Adapted by Christopher M. Walsh
Directed by Dorothy Milne
At Lifeline Theatre, Chicago
Blend of police procedural and sc-fi confuses due to lack of focus
Perhaps it is China Mieville’s novel but only late in the work did I finally figure out what the setting (location) really was. Was it actually set in two neighboring cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma or was the location metaphysical? They are perceived as two different cities yet they occupy the same geography? A citizen of one city must dutifully ‘unsee’ (that is, consciously erase from their mind or fade into the background) the citizens, buildings, and events taking place in the other city — even if they are an inch away. Taught the difference from birth, each city has a distinct style of dress, architecture, and walking style. But in Christopher M. Walsh’s adaptation, none of this is clear. That together with the whodoneit elements makes for a tedious, often vague, suspense meets sc-fi evening of theatre.
Mievelle calls The City & The City – “wired fiction” – sc-fic and fantasy meets horror meets ghost stories or some combination thereof. It is a mystery rapped into a location fantasy that often confuses more that enlightens despite a worthy cast of ten players who each give it a go. The narrator and main character, Inspector Birlu (the effective Steve Schine) tries to keep the story moving along despite having many vague references to the tow cities and the ever-present “breach.” Breach is a person, a political force, and/or a act of treason – and/or all of the those?
The central question is who murdered the American girl living in Ul Qoma but murdered in Beszel? Who and why was she killed? These questions challenge Borlu and his counterpart Dhatt (Chris Hainsworth). The cultural differences make the stakes different in each City. After the early confusions, the mystery unfolds but all the ‘breach’ references seem to dilute the suspenseful build up.
Once we grasp the quirky location and cultural divides between the two cities, then only the multi-layered definitions of just what and who breach is and what is the significance of a breach becomes they key mystery to be solved. If you can muddle through all this, then The City & The City might deliver enough spark to be entertaining. I thought the staging and the pace were brisk but the story lacked focus and clarity. The differences between the citizens of each city could be more distinct. But suspense fans and weird fiction fans will appreciate this ambitious work.
At Lifeline theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-761-4477, www.lifelinetheatre.com, tickets $40, $30 for seniors, $20 students, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through April 7, 2013