From the Chicago Tribune
Classic ‘Cristo’ plays like a true adventure tale at Lifeline
September 20, 2011
By Kerry Reid
Ham, cheese, a generous portion of something sweet on top — these are the standard makings for the Monte Cristo sandwich, and many of the same elements converge in Alexandre Dumas’ classic revenge/adventure tale, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” But unlike its culinary counterpart, Christopher M. Walsh’s stellar adaptation of Dumas’ oft-told tale for Lifeline Theatre is streamlined for your health.
The result? A guilty theatrical pleasure you don’t have to atone for afterward. It’s zesty, good fun — colorful theatrical comfort food with enough philosophical seasoning and emotional heat to keep it from getting too sticky or soggy.
The storyline is still a bit convoluted, to be sure. Quick summary. Sailor Edmond Dantes has been wrongly imprisoned by three men for a variety of reasons: one lusts for his fiancee, another envies his shipboard position, the third — a prosecutor — needs to cover up his own father’s crimes. (A fourth has committed perhaps the worst crime of all — doing nothing in the face of his comrades’ evil plans.) Dantes finally escapes after 14 years in a dank cell, accumulates a fortune and a title, and sets in motion an inexorable scheme to punish his malefactors, who do not recognize the noble sailor within the mysterious and fabulously wealthy nobleman now cruising through their parlors.
But by excising a lot of the political details of life in post-Bonaparte France, as well as several subplots, Walsh and director Paul S. Holmquist carve Dumas’ nearly 500-page opus down to a 21/2-hour show that feels even faster. As one character says of the Count, “He’s building a great machine and we are his cogs and wheels.” The cogs and wheels of Holmquist’s ensemble make this contraption hum like a well-tuned Bugatti, and both the performances and the script benefit from a healthy dose of self-awareness. After listening to the Count deliver one of his trademark aphoristic speeches, his young friend Albert (Chris Daley) explains, “He talks like that all the time.”
Chris Hainsworth, blessed with a poetic and improbable abundance of dark hair, brings matinee-idol sex appeal and an air of tortured existentialist repression to the title character. Whether moving chess pieces around on a board or watching an opera from a balcony seat, Hainsworth’s Count is a man who takes voyeuristic delight in seeing others fall into the traps he has laid — only to find that though revenge is a dish best served cold, it still can be hard to digest if one overindulges.
Among the villains, John Ferrick’s weaselly banker, Danglars, is a particular highlight. (Really, who doesn’t want to see fraudulent financiers get their comeuppance?) Don Bender does delightful double duty as the caddish Caderousse, the man who could have saved Dantes but didn’t, and as Abbe Faria, the seemingly addled old priest who provides Dantes with an education, an escape plan and startup money for his adventures in retaliation.
The women hold their own too — particularly Jenifer Tyler’s Mercedes, Dantes’ sympathetic former fiancee, and Cathlyn Melvin’s Eugenie Danglars — a self-assured proto-feminist and bohemian. Aly Renee Amidei’s lush costumes add visual spark and fire, while Joe Schermoly’s sturdy and spare unitary set, with its tiny dungeon grate on the bottom and semicircle of windows above, physically embodies the story’s central conundrum — balancing the forces of dark and light in a world filled with wrongdoing.
From Time Out Chicago
September 28, 2011
By Oliver Sava
One of only a few local theaters specializing in literary adaptations, Lifeline is used to condensing dense plots into stage-friendly narratives. For his adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s classic revenge tale, Lifeline ensemble member Christopher M. Walsh wisely intercuts the title character’s past with scenes from his present-day mission of vengeance. The first act is occasionally bogged down with exposition, but by gradually revealing the transformation of naive sailor Edmond Dantès into the cunning Count of Monte Cristo, Walsh builds the suspense leading into the action-packed second act.
Paul S. Holmquist’s sharp production rarely lags, with a cast that understands the story’s stakes and tackles them with confidence. The rousing music by Christopher Kriz helps create an almost operatic sense of grandeur, while Joe Schermoly’s simple but elegant set design and Aly Renee Amidei’s lavish costumes bring the early-1800s setting to life. In the title role, Chris Hainsworth gives an intense performance that seamlessly transitions between Edmond’s defeated fragility and the Count’s cold determination. Jenifer Tyler brings a genuine sense of loss and regret as Edmond’s ex-fiancée, Mercedes, longing for the man she once loved but unable to accept what he’s become. After murdering the men who wrongly imprisoned him, Edmond loses the thing he’s been fighting for all along.
From Chicago Theater Beat
‘Count’ a complex and concise masterpiece
September 21, 2011
By Katy Walsh
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I cuddled up with a blanket and became completely engrossed in a classic tale of vengeance. Lifeline Theatre presents a world premiere adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. On the day of his wedding, Edmond is dragged from the church and falsely imprisoned. During his incarceration, he accesses the knowledge and resources to ruin his enemies. He returns home a changed man. He is now the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo. The Count infiltrates the society that wronged him. He is now a major player. The game is on. Having been robbed of his life, the Count has nothing to lose. Everybody is going down… including him. Lifeline’s The Count of Monte Cristo is a complex and concise masterpiece.
The novel, by Alexandre Dumas, is a sub-plot rich epic with ancillary characters and long, fancy French titles. Instead of streamlining the play to just the Count’s retaliation, adaptor Christopher M. Walsh (no relation) ambitiously includes the Rogue’s rogue companions. Walsh successfully contains the multiple storylines within a solid framework. He boils each scenario down to its essence. Every word is utilitarian in the tight dialogue. Director Paul S. Holmquist paces the action like a well synchronized dance. Aided by Christopher Kriz’ original music and sound design, the intrigue mounts and the scenes transition effortlessly. The second act is particularly riveting as secrets lead to bloodshed. Holmquist starts the second act with a series of silent scenes recapping who’s who on the Count’s most wanted list. Kriz‘ dark and thrilling soundtrack sets the tone for providence. And R&D Choreography brings it with gasp-worthy fight scenes.
In a role he was born to play, Chris Hainsworth (Edmond) is the Count of Monte Cristo. Hainsworth’s performance captivates! As the Count, he plays it sophisticated, with a hint of mischief. For a man-hell-bent-on-destruction, he still finds the dead-pan humor in a statement. As Edmond, Hainworth’s anger and nobility conflict in his take-no-prisoners plan. It’s this contrasting duality that makes for an outstanding and unforgettable performance. The entire talented ensemble supports bringing this story to life. A few additional stand-outs are the affected, sleazy Danglers (John Ferrick), looming, smarmy Caderousse (Don Bender) and loony, fatherly Abbe Faria (also Don Bender).
Just in time for Fall, Lifeline Theatre’s offering is a classic page turner. Lifeline will wrap you up in a cozy blanket and spoon-feed you conspiracy with a side of spite. DELECTABLE! No one is going to be able to put The Count of Monte Cristo down!
From Windy City Times
September 28, 2011
By Mary Shen Barnidge
You can almost hear the advertisement trailer: “He was torn from his bride on his wedding day, only to be jailed for a crime he didn’t commit! Now he’s back—and he wants justice!” Who cares that Alexandre Dumas’ novel dates back over a century and a half? The wronged hero in search of vindication is a parable for all times and places, evidenced by the many popular stage, film, television and even anime adaptations since its publication in 1844.
Although the story is premised on the return of the ex-convict Edmond Dantes, now traveling under the title of the Count of Monte Cristo, who arrives in Paris accompanied by two comrades also seeking payback for injuries inflicted upon them, this is no blood-soaked Jacobean thriller. Unlike those invoking divine “providence” to defend their selfish goals, their nemesis’ exile has taught him the morality inherent in that word, as well as the responsibility of its agents to discharge their duties wisely, punishing the wicked, while sparing the innocent and repentant.
Far from diminishing the fascination of witnessing his scheme to inflict suffering on his enemies—compared more than once to the manipulations of chess-pieces on a board—the free will proffered by wealth, education and a legal alias serves to increase the tension of anticipation. How far will our champion go in his resolve? Will he be ruthless in his vengeance like his sanguine companion, the abandoned Benedetto? Or will he stop at disclosure of the facts surrounding past events, like the deposed Ottoman princess Haidee? The guilty, too—how will they respond upon being exposed? Will they accept their fate or remain remorseless to the end?
Christopher M. Walsh’s premiere adaptation for Lifeline Theatre deftly packs a horde of information into a brief playing time to forge a coherent narrative line keeping us firmly grounded in the action despite subplots and flashbacks, much as Joe Schermoly’s scenic design on the disproportionately vertical stage zips us from Paris to Rome via Marseilles with nary a trace of whiplash. The cast of stalwart company regulars, led by Chris Hainsworth as the Byronesque Dantes, likewise ensures that we understand each characters’ motive for every second of the two and a half hours required for the intrigue to progress to its still uncertain, but nonetheless satisfying, conclusion.