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THEATER REVIEW The Man Who Was Thursday
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-03-12

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Playwright: adapted by Bilal Dardai

from the story by G.K. Chesterton. At: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. Tickets: LifelineTheatre.com and 773-761-4477; $40. Runs through: April 7

There's a lesson to be learned from G. K. Chesterton's Edwardian-era thriller, but if you spend too much time looking for it, you will likely bypass it completely and miss out on a lot of fun as well.

The year is 1908 and the London parks are teeming with self-styled social radicals proclaiming the virtues of shaking up the status quo. A sympathetic spectator, after persuading one such advocate to orchestrate an entry into the outer fringes of the anarchist movement, succeeds in gaining membership in an elite terrorist cell composed of seven representatives from diverse nations, each operating under a code name echoing the days of the week—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.—with "Sunday" serving as their de facto leader. The exposure of infiltrators among the conspirators, however, render the purpose behind their mission increasingly perplexing.

Exacerbating the perplex in Lifeline's delightfully absurd production is a dramatic universe whose period garb reflects the stylistic flourishes of Steampunk fashion, augmented by patently phony disguises—many involving cross-gender drag—and dialects ( "poet" pronounced "pah-ow-et," for example, or "bull" as "byoool" and "Marquis" as "Maaar-kweez" ). Incidental music featuring plucked strings suggestive of walking on tip-toe, entire scenes lit solely by hand-held flashlights and an extended full-company chase taking full advantage of the myriad locales facilitated by Lifeline's vertical stage and multiple entrances likewise combine to leave us almost as giddy as the characters by the time Chesterton makes his point—not in the smug Sunday's anticlimactic confession, but heralded by a cataclysm resonating with us a century later.

Director Jess Hutchinson has assembled a cast adept at scaling staircases and scrambling through corridors without inflicting the slightest disturbance to wigs, false beards, prosthetic noses or narrative focus, so that while we may be mystified by the progress of our covert agents, at no time are we ever confused. Bilal Dardai's adaptation may acknowledge Chesterton's theological and political views for the benefit of playgoers obsessed with scholarly labels, but those choosing to ignore the latter will find it easy to relax and enjoy an espionage yarn as it might appear if staged by Mel Brooks.


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