The Piano Tuner

February 2 – March 25, 2007

The British War Office wrenches Edgar Drake from his quiet, Victorian life tuning pianos. He must travel to the wilds of war-torn Burma where he meets a mysterious man who believes music is the only chance for peace.

Based on the novel by Daniel Mason 
Adapted by James E. Grote 
Directed by Jonathan Berry

  • Danny Bernardo (Seing To the others)

    Danny is thrilled to work with Lifeline for the first time. Chicago credits include Jedlicka’s production of Miss Saigon (The Engineer), White Horse’s production of I Sing! (Charlie), Bailiwick’s productions of Dorian and Kiss of the Spider Woman, and directing/choreographing tonkawa’s production of Hair. He is a member of About Face’s Education Outreach, a teaching artist with the Journeymen at Gallery 37, and adjunct faculty at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. Training: Columbia, Second City and the American Conservatory Theater. Love and thanks to everyone involved, Joanie, and the Bertucelli’s for keeping him sane. Always remember: life is grand.

  • Patrick Blashill (Edward Drake)

    Patrick is excited to be working with Jonathan Berry and the Lifeline team on The Piano Tuner and has been an ensemble member with Lifeline since 1996, first performing at Lifeline in 1994’s Miss Bianca where he played Bernard the mouse. Other favorite animal roles include Ferdinand the bull in The Story of Ferdinand, and the Mighty Gorilla in The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, which was later remounted for Chicago Theatre on the Air with guest star Brent Spiner. Other Lifeline roles include Victor in Lizard Music, Hugh Thane in The Talisman Ring, Tom in Pistols for Two (Jeff nominated for Best Ensemble), Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd, and Bunter in Strong Poison (Jeff Nominated for Best Ensemble). He is especially proud to have acted in all three books of Lifeline’s Lord of the Rings trilogy that spanned The Fellowship of the Ring (1997), The Two Towers (2000), and The Return of the King (2002). Patrick has worked with numerous other Chicago theatres (most recently an opportunity to play Mr. Knightley in Reverie Theatre’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma) including Victory Gardens, Organic Lab, Theatre on the Lake, Stage Left, and Shakespeare’s Motley Crew. Patrick is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

  • Nathan Davis (Understudy)

    Nathan is thrilled to be working with Lifeline for the first time. Chicago credits include the role of SANTIAGO in A Few Good Men (Raven Theatre) and ensemble roles in The 20th Annual Young Playwright’s Festival (Pegasus Players Theatre) and Imminent Dangers of Love and The Afterlife (Smoke & Mirror Productions). Nathan holds a BFA in Theatre from the University of Illinois where he appeared in productions of OthelloKing Lear and A Raisin in the Sun, among others. He would like to thank his wife of four years, Elizabeth, and his daughter of seven months, Olivia, “for your joyful love and support of all my endeavors.”

  • Kurt Ehrmann (Dr. Carroll and others)

    Kurt is pleased to return to Lifeline, having previously portrayed both Gandalf and a tree in their production of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Most recently, Kurt has been seen in Apple Tree Theatre’s production of Mountain and Hatfield & McCoy for The House Theatre of Chicago. A company member with The Hypocrites, he has performed in nine of their productions including: Roy Cohn in Angels in America, Martin Dysart in Equus, and Charley in Death of a Salesman. This spring he looks forward to rejoining them for his tenth, which will, coincidentally enough, be The Hypocrites’ tenth anniversary production of Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano. Thanks for joining us and being a part of the play.

  • Melanie Esplin (Katherine and others)

    Melanie loves Lifeline – loves doing shows here – loves that the theatre is so close to her house – loves that she is again able to spend the winter months here – and LOVES that she is not in a swimsuit this time. City Lit, Provision, Noble Fool, European Repertory, A Crew of Patches, Striding Lion and HealthWorks Theatre Company have featured in her recent past. She is currently the Local Coordinator for the 365 Days/365 Plays Festival – a year of free theatre in Chicago!

  • Joey Eovaldi (Child)

    Joey is six years old and in the first grade. He participated in Lifeline’s KidsOnstage summer drama camp last year as one of its youngest actors. During camp he participated in writing and performing an original myth about the origins of Chicago. He recently appeared in Where the Wild Things Are at his school.

