From the Chicago Sun-Times
Dig up ‘Treasure’ at Lifeline show
September 22, 2009
By Hedy Weiss
Nobody does it better than Lifeline Theatre when it comes to spinning a rip-roaring yarn full of derring-do and adventure. And now, from the company that brought us such high-spirited productions as “The Mark of Zorro” and “Johnny Tremain” comes John Hildreth’s smart, funny, often savage stage adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic Treasure Island.
Directed with enormous zest by Robert Kauzlaric, the production is being performed by an all-male cast of 10 fearless, continually morphing actors who make their way around a perilous ship deck (sensational work by set designer Alan Donahue) as if they’ve spent years at sea. And yes, if at this point you have the impulse to let out a throaty refrain of “yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum,” feel free to do so. We are, of course, in pirate territory.
Though shot through with deceit, greed, betrayal and matters of hard-core survival, “Treasure Island” is, at its core, a morality tale — one in which a young boy is faced with issues of good and evil, and with the notion of what it means to give one’s word to another man. It is, in short, the education of a proper young Englishman in the ways of the world. And it comes decked out in a great deal more panache than the wretched real-life tales of all those cargo ships recently hijacked off the coast of Somalia. But be warned: While this might have been a favorite childhood novel (remember the map?), this is quite an adult show, with a complicated plot and considerable brutality. (Cheers for Geoff Coates’ spectacular fight direction).
The story unfolds in flashback with an inquiry about the terrible fate of the Hispaniola, a great schooner. The ship sailed for a Caribbean island after a map detailing the location of a vast pile of gold bullion that was hidden years before by pirates fell into the hands of Jim Hawkins (a very adept, sweet-faced Warren Weber), the 12-year-old innocent who signs on as cabin boy and gains great gumption along the way.
The rest of the crew is enough to make veteran Captain Smollett (Robert McLean) queasy from the start — a feeling he shares with both the honorable Dr. Livesey (Patrick Blashill), and the voyage’s underwriter, the wealthy, ever-blabbering Squire Trelawney (John Ferrick). Smollett is especially wary of the peglegged galley chief, Long John Silver (a delicious turn by the wonderfully droll Sean Sinitski), a true pirate. And of course his suspicions turn out to be warranted, though Silver is a complex figure. The truth is, all the men here, whether upper crust fortune-seekers or full-fledged thugs — hunger for riches. (And, as we learn, one man’s gold is another man’s cheese.)
The ensemble is terrific, with Chris Hainsworth, Christopher M. Walsh, Ezekiel Sulkes, C. Sean Piereman and Eduardo Garcia as a fine bunch of battered and battering gold-diggers.
From the Chicago Tribune
Full-blown ‘Treasure Island’ sails into Lifeline: Prepare to be boarded
September 22, 2009
By Chris Jones
The first clue is the way the expansive rigging of the good ship Hispaniola so overwhelms the Lifeline Theatre stage, it threatens to sail out onto the Red Line tracks on the other side of the wall. It would probably move faster than the CTA, too. The second is the serious, bewigged faces of the men describing the mutinous horrors wrought by Long John Silver and his motley crew of scurvy dogs.
And the third is the aura of perpetual adolescent adventure that permeates the salty air of the theater.
Yep, this is “Treasure Island” done right.
Well, almost. Long John’s infamously chatty parrot Captain Flint is AWOL, which is a pity. And Silver’s supposed peg leg looks suspiciously fleshy.
Still, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel has suffered all manner of cultural indignities since the Scottish novelist first created Skeleton Island, Billy Bones, Blind Pew and the rest of the boys (and they are all boys). The worst takes places on the Las Vegas Strip, where the scantily clad women of “Sirens of T.I.” vamp at the entrance of the Treasure Island Hotel. Several times a night.
There’s none of that fake nonsense in Robert Kauzlaric’s straight-up Lifeline production, which treats this grand yarn with the upmost dignity, and features some spectacular violence choreographed by Geoff Coates. This is, of course, a coming-of-age story wherein young Jim Hawkins learns that greed can do a man in; that good and evil invariably co-exist in the same chaps; and that a position in the moneyed classes is no guarantee of personal integrity.
