From the Chicago Sun-Times
A warm-blooded, dreamlike ‘Wuthering Heights’
September 29, 2010
By Hedy Weiss
Kauzlaric’s direction is charged with physicality
“Wuthering Heights,’ Emily Bronte’s feverish story of devouring love, class distinction and the madness, death and revenge that can grow from thwarted passion, has all the makings of grand opera.
But as Lifeline Theatre’s feverish new stage version of the great gothic romance suggests, this tale also can be told with an almost balletic intensity and physicality – and with enough sound and fury, yearning and emotional heat – to verge on the hallucinatory.
In staging Christina Calvit’s world premiere adaptation, director Elise Kauzlaric seems to have approached her excellent actors in much the same way a choreographer might approach dancers. And in doing so she has captured in physical terms the intensely powerful magnetic pull between Cathy Earnshaw (Lindsay Leopold, most convincing in her impulsiveness) and Heathcliff (an impressively natural Gregory Isaac, whose dark, gypsylike looks make him ideal for the role), the orphan her father brought into their home on England’s Yorkshire moors.
“Let me go,” cries the ghostly figure of Cathy as this production begins. And in a very real sense that terrible drive for a release from emotional possession is what propels this story from start to finish. The ferocious bond of love and rage forged in their youth joins together for eternity the willful, self-defeating Cathy and the volatile, angry Heathcliff (whose life becomes an extended act of revenge in response to her betrayal). Cathy’s sadistic, bitterly resentful brother Hindley Earnshaw (a perfectly noxious John Henry Roberts) only intensifies the match.
The devouring ties between Cathy and Heathcliff also infect the lives of many others, including the wealthy Edgar Linton (Robert Kauzlaric), who soon regrets marrying Cathy, whose heart is forever somewhere else. Even more ruined is Edgar’s tragic sister Isabella, whose agony and desperation in her marriage to Heathcliff is superbly captured by Sarah Goeden.
There are terrible consequences for a whole second generation, too, as manifested by the lives of Catherine Linton (Lucy Carapetyan, as the determined, but far kinder daughter of Cathy and Edgar); Linton Heathcliff, the sickly son of Heathcliff and Isabella with whom Catherine falls in love (played by Nick Vidal, in a marvelous about-face from his role as Mick Jagger in “Aftermath”), and Earnshaw’s much-abused son Hareton (convincing work by Christopher Chmelik).
Best of all is Cameron Feagin’s exquisite portrayal of Nelly Dean, the enduring and anguished housekeeper who has seen all the insanity and pain of these families. That knowledge permeates Feagin’s honeyed voice and embracing warmth as she serves as the narrator forever attempting to make sense of all the twisted passion she has witnessed.
Calvit’s adaptation initially confuses the story by attempting to show the two generations in dreamlike tandem, but within a scene or two she deftly sorts everything out.
Alan Donahue’s swirling green set, moodily lit by Sarah Hughey, is splendidly enhanced by Andrew Hansen’s music and sound design. His evocation of a rain-drenched purgatory is so convincing that I had to peek outside the theater at intermission to see if a real thunderstorm had occurred.
From Time Out Chicago
September 20, 2010
By Melissa Albert
Calvit’s new adaptation of this gothic romance-cum-multigenerational revenge story is an achievement of emotional force and narrative clarity, though it falls short of doing justice to the doomed love affair at its heart. Alan Donahue’s set organically marries constrained interior spaces with outdoor wildness, serving as a visual representation of the forces that vie for the heart of heroine Catherine Earnshaw. In love with her brutish foster brother, Heathcliff, but attracted to the social status of upper-crust admirer Edgar Linton, Catherine chooses status, spurring Heathcliff to pursue a vengeance that stretches across 20 years.
Brontë’s tale is a melodrama of the impassioned-journeys-across-foggy-moors variety, but there’s nothing overripe in Lindsay Leopold’s and Gregory Isaac’s convincing portrayals of the self-destructive lovers. Cameron Feagin is excellent as long-suffering nursemaid Nelly Dean, and Sarah Goeden’s lovely face expresses volumes in her role as Isabella, the defenseless confection destroyed by a loveless marriage to Heathcliff. Director Kauzlaric’s eerie, often dreamlike staging suits the shape of the narrative, which folds the story of the central characters and that of their manipulated offspring into each other. Calvit displays a keen sense of balance, but few would complain if she made room for a deeper exploration of the passion between the story’s lavishly unbalanced principals.
September 27, 2010
By Lisa Buscani
Emily Bronte’s classic returns to Lifeline, presented not as the “Twilight’-referenced melodrama many are familiar with, but as a meditation on emotional bondage, power and control. Heathcliff (Gregory Isaac) and Cathy (Lindsay Leopold) take every opportunity to test their love, dragging spouses, friends and family along on their destructive ride for two generations.
