The Moonstone

Based on the novel by Wilkie Collins

the moonstone at lifeline theatre
The Moonstone at Lifeline Theatre

Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric

Directed by Paul S. Holmquist

At Lifeline Theatre, Chicago

The Moonstone is known as a precursor for detective fiction such as Sherlock Holmes.

T. S. Eliot called it “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels.

Sprawling suspense mystery novel brilliantly comes to life on stage

The creatives at Lifeline Theatre are quite adapt at taking sprawling novels and turning them into terrific stage plays. The do that by keeping the essential style and scope of the novel intact. That is no easy task. Add to that they pick marvelous works, many obscure yet containing grand theatrical themes and quirky memorable characters.

The Moonstone at lifeline theatre

Smartly adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, The Moonstone contains Wilkie Collins style that includes the use of an omniscient narrator – several in fact that spice up the story with bits of humor and peculiar behavior.  The Moonstone was serialized in 1868 in Charles Dickens magazine – All The Year Round. It was know as a “sensational novel” that contained murder, intrigue and the use of opium to further the plot line.  The Moonstone was heralded as the first English detective novel using a professional police detective and a gentleman amateur detective. Collins presents women as strong; servants as more than hired help.

The Moonstone at lifeline theatre

Under the smart, fast-paced direction by Paul S. Holmquest, Kauzlaric’s adaptation captures the mysterious allure of the ancient myth and curse of the large diamond know as the “moonstone.” This gem has been guarded by Hindu holy men for centuries and it has been stolen by conquering armies. In the late 18th Century, a rogue British officer brought the gem to England despite the curses attached to the stone.  A trio of Hindu Brahmins have dedicated their lives to recovering the moonstone and returning it to India.

The Moonstone at lifeline theatre

We are in the English estate of the Verinders. Our story begins as the Gabriel Betteredge (Sean Sinitski) – the Verinders’ head servant, first narrator establishes  the history of the events that led to the thief of the moonstone from Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville) – young heiress at the center of the story; on her 18th birthday she inherits the gem.

Rachel wears the diamond to her birthday party, but that night it disappears from her room. Suspicion falls on three Indian jugglers  who have been near the house; on Rosanna Spearman (Kate Byrd), a maidservant who begins to act oddly and who then drowns herself in a local quicksand; and on Rachel herself, who also behaves suspiciously and is suddenly furious with Franklin Blake (Cody Proctor), with whom she has previously appeared to be enamored, when he directs attempts to find it. Despite the efforts of Sergeant Cuff (Dave Skvarla), a renowned detective, the house party ends with the mystery unsolved, and the protagonists disperse.

the moonstone at lifeline theatre

That is just the beginning of the mystery that moves swiftly as the complications mount.  Filled with new plot devices such as  a English country house theft, an  apparent “inside job,”  several “red herrings” (false leads), a celebrated, skilled, professional investigator and a gentleman amateur sleuth, many false  suspects, the “least likely suspect,” a reconstruction of the crime,  and a final twist in the plot, The Moonstone indeed is the attention-grabbing and totally engaging stage mystery suspense drama. Collins was the first to use many of the above devices.

Lovers of mysteries (include me) will be impressed with the zany Gothic characters who weave and narrate the story. From the kind Gabriel Batteredge played with sincerity by Sean Sinitski to commanding Ann Sonneville as Rachel Verinder with the wacky religious nut Drusilla Clack (the funny Kaitlin Byrd)- we quickly become involved and wonder what will happen next in this fun mystery play.

The plot twists are clever, the characters richly developed and the tone is shrouded with suspense. Cody Proctor (once he slows down his rapid-fire speech patterns), Peter Greenberg, as Eza Jennings and C. Sean Piereman, as Godrey Ablewhite were particularly effective. The ensemble contains an “A” list of non-Equity actors who understand their characters while sporting expert accents (credit dialect coach Elise Kauzlaric). The Moonstone looks terrific with a fine two-level set (designed by Ina Zywica) and the period-perfect 1840’s costumes (designed by Bill Morey). Add the effective lighting by Brandon Wardell and the eerie sound design by Cristina DeRisi and The Moonstone has excellent production values with which to create the proper atmosphere for a fine “who-done-it.”

The almost 3 hour running time necessary to tell the story move along so tightly that you’ll hardly notice. It is so refreshing to see a marvelous and relatively unknown novel come to life as the folks at Lifeline Theatre have here with The Moonstone. You’ll be thrilled and totally enamored with this wonderful mystery.  Be ready for a twist at the end.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: February 13, 2011

Jeff Recommended

For full show information, check out The Moonstone page at Theatre In Chicago.

At Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-761-4477, www.lifelinetheatre.com, tickets $20 – $32,  Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 3 hours with 2 intermissions, through March 27, 2011

The Moonstone, trailer from Lifeline Theatre on Vimeo.