From the Chicago Tribune
World of ‘Monstrous Regiment’ is anything but flat
June 16, 2014
By Kerry Reid
Full disclosure: I’ve yet to get my literary passport stamped for Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld.” But after seeing Lifeline Theatre’s marvelous production of “Monstrous Regiment,” the 31st novel in Pratchett’s hugely popular series about life on a flat planet whose inhabitants’ foibles are suspiciously similar to our own, I’m ready to book passage on the S.S. Pratchett.
I would, however, need an extra-large suite to accommodate every last member of the stellar Lifeline ensemble as tour guides to Borogravia. Even the troll. Heck, especially the troll.
As I’ve not read the source novel, I can’t vouch for how much adapter Chris Hainsworth had to leave on the cutting-room floor, but from reading online summaries, my guess is “a lot.” My judgment is that it doesn’t matter. As a Pratchett newbie, I had no problem entering into this topsy-turvy world for two-plus hours and following the ins and outs of its backstory, presented here with a tidy minimum of exposition. (The episodic nature of the script does require close attention from time to time as key bits of information from earlier interludes come back, but the payoff is generally tremendous.)
The best thing about Hainsworth’s script and director Kevin Theis’ crackerjack staging is that it manages to fully inhabit the realm of the ridiculous while tipping its hat to Pratchett’s essentially humanist/feminist concerns. Somehow, as Iraq falls into even greater sectarian violence, a play rife with grotesque absurdity (soldiers dining on horsemeat and clothed in the blood-soaked uniforms of dead comrades) about a never-ending war waged on behalf of the probably-dead duchess of the aforementioned Borogravia seems wholly apropos.
Polly Perks (Sarah Price) is the daughter of a Borogravian innkeeper whose brother, Paul, has disappeared into the fog of war with neighboring Zlobenia. At the start of the play, she decides to search for him by cutting her hair, donning men’s apparel and shoving a sock down her trousers in order to pass as a man and sign up for the Borogravian army, in a regiment headed by gruff Sergeant Jackrum (Christopher M. Walsh).
She soon finds out that her fellow “lads” are also women in disguise — including Igor (Katie McLean Hainsworth), whose ghoulish skills at recycling body parts makes him/her a natural for medic duty; Wazzer (Melissa Engle), an abused survivor of a workhouse who has hallucinatory visions from the duchess; tough Tonker (Kim Boler) and firebug Lofty (Mandy Walsh), lovers and fellow survivors from the same Dickensian hellhole; and Carborundum the troll. The latter is played by Justine C. Turner, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Marvel Comics’ Thing in Emily McConnell’s fabulous gray foam-brick costume and yet still able to convey an adorable just-one-of-the-gals air of bonhomie.
For good measure, there’s also Maladict (the hypnotic Michaela Petro), a vampire of indeterminate gender and an overwhelming jones for coffee, which takes the place of the usual undead beverage of choice.
Badly outnumbered, the “monstrous regiment” (Pratchett’s title twits Scottish reformer John Knox’s 1558 screed against women rulers) has to figure out how to survive and defeat the Zlobenian garrison. They are both thwarted and abetted by foppish-but-not-quite-as-dumb-as-he-seems Lieutenant Blouse (Robert Kauzlaric, whose endless use of air quotes is a reliable running gag).
The anti-war and anti-violence sentiments in the script, updated by Hainsworth with references to “shock and awe” and “don’t ask, don’t tell,” are handled with offhanded aplomb that keep them from feeling like cheap sloganeering. When asked by Polly “What did you used to do — back in the world?” Engle’s forlorn Wazzer replies quietly “I used to be beaten.” Tonker notes acidly of the powers-that-be “It’s their country. It only becomes ours when somebody has to die for it.” And yet — they are willing to die for it, for reasons as complex as any offered by male recruits for centuries.
If there has been a more accomplished comedic ensemble on a Chicago stage this year, I’ve not seen it. I could watch Turner’s troll toss her imaginary hair or Hainsworth’s Igor react with black-circled-but-wide-eyed wonder to shifting circumstances over and over again. Walsh brings multiple layers of anger and vulnerability to Jackrum, Matt Engle and John Ferrick provide richly detailed turns as various soldiers and despots, and Joanna Iwanicka’s broken-walled set, Kevin D. Gawley’s crepuscular lighting, and Christopher Kriz’s witty sound design enhance the slightly steam-punkish world of this monstrously smart and funny production.
From the Daily Herald
Lifeline’s comic fantasy a ‘Monstrous’ delight
June 12, 2014
By Barbara Vitello
I have never read a novel from fantasy writer Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. But after seeing Lifeline Theatre’s zealous, laugh-out-loud world premiere adaptation of Pratchett’s 2003 novel “Monstrous Regiment,” I’m inclined to. Director Kevin Theis’ endlessly engaging production is that good.
Part of the appeal has to do with the witty script by Chris Hainsworth. The Glendale Heights native captures the oddball charm of Pratchett’s fictional world — a flat universe resting on the back of four elephants who stand on the shell of a giant turtle swimming through space — and the quirky, solidly crafted characters who inhabit it.
The success of “Monstrous Regiment” also results from the artful balance Theis and his superb cast achieve between satire and surreality. It’s droll but not too dry, silly but not over-the-top. The actors’ deadpan delivery, like their timing, is on target. And the visual puns — such as a hunchback’s shifting hump — are subtle but effective.
Taking its title from John Knox’s 16th-century tirade against female sovereigns (“The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women”), in which he argues gender makes women unsuitable leaders, the play satirizes gender roles. It also serves as a caustic rebuke of war, blind patriotism and persistent stupidity — all of which make this “Regiment” resonant.
The action unfolds in Borogravia, a country whose citizens have long forgotten — if they ever knew — the reasons for their perpetual feuds with their neighbors on the Disc.
Facing defeat and with their ranks depleted, army recruiters seek out young soldiers willing to enlist in Borogravia’s latest struggle against neighboring Zlobenia. Among them is Polly Perks (Sarah Price, a winningly winsome waif), who cuts her hair, dons a pair of breeches, changes her name to Oliver and joins the army to find her wayward brother (also a recruit) and bring him home. She’s assigned to a ragtag regiment, whose recruits are as green as she is. Among them is aristocratic vampire Maladict (Michaela Petro, all refined menace), who swore off blood in favor of coffee; Igor (great work from Katie McLean Hainsworth), a hunchback medic with a talent for stitching together bodies; and the slightly dim troll Carborundum (the affable, amusing Justine C. Turner), who enlists under the army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. This motley band of “brothers” includes Melissa Engle’s pious Wazzer, a Joan of Arc-like character who hears the voice of Borogravia’s revered Duchess, a sovereign who hasn’t been seen in public for 30 years and may be dead. That’s a minor concern, however, in a world where something becomes real if enough people believe it.
Rounding out the regiment dubbed monstrous is the self-contained Lofty (Mandy Walsh) and the defiant Tonker (passionately played by Kim Boler), who expresses in simple terms the frustration of the powerless when she exclaims: “There are rules. They can’t do whatever they want just because they can.”
Leading the untrained, poorly outfitted regiment is the gruff, battle-hardened, unfailingly decent Sgt. Jackrum, played with equal parts compassion and ruthlessness by Christopher M. Walsh. Walsh brings real pathos. Also on hand is Jackrum’s weaselly corporal Strappi (John Ferrick) and their commanding officer, the dapper, befuddled Lt. Blouse (the hilarious Robert Kauzlaric), a dandy eager for glory.
We follow thve misadventures of this untrained, poorly equipped but perpetually plucky unit from skirmish to skirmish, from defeat to victory to disappointment — when they realize that misogyny trumps all, even valor.
At two and a half hours including intermission, the play is overly long and needs trimming. But that’s a minor point in what is a major delight from a company renowned for its page-to-stage translations.
As for me, I owe Lifeline a “thank you” not just for a rollicking evening of theater, but for inspiring my next book club suggestion.
June 15, 2014
By Rory Leahy
As an ardent admirer of both fantasy and comedy, I’m often asked if I’m a fan of Terry Pratchett’s sprawling comic fantasy Discworld series. I have had to mutter that I’m not really, I read a couple of the early ones in college and found them quite dull. In just the last year two of my best friends have gifted me Discworld novels and it seems churlish not to read them but I still haven’t. It may well be that the later ones are where Pratchett found his stride.
Chris Hainsworth’s adaptation of his 2003 novel “Monstrous Regiment,” beautifully directed by Kevin Theis, would certainly seem to bolster this case.
“Monstrous” tells the story of the embattled nation of Borogravia, very much pseudo Britain despite the Eastern Europeanish name, fighting a war for its survival against enemy invaders. Our young protagonist, Polly Perks (Sarah Price) joins the army disguised as a boy in the hopes of finding her MIA older brother. The regiment is composed of several “monsters,” a rock covered troll, Carborundum (Justine C. Turner) a couple of psychics (Melissa Engle and Mandy Walsh) an “Igor” (Katie McLean Hainsworth) and Maladict (Michaela Petro) a vampire who has developed an overpowering addiction to coffee in lieu of human blood.
We also soon discover that like Polly, the other recruits are ALL secretly girls pretending to be boys. This hits on a number of satirical levels. Being a monstrous troll is no impediment to military service, but it would be if she revealed her sex. Monsters are an apt metaphor for the way conservative elements look at the transgendered.
Naturally our brave young heroines prove their mettle under the leadership of two classic military archetypes, the foppish lieutenant (Robert Kauzlaric) and grizzled bulldog of a sergeant. (Christopher M. Walsh)
I can’t recommend this show highly enough, it’s a comedy with wit and heart, sparkling performances, and Lifeline’s traditionally excellent production values.
Now where did I put those Pratchett books?
From Chicago Theater Beat
A monstrously good time!
June 17, 2014
By Clint May
Lifeline’s dedication to bringing the literary to life takes on what may be its grandest fantasy adaptation since “Lord of the Rings.” Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series — begun in 1983 and still going — is a massive bestseller with a devoted cult following. Monstrous Regiment is the 31st of the 40 extant books, and entering the world this far into the series is a curious choice. Thanks to a skillful adaptation by Chris Hainsworth, Lifeline has faith in our ability to accept the fantastical and eschews many esoteric details. Fans of the series and newcomers (like me) alike will delight in this rollicking tale of gender bending warriors who must fight not just their enemies but the stifling constraints of conservatism.
Upon the magical Discworld (so named because the world is in fact a disc), the small country of Borogravia is at war with their more advanced neighbors. The intrepid Polly (Sarah Price) enlists in the army Joan of Arc-style to rescue her brother from behind enemy lines. Renamed “Oliver Perks,” she soon discovers that many of her regimental Band of Brothers are actually her “Sisters.” It’s heavily implied that this is because there are so few men left in the flagging war effort to enlist. True to the title, there are actual monsters — a coffee-loving vampire (Michaela Petro), a dim-witted troll (Justine C. Turner) and a creepy Igor (Katie McLean Hainsworth). Some are just escaping the monstrous conditions in their misogynistic homeland. Abused in the Girl’s Working School, Lofty (Mandy Walsh), Tonker (Kim Boler) and Wazzer (Melissa Engle) are a misfit group of wild cards who may or may not defect at the border. Under the command of the stalwart Sergeant Jackrum (Christopher M. Walsh) and foppish Lieutenant Blouse (Robert Kauzlaric), they fight their way to an enemy stronghold and gain a reputation as a fierce brigand en route.
Pratchett’s thick self-aware satire of war takes on propaganda, gender roles, hollow patriotism and incompetent leadership. The entire Discworld series is as large a mythology as Harry Potter or Tolkien, and specifically a Swiftian spoof of the tropes found therein mingled with current events. Monstrous Regiment has overtones of Orwell brought in for good measure in a world where the laws of physics include a meta-force that is solely dedicated to maintaining cohesive narratives.
As in many sci-fi/fantasy stories, it’s the side characters that get the best moments. Price is pretty funny in her own right, but no one can compete with the wickedly hilarious Hainsworth and her lisping Igor. Preening and ambiguously gendered, Petro’s blood-abstaining vampire is a fabulous construct. The award for most lovable goes to Turner’s lumbering rock troll. Everyone may have a different favorite, as Kevin Theis has pitch-perfectly directed them with a Mel Brooksian verve (some parts are definitely reminiscent of Young Frankenstein). Social criticism is never bogged down by a primary need to get another giggle or outright guffaw. Lifeline’s technical team similarly fires on all cylinders with Joanna Iwanicka’s adaptable scenery and some imaginative costumes by Emily McConnell earning top marks.
Replete with running gags and blink-and-you’ll-miss them jokes, Monstrous Regiment even manages a few surprises and largely transcends its fantasy roots. Whimsical summer fun rarely come as delectably packaged as this!
From Windy City Times
June 18, 2014
By Mary Shen Barnidge
Move over, Dirty Dozen! At ease, Inglorious Basterds! The members of the undefeatable squad called by its foes the “monstrous regiment” are a team of literally monstrous misfits: Carborundum, the phlegmatic troll; Igor, the hunchbacked field surgeon; Wazzer, the sky-pilot mystic; Maladict, the recovering-addict vampire; Tonker and Lofty, the orphanage runaways; and Ozzie, the former bartender. Their superiors in the Borogravian army are the weaselly Col. Strappi, the wise Sgt. Jackrum and the effete Lt. Blouse. All of them have personal reasons for enlisting that will only be revealed in the heat of battle.
Those familiar with the literary career of Terry Pratchett (who commands his own yearly international conference in the UK) know to expect sly social commentary in the guise of a mock-epic fantasy structured with the slapdash glee of a Dungeons and Dragons tournament. For those encountering the exhaustive Discworld series for the first time (like me), Chris Hainsworth’s adaptation deftly avoids becoming bogged down in arcane backstories from previous volumes to locate us firmly in the present, the Balkanesque conflicts providing a canvas for discussion of war’s eternal stupidity.
This is no windy allegorical polemic, however. Under Kevin Theis’ direction, this motley band of, uh, brothers emerges as a gang of live-action cartoons, with smart, slapstick antics always grounded in individual personalities. (Caffeine withdrawal represents a serious threat when coffee is a bloodjunkie’s methadone, for example, and the old socks-down-the-trousers approach to she-male drag gets funnier when an entire platoon… on the other hand, I’m not gonna spoil THAT surprise).
The wordplay likewise brims with the delight of an author who obviously loves his language, replete with puns and allusions inserted so unobtrusively as to register without stopping the flow of the action, as well as a dry humor (“I’ve starved before,” Sgt. Jackrum warns his troops, “There’s no future in it”) refreshingly devoid of the juvenile snark too often infecting sword-and-sorcery satire.
The swift physical pace would mean nothing without verbal agility as well, but Lifeline’s dream-team ensemble never misses a step, despite costumes that include a prosthetic hump for Igor and full-body granite-camo armor for Carborundum (“You can’t get blood from a stone”) and special effects encompassing spectral visions, crossbow fire and big bangs just when you need them. The results are two and a half hours of giddy — and surprisingly wholesome — fun, even if, as the sergeant observes, “The regiment never met an entendre it couldn’t double.”
From the Chicago Reader
Monstrous Regiment, delightful show
June 11, 2014
By Tony Adler
Ever heard off Terry Pratchett? Me neither, until a few days ago. But it turns out he’s an awfully big deal: a knighted English author who’s written books by the dozens and sold them by the tens of millions since his first was published back in 1971. Pratchett’s great project is the Discworld series of comic fantasy novels. Comprising 41 titles so far, the series chronicles doings on a flat planet supported by four elephants standing atop a giant turtle who swims through space going no one knows where. According to a remarkably entertaining Wikipedia entry purporting to sketch out Pratchett’s universe, “Reality is spread thinly on the Disc, so events may be affected by expectations… Essentially, if something is believed strongly enough, or by enough people, it may become true… This is known as the law of narrative causality.”
Having so far read just the first 108 pages of the 31st Discworld book, Monstrous Regiment, I’m no expert. But it’s already clear that Pratchett’s work falls into that Hitchhiker’s Guide/Doctor Who-esque fun-with-physics genre the Brits seem to like so much — but with a whiff of the 18th-century picaresque thrown in. It’s the sort of thing that might come of crossing, say, the cosmos of a Tolkien with the subversive sensibilities of a Jonathan Swift.
Monstrous Regiment is the source of a new stage adaptation written by Chris Hainsworth and presented at Lifeline Theatre in a delightful staging by Kevin Theis. It centers on Polly Perks, a resourceful young woman who works for her dad at an inn in the troubled duchy of Borogravia. Or at least that’s what she does until she decides to cut her hair, lose the skirt, change her name to Oliver, and join the army.
A big part of the trouble with Borogravia is that it’s governed by a woman who may very well be dead. The Duchess went into seclusion three decades prior to the action of the story, due to the premature demise of her husband. There’s been nary a public peep from her since, but that hasn’t kept her from becoming the Madonna-like subject of a cult of personality. Her image is everywhere. Indeed, many folks pray to it. Polly is required to kiss it when she enlists.
In the absence of any real administration, the Borogravian power vacuum has been filled by a despotic little deity called Nuggan whose list of Abominations includes chocolate, dwarves, shirts with six buttons, and the color blue. It probably goes without saying that he also abhors the idea of women doing “the work of a man” and vice versa. Old Nobodaddy Nuggan adds to the list so often, Pratchett writes, that his holy book is issued in a ring binder.
Nuggan’s edicts have so thoroughly rattled Borogravia’s neighbors that the duchy is constantly under siege. Pratchett is darkly comic about the consequences, especially when it comes to veterans hobbling around on incomplete sets of limbs, their guts held in by their coats. The economy is in shambles, the villages picked clean of young men. Polly’s own brother, Paul, has disappeared into the maw of war; it’s to find him and bring him home that she embarks on her boyish masquerade, joining a squad manned entirely by scrapings from the bottom of the societal barrel. Among her fellow recruits are a troll, an Igor (as in Dr. Frankenstein’s body-part-scavenging assistant), and a suave vampire called Maladict, who, having sworn off human blood, guzzles coffee instead. Each of them has a secret.
Hainsworth has done a fine job of translating Pratchett’s amiable cynicism into sharp theatrical language. His adaptation is witty on its own account and only slightly overlong at two and a half hours. But it’s Theis’s ensemble that bring even the undead to vivid, entertaining life. Starting out jet-set smooth and uber-vampire confident, Michaela Petro suffers amusingly when severe caffeine deprivation brings Maladict this close to breaking his blood-temperance oath. Justine Turner acts her way through thick layers of gray foam costuming to create a droll troll. And Katie McLean Hainsworth steals a whole slew of scenes as Igor the, uh, Igor. Robert Kauzlaric builds an engagingly clueless lieutenant out of air quotes, while Christopher M. Walsh supplies unexpected nuance and a large measure of heart as the squad’s tough, genial NCO. Sarah Price’s Polly is as plucky as she needs to be — and yet her main virtue isn’t heroism or even likability, but the way she invites us into her adventure.
Monstrous Regiment looks like a satire on the flimsiness of traditional gender roles. And to a great extent, that’s what it is. Still, it’s also knowing enough, large enough to recognize the irony of searching for sexual equality on a battlefield. Driving home from Lifeline, I heard a scholar on the radio comment that, given the amount of time the United States has spent in a state of war since 1940, peace is the real aberration. In other words, America, Borogravia — take your pick.
From New City
June 11, 2014
By Raymond Rehayem
You might think being a rock troll, a vampire, a werewolf, or a hunch-backed “Igor” would disqualify hopeful enlistees from military service. But in the fictional land of Borogravia, it’s just their gender that the unlikely female recruits of “Monstrous Regiment” are compelled to hide.
I was not familiar with the Terry Pratchett source novel when I took the assignment to review Chris Hainsworth’s adaptation of this satirical war tale, nor did I have the time to read the preceding 30 books in Pratchett’s “Discworld” series. So, from a fan angle perhaps I entered Lifeline Theatre about as ill-prepared for what I was about to see as these characters are for battle. But while a Discworld devotee might glean additional pleasure seeing Pratchett’s work brought to life, I quickly recognized that the targets of the humor are universal, the show’s aim is decidedly true, and there’s nothing to keep the uninitiated from thoroughly enjoying this delightful production.
In the service of an unseen, frequently referenced, likely deceased Duchess and driven by a disparate set of personal motivations the young women — disguised as lads — sign up for a Borogravian army which has seemingly exhausted its supply of eligible males. Much of the comedy comes from the obviousness of the gender deception (though one can never be sure with a vampire, they’re just androgynous by nature…). Similarly the determination of these soldiers to overcome strictures of femininity and defy accepted societal roles lends the show much of its emotional resonance.
Director Kevin Theis orchestrates the flow of physical comedy and the delivery of the frequently funny dialogue impeccably. Timing, that essential key to comedy in fictional lands on the Disc and right here on planet Earth, is spot-on from start to finish. The sci-fi and fantastical elements work in service of the script’s main focus on providing commentary on war and social injustice while delivering laughs. Along with the ample jokes, there are occasional tender moments. The entire cast is crisp and undeniably likeable. Among the oddball assemblage of gals-posing-as-lads Sarah Price shines as our main hero Polly, a novice like the others but a born leader who initiates her plans by effortlessly convincing her laughably confident superior Lt. Blouse (Robert Kauzlaric) that he’s the originator of Polly’s tactics. Katie McLean Hainsworth is hilarious as a member of a race of Frankenstein’s assistants known as Igors. Michaela Petro is alternately aloof and seething as Maladict, a vampire with the self-discipline to substitute a steady stream of coffee for the traditional beverage of human blood. Justine C. Turner lumbers comically (both physically and verbally) under Emily McConnell’s wonderfully designed costume for Carborundum, a thick-skulled and thick-skinned troll. And Christopher M. Walsh is solid as the war-weary, gutsy Sgt. Jackrum under whom they all serve.
The Woman Power message is driven home a bit too bluntly and repetitively near the end of this nearly two and a half hour show, but otherwise “Monstrous Regiment” moves along briskly. The strength of the cast is itself an argument for gender equality, the women and the men in this winning production are all worthy of commendation.
From Time Out Chicago
June 10, 2014
By Kevin Thomas
From the moment Monstrous Regiment begins, with an army recruiter’s vaudevillian routine calling the brave sons of Borogravia to join against the foul Zlobenian and Ankh-Morporkian invaders (complete with helpful flags, for the more dim-witted recruits) while Polly Perks (Sarah Price) cuts her hair and stuffs her trousers to become Oliver, it’s clear that Lifeline Theatre understands Terry Pratchett.
The celebrated author is one of the last masters of satire, and Monstrous Regiment is one of his finest works. While a lot of satire today devolves into snark, Pratchett’s writing is earnest, enthusiastic, and celebrates the bravely idiotic spirit of humanity. Though Discworld is full of dwarves, dragons and other fantasy trappings, it’s less sword-and-sworcery and more the realities of modern life as experienced by a strange and comical universe. Lifeline’s adaptation, as with its opening scene, visually captures the absurd zeal with which Pratchett’s societies perform their beliefs as well as the hapless dignity of his heroines.
Borogravia is a mad little country that’s been at war with just about everyone, and Polly Perks never cared until her brother Paul went missing in the army. To find him, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a misfit group of recruits led by the sergeant’s sergeant, the infamous Jackrum (Christopher M. Walsh). Her comrades include a troll, a religious fanatic, runaways, a vampire and an Igor, but they have one thing in common: They’re all secretly women.
Monstrous Regiment’s greatest achievement is the speed with which it immerses you in its universe. The ensemble is confident in its project, and each actor changes their manner depending on who they’re speaking to — so the vampire Maledict (Michaela Petro) is never addressed as if she’s not sporting fangs, and everyone talks a little softer to the pious, unhinged Wazzer (Melissa Engle). Combined with spectacular costumes and spot-on physical comedy, it’s immediately understandable and entertaining.
This is a very literal, page-to-stage adaptation, which works just fine because the source dialogue is hilarious. The addition of great visual gags makes it even funnier. That said, the literalness doesn’t always work in its favor. A well-paced book becomes rushed in a theater. It’s not that moments aren’t given their due time; rather Monstrous Regiment begins to be one event after another after another. Even as a hardcore Pratchett fan, I wish Chris Hainsworth had done more adapting and taken more liberties with the text. It unquestionably is a book read aloud, even to those who don’t know the source, and doesn’t quite achieve the holistic feeling of a stage play. The cast acts to the dialogue, rather than bending the delivery to their character, much like you see with a lot of Shakespeare productions.
The results are still good, but there’s a sense they could achieve more, and the ensemble is rarely subtle. The exception is Walsh as Sergeant Jackrum, who is so much more than the “Sarge” stereotype. He is simultaneously a ruthless killer, a beleaguered old soldier and a caring leader; not an easy character, but Walsh rises to the occasion in the most natural performance of the show, one that gives it real soul.
If imperfect and perhaps too reverent of its source material, Monstrous Regiment is still a comedy with top-notch production values that keep the audience laughing, and is one of the more original stories you can see in a theatre. I’m thrilled Lifeline chose to tackle it, and with such gusto. I’d simply love to see the creators break from Pratchett’s pages even more to make their adaptation a great work in its own right, because the talent and passion are there.
From Chicago Theatre Review
June 14, 2014
By Peter Thomas Ricci
“Monstrous Regiment,” the latest world premiere from the ever-inventive Lifeline Theatre, is a comedic triumph, a wonderfully funny absurdist romp that caps off the company’s terrific 2013-2014 season.