Isaac is classically brooding, Leopold is suitably fickle, wavering between her affection and her desire for wealth and status. Cameron Feagin offers a note of sanity as a servant consistently amazed at this crew’s potential for cruelty.
Adaptor Christina Calvit’s narrative gets bogged down in its own timeline occasionally and flashbacks fail to clarify the flow. But director Elise Kauzlaric stays on top of the pacing, her beautifully choreographed blocking illustrates the ties that bind. Branimira Ivanova’s lush, detailed costumes are appropriately restrictive; Alan Donahue’s set is darkly pastoral. The piece is a twisted, soulful gilded cage.
From Centerstage Chicago
September 21, 2010
By Lisa Findley
The most difficult thing about adapting Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” is convincing the audience to empathize with characters who are all totally despicable. Christina Calvit’s adaptation for Lifeline Theatre nimbly sidesteps this problem by posing a question in narrator Nelly’s mouth in the play’s framing scenes: How are we to make sense of these people and what they have done to one another? Is it even possible to do so? The play becomes an integration of the story with the responses readers throughout history have had to that story.
Alan Donahue’s set design beautifully complements the story’s themes of repetition, circling, and returning, and the constant backdrop of a dark forest serves as a reminder of the wild nature of the two main characters and their almost animalistic treatment of the people in their lives. The performances from Lindsay Leopold and Gregory Isaac as Cathy and Heathcliff likewise convey a sense of barely contained wildness, and it is easy to believe Cathy’s repeated claims that they are made of the same soul. Elise Kauzlaric’s direction deftly moves characters on and off stage in a terrible dance of injustice and revenge, and the cast performs ably (even in Yorkshire accents!).
If they could, Cathy and Heathcliff would live in a world entirely of their own making. They act brutally toward all the people who make that impossible for them, which leads to the downfall of both families. If the play homed in on this central tragedy in the beginning and end, instead of drawing back to the larger cast of doomed characters, Calvit’s focus on love as entrapment and entanglement would come through more clearly. Overall, however, this is a compelling production of a devastating tale.
From Chicago Now
September 20, 2010
By Katy Walsh
Cathy and Heathcliff: soulmates destined for eternity! It’s not quite the pretty ‘happily everafter’… everafter of storybook endings. Lifeline Theatre presents Wuthering Heights, the timeless romance written by Emily Brontë and skillfully adapted to the stage by Christina Calvit. Heathcliff is abandoned as a baby. He is raised by the Earnshaws as a surrogate son/servant. Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff grow up together as rebel-rousing youth. They’re inseparable… even when they are apart! Their all-consuming love is the catalyst for marriage… but not to each other. Cathy decides to marry the neighbor. Heathcliff reacts to the betrayal with a revenge plan that spans generations. Love hurts. Love stinks. Love never dies!?! Wuthering Heights is what happens when a turbulent love goes tornado destructive. It’s an epic twister that sucks up everybody in its path…including the audience!
Revenge over generations can get complicated and confusing especially when cousins marry. Cameron Feagin (Nelly) begins the show with introductions and guides the audience through the story with relevant narration. Feagin transitions perfectly from telling the story to being in the story with insightful ease. As a sage, she cuts to the essence with ‘who should forgive and who should be forgiven?’ Director Elise Kauzlaric stages the beginnings and endings of acts with all the characters, dead and alive, on stage. It’s a haunting visual that reinforces the supernatural love story. Under Kauzlaric’s direction, the entire cast engages with a lingering poignancy. The eye of the storm, Lindsay Leopold (Cathy) is verbally and physically commanding. Her attempts to ‘go home to Wuthering Heights’ are thwarted with spooky misery. Gregory Isaac (Heathcliff) is the tormented turned diabolical. Isaac’s complicated portrayal is a man so obsessed with love for one woman that he hates all others, including his own son. The entire ensemble provides classic novel performances adding to the gusty page turner pace. Initially and sporadically, the cast chants ‘who are you?’ and ‘don’t let me go’ seemingly random statements that connect the beginning to the end with a deliberate finality.
Set in the moors of Yorkshire, Scenic Designer Alan Donahue gives the stage a mystical quality with swirling metallic greens, golds and browns. Mesh screens and circular layered platforms illustrate the woods and houses separated by a hanging door. The costumes by Branimira Ivanova are stunning. The elaborate finery is showcased against the simple backdrop to conjure up the gothic drama unfolding. Wuthering Heights is a literary masterpiece that overwhelms potential readers by its cult following and ominous reputation. Playwright Christina Calvit blows the mystique away with manageable Brontë bites. This show captivates from preface to epilogue. Lifeline Theatre promises and delivers ‘big stories, up close.’ Having never read Wuthering Heights, I left the theatre amazed at the powerful story and crossing it off my bucket list.