The Moonstone

Feb 4 – March 27, 2011
Thu & Fri at 7:30pm, Sat at 4pm & 8pm, Sun at 4pm

“A ripping good tale”  –Time Out Chicago

“They create an atmosphere of suspense to rivet our curiosity for every swiftly paced minute leading up to a satisfying resolution.”  –Windy City Times

“Kauzlaric’s script touches on the brutal consequences of colonialist imperialism and opium addiction without losing sight of the fact that ‘The Moonstone’ should, above all, reflect a slightly askew, but affectionate, portrait of a comfortable English gentry on the verge of unimaginable changes.”  –Chicago Tribune

The Moonstone, an Indian diamond steeped in a history of violence and mysticism, is stolen from Rachel Verinder’s sitting room, and no one in her household is above suspicion. Join an unforgettable collection of liars, lovers, addicts and outcasts as they struggle to uncover the truth and reclaim the stone before its curse destroys them all. This thrilling mystery, regarded as the first detective novel in the English language, is re-imagined by the award-winning adaptor and director of The Island of Dr. Moreau and Neverwhere.

A world premiere based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins
Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist

Highlights from The Moonstone

  • Kaitlin Byrd (Drusilla Clack, Rosanna Spearman)

    Kaitlin is pleased to perform in her first production with Lifeline Theatre. She most recently appeared in Caffeine Theatre’s production of Under Milk Wood. Other notable performances include Mary in Tallgrass Gothic and Sara in Translations, both with Caffeine Theatre; Iris in Girl in the Goldfish Bowl with New Leaf; Phyllis in This Happy Breed at TimeLine; and Lorna in Famous Door’s The Cider House Rules. Kaitlin is a founding member of The Plagiarists, with whom she writes, directs, and performs.

  • Sonja Field (Penelope Betteredge)

    Sonja is very excited to be performing for the first time at Lifeline. In Chicago, she was last seen as Alizon in Theo Ubique’s The Lady’s Not For Burning, and in Chekhov’s Shorts with the Saint Sebastian Players. She has previously worked on Julius Caesar with the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, and Hamlet with the Bricolage Production Co. Favorite University credits include GhostsThe London Cuckolds, and Don Carlos. She received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009.

  • Peter Greenberg (Ezra Jennings, Indian))

    Peter is familiar to Lifeline audiences for roles including Rochester (Jane Eyre), Phileas Fogg (Around The World In 80 Days), Tristram Shield (The Talisman Ring), Lord Peter Wimsey, and many others. He is a member of the Lifeline artistic ensemble and has also directed and adapted here. Before coming to Chicago, Peter worked extensively in regional theater on everything from Shakespeare and Moliere to Sam Shepard and Neil Simon, and he co-founded the Actors Shakespeare Company in Albany, New York.

  • Vincent P. Mahler (Matthew Bruff, Thomas Candy)

    Vince has performed for such current Chicago companies as Silk Road Theatre Project (Merchant on VeniceOur EnemiesTen Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith), TimeLine (The General From AmericaGuantanamo); Signal Ensemble Theatre (The Weir), Circle Theatre (What’s Wrong With Angry?), Seanachaí (Dylan), and Rasaka (culture/clash). In addition, he has credits with a long list of companies no longer with us: Chicago Jewish Theatre, Impulse, Interplay, Irish Repertory, Magellan, New Tuners, and his own Frump Tucker Theatre Company, for which he served as artistic director, dramaturg, and company member during its 7-year tenure (RIP).

  • C. Sean Piereman (Godfrey Ablewhite)

    C. Sean is thankful to return to the Lifeline stage after appearing in Treasure Island last season. His Chicago stage credits include Sweet Bird of Youth (The Artistic Home), The People We Know (Side Project), Doubtand Les Liaisons Dangereuses (RedTwist Theatre), StageLeft’s Leapfest, The Ruling Class (Backstage Theatre), and many others. Aside from his commercial and film work, he also performs motion capture for WB Games’ Mortal Kombat series. C.Sean has a BFA in Performance from Virginia Commonwealth University, has studied at BADA in Oxford, and has trained locally with The Artistic Home, Second City, and Actor’s Gymnasium.

  • Cody Proctor (Franklin Blake)

    Cody is very excited to be making his Lifeline debut. He most recently appeared in The Water Engine: An American Fable with Theatre Seven of Chicago, Last of My Species II with Redmoon, and The Crucible with Infamous Commonwealth, all in 2010. Regional credits include the ’08 and ’09 seasons at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Cody also tours occasionally all over the world as a company member of Alithea Mime Theatre.

  • John Henry Roberts (Mr. Murthwaite, Septimus Luker)

    John Henry is very happy to return to Lifeline after appearing in Wuthering Heights earlier this season. He is a member of Strawdog Theatre Company, where his credits include Detective Story (Non-Equity Jeff Award: Ensemble), Three Sisters (After Dark Award: Outstanding Ensemble), and Aristocrats (Non-Equity Jeff nomination: Actor in a Supporting Role). Other credits include Wilson Wants It All with The House Theatre, Leaving Iowa at The Royal George, and To the Green Fields Beyond at Writers’ Theatre (Jeff Award nomination: Ensemble). He can next be seen in BackStage Theatre Company’s production of Three Days of Rain, opening in May.

  • Sean Sinitski (Gabriel Betteredge)

    Sean is pleased return to Lifeline once again, having last been seen as Mr. Croup in Neverwhere. He was member of Defiant and performed such roles as Hamlet, Macduff, and a guy that got his thumb stolen in Action Movie: the Play! Other Chicago credits include: Back of the Throat (Silk Road); The Cherry OrchardThe Merchant of VeniceDetective Story (Strawdog); Winter’s Tale (Chicago Shakespeare); The Doctor’s Dilemma (Writers Theatre); Accidental Death of an AnarchistThe Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Next Theatre); Henry VBalm in Gilead (the hypocrites); Fellow Travelers (Stage Left); and Another Day in the Empire (Black Sheep).

  • Dave Skvarla (Sergeant Richard Cuff, Mr. Ablewhite, Colonel John Herncastle)

    Dave is delighted to return to Lifeline, having worked here previously as Winston Niles Rumfoord in The Sirens of Titan, James Vane (Elder) in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Superintendent Kirk in Busman’s Honeymoon. Spring 2011, Dave will play General Woundwort in Lifeline’s world premiere adaptation of Watership Down. Recent credits include The New Adventures of Popeye (Bluto) at The Factory Theater, Of Mice And Men (Lenny Smalls) at Oak Park Festival Theatre, Under Milk Wood (Capt. Cat) with Caffeine Theatre, City Lit’s Macbeth, Backstage Theatre’s Bloody Bess, and Dirty Diamonds at The Factory Theater.

  • Ann Sonneville (Rachel Verinder)

    Ann is overjoyed to be working with the remarkable folks at Lifeline for the first time. She was most recently seen as Trisha in Bruised Orange Theater Co.’s production of Lakefront Property. Other Chicago credits include The Ghost Sonata (Oracle Productions); The Artist Needs A Wife(the side project); and Village of K__Siberian Mouth, and The Nebraska Project with BOTC, where she also serves as a proud ensemble member and resident costumes/properties designer. Ann is also a professional voice over artist and co-creator/cast member of BOTC’s hit comedy show I Saw You.

  • Jenifer Tyler (Lady Julia Verinder, Landlady)

    Jenifer is a graduate of DePaul Theatre School and a Lifeline ensemble member since 2001. Most recently, at Lifeline, she was seen as Estelle in Mrs. Caliban. In 2001 she received a Joseph Jefferson award for Outstanding Actress in a Principle Role, for her portrayal of Jane in Jane Eyre, and a nomination for her 2007 performance as Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night. Jenifer also directed The Velveteen Rabbit for Lifeline’s KidSeries. She is a member emeritus of the writing-performance group The Sweat Girls and a teaching artist with Lifeline’s CPS residency program.

  • Vic May (Understudy)

    Vic was last seen at Lifeline Theatre as Mr. Smith/Lancelot in Half Magic. Vic is an ensemble member with Red Tape Theatre Company, where performances have included Tereus in The Love of the Nightingale and Cliff in Enemy of the People. Vic has also been seen in the past three Christmas Pantos at Piccolo Theatre most recently as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: The Panto. Other theatres include Oak Park Festival Theatre, Redmoon Theatre, Theatre Hikes, Wichita Center for the Arts, Wichita Children’s Theatre, and H&A Summer Theatre.

  • Jhenai Mootz (Understudy)

    Jhenai is privileged to be working with Lifeline. Last summer she was seen as Liz in Circle Theatre’s The Philadelphia Story. Recent local credits include: You Can’t Take it With YouArms and the ManDancing at LughnasaMuch Ado About NothingMurder by the BookPicnic (Oak Park Festival Theatre); The Mystery of Edgar Allen Poe (First Folio Theatre); The Crucible (North Region Theatre); and Necessary Targets (St. Sebastian Players). Jhenai’s theatre-inspired artwork can currently be found in Lifeline’s lobby. Jhenai holds a B.F.A. from the University of Utah’s Actor Training Program.

  • Robert Kauzlaric (Adaptor)

    Robert is a proud member of Lifeline’s artistic ensemble. He has written ten theatrical adaptations which have been produced in sixteen states around the U.S., as well as in Ireland. At Lifeline, he previously adapted the MainStage productions of The Island of Dr. Moreau (Non-Equity Jeff Awards: Best Production-Play and New Adaptation; published by Playscripts, Inc.), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Non-Equity Jeff Nomination: New Adaptation; published by Playscripts, Inc.), and Neverwhere; and the KidSeries productions of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! and Flight of the Dodo. His new adaptation of The Three Musketeers premiered at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival last summer. Robert has also appeared as an actor in over a dozen productions on the Lifeline stage, and directed last season’s Treasure Island.

  • Paul S. Holmquist (Director)

    Paul has been a Lifeline ensemble member since 2006. Directing credits with Lifeline include NeverwhereBusman’s Honeymoon (Non-Equity Jeff Nomination: Production-Play), Flight of the DodoThe Island of Dr. Moreau(winner of 5 Non-Equity Jeff Awards including Best Production-Play; nominated for Director-Play) and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Other directing credits include The Robber Bridegroom (Non-Equity Jeff Award Nomination: Director-Musical) and The Constant Wife with Griffin Theatre Company, and Under Milk Woodwith Caffeine Theatre. As an actor, Paul most recently appeared at Lifeline in The Picture of Dorian Gray (Non-Equity Jeff Award Nomination: Supporting Actor-Play) and will soon be playing Hazel in Watership Down. Paul is a graduate of the BFA Acting program of The Theatre School at DePaul University and holds a Graduate Laban CMA from Columbia College Chicago, where he teaches and works.

  • Katie Adams (Stage Manager)

    Katie is thrilled to be working with Lifeline for the first time. Recent stage management credits include A Brief History of Helen of Troy with Steep Theatre Company, Roosevelt University’s annual opera, and numerous productions at Northwestern University, where she also holds her BA.

  • Cristina DeRisi (Sound Designer)

    Cristina is thrilled to be designing her first show at Lifeline. Regional credits include Dr. FaustusOrigin StoryMilitary 4-PlayBusytownSnow White, and Clementine and the Cyber Ducks with Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY; and she recently designed There’s No Place Like Home at University of London’s CSSD. In Chicago, Cristina designed Tester with 20% Theatre Company; Mami, Where’d My O Go? with t&t Productions; Route 66’s McMeekin Finds Out; and Hurrah For The Next Who DiesAlice In WonderlandGhostsThe LoverMacbethFlow My Tears The Policeman SaidA Raisin in the SunHaroun and the Sea of Stories, and The American in Me with DePaul University’s Theatre School.

  • Richard Gilbert (Assistant Director)

    Richard is really enjoying the opportunity to work with this astonishingly talented group of artists. Having worked with Paul and Rob as a violence designer on both The Island of Dr. Moreau and Neverwhere, he is honored to be working with them even more closely as assistant director.

  • Cortney Hurley (Production Manager)

    Cortney is happy to be returning for her fifth season with Lifeline after working on such productions as The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Mark of Zorro. Previous production management positions include the last four seasons at Strawdog Theatre, Ellen Under Glasswith the House Theatre of Chicago, and One False Note with Plasticene. She currently serves as the Production Manager and General Manager at Strawdog Theatre, as well as the Assistant Production Manager at Theater on the Lake (since 2004).

  • Elise Kauzlaric (Dialect Coach)

    Elise has been a member of Lifeline’s artistic ensemble since 2005, and was most recently seen on the Lifeline stage in Neverwhere. She has coached dialects for numerous Lifeline productions, including Busman’s HoneymoonThe Picture of Dorian GrayThe Mark of ZorroThe Island of Dr. MoreauThe Piano Tuner, and The Killer Angels, and received a Non-Equity Jeff Nomination for her direction of Mariette in Ecstasy. Other dialect coaching projects around Chicago include Frost/Nixon (TimeLine); Mojo Mickybo(Seanachaí); Aunt Dan and Lemon and Memory (Backstage Theatre Co.); Golda’s Balcony(Pegasus Players); AftermathThe Ballad of the Sad CaféThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and The Birthday Party (Signal Ensemble); and Angels in AmericaEquus and Henry V (the hypocrites).

  • Bill Morey (Costume Designer)

    Bill is happy to be working with Lifeline for the first time. He has been nominated for three Equity Jeff Awards for Costume Design-Midsize, winning in 2008 for Nine at Porchlight Music Theatre. He has also received two After Dark Awards and been nominated for two BroadwayWorld Awards. Bill has designed for Griffin, TimeLine, Theo Ubique, Boho, Hell in a Handbag, The Scooty and Jojo Show, Piven, Bailiwick Rep, Bailiwick Collective, Emerald City and others.

  • R&D Choreography: David Gregory & Richard Gilbert (Violence Designers)

    R&D Choreography is totally psyched to once again be working with Lifeline. 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. Since 1997, R&D has choreographed fight scenes in over one hundred and seventy 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 area theatres, including About Face, Apple Tree, ATC, Azusa, Bailiwick, Blindfaith, Circle, First Folio, Griffin, National Pastimes, New American Theatre, Piven, Profiles, Shakespeare’s Motley Crew, Theo Ubique and Trapdoor.

  • Maren Robinson (Dramaturg)

    Maren is honored to return to Lifeline Theatre, where she last worked with Paul and Rob on Neverwhere. She is also dramaturg for the current productions of The Master and Margarita at Strawdog and In Darfur at TimeLine Theatre, where she is an Associate Artist. Maren was an artistic intern at Steppenwolf Theatre. She also has worked with Eclipse, Caffeine, Greasy Joan and Camenae and CityLit theaters. She holds a master’s degree in humanities from the University of Chicago. She has taught or lectured at the Newberry Library, the Chicago Public Library and various Chicago universities. Maren is a member of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.

  • Joe Schermoly (Properties Designer)

    Joe studied at Northwestern University and recently returned to Chicago after two years in London designing and building sets. London design credits include the UK premieres of Suzan Lori-Parks’ In the Blood and Bekah Brunstetter’s You May Go Now. Chicago credits include The Constant WifeHow I Spent My Last Night on Earth (Griffin), Richard III (Strawdog), and Sweet Confinement (Sinnerman).

  • Barbara Trinh (Properties Assistant))

    Barbara Trinh has been an props assistant at the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Center for over a year. The Moonstone is her first production at Lifeline Theatre.

  • Brandon Wardell (Lighting Designer)

    Brandon returns to Lifeline after designing Mrs Caliban and Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch. He is an Ensemble member with Backstage Theatre Co. and Adventure Stage Chicago, and recently designed the lights for And A Child Shall Lead. Other lighting designs include Aunt Dan and Lemon (Backstage), The Hollow Lands (Steep), and the US Premiere of Harper Regan (Steep). Scenic Designs include Baal (TUTA), Holes (ASC), In Arabia We’d All Be Kings(Steep), and Dracula (Building Stage). Brandon earned his MFA from Northwestern University and teaches at several Chicago area Universities.

  • Ian Zywica (Scenic Designer & Technical Director)

    Ian works throughout Chicago as a freelance Scenic Designer and Technical Director. His design work includes The Blue Shadow (Lifeline KidSeries); Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lilly (Barter Theatre); One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Gift Theatre); Over the Tavern (Noble Fool Theatre); The Robber Bridegroom (Griffin Theatre); Into The Woods(Porchlight Music Theatre); and Under Milk Wood (Caffeine Theatre). Upcoming designs include Meet John Doe (Porchlight Music Theatre) and Jackie and Me (Chicago Children’s Theatre).