A story of war and folly, “Monstrous Regiment” follows the the scruffy oddballs who comprise the last standing army of Borogravia, a fictional country at war with a similarly loony neighboring country. Though the play largely centers around Polly Perks (a soldier in drag played by the delightful Sarah Price), the army corp includes an Igor (yes, of Frankenstein fame, and played terrifically by Katie McLean Hansworth); a coffee-obsessed vampire (played with blood-sucking glee by Michaela Petro); a dimwitted troll; a gruff-talking sargent (the excellent Lifeline ensemble member Christopher M. Walsh); and a truly ridiculous lieutenant, who in the hands of the brilliant Robert Kauzlaric is nothing short of a comedic masterstroke; indeed, I looked forward to every moment that Kauzlaric was on stage, when his movements, pompous British accents, and falsetto cries never failed to inspire laughter from the audience.
As usual with Lifeline productions, the cast is aided immeasurably by the taut direction of Kevin Theis and the outstanding staging of Joanna Iwanicka. Whenever I see a production at Lifeline, I’m reminded of just how resourceful staging can truly be in a small space. Too often, designers work in a solely horizontal fashion, but Lifeline always takes advantage of its high ceilings, building sets with multiple levels and stories to them; it’s a subtle move, but one that opens up the plays action in numerous ways.
And again, “Monstrous Regiment” is a damn funny play, both in its situations and its dialogue. It may not be for everyone — at two and a half hours, it’s not a short play by any stretch, and a more square viewer could be put off by its antics and complete disregard for anything resembling normal — but if you are willing to submit to Lifeline’s zany new world, you’ll be treated to yet another fine production from one of Chicago’s most endlessly innovative theater companies.
From Stage & Cinema
A Feminist Fantasy, Soaked in Whimsy
June 10, 2014
By Lawrence Bommer
In Lifeline Theatre’s semi-delightful 150-minute romp, the war between the sexes is replaced by a war against sexism. The latest adaptation from this literature-loving ensemble is Chris Hainsworth’s faithful adaptation of Monstrous Regiment, the 31st novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. This prolific author manages to meld sword-and-sorcery, 18th-century fantasy, and a veddy English social satire of class conflict. The setting, as always, is the Disc, a mythical world that rides on top of a turtle that sits on an elephant. It’s a realm unsullied by logic but influenced by ever-changing gods: Here a tale told often enough becomes true due to the law of narrative causality. Expectations trump probability and belief alters everything.
The specific setting in Monstrous Regiment, engagingly staged by Kevin Theis, is war-torn Borogravia during Discworld’s Year of the Fruitbat. The specific situation: The country’s protracted hostilities against their blue-coated, putatively inhumane enemy, the Zlobenian invaders. (It’s the Disc’s latest war not to end all wars, much like the endless animosities in Game of Thrones.)
Fighting this pointless war (sound familiar?) is the title troupe, a ragtag rogues’ gallery. The “monstrous regiment” consists of Igor (Katie McLean Hainsworth as a hunchbacked medic); a vampire (volatile Michaela Petro) who requires constant cups of coffee to check her urge for blood; a visionary (driven Melissa Engle) whose auditory hallucinations emanate from the Duchess, Borogravia’s deceased figurehead; a Troll named Carborundum (amiable Justine C. Turner) who recall’s The Thing from the Fantastic Four; and our heroine Polly (attractively androgynous Sarah Price). This last, a plucky and resourceful adventuress, cuts off her hair, pads her privates with a sock and otherwise disguises herself as a man to search for her brother who got lost in the fog of war. She’s as wonderful to see as to hear.
The memorable misfits are led by a foul-mouthed, stentorian-shouting drill sergeant (louder-than-life Christopher M. Walsh), one of many Limey stereotypes in this fusion of Gilbert and Sullivan, Dr. Who, and Monty Python. Sgt. Jackrum is bossed around by an upper class twit of a lieutenant (a wonderfully addled Robert Kauzlaric) whose intractable stupidity, kneejerk misogyny, and inveterate snobbery get in the way of the soldiers’ survival instincts and common sense. Together this ragged regiment engages the Zlobenians in half-hearted captures and retreats. A final assault on the foe’s fortress ends up in a strange reversal, with Borogravians turning on each other.
