Watership Down

April 29 – June 19, 2011
Thu & Fri at 7:30pm, Sat at 4pm & 8pm, Sun at 4pm

“The novel’s message of empathy for the nonhuman world remains alarmingly relevant, and its tale of survival against the odds compelling, especially in this well-wrought production.”  –Time Out Chicago

“Lifeline Theatre’s brilliant production captures the epic sprawl and driving suspense of its source… In fact, Lifeline tops Adams’s signature feat of delivering well-defined, often affecting characters who are–you know–rabbits”  –Chicago Reader

When their birthplace is destroyed, brothers Hazel and Fiver lead a misfit band of survivors on a quest for a new home. Confronted with insurmountable dangers on all sides, the refugees must join forces with unexpected allies and conquer their deepest fears in order to endure. Join a pair of unlikely leaders in the journey of a lifetime, in this unforgettable story of survival against impossible odds. A stirring adventure, re-imagined for the Lifeline stage by the award-winning adaptor and director of Johnny Tremain.

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

A world premiere based on the contemporary bestseller by Richard Adams
Adapted by John Hildreth
Directed by Katie McLean Hainsworth

Highlights from Watership Down

  • Scott T. Barsotti (Fiver)

    Scott is a playwright and actor originally from Pittsburgh, PA, and is thrilled to make his Lifeline Theatre debut. Scott was recently seen in The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll with The Chicago Mammals and WildClaw Theatre’s Carmilla at the DCA Storefront Theater. Other Chicago credits include: Curious Theatre Branch, Victory Gardens, WNEP Theater, Collaboraction, and Pavement Group. Scott’s plays include The RevenantsJet Black ChevroletMcMeekin Finds OutBrewed, and The Body Snatcher, and have been seen in Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. Scott is a Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists and a company member of WildClaw Theatre and Curious Theatre Branch.

  • Chris Daley (Blackberry)

    Chris was most recently the male understudy for Rachel Rockwell’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play with Noble Fool Theatricals (now Fox Valley Rep). Additional Chicago credits: A Perfect Wedding directed by Joanie Schultz (Circle Theatre), My Fair Lady and Fast Forward Tour (About Face Theatre), Momentary Opera Spectacle and Last of My Species II (Redmoon Theatre), and Talk Radio (The State Theatre), among others. Regional: You’re A Good Man, Charlie BrownThey’re Playing Our SongGetting Sara MarriedBooksArt of Murder; and Mind Over Matt (Red Barn Summer Theatre of Indiana). Training: BFA: Acting, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Bryson Engelen (Silver, Vervain)

    Lifeline credits include Mel Coleman in Crossing California, George Emerson in A Room With A View, and Rab in Johnny Tremain. He was part of the Jeff Award-winning ensemble of 12 Angry Men at Raven, and has worked with Shattered Globe as Cal in The Little Foxes and Jimmy in A Taste of Honey. Other roles include Paul in Signal Ensemble’s Six Degrees of Separation, Kitchin in the side project’s Faster, and Damon in Theater Wit’s Men of Steel. Other Chicago theaters he has worked with include Chicago Dramatists, Stage Left, About Face, Eclipse, Oracle, Collaboraction, Strawdog, Piven, and the Free Associates. Bryson is a graduate of the University of Chicago.

  • Matt Engle (Captain Holly, Bartsia)

    Matt is ecstatic to be working with Lifeline again. Recently at Lifeline, he choreographed the violence in Wuthering Heights and acted in Treasure Island (Black Dog/Abe Gray). Around Chicago he has worked with Steep Theatre, Strawdog Theatre, Chicago Dance Crash, Theatre Wit and WildClaw Theatre. Mostly, Matt can be seen over at the Factory Theater, where he is a proud company member. Some of his recent Factory shows include Jenny & Jenni (Dubin), Ren Faire! A Fistful of Ducats (Hero), Dirty Diamonds (Vic), Janice Dutts Goes To Life Camp (Brad) and Toast of the Town (Cy Curnin).

  • Eduardo Garcia (Strawberry, Groundsel)

    Eduardo is excited to be working with Lifeline Theatre again. He has been on Lifeline’s stage in Treasure Island and The Mark of Zorro. He has also appeared in the Educational Theater Inc. national tour of Rumpelstiltskin.

  • Paul S. Holmquist (Hazel/Movement Designer)

    Paul has been a Lifeline Ensemble member since 2006. He last acted in The Picture of Dorian Gray (Non-Equity Jeff nomination for Supporting Actor-Play), The Talisman Ring (2005), and Strong Poison. He directed The Island of Dr. MoreauBusman’s HoneymoonNeverwhere, and The Moonstone for Lifeline’s Mainstage, and will direct The Count of Monte Cristo for our 29th Season. For the KidSeries, Paul directed Rikki Tikki TaviFlight of the Dodo, and next year’s Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. Paul has acted or directed for Caffeine, Timeline, Shattered Globe and Griffin, among others, is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University, and holds a Graduate Laban CMA from Columbia College Chicago, where he teaches and works

  • Matt Kahler (Threarah, Captain Campion)

    Matt is very excited to make his debut on the Lifeline stage, after having understudied for Neverwhere. He has performed with several companies in Chicago including The Hypocrites (Pirates of PenzanceFrankenstein), The Factory Theater (The League of AwesomeRen-Faire: A Fistful of Ducats!), The Mammals (Seven Snakes), and Adventure Stage Chicago (The Ghosts of Treasure Island). Matt will be seen this summer in Lakeside Shakespeare’s productions of Macbeth (Banquo) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Oberon).

  • Jesse Manson (Dandelion, Kehaar)

    Jesse is pleased to be making his debut at Lifeline Theatre. Jesse earned his Master of Fine Arts in Shakespeare from Mary Baldwin College in association with the American Shakespeare Center. His latest performances include Crachit in A Klingon Christmas Carol and Owen in That Pretty, Pretty… or, The Rape Play. You might have also seen Jesse on his bike or on the lake path training for the Chicago marathon.

  • Chelsea Paice (Vinca, Clover, Lucy)

    Chelsea is thrilled to be appearing in her first show at Lifeline Theatre. Other Chicago credits include Red Noses with Strawdog Theatre (Tricycle Clown), Cabaret with The Hypocrites (Heidi), Reefer Madness with The Brown Paper Box Co. (Mae), and Ren Faire: A Fistful of Ducats with The Factory Theater (Tatyana).

  • Dave Skvarla (Cowslip, General Woundwort)

    Dave just appeared here as Sgt. Cuff in The Moonstone, and has performed previously with Lifeline 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. Other recent credits include The New Adventures of Popeye (Bluto) and Dirty Diamonds 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, and Backstage Theatre’s Bloody Bess.

  • Christopher M. Walsh (Bigwig)

    Christopher has been an ensemble member at Lifeline since 2010, where he most recently appeared in Neverwhere. Other Lifeline credits include Treasure IslandBusman’s Honeymoon, and The Mark of Zorro. Other recent credits include Louis Slotin Sonata (A Red Orchid Theatre), Bloody Bess: A Tale of Piracy and Revenge (BackStage Theatre), Journey’s End(Griffin Theatre), and The Hound of the Baskervilles (City Lit). Christopher studied theatre at Columbia College, and is a current student at Black Box Acting Studio. He will make his debut as an adaptor with Lifeline’s fall 2011 production of The Count of Monte Cristo.

  • Mandy Walsh (Birdsong, Hyzenthlay)

    Mandy is thrilled to be performing in her first production with Lifeline Theatre. Most recently, she appeared in WildClaw Theatre’s original adaptation of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Other recent credits include The Ring Cycle (The Building Stage) and The Last Daughter of Oedipus(Babes with Blades). Mandy received her BA from Columbia College and is a student with Black Box Acting Studio. She also is a Graphic Designer with The Second City

  • Brian Amidei (Understudy)

    Brian is very pleased to be back working with the wonderful folks at Lifeline. Previously at Lifeline, Brian has been seen in The Two TowersThe Return of the King, and The Killer Angels. He is a proud founding company member of WildClaw Theatre, where he is Managing Director. Other Chicago credits include Strawdog, Hypocrites, National Pastimes, Crew of Patches, Lakeside Shakespeare, and a few others that only exist in memory.

  • Elizabeth MacDougald (Understudy)

    Elizabeth is excited to be working for the first time with Lifeline Theatre. A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, she most recently appeared in Idle Muse’s Dracula. Other favorite Chicago credits include Suzanne in Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Sheil Park), Kate in The Taming of the Shrew(Theatre-Hikes), and Irene Adler in Sherlock Holmes: The Last Adventure(Idle Muse). She is also a proud member both Babes With Blades and Idle Muse Theatre Companies.

