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A Room With a View: Reviews
October 13 - December 3, 2006

From the Chicago Tribune

'Room With a View' offers panoramas

October 24, 2006

At the start of the Lifeline Theatre's lovely new adaptation of E.M. Forster's "A Room With a View," we see the aptly named heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, supine on a trapeze.

It's not an image Forster would have immediately recognized - his Miss Honeychurch indulged the limited sensual expression available to a well-bred young woman of 1908 by playing the pianoforte. But the stage is not a page. And in theatrical terms, Dorothy Milne's inspired idea to represent musical escapism with an acrobatic maneuver perfectly evokes the central personal mystery of this great coming-of-age tale. Be it piano or trapeze, the point is that this is Lucy's one chance to break out of her corset.

Figuratively, at least.

Images of confining fabric - and the contrasting freedoms of art and nature - continue to haunt this impressive show, which features a beautifully crisp and unflashy adaptation from Christina Calvit, the talent behind innumerable fine prior Lifeline versions of literary classics, often created with Milne. But even by Calvit and Milne's standards, this show is especially good.

That's mostly because the narrative staging, while less pretentious than you might see at other theaters around town, is uncommonly vivacious and fluid. As lovely Lucy (Hillary Clemens) and her handsome but unsuitable beau George Emerson (played by a brooding Bryson Engelen) putter through English puddles and the like, you'll swear you can see the pools of water on the stage floor, even though it remains dry.

The tone is pitch-perfect - winsome and droll but rooted in social realities and very much aquatinted with the muddle of life. And if you want to be true to Forster (as this show surely manages), muddle is almost everything.

The cast is uncommonly good. Lucy - spunky but wholly a guileless creature of her time - is a tough role to play without either stooping to condescension or stomping on her enthusiasm for budding modernity. Somehow, newcomer Clemens avoids both of those traps. She creates a remarkably likable character who positively glows with that virginal blush of sensual possibility. