by Richard Adams
Adapted by John Hildreth
Directed by Katie McLean Hainsworth
At Lifeline Theatre, Chicago
Adventurous world of rabbits evokes a colorful saga
John Hildreth’s adaptation of Richard Adams’ Watership Down is an epic heroic fantasy anthropomorphizing rabbits giving them their own culture, language (Lapine), proverbs, poetry, and mythology. We quickly learn the rabbit’s ways and easily enter their world through the manic efforts of a dedicated cast directly with zest and fine focus by Katie McLean Hainsworth.
The story focuses on the destruction of Hazel (Paul S. Holmquest) and his brother Fiver’s (Scott T. Barsotti)’s birthplace warren that necessitates them to lead a band of misfit rabbit survivors toward a new safe home. This quest turns into an adventure filled with terror, insurmountable dangers and strange alliances that is brisk and entertaining. With the cast dressed as street people, they mimic rabbits by hopping around, squatting and staring like those little fury creators. They use rabbit terminology as well as innocence that animals exude.
They story introduces us to several colorful rabbits types: Fiver – a runt with strong instincts that sense danger; his brother Hazel – is a natural leader; Blackberry (Chrris Dailey) -is the intelligent problem solver; Bigwig – this the big, strong brave warrior rabbit; Silver (Bryson Engelen) is another warrior rabbit; while Strawberry (Edward Garcia) is a timid but loyal rabbit. Besides needing a new home, these rabbits need does (females) so they can mate and keep the warren populated.
These misfits have to battle humans, dogs, cats, rats, and evil rabbits lead by General Woundwort (Dave Skvarla) before they can secure a peaceful, safe habitat. Their journey is filled with action, combat, trickery, and even an alliance with a bird – Kehaar: A black-headed gull as the wondering rabbits struggle to survive. The impossible journey vividly comes to life with help from the exquisite lighting (by Sean Mallary) with expert sound (by Mikhail Fiksel) on Wenchai Ma’s evocative set and video projections. Joanna Iwanicka’s amazing puppets, masks and video added depth to the illusion. This fantasy world allegoric symbols remind me of Greek myths as tyranny battles freedom for dominance.
That actions is swift as we cheer for the good rabbits to overcome the evil thrust upon them. The cast worked hard to tell the story- I especially like the work from Paul S. Holmquest, Scott T.Barsotti and Christopher M. Walsh. Dave Skvarla is a delicious evil one while Jesse Manson’s gull was a comic hero. Lifeline Theater has another worthy stage adaptation of a famous novel with Watership Down. Hop on over to Rogers Park as see this fun show.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 8, 2011
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, 20 minutes with intermission, through June 19, 2011