  • Greg Poljacik (Understudy)

    Greg is excited to be working with Lifeline for the first time. Currently you can see Greg’s fight choreography in Shattered Globe’s Romeo and Juliet. His next projects involve fight choreography for The Hobbit with Theater Hikes and for LeapFest with Stage Left. Greg has worked with numerous companies in Chicago in the past six years as an actor, stuntman and choreographer and just won his first Orgie for Fight Choreography.

  • John Hildreth (Adaptor)

    John has been an artistic ensemble member at Lifeline since 1999. His previous adaptations have been Cat’s CradleAround the World in 80 Days(Non-Equity Jeff Award: New Adaptation), The ShadowThe Sirens of TitanJohnny Tremain (Non-Equity Jeff Award: New Adaptation), and Treasure Island. He also directed Scary Home CompanionThe Shadow, and Crossing California for the MainStage, and Rumpelstiltskin Revisitedand Mrs. Piggle Wiggle (2009) for the KidSeries, and performed in the KidSeries productions of Bunnicula (2004) and Snowflake Tim’s Big Holiday Adventure (2004).

  • Katie McLean Hainsworth (Director)

    Katie has been an ensemble member with Lifeline for almost five years and is thrilled to return to directing after her last collaboration with adaptor John Hildreth on Johnny Tremain in 2006. As an actor, she has appeared in many productions, including NeverwhereMariette in EcstasyCrossing CaliforniaGaudy NightTrust Me On ThisFar From the Madding Crowd, and Cooking with Lard. Her adaptation of The Mark of Zorro won a Non-Equity Jeff Award for New Adapation in 2009. Katie is proud to have performed in Chicago with Black Sheep Productions, Blindfaith, the Hypocrites, GreasyJoan, and Bailiwick Repertory, among others, and looks forward to appearing in Lifeline’s world premiere adaptation of Hunger next season.

  • Erica Foster (Stage Manager)

    Erica has stage managed numerous productions at Lifeline, including NeverwhereTreasure IslandThe Mark of ZorroCat’s CradleThe Killer AngelsAround the World in 80 DaysJohnny TremainThe Talisman Ring(2005); and Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type. Erica has also been Lifeline’s Operations Manager for the past five seasons.

  • Rachel Alulis (Assistant Lighting Designer)

    Rachel is excited to be working with Lifeline Theatre. She recently completed a fellowship at the Hedgerow Theatre and is delighted to be back in Chicago. Her previous lighting assistant experiences include An American Tragedy and A Dicken’s Christmas Carol at Hedgerow. Her favorite lighting designs include The Magical Land of Oz and Godspell at Hedgerow, and The Cherry Orchard at the College of the Holy Cross.

  • Aly Renee Amidei (Costume Designer)

    Aly is thrilled to be designing costumes for Watership Down with this amazing crew of people. As an ensemble member at Strawdog, Aly has designed costumes for Red NosesUncle VanyaCherry OrchardDetective Story, and makeup for The Master and Margarita. As a company member at Wildclaw Theatre, she designed costumes and makeup for Dreams in the WitchhouseThe Great God Pan, and Legion. She also did the adaptation as well as the costumes and makeup for Carmilla, which premiered at the DCA this January. Aly has also designed for Seanachaí, House Theatre, Vitalist, and Lakeside Shakespeare. She works as the Costume and Makeup Coordinator for the College of Dupage and knits, reads & draws comics, gardens, and makes podcasts in her copious spare time.

  • Mikhail Fiksel (Original Music & Sound Designer)

    Mikhail is delighted to be back with Lifeline, having recently worked on Neverwhere and The Last of The Dragons. He’s an Ensemble member with Strawdog Theatre and 2ndStory, an Artistic Associate with Collaboraction, Teatro Vista and Redmoon, and teaches Sound Design at Loyola University. Recent credits include WoyzeckPirates of PenzanceFrankensteinOedipus (The Hypocrites); PonyStupid Kids (About Face) TreeLiving Green (Victory Gardens); In the Next Room (St. Louis Rep); Mauritius (Milwaukee Chamber); The Master and MargaritaUncle Vanya, (Strawdog); Travels with My Aunt(Writers Theatre); Winter PageantLast of My Species, (Redmoon Theater); Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Teatro Vista); 1001Jon (Collaboraction); War with the Newts(Next); Awake & Sing (Northlight); and Massacre (Goodman Theatre). He has received 4 Jeff Awards, an After Dark Award and an Orgie Award for Original Music, was recently nominated for the Henry Hewes Award and The Lucille Lortel Award for his sound design of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (2ndStage, NYC) and the Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award. When he is not busy fighting crime, he is performing or recording with his band Seeking Wonderland or as part of a dynamic dj duo The Ordeal.

