The Woman in White

 

By Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White adapted by Robert Kauzlaric

Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric

Directed by Elise Kauzlaric

At Lifeline Theatre, Chicago

Early detective tale still clues in audience

Although he wrote 30 novels, Wilkie Collins is best remembered for The Woman in White — and deservedly so. This Victorian melodrama, never out of print since its 1859 publication and cited as the first “sensational novel,” inspired and laid the groundwork for later detective and suspense fiction, utilizing many of the techniques of the hero/sleuth.

Adapted by Lifeline Theater ensemble Member Robert Kauzlaric, this newest incarnation captures all the twists and turns of the original via expected action enhanced by delicious monologues that echo Collins epistolary style. This version of The Woman in White provides a worthy addition to Lifeline’s dramatic specialization of original literary adaptations.

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As the evil, bombastic Count Fosco, Christopher M. Walsh — a Peter Ustinov look-alike — nearly steals show with his finely delivered, uninterrupted speeches In a story with as many layers as the preverbal onion, Walsh’s skill at varied — often quite humorous– presentations prevent the plot from degenerating into more tell than show. There is plenty of show, but the telling — which covers time lapses and behind-the-scenes episodes — skillfully moves the complicated story along.

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The story (in a nutshell) deals with not one, but two rather fragile women garbed in white (both played by winsome, virginal Maggie Scrantom): Anne Catherick has just escaped from an insane asylum; Laura Fairlie needs to escape from her disastrous, arranged marriage. Two bonds link these women: an amazing physical resemblance, and their victimization by fortune hunter Sir Percival Glyde (Kauzlaric) and his opera-loving sidekick Fosco.

Laura’s practical, forthright half sister Marian Halcombe (Lucy Carapetyan) and the sincere, worthy young man who truly loves her, art teacher Walter Hartright (Nicholas Bailey), seek to protect the girls — but the odds are stacked against all three in this dark, tale of love, marriage, greed and a mysterious secret.

The story was partially inspired by an 18th century tale of abduction and wrongful imprisonment and includes two of Collin’s favorite themes: mistaken identity and the misuse of lunatic asylums.
The cast was outstanding. Greg Wenz opened the show as colorful, pixyish Professor Pesca, emoting with a wonderful Italian accent and determined to repay Hartwright for saving his life. Don Bender, Anita Deely, and Loretta Rezos, in multiple roles, were uniformly first-rate as is the staging. Lifeline never ceases to amaze with what it can accomplish in such limited space — from calm drawing room to amazing church conflagration.

The Woman in White, which has inspired theater, film, TV and everything from an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical to a comic strip, now takes a worthy place on the Chicago Theater Scene.

Recommended

Beverly Friend, Ph.D.

friend@oakton.edu

Member ATCA

Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, (773) 761-4477, www.lifelinetheatre.com. Tickets $20-$40, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 4 p.m., through October 28. Run time two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

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