From the Chicago Tribune

February 16, 2011
By Kerry Reid

An exotic gem from India sets off a string of misadventures and misunderstandings for a gaggle of handsome Brits. No, it’s not the Beatles in “Help!” — it’s Wilkie Collins’ classic 1868 Victorian detective tale, “The Moonstone,” now in a tidy world-premiere adaptation courtesy of Lifeline Theatre.

This is the second show in a row for the Rogers Park company set at least partly in the lonely wastelands of Yorkshire, but the tone of Robert Kauzlaric’s well-constructed script and Paul S. Holmquist’s staging couldn’t be further removed from the Gothic histrionics of the season opener, “Wuthering Heights.”

Collins’ epistolary novel allows Kauzlaric ample room for divvying up the narration and point of view between the various characters involved in the convoluted story of the sacred (and possibly cursed) yellow diamond acquired — and then lost — by the beautiful Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville). The effect is not so much “Rashomon” as it is a cross between “Masterpiece Theatre” and a relay race conducted at a brisk stroll — and I do mean that as a compliment. This isn’t a thrill-a-minute ride, but a cozy immersion in the tropes that would later dominate the world of mystery writers: strange visitors, double-dealing relatives and eccentric detectives (here embodied by David Skvarla’s rose-worshipping Sgt. Cuff).

From basset-eyed butler Gabriel Betteredge (a splendid Sean Sinitski), who gets caught up in “detective fever,” to proselytizing poor relation Drusilla Clack (Kaitlin Byrd), to Rachel’s tormented onetime paramour, Franklin Blake (Cody Proctor), suspected of stealing back the gem he presented to his lady love, the direct-address device handily gives us the exposition we need in digestible portions, and also creates a sly tug of war between the characters for the affections of the audience.

The story does require some close attention, particularly in the first act, which establishes the principals and their somewhat convoluted relationships. But very little drags. Ian Zywica’s spare bilevel Georgian set allows for fast scene changes and cleverly unpeels to reveal the dry rot under the placid surface of the upper-class world.

The 11 members of the ensemble, many of whom play multiple roles, handle the transitions with ease, and the doubling also allows for some touching resonances — most notably when Byrd moves from the insufferable Drusilla to lovelorn housemaid Rosanna. Kauzlaric’s script touches on the brutal consequences of colonialist imperialism and opium addiction without losing sight of the fact that “The Moonstone” should, above all, reflect a slightly askew, but affectionate, portrait of a comfortable English gentry on the verge of unimaginable changes.



From Windy City Times

February 23, 2011
By Mary Shen Barnidge

It’s a statement of fact, not idle nostalgia, to say that they don’t write stories like this any more. Wilkie Collins’ Victorian thriller shares credit with Poe’s Gold Bug as the prototype for the detective story genre, but whodunits in 1868 were expected to provide several weeks of ruminative reading, each new revelation being only a small step toward actually solving the crime. And so, given the length and intricacy of the source material, Rob Kauzlaric’s two-and-three-quarter-hour adaptation (with two intermissions) represents a model of verbal efficiency.

In the first 30 minutes we learn that a sacred diamond, stolen in India by a misanthropic colonialist, has brought misfortune and discord on his descendants, and that it is now in the possession of the lovely Miss Rachel Verinder, who wears it to a party attended by her two would-be suitors—the urbane philanthropist, Godfrey Ablewhite, and the long-estranged Franklin Blake. The jewel is stolen from her boudoir that very night, after some mysterious Hindu entertainers are sighted in the vicinity, whereupon a housemaid with a shady past begins to behave erratically, even as the burglary victim refuses to co-operate with the private investigator summoned to identify the culprit.

Our shamus has plenty of help. The compulsion to join in the search for the thief—what the family steward dubs, “detective fever”—is as universal as it is irresistible. The novel’s epistolary structure is rendered on the stage by a bevy of serial narrators, none of whom are above interrupting one another’s testimony to dispute order of disclosure or to hint at further information to come. Far from confusing playgoers likewise stricken with the sleuthing malady, this device serves to keep the raconteurs firmly on track as they guide us through a universe where substances frowned on today—e.g. opiates and tobacco—were commonplace.

