“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.” Gilbert K. Chesterton
Lifeline Theatre Ensemble is currently presenting G.K. Chesterton’s beloved 1908 satiric novella, The Man Who Was Thursday through April 17, 2019 at their comfortable storefront theater complex, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago. Thoughtfully adapted for the stage by Bilal Dardai and most capably directed by Jess Hutchinson, this project was first mounted at New Leaf Theatre in 2009 and is a successfully conceived “re-exploring of the absurdist tale of identity and intrigue for a new decade.”
The performance was a delightfully witty amalgam of highly skilled actors, many of whom played multiple parts; French-farce enabling scenery; exceptionally witty dialogue expressed in numerous accents; hilarious physical comedy including fighting; spot-on lighting, and wonderfully evocative music. This reviewer has no desire to be a “spoiler”, but the essence of the iconic story, astutely adapted for the stage, is as follows: The Man Who Was Thursday is a politically sensitive, philosophically driven, poetically written detective story, filled with numerous twists and turns, disguised characters and a lot of mystery. The central query: “Who and what is Sunday?” is a conundrum that ultimately expands until it encompasses the very nature of creation, of God, of reality.
A startlingly clever series of routs occur, with an emphasis on acrobatic performances that take viewers inside a secret cabal of arsonists infiltrated by Scotland Yard. Doors slam, mustaches and noses are peeled off and reapplied, artful disguises conceal identities as we are invited to wonder Who is who? Who can be trusted?
The hero, Gabriel Syme is both a poet and a police detective. Lucien Gregory, the villain- or is he the protagonist?- is both a poet and a bomb-throwing anarchist. At the beginning of the story, the 2 men meet on the street and challenge each other’s definition of poetry. Syme is invited by Gregory to follow him to a concealed den of anarchy. Syme infiltrates a secret meeting of Gregory’s colleagues/ anarchists, foils Gregory’s attempt to be elected as “Thursday,” one of the seven members of the High Council of Anarchists; Symes is so elected himself.
Their leader is the ephemeral Sunday; the quest for who and what he is/represents becomes the central longing of every other character. Sound like an apocalyptic saga? One exchange along this trajectory:
“I confess that I should feel a bit afraid of asking Sunday who he really is.”
“Why,” asked the Secretary, “for fear of bombs?”
“No,” said the Professor, “for fear he might tell me.”
From the inception of the story, motives are wrapped in illusion and questioned in oratory. Is it a paradox that a group wishing to destroy governments (in this case, they want to kill a tsar and blow up Paris) should themselves be strictly governed?
An underlying mystery is how did Syme get recruited to be a policeman? By some shadowy assignment he was engaged to rebel against rebellion! Are there different categories of anarchists? Are some simply textbook rhetoricians while others dole out death? Does wanting freedom for mankind mean that mankind must be annihilated? Finally, what does God want? Does he want to separate out the meek from the rich?
Every character is a perfect jewel of casting; every scene is a little bit of staged perfection; every speech contains brilliant bon mots, and then the actors looks like they are having such fun! Finally, in Thursday, the denouement is not really the ultimate end; it’s another quest, another story beginning.
CAST: Lifeline Theatre ensemble member Christopher Walsh (Gogol/Tuesday); with guest artists Allison Cain (Sunday), Eduardo Xavier Curley-Carrillo (Gabriel Syme), Jen Ellison (Dr. Bull/Saturday), Linsey Falls (Professor de Worms/Friday), Sonia Goldberg (Familiar #2), Cory Hardin (Lucian Gregory), Marsha Harman (The Secretary/Monday), Oly Oxinfry (Familiar #1), Corrbette Pasko (The Marquis de St. Eustache/Wednesday), David Gordezky (Gogol & Lucian U/S ), Sarah Scanlon (Marquis & Secretary U/S), William Anthony Sebastian Rose II (Syme U/S), Mateo Hernandez (Professor de Worms & Familiar #1 U/S), Elise Soeder (Dr. Bull & Familiar #2 U/S) and Lauren Miller (Sunday U/S).
PRODUCTION TEAM: Lifeline Theatre ensemble members Bilal Dardai (Adaptor) and Elise Kauzlaric (Dialect Coach); with guest artists Amanda Beranek (Stage Manager), Lizzie Bracken (Scenic Designer), Kyle Bricker (Asst. Stage Manager), Jess Hutchinson (Director), Christopher Kriz (Sound Designer), Jennifer McClendon (Production Manager), Caitlin McLeod (Co-Costume Designer), Jenny Pinson (Props Designer), Greg Poljacik (Fight Choreographer), Joe Schermoly (Technical Director), Zev Valancy (Dramaturg), Eric Watkins (Lighting Designer), Jonah White (Master Electrician), and Anna Wooden (Co-Costume Designer)
For information and tickets to all the fine shows at Lifeline Theatre, go to www.lifelinetheatre.com
All photos by Suzanne Plunkett