  • 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).

  • Joanna Iwanicka (Puppet, Mask & Video Designer)

    Joanna is glad to be working again at Lifeline, where she first exhibited her passion for puppets in The True Story of 3 Little Pigs!. Since then, she received her graduate degree from The Academy of Fine Arts in Poland and she continues to freelance as a puppet and scenic designer in Chicago and the suburbs. She has designed puppets for all of Lifeline’s 2009-2010 KidSeries shows, as well as scenography for The Bialystok Puppet Theatre, State Theatre’s Academy Department of Puppetry Arts, and Teatr K3 in Bialystok, Poland. Joanna designed sets for Congo Square Company, Chopin Theatre, The Library Theatre, Vintage Theatre Collective, and Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. She also worked for Santa Fe Opera, Denver Center Theatre Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Des Moines Metro Opera. This year she became a member of the Sea Beast Puppet Company, creating unforgettable theatrical experiences for the audiences of all ages

  • Wenhai Ma (Scenic, Properties & Projection Designer)

    Wenhai Ma received his BFA in Scene Design from the Central Academy of Drama (Beijing) and MFA in Scene & Costume Design from Carnegie Mellon University. His scenic and costume designs include Moonlight and Valentino (Pre-Broadway); Macbeth (Duke Stage Company); The Magic Flute (Triangle Music Theatre, NC); The Nightingale (Chapel Hill Ballet, NC); Desire Under the Elms (Shenyang Drama Rep, China); Turandot (Opera Hong Kong); Falling in Love with Her (Spring-Time Stage, HK); A Mid-summer Night’s Dream (Chung Ying Theater Company & Hong Kong Syphonetia, HK); The Peach Blossom Valley (Changde Han Opera Rep, China); and Crazy Snow (Shanghai Drama Center). He has been a guest lecturer at institutions such as the Central Academy of Drama (Beijing), the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Singapore), Fudan University School of Visual and Performing Arts (Shanghai), and Guangdong Industrial University School of Visual Art. He has also illustrated picture books for publishers such as Morrow Junior, Viking, Pan Asian Publications (USA) and Candlewick.

  • Sean Mallary (Lighting Designer)

    This is Sean’s first time working on a Lifeline MainStage show; his first KidSeries show was Bongo Larry and Two Bad Bears in 2004, so he is very excited to be finally be returning for this world premiere. By day, Sean is the assistant lighting supervisor at the Goodman. By night, he designs for theatre and dance as his time allows, since he finds sleep overrated. Sean is a proud ensemble member at Strawdog Theatre Company, where he’s is also a resident designer. His most recent credits include The Master and Margarita at Strawdog, The Iliad at A Red Orchid Theatre, and Madagascar at Next.

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

    R&D Choreography is having a great time working with another incredibly talented team at 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 eighty 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, Bailiwick, Blindfaith, Circle, First Folio, Griffin, National Pastimes, New American Theatre, Piven, Profiles, Shakespeare’s Motley Crew, Theo Ubique, Trapdoor, and Vitalist.

  • Jessica Wright (Assistant Director & Assistant Stage Manager)

    Jessica is thrilled to be a part of the directing team, having been the resident assistant stage manager at Lifeline since 2008. Her writings have been performed by Tooth and Nail Ensemble (Under Ground), the Whiskey Rebellion (Sign of Rain), and members of Lifeline Theatre (as part of their 2010 Benefit). Locally, she has directed (Owl Theatre’s A New Nation: The American Civil War in Letters, Speeches, and Song), designed props (Lifeline Theatre’s Treasure Island), and worked as a dramaturg (Lookingglass Theatre’s Our Future Metropolis).