On Sunday afternoon, a rapt audience clearly appreciated all of this attention to detail, not to mention the willingness of a big cast of manly men to dig deep into their souls as they contemplated a potential trip to Davy Jones’ locker. Thanks to the inventions of designer Alan Donahue and a slew of deliciously droll performances from the likes of Robert McLean, Christopher M. Walsh and young Warren Weber, this is an engrossing adventure that Kauzlaric unfolds at break-neck pace.
There is, frankly, a bit too much plot in the novel for John Hildreth’s adaptation to cover it with ease. Things unfold fast and there’s at least one narrative frame too many. The novel’s signature creepy moments — such as the delivery of the Black Spot to Billy Bones — don’t have enough room to breath. I’d also argue that Sean Sinitski’s earnest but low-key Long John Silver could broaden his theatricality without trafficking in stereotypes. And the famous moment when treasure is dug doesn’t have all the dramatic shape it deserves.
But this is the pirate uber-text, landlubbers. Ship-shape in Rogers Park. Arrr.
Shiver Me Timbers! Lifeline’s Treasure Island Is Explosive
September 21, 2009
By Suzy Evans
Theater critics don’t applaud very often. It’s part of their attempt not to be associated with the theater’s marketing department, and if you happen to be at the same show as a critic, god forbid you should know how they feel about the show before it’s in newsprint. (Err, blog type.) If they really like a play, sometimes they’ll tap their fingers together, or maybe even allow full hand on hand contact, but actual sound never results. However, after Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere stage adaptation of Treasure Island, every pair of press kit holding hands was violently smacking together, and we wouldn’t be exaggerating if we said a few critics, even the recognizable ones, were sitting on the edge of their seats, begging for more.
We were definitely among that group of clapping critics, and if you don’t believe us, we’re confident you can read most any review of this show and they’ll all say the same thing. John Hildreth’s adaptation of the age-old novel by Robert Louis Stevenson is nothing short of stunning, and although Wikipedia claims it is one of the most frequently dramatized of all novels, we’re confident this production could blow the others out of the water. Before the show began, Lifeline Artistic Director Dorothy Milne warned audience members that there was going to be gunfire, but before the first shot was fired, we knew we were in for so much more.
Hildreth’s adaptation tells the iconic tale of Captain Flint’s buried treasure through the eye witness accounts of young Jim Hawkins, Captain Smollet and Doctor Livesey. If you haven’t read the original text like (like us), you probably know the basics of the story – buried treasure, the black spot, and a the questionably moral one-legged seaman Long John Silver, who’s name is arguably more well-known than Captain Jack Sparrow.
From the perfectly constructed three-tiered set to the expertly choreographed fight scenes to the subtleties in sound design – a bar scene has the perfect background of white noise – the success of this production is in the details. Every actor executes a crisp dialect and even the tiny bits of debris in Ben Gunn’s ragged wig lend an expert sense of reality. This show is as close to perfection as they come, and if you have a thing for pirates, it’s just that much better.
From Chicago Theatre Blog
September 22, 2009
By Catey Sullivan
“There are two kinds of men in the world,” the impeccably honest innkeeper Mr. Hawkins impresses upon his impressionable young son Jim early on in Treasure Island. “There are decent, God-fearing men who honor God, King and Country.” And here, the good father stops in a fraught pause worthy of Pinter before darkly concluding: “And pirates.”
The moment loses much of its impact on the page, but on stage it captures the marvelous duality of John Hildreth’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s coming-of-age-with-pirates classic. On the one hand, this is a violent and sobering story thick with casual, brutal killing and unbridled greed. On the other hand, it’s rich with wry humor, even if that humor is often as black as Blackbeard’s beard.
