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Wuthering Heights and Thieves Like Us
by Scott C. Morgan

This article shared 3118 times since Wed Sep 29, 2010
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Wuthering Heights

Playwright: Christina Calvit based upon the novel by Emily Brontë. At: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood . Phone: 773-761-4477; $32-$35. Runs through: Oct. 31

Thieves Like Us

Playwright: Damon Kiely based upon the novel by Edward Anderson. At: The House Theatre of Chicago at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division. Phone: 773-769-3832; $25-$29. Runs through: Oct. 30

Transforming dramas from literary pages to live stages can be difficult. Two adaptations of novels recently opened in Chicago to varying degrees of success.

First, the bad news: Emily Brontë's classic Victorian novel Wuthering Heights proves to be too much to bite off for Lifeline Theatre.

Adaptor Christina Calvit misses the mark in condensing down Brontë's overly passionate work into an easily digested evening of entertainment. And director Elise Kauzlaric wasn't successful in staging the novel's multiple locations with a cast that probably won't sync with many readers' imagined notions of how Brontë's fictional characters should look.

Calvit wrangles with the novel's notorious switching of narrators and multiple character deaths by focusing entirely on the maid Nelly Dean ( Cameron Feagin, with a constant "Can you believe this?!" expression ) and her flashback retelling of the whole messy Yorkshire saga. But Calvit includes so much plotting that the show feels overstuffed, giving you little time to really care about the characters' emotional plights.

The cast members dive headlong into their roles, but much of their work comes off as too speedy and overwrought ( their variable accents were no help ) . The flaming passion between the orphan Heathcliff and his undying love for Cathy Earnshaw isn't that discernable, despite the choreographed grappling between actors Gregory Isaac and Lindsay Leopold.

All of this plays out in a cramped set by Alan Donahue that features what I'm guessing is symbolically yin-and-yang platforms and a vertically sliding door that gets as much abuse as the violence-prone characters.

Lifeline's Wuthering Heights doesn't scale the artistic heights of the company's previous work. By comparison, The House Theatre of Chicago has a much more theatrically successful page-to-stage adaptation with Damon Kiely's compelling take on Edward Anderson's novel Thieves Like Us.

Set during the Great Depression in America's Dustbowl states, Thieves Like Us focuses on three escaped jailbirds who rob banks. Bowie Bowers ( a very physical John Byrnes ) falls under the wing of the more experienced T-Dub ( an authoritative Tom Hickey ) and the temperamental Chicamaw ( a hilariously hick-turn by Shawn Pfautsch ) .

Director Kimberly Senior helms a dynamic staging that takes us through the nervous excitement of each heist and outlaw car getaways ( complete with ingenious newspaper scenery ) to the more contemplative pauses as Bowers tries to go straight at the urging of his lover.

Everything clicks stylistically into place with the House Theatre's Thieves Like Us The period production design, the outstanding performances and Beth Sagal's torch signer renditions of Kevin O'Donnell's pastiche songs all make Bowers' inevitable downfall a compelling one to watch. Instead of being hemmed in by the original novel, House Theatre's Thieves Like Us makes a clean break to stand out on its own.

This article shared 3118 times since Wed Sep 29, 2010
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