  • Ian Zywica (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 Time Out Chicago

May 11, 2011
By John Beer


The most rousing adventure story on a Chicago stage at the moment may well involve rabbits. Hildreth’s adaptation of Adams’s 1974 leporine epic skillfully distills the story of Fiver (Scott T. Barsotti), Hazel (Paul S. Holmquist) and the rest of their ragtag band, who narrowly escape the destruction of their warren by a real estate development. As the rabbits make their way to the promised land of Watership Down, their encounters with predators, rivers and rival warrens are sketched at a breathless clip, though Hildreth also makes room for the mythic exploits of the trickster bunny progenitor El-ahrairah (Holmquist).

While watching a dozen actors pretend to scratch and hop about for a couple of hours might chill the heart of the most stalwart theatergoer, Lifeline’s physically adept ensemble emphasizes the sharply drawn personae of the different rabbits: reluctant leader Hazel, sardonic bruiser Bigwig (Christopher M. Walsh), brash Silver (Bryson Engelen). Wenhai Ma contributes a projection-centered design both trippy in true ’70s style and effective in abstractly conveying the often brutal violence. The show’s flaws are primarily those of its source material; in particular, the second act’s quest for lady bunnies to repopulate the new Watership Down settlement doesn’t exactly test the bounds of female empowerment. Still, the novel’s message of empathy for the nonhuman world remains alarmingly relevant, and its tale of survival against the odds compelling, especially in this well-wrought production.



From the Chicago Reader

May 10, 2011
By Dan Weissmann

Lifeline Theatre’s brilliant production captures the epic sprawl and driving suspense of its source–the 1972 novel by Richard Adams in which a band of rabbits, their warren destroyed, go on a perilous search for a new home. In fact, Lifeline tops Adams’s signature feat of delivering well-defined, often affecting characters who are–you know–rabbits. Where Adams had the luxury of relying on the reader’s imagination, Kate McLean Hainsworth’s ace cast have to sustain the conceit for two hours using body language. And they succeed with wit and style. Each cocked head and thumping leg makes a specific, emotionally-resonant contribution to the narrative. John Hildreth’s script navigates the story’s many turns clearly and economically, while Hainsworth’s direction keeps the wheels turning in a satisfying, vigorous rhythm.



From the Chicago Tribune

‘Watership Down’ at Lifeline Theatre: A rabbit odyssey, faithfully told on stage
May 10, 2011
By Chris Jones

Staging Richard Adams’ wonderful 1972 novel “Watership Down” requires actors to play rabbits. Mercifully, though, the intense new dramatic adaptation at the Lifeline Theatre well understands that these creatures in the story have nothing in common with the Easter Bunny. Ears and fluff have no place in a rabbit world born of a trickster’s spirit and built at the cost of lapine blood.

That earthy, robust quality — coupled with a trio of gripping, passionate, richly realized performances from Paul S. Holmquist as Hazel, Christopher M. Walsh as Bigwig and, especially, Scott T. Barsotti as the clairvoyant Fiver — are what ensures that Katie McLean Hainsworth’s modestly staged production will greatly please fans of what is surely one of the great fantasy novels of the 20th century. At various points in its complex narrative about a diverse group of rabbits who flee their ill-fated burrow, embark on a perilous, mutually supportive journey, and strive to create a utopian community of their own, “Watership Down” conveys a variety of different messages.

There’s a deep-seated ecological message (rabbits who forget their responsibilities and fight the natural order of things don’t do so well), as well as warnings about the dangers of warrens run by the Owsla, a kind of rabbit secret police, and warrens that are tended (and set with snares) by humans — and where the well-fed rabbits grow fat and lazy and become hopelessly philosophical about the terrible price they must pay for all that lettuce.

At one pivotal point in the story, when the hero rabbits rescue some females from a totalitarian neighboring warren, “Watership Down” evokes images of weary souls, feeling persecuted and finding their way to a kind of rabbit Ellis Island, salvation at last. And yet Adams’ allegories never trump the overall rabbit-eye view of the world. Rabbits, Adams notes, have more enemies than most creatures could even imagine. But before they can be harmed, they have to be caught. A mantra by which we all could live.

This is a very complicated novel. And although John Hildreth’s premiering adaptation tells a mostly tight story, both the dramatization and the production struggle to deal with the recurring mythic back story involving Frith (the rabbit sun-god) and El-ahrairah (the great rabbit), which interweaves through the story. If you’re going in cold, that might take some grasping.

