War & Peace

Jim Manganello Leo Tolstoy Viaduct Theater ChicagoWar and Peace

By Leo Tolstoy

Directed and Adapted by Jim Manganello

Music direction and Original Score by Marc LeMay

Choreography by Amanda Timm

Produced by Jim Manganello

At the Viaduct Theater

One little room and the biggest of plans

Jim Manganello has set himself quite the task: adapt Leo Tolstoy’s epic War & Peace into an hour-long piece of dance-theater.  On the face, it seems almost comical, absurd.  But with theater like this, it forces one to strip everything but the essentials away, and we are left with a very raw, very real piece of theater, that somehow, through it all, remains true to the original text.  It is clearly lovingly done, with Manganello taking great care.

War & Peace directed by Jim Manganello at the Viaduct Theater Chicago
Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis

The intermingling of the homefront and the vanguard becomes seamless: the play opens with a long piece of movement, with actors dancing and fighting each other to different music, which break into each other abruptly.  It is a broad physical image of what is to come.  Jim also (almost out of necessity, it makes pure sense to do so) quotes the opening Chorus of Henry V. For each actor must play many parts, and symbolize battalions.  It’s a beautiful, funny, and clever moment among many.  Luke Couozens, Marc Frost, Lauren Lopez, Blake M. Russell and Dustin Valenta (there are only five actors, doing the entirety of the show) move, act, sing, dance wonderfully.  They make the show come alive.  The wit and tragedy shine through them; and everything is enhanced by Marc LeMay’s sound design and compositions, Amanda Timm’s choreography, and Drew Hill’s costumes.

Jim Manganello War and Peace Viaduct Theater Chicago
Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis

The casting of Napoleon as an infantile child-man is hilarious yet incisive (and gives the piece several of its highlights); the moment a soldier is dismembered is touchingly and cleverly done; the horrors of war, and the internal struggles of those at home, are told very well.  The narrative does occasionally get very slightly hazy – a consequence of the nature of the piece, with only five performers and 70 minutes to do one of the world’s great epics – but almost always, if the audience is paying attention, all becomes clear.  Yes, it does ask the audience to pay attention; but that is only a precept of engaging theater.  And it’s remarkable how much these performers manage to fit into that 70 minutes: it feels much longer, only because of the amount of ground they manage to cover.  Ultimately, this is a wonderful piece of theater, enjoyable, playful, overfull, dancing and full of Dionysius.  It is for any who love theater, love innovation and novelty, love watching a great artist set himself a Sisyphean task and joyfully throw himself into it, surrounding himself with other great talents.  This is theater that makes one better for watching it.

Highly recommended

Will Fink

Reviewed on 5.15.11