The Killer Angels


Lifeline theatre
The Killer Angels

Adapted by Karen Tarjan

Directed by Matt Miller

At Lifeline Theatre, Chicago

Stylized depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg packs an emotional wallop.

Lifeline Theatre specializes in adapted novels into theatre and their 2004 commission to put Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels met with success so on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, they remounted the play. Under Matt Miller’s focused direction and with a stellar cast, this 2013 production is far superior to the 2004 production.  It is quite difficult to mount a play that depicts a major 3 day battle but adapter Karen Tarjan and director Matt Miller have created a stylish theatrical piece that captures the essence of the horror of the battle while giving us enough of the motivations and strategies to give the piece coherence.

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The games cast mostly play both Union and Confederate soldiers as they stimulate audiences imagination while also personalizing key figures of the battle. We see how Robert E. Lee (Don Bender) despite not having his cavalry to give him intelligence, making the fatal decision to attack Meade’s Union Army at the Pennsylvania town.  Lee’s vision that God has made his army invincible plays strongly here. His second-in-command, General  Longstreet (Tom Hickey) questions Lee’s strategy as he has grave doubts as to the battle’s outcome.

On the Union side, we meet Colonel Chamberlain (Michael McKeogh) from Maine, the school teacher turned soldier who makes a gallant stand at the end of the Union line thus saving the battle for the Union. With his brother Tom (Zach Livingston) and his aid Kilrain (Don Bender), Chamberlain is the voice of the idealistic soldier bent on doing his duty with bravery and dedication.

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This nicely paced show clearly presents the tactics of the battle while effectively giving glimpses into the characters of the key figures. We see  Union Calvary General Buford (Chris Hainsworth) shrewdly forcing the battle on to the Confederates before his infantry arrives in order to hold the high grown- a vital ingredient for victory in mid 19th Century warfare.

The game cast of ten double and triple up to depict both sides. The use of  era music played on guitar and banjo while singing “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” effectively underscored the mood and emotion of the piece. Mounting a battle on stage can be a tricky endeavor yet Miller’s staging and use of the shedding of uniforms to depict fallen soldiers was profoundly moving. The production values including the powerful sound design (by Stephen Ptacek) together with the fine dialect coaching (by Elise Kauzlaric) added authenticity. Don Bender, Tom Hickey and Michael McKeogh led the fine cast. This show is a theatrical gem not to be missed.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: September 16, 2013

For more info checkout The Killer Angels page at

At Lifeline Theatre, 6912N. Glenwood, Chicago, IL, call 773-761-4477,, tickets $40, $30 for seniors, $20 for students and rush tickets, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through October 27, 2013

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