You aren’t in for a visual feast here (the use of shadow puppetry is interesting but muddy in execution), and there are moments when McLean Hainsworth loses track of the curial veracity of the narrative (Bigwig in particular seems to die, stare down the Black Rabbit of Inle, and then come incomprehensively back to life) and when things are overplayed (I found Jesse Manson’s squawking seagull Kehaar dangerously close to Gilbert Gottfried).

But the unpretentiousness of the staging is one of this show’s great assets. And the violence in the production (this is a violent book, parents should note) is strikingly powerful.

Despite the English setting, the heroes here really become Chicago-style rabbits — tough, savvy, direct, in your face, intolerant of elitism and kind and open of heart. When the show is focused on the little band of unlikely rebels, running through a dangerous world in search only of a safe warren they can call their own, you are with them all their way.



From New City

May 15, 2011
By Lisa Buscani


In Lifeline’s latest, Richard Adams’ environmental epic chronicles rabbits’ attempts to survive human “progress” and the politics of lapin society. Adapter John Hildreth successfully juxtaposes the colony’s struggles with the morals of rabbit folk tales, illustrating the need for safety and prosperity that cuts across the animal kingdom.

Rabbit Hazel (Paul Holmquist) and prescient brother Fiver (Scott Barsotti) leave their warren to escape a new housing subdivision. They encounter friends like bird Kehaar (Jesse Manson) and enemies like General Woundwort (Dave Skvarla).

Hildreth’s narrative is complex, but Katie McLean Hainsworth’s direction keeps the pacing moving; Holmquist’s movement design suggests rabbit mannerisms without Bugs Bunny stereotypes. Standout performances include Barsotti’s sensitive Fiver, whose gifts come with a price; Christopher Walsh as BigWig, a bruiser rabbit with heart; and Manson’s Kehaar, a tough old bird who’s good for a giggle. It’s a well-defined animal world that can teach us about our own.



From the Windy City Times

May 18, 2011
By Mary Shen Barnidge

Watership Down chronicles the search by a band of refugees for a home, following the wanton destruction of their village. The quest is not an easy one — the seekers are few in number, and the unknown realms fraught with danger and suspicion, but gradually they find friends helping them to establish a settlement which must then be defended against hostile marauders. Oh, and by the way — our intrepid explorers are rabbits.

And why not? Folktales dating back centuries in cultures throughout the world readily attest to the enduring popularity of animal characters unencumbered by muddy complexities of human behavior and to the level of emotional involvement produced by the subsequent circumvention of adult inhibitions (don’t we still cry when Bambi’s mother dies?). Rabbits are such vulnerable creatures, too, their sole defense against predators being their swiftness and cunning. To be sure, one of our pilgrims is gifted with second sight to warn his comrades of impending disaster. A wounded seagull joining the expedition provides surveillance for his caretakers following his convalescence. The female rabbits who consent to migrate with the strangers likewise share in the escape from the oppressive police-state Efrafa warren.

If Lord of the Rings was the Arthurian legends transposed to an English fairyland, Watership Down is the Yorkshire Aeneid, populated, not by cuddly Flopsy-Mopsies, but heroic totems of classical stature. Fortunately, Lifeline Theatre has pondered actor-to-animal transitions before, notably in its multiple award-winning Island of Dr. Moreau in 2006. Several months of preparation have enabled them to compile a visual vocabulary based in lapine physiognomy without resorting to superficial clichés. No twitching noses or pronounced overbites, in other words, but violent confrontations based in foot-and-body martial warfare (rabbits having no hands for grasping swords).

The cast assembled by director Katie McLean Hainsworth for this intricately-conceived world premiere production, adapted from the Richard Adams novel by John Hildreth, has trained extensively for their roles, deftly manipulating Joanna Iwanicka’s ethnoprimitive masks and Aly Renee Amidei’s tribal-identified costumes to forge distinct personalities keeping us always cognizant of each individual’s goals and temperament. The ensemble interaction is impeccable, but look for Christopher M. Walsh’s mohawked Bigwig and Jesse Manson’s feisty feathered Kehaar to occupy the spotlight in audiences’ memories. Highest honors, however, go to stage manager Erica Foster, who tracks the many elements comprising our dramatic universe with a precision as agile as — well, rabbits on the run.

, http://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/1371,