  • Sienna Harris (Understudy)

    Sienna is thrilled to be working on such a wonderful story, with such talented people. After graduating from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA, Sienna moved to the Midwest where she worked with the American Players Theatre, The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and Shaw Chicago. Favorite roles include Prossy in Candida (APT), Gloria in You Never Can Tell (Shaw Chicago), Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream(Seattle Shakespeare Co.) and Troilus in Troilus and Cressida (Cornish). This spring Sienna looks forward to playing Cleopatra in Ceasar and Cleaopatra with Shaw Chicago, and Prudence in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! with Lifeline Theatre.

  • Yosh Hayashi (The Man with One Story and others)

    Yosh is making his first appearance in a Lifeline production. Some of his past credits back in Alaska, his state of origin, include Dr. Posner in Witand Kipps in Woman in Black for Cyrano’s Playhouse, Cassius in Julius Caesar, Randolph in Lake Hollywood, and Slim in Of Mice and Men. Some of his Chicago credits include Ranger Tom in Escanaba in da Moonlight for Circle Theatre, Raymond Brock in Plenty, Montano in Othello, Melvin in Eikon, and Leo Katz in Pentecost for DePaul University’s Theatre School where he received his MFA in Acting.

  • Somer Kwon (Child)

    Somer is making her first appearance in a theatre production at Lifeline. At 6 years old, she has had great fun performing in various Seedlings Children’s Ministry Christmas productions and Parable drama skits at First Evangelical Free Church in the Andersonville neighborhood. As a SAG member, she has been a principal performer for various national and regional commercials and prints. She lives in the Edgewater Beach neighborhood with her parents and loves being Nina’s older sister.

  • Eric Martig (Nok Lek and others)

    Eric is making his first appearance in a Lifeline Production. His Chicago credits include PINS (Bailiwick Rep) and Raised in Captivity (Act One Studios). He has also been seen at the Actor’s Theater of Charlotte in Take Me Out and at the Dobama Theater in Cleveland in Heaven and Hell on Earth. You can catch him this March in the film Relative Obscuritypremeiring at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

  • Shole Milos (Nash-Burnham and others)

    Shole is a Lifeline Artistic Ensemble member who was last seen in Johnny TremainTrust Me on ThisWhose Body?The Emperor’s Groovy New ClothesMy Father’s Dragon, and Lifeline’s production of Click Clack Mooat the Lakeshore Theatre. As a director, Shole has staged the Lifeline productions of A Long Way From Chicago (also at Theatre on The Lake), Brave PotatoesGiggle Giggle QuackMike Mulligan and His Steam ShovelSophie’s Masterpiece, and many others. Shole has performed in theatres throughout the area in productions of Breaking The CodeA Chorus LineThe Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Bouncers. He has also served as a choreographer and movement coach in addition to serving as creative dramatics instructor for Lifeline’s residency program.

  • Fawzia Mirza (Khin Myo and others)

    Fawzia is making her first appearance in a Lifeline production. She started her career in Chicago as an attorney but immediately saw the error of her ways. She has since performed with Wing & Groove Theatre, Stir Friday Night!, Chicago Script Works, IO, Silk Road Theatre Project and Urban Theatre Co.; she also performs with and is an ensemble member of Soul Theatre, Rasaka Theatre Co. and Catharsis Productions. She dedicates this performance to her father, a man who embodied and taught her compassion, dignity, laughter and sabr (patience). As-salaam-alaikum, Papa.

  • Beethoven Oden (Understudy)

    Beethoven is happy to make his Lifeline understudy debut with The Piano Tuner. A native of Oakland Ca, who received a B.F.A from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle WA, and attended the school at Steppenwolf, now makes Chicago his home. He’s worked with Chautauqua Conservatory in upstate New York, Seattle Shakespeare, Seattle Rep and Seattle Children’s Theatre, and locally with Lookingglass Theatre (Argonautika). Look for him in Victory Gardens production of My Children My Africa directed by Cecil O’Neil.

  • James E. Grote (Adaptor)

    Jim began working with Lifeline Theatre in 1992, appearing as Tucker Mouse in Lifeline’s world premiere production of A Cricket in Times Square. He became an ensemble member in 1999, and the next year adapted C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, which the Chicago Tribune cited as the best family show of the year. Jim’s adaptation of Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago was remounted by Lifeline at Chicago’s Theatre on the Lake in July 2005, and his adaptation (with George Howe) of Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type was presented by First Stage Children’s Theatre in Milwaukee in the spring of that year. Jim has also appeared in Lifeline’s productions of Somebody Loves You, Mr. HatchThe Killer AngelsAround the World in 80 Days (Jeff Award: Outstanding Ensemble); and Johnny Tremain.