This brand of boat-in-the-bottle drama is Lifeline’s stock-in-trade: Paul S. Holmquist’s direction makes for an always-uncluttered stage picture (as do the dressers responsible for converting the 11 actors into twice that number of characters in mere seconds). Together with Ian Zywica’s multiple-level scenic design—encompassing locales ranging from the exotic Orient to the foggy marshes of northern England—Cristina DeRisi’s cello-based score of somnolent incidental music, and Brandon Wardell’s shadowy lighting, they create an atmosphere of suspense to rivet our curiosity for every swiftly paced minute leading up to a satisfying resolution.



From Time Out Chicago

February 23, 2011
By Christopher Shea


Based on Collins’s 1868 detective novel, The Moonstone smacks a bit of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, another unsettling mystery that strings you along for hours before coming to its rather underwhelming and nonsensical final reveal. But here, as in Marty’s work, you’d be hard-pressed to really mind. For it’s the stringing along itself — the shocking discoveries before sudden blackouts — that makes the piece such a blue-balling pleasure to watch.

The mystery in Moonstone begins when an aristocratic British uncle bequeaths his niece, Rachel, a Far Eastern moonstone, rumored by its Oriental keepers to have entrancing powers. The very night Rachel (a fetching Ann Sonneville) receives the stone, it disappears from her bedroom. But by whose hand, and why? Through the eyes of Rachel’s family servant, Gabriel (Sean Sinitski), we watch the mysteries accrue at her family’s country manor. The moonstone-hunt then relocates to London — and switches narratorial hands several more times — as death, financial intrigue, and threatening, balletic Hindus spring up around Rachel’s friends and family.

Kauzlaric uses the shifting narratorial device too cautiously, burdening potentially seamless action with explanations of who’ll say what, and why. But the slick production smooths over these edges. Bill Morey’s flamboyant period costumes (which mix shades to splashy effect) add a mesmerizing touch of chic to every scene. Brandon Wardell’s lights emphasize climactic moments with pleasurable ham-fistedness. Even Ian Zywica’s scenic design (which features an odd combination of amateurish paint jobs and multitiered, crafted cleverness) sets the right mood: self-serious, maybe, but fashioned to tell a ripping good tale.



From Chicago Stage Style

February 15, 2011
By Joe Stead

“You cannot escape the past” is a recurring theme laced throughout Lifeline Theatre’s latest World Premiere. The subject is “The Moonstone,” said to have been the first mystery novel published in the English language. Its author, Wilkie Collins, was a close friend and travel companion of Charles Dickens, although their literary journeys took them on vastly different social courses. Bringing words intended for the page to life on a stage is quite the challenge, and one in which the Lifeline company always gracefully excels. This is masterful storytelling in the best Lifeline classic literary tradition.

Robert Kauzlaric’s three-act adaptation of “The Moonstone” takes on an almost Rashomon-like investigation into the disappearance of a mystical jewel from different perspectives. The danger here is that the characters may spend too much time on narrative that makes for good reading but dull theatre. That is a trap that Kauzlaric and Director Paul S. Holmquist cleverly manage to avoid. They create such an intriguing and lively web of suspense that the nearly 3-hour production practically flies by. Each story teller is able to add an element of complexity that heightens the dramatic stakes and keeps the audience riveted throughout the journey.

The Moonstone of the title is an ancient jewel steeped in mysticism and Hindu mythology. For centuries the precious stone was set in the eye of an Indian statue and guarded by a succession of Hindu priests until it was seized during a renegade British invasion. The stone was stolen by an evil Colonel, who willed it to his beautiful young niece, Rachel Verinder. Did Rachel’s uncle also bestow a legacy of danger with the gift? The elusive diamond becomes the pawn in a scandal-prone family of aristocrats, misfits, scheming servants, and mercenary friends and relatives. They are all players, we are told, in a story rooted in myth. As one witness testifies, there may never be an objective truth available, so it is up to each person to share their fragment of the puzzle.

Director Holmquist and his large, beautifully appointed cast keep the pot boiling right up through the play’s briskly paced conclusion. Clear diction is helpful in making even the accelerated pace coherent. And just as the tale whittles one mystery away after another, so too do the walls of Scenic Designer Ian Zywica’s stately English manor come tumbling apart down to their studs. It’s a marvelous metaphor for getting to the bones of the truth. A mournful cello underscores Cristina DeRisi’s wonderfully moody sound design, while Costume Designer Bill Morey dresses the cast in an impressive array of period finery that allows the various character transformations to unfold effortlessly.

