The Count of Monte Cristo

lIFELINE tHEATRE cHICAGO iLLINOISThe Count of Monte Cristo

By Alexandre Dumas

Adapted by Christopher M. Walsh

Directed by Paul S. Holmquist

At Lifeline Theatre, Chicago

A small revenge is more human than no revenge at all.

The Count of Monte Cristo is an epic undertaking.  But, then, that’s what Lifeline does, isn’t it?  They take something that really shouldn’t work on stage, and somehow make it happen – and, when it comes to this production, they do it in spades.  Really, they’re starting with a classic revenge story – perhaps even the classic (excepting, perhaps, Medea) – with, well, time-tested material; so it may seem hard to go wrong.  But an adaptation like this could be miserable.  It could be dreck.  It could be embarrassing to all parties involved, audience and actor alike.  But it’s just fantastic.

Lifeline Theatre Chicago IllinoisFirst, obviously, translating something from novel to stage is far more complex than taking all the dialogue and cutting out everything else.  And Christopher Walsh does a good job setting up the story right at the beginning, in quintessentially theatrical fashion, with an opening scene setting out the basic story and crucial themes, for those of us unfamiliar with the text (including, I must admit, myself).  He then delves directly into the story, making it as much mystery as anything else, weaving the pieces together as he sees fit.  There are a great deal of names – several characters have more than one – and so things can get a touch confusing for the uninitiated; but all becomes clear in due course, to great effect.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is the revenge tale of a man imprisoned on his wedding day for reasons beyond his reckoning; his fiancée eventually taken by another man, his fortunes in war obliterated, he meets a sage in confinement who teaches him of philosophy, history, physics – and of a grand treasure the man possesses, which the man, Edmond Dantes (Chris Hainsworth) is welcome to, should he escape.  Becoming the Count of Monte Cristo, he subsequently exacts revenge to those who have done him wrong in an extravagantly-planned manner.

Lifeline Theatre Chicago Illinois Alexandre DumasThe Count is a noble man, learned, driven, excellent; he performs great deeds.  And yet he has, at times, surrounded himself with unsavory characters.  He is consumed by his desires, his drive; and yet, when they are consummated, what is left for him?  Is revenge justice or pettiness?  The story delves deeply into morality, and not in a simplistic way.  The characters are full, fleshed-out, real.  Their motives true to life, their beings understandable.

And Lifeline does a wonderful job: the set is beautiful yet its utility is unmatched; the lighting is deft; the costumes are well-imagined and -executed; the direction adroit, the acting superb.  The Count of Monte Cristo is utterly enjoyable, whether or not one is privy to the original work.  It is a fantastic night out, a real romp, a transportation to another age that, if one surrenders to it, is most satisfying.

Highly recommended

Will Fink

Reviewed on 9.19.11

Jeff Recommended

For full show information, visit TheatreinChicago.

At Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, IL call 773-761-4477, www.lifelinetheatre.com, tickets $32 – $35, seniors $27, students $20 and $20 rush tickets, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through October 30, 2011