Chicago Theater Review: THE CITY & THE CITY (Lifeline Theatre)

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by Samantha Nelson on March 4, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


China Miéville’s novels are dense works of science fiction, and sometimes deciphering them feels more like work than entertainment. That’s why it’s impressive that Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere adaptation of his Hugo Award-winning The City & The City is so accessible. Adaptor Christopher M. Walsh has Samantha Nelson's Stage and Cinema review of Lifeline's "The City & The City," Chicagostripped the 352-page book down to a taught detective story with a strange premise.

The action follows Inspector Borlu (Steve Schine), who is investigating the murder of an American student in the Eastern European city of Beszel. But as her grieving parents (Millicent Hurley and Don Bender) quickly learn, Beszel is no normal city. It occupies the same space as its rival city, Ul Qoma. While crossing between the two can be as easy as crossing the street, the residents live in fear of making such a “breach” and have been trained to ignore the foreign residents that walk among them.

Samantha Nelson's Stage and Cinema review of Lifeline's "The City & The City," ChicagoBorlu’s investigation sends him deep into the strange politics and history of both cities and Schine provides a delightful noir-style hero, standing tall in the face of increasing adversity with the help of the hilariously smug Dhatt (Chris Hainsworth) and the foul-mouthed and in-over-her-head Corwi (Marsha Harmon.) Plenty of cop shows and movies could use the sort of chemistry that forms between Schine and his partners. Other excellent acting turns come from Patrick Blashill as the disgraced scholar Bowden and Bender’s over-the-top leader of the mysterious police force Breach.

Samantha Nelson's Stage and Cinema review of Lifeline's "The City & The City," ChicagoWith inventive blocking, director Dorothy Milne and movement designer Amanda Link adeptly demonstrate the strangeness of people coming and going next to each other without acknowledging one another; a particularly well-orchestrated scene involves Borlu tailing a suspect. Costume designer Izumi Inaba plays up the difference in the two cities residents with their garb, with Beszel’s dwellers clad in drab Eastern European-style clothes – wielding dated cellphones – while the more prosperous Ul Qumans sport vibrant neons and headphones. Scenic designer Joe Schermoly’s set adds to the paranoiac atmosphere via a set of windows overlooking the stage; actors sometimes peek through the blinds and lights periodically go on and off, giving the constant feeling that you are being watched.

While the narrative may seem confusing at first look, it comes together beautifully for a dramatic and satisfying climax. It might take an act to get used to the characters and concepts, but once you do, you’ll find yourself immersed in a tale that will satisfy both mystery and science fiction buffs.

Samantha Nelson's Stage and Cinema review of Lifeline's "The City & The City," Chicagophotos by Suzanne Plunkett

The City & The City
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave.
scheduled to end on April 7, 2013
for tickets, call 773.761.4477
or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,

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