Author Wilkie Collins casts a believable spell of suspicion over each and every inhabitant of the story. The benefactor of the Moonstone, Rachel Verinder, is quite put off by the investigative intrusion into her private life, claiming “This is a vile farce and I want nothing to do with it”. That’s enough for the botanical loving Sergeant Richard Cuff to place her at the top of his list of possible culprits. Then there is the lovelorn chambermaid Rosanna Spearman, with a hidden past and unrequited love for Franklin Blake, whose own heart is already committed to Miss Verinder. Rachel’s philanthropic cousin Godfrey Ablewhite hopes to make their relationship a bit less platonic, but is he truly motivated by love or fortune?

Rachel’s spinster cousin Drusilla Clack is a religious crusader who hopes to make a few converts out of these miserable sinners for her Christian conversion club. A longtime house steward, Gabriel Betteredge, takes solace in the words of “Robinson Caruso,” which suggests that the fear of danger is far greater than danger itself. A trio of conjurers in Indian garb adds to that sense of danger, as each and every member of the cast is interrogated, and made to account for themselves. Through their assorted stories, Lifeline has uncovered a rare gem of a mystery that is beautifully set and minted.




Sprawling suspense mystery novel brilliantly comes to life on stage
February 15, 2011
By Tom Williams

Highly Recommended

The creatives at Lifeline Theatre are quite adapt at taking sprawling novels and turning them into terrific stage plays. They do that by keeping the essential style and scope of the novel intact. That is no easy task. Add to that, they pick marvelous works, many obscure yet containing grand theatrical themes and quirky memorable characters.

Smartly adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, The Moonstone contains Wilkie Collins’ style that includes the use of an omniscient narrator — several, in fact, that spice up the story with bits of humor and peculiar behavior. The Moonstone was serialized in 1868 in Charles Dickens’ magazine — All The Year Round. It was known as a “sensational novel” that contained murder, intrigue and the use of opium to further the plot line. The Moonstone was heralded as the first English detective novel using a professional police detective and a gentleman amateur detective. Collins presents women as strong; servants as more than hired help.

Under the smart, fast-paced direction by Paul S. Holmquest, Kauzlaric’s adaptation captures the mysterious allure of the ancient myth and curse of the large diamond known as the “moonstone.” This gem has been guarded by Hindu holy men for centuries and it has been stolen by conquering armies. In the late 18th Century, a rogue British officer brought the gem to England despite the curses attached to the stone. A trio of Hindu Brahmins have dedicated their lives to recovering the moonstone and returning it to India.

We are in the English estate of the Verinders. Our story begins as Gabriel Betteredge (Sean Sinitski) — the Verinders’ head servant — first establishes the history of the events that led to the thief of the moonstone from Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville) — the young heiress at the center of the story; on her 18th birthday she inherits the gem.

Rachel wears the diamond to her birthday party, but that night it disappears from her room. Suspicion falls on three Indian jugglers who have been near the house; on Rosanna Spearman (Kate Byrd), a maidservant who begins to act oddly and who then drowns herself in a local quicksand; and on Rachel herself, who also behaves suspiciously and is suddenly furious with Franklin Blake (Cody Proctor), with whom she has previously appeared to be enamored, when he directs attempts to find it. Despite the efforts of Sergeant Cuff (Dave Skvarla), a renowned detective, the house party ends with the mystery unsolved, and the protagonists disperse.

That is just the beginning of the mystery that moves swiftly as the complications mount. Filled with new plot devices such as an English country house theft, an apparent “inside job,” several “red herrings” (false leads), a celebrated, skilled, professional investigator and a gentleman amateur sleuth, many false suspects, the “least likely suspect,” a reconstruction of the crime, and a final twist in the plot, The Moonstone indeed is the attention-grabbing and totally engaging stage mystery suspense drama. Collins was the first to use many of the above devices.