That’s because of the running irony behind this regiment — it’s actually a petticoat army: These stalwart soldiers are women warriors, disguised in order to earn the right to defend their land, and to escape hard times at home and miserable relations with real (bad) men. By play’s end they prove their worth. But they’ve also changed the enemy: In the future, Borogravia will battle stupidity, a much more intransigent adversary and a much longer struggle.
A bit long for my liking, Hainsworth’s stage version doggedly reflects the author’s aggressive whimsy: gross-out jokes, groaner puns, glib one-liners, and heavy-handed caricatures. Happily, Hainsworth does equal justice to the rollicking fun of this picaresque plot, the anti-army spoofery, and some cunningly drawn characters.
With spunk and spirit, director Theis turns Pratchett’s silver into Lifeline’s gold, inspiring richly textured performances from 11 wickedly sharp thespians. Their crafted accents, systemic mugging, deadpan reactions, and character-rooted quirks are perfectly timed and always on target. Pratchett’s polemics about identity issues and the waste of war never get in the way of a good story. Keep calm and carry on…
From Showbiz Chicago
June 11, 2014
By Justin Allan Kimball
I must be up front with you, when I first heard that I was seeing the Lifeline Theater’s performance of “Monstrous Regiment” I had zero idea of what I was getting into. So, I went to the old “world wide web” to look up exactly what this play was about, AND… was confused even further. I asked someone who had read the novel and he replied with “It’s kinda like Mulan, but with monsters… and stuff.” With this very intriguing ideal in mind I entered the theater and was not let down at all. Kevin Theis (the director) took me on a fun filled, plot/brain twisting adventure that kept me laughing and more importantly… thinking.
To sum this up for you REAL quick, this production is set in the author’s (Terry Prachett) fictional and magical realm of “Discworld.” The exact location is “West Borogravia, the year of the Fruitbat” if we are going to be specific. The action surrounds a group of female soldiers dressed as men, a vampire, an igor and of course a troll. They have decided that they will join the army to defend their land and bring honor to their god like figure “the duchess.” SO now that you are caught up let’s get to it.
The technical aspects of this production really stood out as a big win for Lifeline Theater. When you walk into the theater you will first see a very strange, very exciting location for this play to be set. Scenic designer Joanna Iwanicka has created a tiny piece of this magical world that honestly.. I wanted to play on. The set is very tall and steep which gives the production a very apropos sense of danger throughout. Not to mention Kevin Theis was able to use the space to perfection. The large decaying painting of the duchess was an eery look into what kind of production this is going to be. Not to mention the fantastic use of shadow by the lighting designer, Kevin D. Gawley. LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST, the costuming and puppetry (masterfully done by Emily McConnell and Kitty Campbell) were pretty much the bees knees. I would recommend seeing this show based off of the troll costume alone.
“But what about the acting Justin?” I’m glad you asked reader. There was some definite stand out performances in this production. The style of this play is very much in the vein of slapstick, bitty, mel brooks style comedy with a hard edge. The three “monster” characters (Vampire: Michaela Petro, Igor: Katie Mclean Hainsworth and the Troll: Justine C. Turner) really ALMOST stole the show for me. Very funny actresses who brought a realism to these outrageous characters. Robert Kauzlaric as Lt. Blouse and Christopher M. Walsh also gave some hilarious performances, which on a few occasions brought me to obnoxious blurting laughter, which is not so easy to do. Brava fellas.
As much as I enjoyed this production, there were some definite “flaws” involved. For one, it was entirely too long. I absolutely understand that the adaptor, Chris Hainsworth, had his work cut out for him due to the wordy, long winded aspects of this story but the second act dragged us down with SO much going on. We barely had time to swallow what we had before three more elaborate plot twists unfolded. I just need it sharpened up so I don’t feel like I’m missing important parts of the story and not let it drag. ALSO, the three girls that were not monsters felt a little one note. For the entire first act they kind of blended in with the scenery and when they finally got their moments, they felt rushed and not thoroughly explained. I just want to see more from them. AND FINALLY, the bits. I love me some bits, but on quite a few occasions they might have been over used/not followed all the way through. If you are going to do a bit, GO for it. Hopefully that will continue to be cleaned and tinkered with as this production goes onward.
Lifeline Theater should be very proud of this performance. A definite must see for the “smashing through the set” climactic moment at the very least.