  • Jonathan Berry (Director)

    Jonathan is an Associate Artist with the Griffin Theatre, where he has directed Dead EndTime and the Conways (Jeff Nomination, direction) and Picnic, and has co-directed with Rick Barletta Fifth of July and All the Way Home. Other directing projects include productions at Northwestern University, North Park University, the Gift Theatre and Marry Arrchie. He has taught acting and directing courses at Northwestern University and has taught Viewpoints with the School at Steppenwolf and Piven Theatre. He will direct Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui with Steep Theater this coming spring.

  • Pat King (Assistant Director)

    Pat is working for the first time with Lifeline Theatre. He currently serves as literary manager with Greasy Joan, where he is a company member. In the Chicago area, he has appeared onstage in Growing Up Geek (Chicago Scriptworks) and the upcoming Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Piccolo Players). He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he directed Landscape of the Body and appeared in Much Ado About Nothing (Dogberry) and Mud (Henry), among others.

  • Michael Caloia (Stage Manager)

    Michael is pleased to be joining Lifeline for the first time. Chicago credits include work with Writers’ Theatre, Apple Tree, Victory Gardens, About Face, and Marriott Theatre. He spent a wonderful year at Davenports Piano Bar and Cabaret in Wicker Park as the resident Lighting/Sound Designer and SM. Originally from Baltimore, favorite credits include The Food Chain and Angels in America at Axis Theatre, Amadeus at Everyman Theatre, Son of Drakulaat Baltimore Theatre Project, and Stage Managing or Directing many productions at Towson University (2003 Graduate): The Kathy and Mo Showbash: latterday playsRed NosesTwelfth Night, and Shakespeare’s R&J. Thanks to friends and family for the never-ending love and support.

  • Alan Donahue (Scenic and Prop Design)

    Alan has designed scenery for Lifeline’s productions of Johnny TremainQueen Lucia–A Musical RompPistols for Two, and Far from the Madding Crowd, among many others. He received Jeff Citations for his scenery designs of The Little SisterJane Eyre (2001), and Around the World in 80 Days at Lifeline. He also designed lighting for Lifeline’s Killer Angelsand The Talisman Ring. Since joining the ensemble in 2000 he has adapted Donald E. Westlake’s Trust Me on This for the Mainstage and Daniel Pinkwater’s Bongo Larry and Two Bad Bears and Eileen Spinelli’s Sophie’s Masterpiece–A Spider’s Tale for the KidSeries. His adaptation of Adam Langer’s Crossing California will play this spring on the Lifeline MainStage. He is currently also designing One Fine Day for Stage Left Theatre and Headin’ West for Silver Dollar City.

  • Kevin Gawley (Lighting Design)

    Kevin is very excited to be working on The Piano Tuner. As a freelance lighting/scenic designer in Chicago, Kevin’s work has appeared on many Chicago stages, including Lifeline Theatre where he won the Jeff Citation for his design of Jane Eyre, the After Dark Award for his design of Strong Poison, and has been an ensemble member and resident lighting designer since 2001. His work also appeared in numerous productions at the Bailiwick, Porchlight, Organic, OperaModa, Blindfaith, NSHI, Theatre on the Lake, Metropolis, StoreFront, Loyola University Chicago, Revels Chicago, Midwest Jewish and at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival theatres. Kevin is currently the Lighting and Scenic design professor at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and has taught Lighting Design and Technology courses previously at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also one of the resident designers at St. Scholastica Academy. Kevin holds an MFA and BFA in Lighting Design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MBA in Finance from DePaul University.

  • Joshua Horvath (Sound Design)

    Joshua has worked with many Chicago theatres including Court, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Northlight, Lookingglass, About Face, Next, Congo Square, Teatro Vista, Rivendell, Shattered Globe, and Eclipse. His regional credits include The Kennedy Center, Mark Taper, Hartford Stage, Kansas City Rep, Milwaukee Rep, Madison Rep, Milwaukee Shakespeare, and Long Wharf. Joshua is a 4-time Jeff nominee, 1-time winner, and a nominee of the LA Weekly Award. He is also a Lookingglass company member and co-owner of Aria Music Designs, LLC. Joshua teaches sound design at DePaul and Northwestern Universities.

  • Meghan Raham (Costume Design)

    Meghan is a scenic and costume designer who completed her MFA studies at Northwestern University. Her work was recently exhibited at the Young Designers Forum (USITT), and she received a costume design fellowship from the Kennedy Center in 2003. Recent projects include CLAY (A co-production of About Face and Lookingglass Theatre Companies), and Moby-Dick with The Building Stage.

