Chicago Theater Review: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (Lifeline Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 16, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

THE PLOT THAT WOULD NOT DIE

Doggedly dedicated but exhausting at nearly three hours, Robert Kauzlaric’s adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ mystery thriller The Woman in White is, to quote another Victorian writer, “too much of a muchness.” Sparing neither anticlimactic exposition nor a manic attention to convoluted plotting—complexities that no audience will want to pursue—this 1860 potboiler features the much-wronged title character, a resourceful lover-hero, a besieged heiress, and a miscreant (played by the adaptor Kauzlaric) who wants to steal her estate and drive her into madness. Above all, there’s Christopher M. Walsh’s near-melodramatic depiction of the elaborately devious Count Fosco, an Italian rascal who could be Exhibit A in Victorian xenophobia.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Lifeline’s THE WOMAN IN WHITE in ChicagoDespite all this scheming and plotting, the sprawling concoction comes down to two devastating questions: Will the real “woman in white” please come forward? And will we care when she does?

With painstaking (and pain-giving) faithfulness, Kauzlaric tries to reignite this Victorian chestnut without reducing it to the Grand Guignol of a penny dreadful. That it doesn’t all collapse into camp is this production’s singular achievement.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Lifeline’s THE WOMAN IN WHITE in ChicagoAny synopsis is a temptation to be avoided like the West Nile virus: A Powerpoint presentation or flow chart could hardly do justice to the plot’s bravura dazzle. Better to avoid that black hole altogether.

Unfortunately, that’s where Woman in White runs aground: even with Elise Kauzlaric’s intrepid staging, however grandly enacted, this adaptation still feels more like a novel than a play; it burdens us with more information than a reader would endure in a single sitting, and it wastes too much time with retroactive rehashing once virtue had already (supposedly) triumphed, explaining machinations that we’d ceased to care about an hour before.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Lifeline’s THE WOMAN IN WHITE in ChicagoWhat carries conviction, despite the over-plotting, is the love story that links the besieged heroine and the artist-lover who defends her. There are actually two women in white, and Maggie Scranton plays both with a demure simplicity that defies the Hydra-headed script. Matching her intensity is Nicholas Bailey as the play’s stalwart champion.

Performing in a Victorian folie as twisted as the plot, the nine cast members are never less than game, hurling themselves with scary aplomb into Collins’ narrative vortex. Their hard work and versatile turns deliver delightful distractions.

But the adaptation remains cursed: Too much action, especially in the last hour, happens in the past tense, well after we stopped caring how things happened.

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photos by Suzanne Plunkett

The Woman in White
Lifeline Theatre in Chicago
scheduled to end on October 28, 2012
for tickets call 773-7613-4477 or visit http://www.lifelinetheatre.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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