Lovers of mysteries (include me) will be impressed with the zany Gothic characters who weave and narrate the story. From the kind Gabriel Batteredge played with sincerity by Sean Sinitski to commanding Ann Sonneville as Rachel Verinder with the wacky religious nut Drusilla Clack (the funny Kaitlin Byrd), we quickly become involved and wonder what will happen next in this fun mystery play.

The plot twists are clever, the characters richly developed and the tone is shrouded with suspense. Cody Proctor (once he slows down his rapid-fire speech patterns), Peter Greenberg, as Eza Jennings and C. Sean Piereman, as Godrey Ablewhite were particularly effective. The ensemble contains an “A” list of non-Equity actors who understand their characters while sporting expert accents (credit dialect coach Elise Kauzlaric). The Moonstone looks terrific with a fine two-level set (designed by Ina Zywica) and the period-perfect 1840’s costumes (designed by Bill Morey). Add the effective lighting by Brandon Wardell and the eerie sound design by Cristina DeRisi and The Moonstone has excellent production values with which to create the proper atmosphere for a fine “who-done-it.”

The almost 3 hour running time necessary to tell the story moves along so tightly that you’ll hardly notice. It is so refreshing to see a marvelous and relatively unknown novel come to life as the folks at Lifeline Theatre have here with The Moonstone. You’ll be thrilled and totally enamored with this wonderful mystery. Be ready for a twist at the end.



From Chicago Theater Blog

Lifeline’s world-premiere adaption bedazzles
February 14, 2011
By Katy Walsh

Disease, suicide, addiction, murder: can a stolen piece of jewelry inflict pain and destruction on a family? Lifeline Theatre presents the world premiere of The Moonstone. Set in the 19th-century, a disreputable army officer steals a diamond during his service in India. He wills the cursed sacred stone to Rachel, his niece for her eighteenth birthday. Overnight, the adornment is missing. Who took it? The juggling party crashers from India? The maid just out of prison? One of the cousins? Or Rachel herself?

Within 24-hours, the moonstone changes the shiny, happy home to a dark, suspicious lair. Curses? Or just pure greed? Rachel knows something but refuses to speak. It’s a mystery! The intricate story unfolds from the perspectives of the various characters. It’s like playing a virtual reality game of CLUE except Miss Scarlett’s not talking, Professor Plum is addicted to opium and Mrs. Peacock is a crazy evangelizing Christian. The Moonstone unravels the mystery by pulling hanging strings from everywhere and knitting them together for a warm wrap around.

Playwright Robert Kauzlaric penned the script based on the 19th century epistolary novel by Wilkie Collins. Epistolary refers to a collection of letters. The Moonstone originally ran as a series in Charles Dickens’ magazine. Kauzlaric’s challenge was to take episodic based material and condense it down to one solid play. Although a few details could be eliminated to shorten it, Kauzlaric writes witty narrations that cleverly connect the intrigue together. Scenes are entangled with characters reading from letters. Under the direction of Paul S. Holmquist, the audience is fishing for red herrings. The expedition leads to a theatre under detective-fever quarantine. Who did it?

The cast did do it… marvelously. Keeping the audience engaged and enthralled for a three hour period is a mystery… they solved. The entire ensemble bonds together like a shiny, happy functional family. Sonja Field (Penelope) looks amusingly and adoringly at her father during his charming but lengthy narration. He, Sean Sinitski (Gabriel), affectionately scolds her and greets characters with a warm I-haven’t-seen-you-since-Act-1 hug. The cast is enjoying telling the story! Cody Proctor (Franklin) and Ann Sonneville (Rachel) play out perfectly like a Victorian-era couple trying to get it together. Proctor is the zealous hero-wannabe. Sonneville goes delightfully from morose resignation to boyfriend obsession with one letter. With well-placed hilarity, Kaitlin Byrd (Drusilla Clack) hides religious propaganda while delivering judgmental snipes. Byrd is willfully obtuse to comic heights. She responds to being shunned with an ‘I made a private memorandum to pray for her.’ Big nod out to Byrd also for her trust walk with her cast mates. Shivering sands, indeed!

Lifeline Theatre’s tagline is Big Stories, Up Close. With a stage that actually looks like a ‘Gosford Park’ pop-up book (Scenic designer Ian Zywica), The Moonstone is a perfect winter read. The mystery entices with playful ruse. The story is told from intimate perspectives. And at the end, it’s just a nice, cozy fit.