Chicago Theater Review: MONSTROUS REGIMENT (Lifeline Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 9, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

A FEMINIST FANTASY SOAKED IN WHIMSY

In Lifeline Theatre’s semi-delightful 150-minute romp, the war between the sexes is replaced by a war against sexism. The latest adaptation from this literature-loving ensemble is Chris Hainsworth’s faithful adaptation of Monstrous Regiment, the 31st novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. This prolific author manages to meld sword-and-sorcery, 18th-century fantasy, and a veddy English social satire of class conflict. The setting, as always, is the Disc, a mythical world that rides on top of a turtle that sits on an elephant. It’s a realm unsullied by logic but influenced by ever-changing gods: Here a tale told often enough becomes true due to the law of narrative causality. Expectations trump probability and belief alters everything.

(L to R, front row) Katie McLean Hainsworth, Sarah Price; (middle row) Michaela Petro, Kim Boler; (back row) Melissa Engle, and Mandy Walsh; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Monstrous Regiment,” adapted by Chris Hainsworth, directed by Kevin Theis, based on the novel by Terry Pratchett.The specific setting in Monstrous Regiment, engagingly staged by Kevin Theis, is war-torn Borogravia during Discworld’s Year of the Fruitbat. The specific situation: The country’s protracted hostilities against their blue-coated, putatively inhumane enemy, the Zlobenian invaders. (It’s the Disc’s latest war not to end all wars, much like the endless animosities in Game of Thrones.)

Fighting this pointless war (sound familiar?) is the title troupe, a ragtag rogues’ gallery. The “monstrous regiment” consists of Igor (Katie McLean Hainsworth as a hunchbacked medic); a vampire (volatile Michaela Petro) who requires constant cups of coffee to check her urge for blood; a visionary (driven Melissa Engle) whose auditory hallucinations emanate from the Duchess, Borogravia’s deceased figurehead; a Troll named Carborundum (amiable Justine C. Turner) who recall’s The Thing from the Fantastic Four; and our heroine Polly (attractively androgynous Sarah Price). This last, a plucky and resourceful adventuress, cuts off her hair, pads her privates with a sock and otherwise disguises herself as a man to search for her brother who got lost in the fog of war. She’s as wonderful to see as to hear.

Polly Perks (Sarah Price, left) helps Sgt. Jackrum (Christopher M. Walsh, right) come to terms with his past in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Monstrous Regiment,” adapted by Chris Hainsworth, directed by Kevin Theis, based on the novel by Terry Pratchett.The memorable misfits are led by a foul-mouthed, stentorian-shouting drill sergeant (louder-than-life Christopher M. Walsh), one of many Limey stereotypes in this fusion of Gilbert and Sullivan, Dr. Who, and Monty Python. Sgt. Jackrum is bossed around by an upper class twit of a lieutenant (a wonderfully addled Robert Kauzlaric) whose intractable stupidity, kneejerk misogyny, and inveterate snobbery get in the way of the soldiers’ survival instincts and common sense. Together this ragged regiment engages the Zlobenians in half-hearted captures and retreats. A final assault on the foe’s fortress ends up in a strange reversal, with Borogravians turning on each other.

That’s because of the running irony behind this regiment—it’s actually a petticoat army: These stalwart soldiers are women warriors, disguised in order to earn the right to defend their land, and to escape hard times at home and miserable relations Sgt. Jackrum (Christopher M. Walsh, left) and Polly Perks (Sarah Price, right) deal with their inexperienced officer, Lt. Blouse (Robert Kauzlaric, center) in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Monstrous Regiment,” adapted by Chris Hainsworth, directed by Kevin Theis, based on the novel by Terry Pratchett.with real (bad) men. By play’s end they prove their worth. But they’ve also changed the enemy: In the future, Borogravia will battle stupidity, a much more intransigent adversary and a much longer struggle.

A bit long for my liking, Hainsworth’s stage version doggedly reflects the author’s aggressive whimsy: gross-out jokes, groaner puns, glib one-liners, and heavy-handed caricatures. Happily, Hainsworth does equal justice to the rollicking fun of this picaresque plot, the anti-army spoofery, and some cunningly drawn characters.

With spunk and spirit, director Theis turns Pratchett’s silver into Lifeline’s gold, inspiring richly textured performances from 11 wickedly sharp thespians. Their crafted accents, systemic mugging, deadpan reactions, and character-rooted quirks are perfectly timed and always on target. Pratchett’s polemics about identity issues and the waste of war never get in the way of a good story. Keep calm and carry on…

Polly Perks (Sarah Price, right) is harassed by an enemy officer (Matt Engle, Left) in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Monstrous Regiment,” adapted by Chris Hainsworth, directed by Kevin Theis, based on the novel by Terry Pratchett.photos by Kelsey Jorissen

Monstrous Regiment
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave
Thurs-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 4 & 8, Sun at 4
scheduled to end on August 3, 2014
for tickets, call 773.761.4477
or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com

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

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