Directed by Robert Kauzlaric, Treasure Island is a complex adventure that skimps on neither bloodshed nor labyrinthine plot details. Although older children may well find the production thrilling, this is not children’s theater – the stabbings, shootings, stranglings and other assorted murderous goings-on are staged with nightmarish impact. (An early bloodletting scene that looks wincingly real turns out to be only the amuse bouche of the evening.) Moreover, Stevenson’s story sometimes seems to have as many threads as the massive ship’s rigging that stretches in great, ropey arms from stage floor to flyspace. As Jim Hawkins’ allegiances shift from pirates to decent men and back again, you’ll be forgiven if you start to feel that you’re watching an elaborate sort of ping-pong game between scurvy rapscallions and proper British gentlemen. The primary flaw in Hildreth’s adaptation is that characters sometimes get lost amid the plot’s complexities. Amid flashbacks, cannon blasts, and hordes of seamen both jolly and evil, it’s not hard to lose track of who’s who among treasure seekers.
The glorious exception – and lynchpin of this able-bodied adventure – is Sean Sinitski. If there’s a Chicago actor better suited to play the uni-ped antihero Long John Silver, well, we’ll eat a fried parrot stuffed with counterfeit doubloons and basted with rancid rum for Sunday dinner. Young Master Hawkins (Warren Weber, in a solid, if somewhat distant performance) might be the moral center of the story, but Sinitski’s Long John is its moral compass. And a fascinating, conflicted compass he is indeed. Stumping along on prosthetic designer David Rende’s marvelously realized peg leg, Sinitski is a father figure of surprising and unconventional virtue. There is indeed honor among thieves, or pirates as the case may be, as decent men and scalliwags alike enlist Jim’s help in recovering the long lost treasure of the late, unlamented Captain Flint.
The supporting cast is an exemplary ensemble. Kauzlaric accomplishes that signature Lifeline feat of making 10 actors seem like dozens, filling the two hours stage traffic with an epic array of buccaneering rascals and proper Brits. Chief among equals: Christopher Walsh as the rum-and-rickets-infused Billy Bones, a rogue whose “thundering apoplexy” proves the catalyst for the story’s rollicking treasure hunt. Also notable is John Ferrick’s Squire Trelawney, an imperious fusspot who manages to keep his wig perfectly powdered even while under siege in the torrid climes of a tropical isle. Chris Hainsworth’s villainous Israel Hands is a fine, blackhearted reprobate while Patrick Blashill’s Dr. Livesey is a suitably multi-layered good guy foil to Sinitski’s oceanic outlaw. Sea chanteys play a lively part in creating the on-stage community, and for that, Andy Hansen’s original music and sound design should be applauded.
Set designer Alan Donahue (with the atmospheric assistance of Kevin D. Gawley’s lighting design) outdoes himself, creating a wonderfully flexible world of ropes and planks and pulleys that easily shifts from ship to shore. As for all the brawling inherent to any story involving pirates, fight director Geoff Coates creates all-hands-on-deck fisticuffs of skull-thumping veracity.
In all, it’s been a cracking fine year for Robert Louis Stevenson: Lifeline’s Treasure Island is the second world premiere adaptation of the tale this season. (A musical version, penned by former Chicagoans Curt Dale Clark and his husband Marc Robin, debuted at Indianapolis’ Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre in April.) The book can be a tough read –-Stevenson’s speech patterns might not flow so easily to those used to the 21st century vernacular. A trip to Lifeline will make it abundantly clear just why the story is a classic.
From New City
September 22, 2009
By Lisa Buscani
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1881 classic gets a high-energy adaptation in Lifeline’s season opener. Young Jim Hawkins (Warren Weber, holding his own with the vets) falls in with murderous pirates and sets sail in search of long-buried gold, foiling double- and triple-crosses along the way.
Lifeline’s technical excellence is on board: Geoff Coates’ fight choreography is inventive and well-executed; Alan Donahue’s multi-level set transforms easily from pub to ship to island fort. Branimira Ivanova’s costumes capture the grimy foppishness of the era.
The script’s second act gets bogged down by stand-offs and switched allegiances, but Robert Kauzlaric’s direction doesn’t allow too much downtime. The ensemble occasionally rushes laugh lines in John Hildreth’s frequently funny adaptation; more time in front of big audiences will cure that. Sean Sinitski’s charming, amoral Long John Silver cons and kills without compunction; John Ferrick steals his scenes with bombast and villainy. It’s a fun high-seas adventure for everyone.