at another assembly with his good friend, John Thorpe (Andres Enriquez), who happens to be Isabella’s brother. James is smitten with Isabella while John, a rather vain young man full of his own consequence, decides to court Catherine.
When Henry returns to Bath, he is accompanied by his sister, Eleanor (Shelby Lynn Bias), and his father, General Tilney (Peter Greenberg). His brother, Frederick (Denzel Tsopnang), wearing his regimentals, flirts with Isabella, who has just gotten engaged to James.
General Tilney invites Catherine for a visit at Northanger Abbey, which she is delighted to accept, since, of course, it might be haunted – at least she hopes it is! A few days later, she gets a letter from James, who is devastated because Isabella broke it off. He goes on to say she’s engaged to Henry’s brother Frederick – who, according to Henry, has no intention of marrying her.
Lifeline doesn’t have a large stage, but they use every inch of what they have. For Northanger Abbey, Sarah Lewis has used large gothic arches as both windows and doors. A couple of settees, a table and a bureau are the only pieces of furniture. A bench place on top of one of the settees becomes a carriage.
There’s a rather gothic tower in one corner, with the musicians tucked in behind a beveled glass window in another gothic arch. The musicians included Nick Heinzmann, Cello; Renee Henley, Violin; Ellen K. Morris, Music Director/Piano; Minjung Park, alternate violinist. The music is kind of operatic and very much in keeping with Jane Austen’s language.
The entire cast were spot-on with their upper-class British accents. I was fascinated when people danced the highly stylized Allemande and the country dance – from the French contre-danse. Kudos to choreographer Todd Rhoades.
Running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes, with an intermission.
Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 4:00 pm. Tickets range from $20-$40. Free parking with shuttle service to the theater is available in Lifeline’s remote lot at the northeast corner of Morse and Ravenswood. FYI (773) 761-4477 or www.lifelinetheatre.com.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Northanger Abbey”.