  • Chelsea Warren (Puppet Design)

    Chelsea is currently studying Costume and Scenic design at Northwestern University. In Buffalo, NY she trained in puppetry under puppet master Franklin Lavoie. In Chicago, her puppets were last seen as bunraku Glouster and King Lear, in North Park University’s King Lear. Her costume design work includes Infamous Commonwealth’s Betty’s Summer Vacation, the Mill’s Venus and Northwestern’s Saint JoanBoy Gets GirlAsphalt Beach and the up and coming Cloud Nine. She is very excited to be working with Jon Berry and for her first opportunity of working with Lifeline Theatre!

  • Elise Kauzlaric (Dialect Coach)

    Elise is happy to be coaching for Lifeline again having coached past productions of Johnny TremainThe Killer AngelsThe Shadow and Trust Me on This. She is also a member of Lifeline’s artistic ensemble. Other dialect coaching projects include Angels in AmericaEquus and Henry V(the hypocrites); Wintertime (Reverie) and A Christmas CarolTo Kill a Mocking Bird and Cabaret (Metropolis Theatre).

  • Lavina Jadhwani (Dramaturg)

    Lavina received Kennedy Center ACTF Dramaturgy awards for her work on Urinetown and Arcadia; other dramaturgical credits include The Pillowman at the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, Miss Witherspoon at Next Theatre, Caravaggio at the Silk Road Theatre Project, and AssassinsAs You Like ItMarisol, and Sly Fox at Carnegie Mellon University. Lavina is a recipient of the 2007 LMDA (Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas) Residency Award for her work at the Silk Road Theatre Project, where she will serve as the dramaturg for David Henry Hwang’s Golden Child and Shishir Kurup’s Merchant on Venice this season. Directing credits include Where the Red Fern Grows (TYA @ Apple Tree Theatre), Santa Fe (Appetite Theatre), and Swingin’ with Petula (Point of Contention). Lavina holds a BFA in Drama and a Masters in Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • R&D Choreography (Violence Design)

    R&D Choreography is thrilled to be working with Lifeline once again. R&D is a non-profit company founded by David Gregory and Richard Gilbert for the purpose of improving the power and effectiveness of Chicago area theatre through the art of violence design. While working in Chicago since 1997, R&D has choreographed fight scenes in over one hundred productions, taught stage combat at universities, colleges, and workshops, and performed in professional theatre, live stunt shows, and film. They have designed violence for dozens of Chicago theatres, including About Face, American Theatre Company, Azusa, Blindfaith, Bailiwick, Circle, First Folio, Griffin, National Pastimes, Piven, Profiles, Shakespeare’s Motley Crew, and Trapdoor.

  • Charlie "Ziggy" Olson (Technical Director)

    Charlie is enjoying his first season here with Lifeline. He is a technical director around town, working at City Lit Theatre, A Red Orchid Theatre, Bobkat Productions, and as a carpenter for Chicago Shakespeare. His original training as an actor has been shelved for awhile as he makes a name for himself technically. He can still be seen in productions by Theatre Seven, a company he helped found in 2006. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2004.

  • Cortney Hurley (Production Manager)

    Cortney is excited to be working with Lifeline Theatre for the season. Previous and current production management positions include Ellen Under Glass for the House Theatre of Chicago, Marathon ’33 for Strawdog, One False Note for Plasticene, as well as the Assistant Production Manager at Theater on the Lake for the last 3 years. Cortney is also a company member of 20% Theatre, where she often acts as production manager, lighting and set designer, and dramaturg, among other things. During the school year Cortney can be found at St. Scholastica Academy, where she has been the resident designer (scenery and lighting) and technical theatre instructor/director for the last eight years.

From the Chicago Tribune

Lifeline doesn’t miss a beat when it plays the ‘Piano Tuner’

February 12, 2007

Audiences who patronize the unpretentious Lifeline Theatre trust it to tell them stories with complexity, import and heart. It rarely lets them down. As its fascinating current production amply demonstrates, Lifeline’s ongoing excellence flows both from its smart selection of fresh literary sources and the unstinting clarity of its theatrical execution.

Daniel Mason’s novel “The Piano Tuner” is set in British-occupied Burma in 1866. And the adapter, Lifeline’s James E. Grote, is especially adept at period yarns, particularly of the colonialist era. But Mason published “The Piano Tuner” in 2002, when he was 26 years old. The book is subtly post-colonialist, even as it pays clear homage to such famed chroniclers of the British in India as Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and E.M. Forster. In publishing circles, it was hailed as the work of a wunderkind.

Grote’s new stage version explains why.

The story involves a shy and retiring piano tuner, movingly underplayed by Patrick Blashill, hired away from his semi-somnolent English existence to go tune a grand piano halfway across the world. The instrument is the property of an eccentric military man, Dr. Anthony Carroll (Kurt Ehrmann). At the start of the tale, the British authorities regard Carroll as so valuable to the effort in Burma that his musical eccentricities are to be indulged whatever the cost. But by the midpoint of the story, it’s no longer so clear whether Carroll still has Her Majesty’s interests at heart, not that anyone really knows how (or if) those interests intersect with those of Burma itself.

But the plot centers on the tuner – a shy, formalist craftsman dragged into the messiness of colonial politics and occupation and who undergoes a long-delayed coming of sexual age, right there in the jungle. As Forster observed in “A Passage to India,” the English hate muddles. And the poor tuner – ill-equipped to deal with cynicism, betrayal and heat – is one of those Forster-type antiheroes whose self-destructive inability to resist munching on the metaphorical lotus anticipates the end of an empire.

But Mason goes further. The tuner feels like an archetypal smug, apolitical, classical artist, suddenly forced to confront a citizen’s real-world obligations. And there is much chatter here about the role of art and culture in military occupation – a theme that inevitably evokes Iraq and whether (or not) the importation of a few reluctant piano tuners on those military transports to Baghdad might do some good. Or merely expose the rot.

All those things float around in your head as the capable director, Jonathan Berry, and his eight actors tell Mason’s story in a small space without pretension or a huge budget, but with pace, truth and imagination.

I wouldn’t claim the Burmese environment is fully realized. And some parts of the novel feel rushed and a few moments unearned. But there are some rich performances here – especially one by Shole Milos, who turns his British military operative into a figure of real complexity. And you’ll be drawn into the tuner’s journey, for sure.

The apparent close fit between this novel and Grote’s shrewd, practical adaptation makes you wonder why this lush cinematic novel has yet to become a movie. In Chicago, at least, we have the Lifeline.



From the Chicago Sun-Times

An English ‘Tuner’ blossoms in Burma

February 13, 2007

Highly Recommended

As Noel Coward reminded us, only “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” Yet for as long as the sun never set on the British Empire, such Englishmen wandered the far reaches of the globe and suffered the sort of heat strokes that had more to do with culture shock and altered consciousness than hyperthermia or crisped skin.

This phenomenon was, of course, not restricted to the English. Take a French diplomat or an American soldier and put him in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq — or, for that matter, take any intrepid traveler and put her in Mexico, North Africa or even Italy — and a spell might very well be cast, a transformation set in motion.

Edgar Drake, the lead character in Daniel Mason’s best-selling 2002 novel The Piano Tuner — a book now receiving a wonderfully evocative world premiere stage adaptation by Lifeline Theatre — is a classic case. Back home in England, he’s a rather timid if latently romantic middle-class Victorian — childless after a long marriage to a seemingly passionate woman, and quite obsessive about his work as a piano tuner, even if he consistently underplays his musical abilities.

Drake has never traveled beyond the borders of his own island nation. But then, in 1886, something akin to an official order comes to him by way of the British War Office — a request that he head to the most remote and embattled jungles of Burma, where he is to tune an Erard grand. He obeys. It is a fateful decision.

The piano, originally transported under the most treacherous conditions, is the property of Dr. Anthony Carroll, a British major with the unique distinction of being able to maintain some sort of alliance with local tribes and thereby prevent the French colonialists from taking control of the region. Carroll has a near- mythic reputation (think of Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz in the film “Apocalypse Now”), and for the moment at least, he must be humored. Some even believe it is his music that has beguiled the restless locals.

“The Piano Tuner” is expertly scripted by James E. Grote and ingeniously directed by Jonathan Berry, with help from a grand team of designers. We watch as Drake blossoms by way of actor Patrick Blashill’s impeccable performance — one that captures his character’s slow metamorphosis as he embarks on an elaborate, eye-opening, exceedingly treacherous, love-spiced odyssey. Drake’s wife, Katherine (a savvy turn by Melanie Esplin), is gradually pushed into the half-light by the appearance of an elusive, English-speaking guide and seductress named Khin Myo (Fawzia Mirza works her subtle magic) and by the formidable presence of Carroll (the first-rate Kurt Ehrmann). Deftly shape-shifting as dozens of other exotic characters are Shole Milos, Yosh Hayashi, Eric Martig and Danny Bernardo.

“The Piano Tuner” offers sublime storytelling plus a grand tour. And no passport or visa is required.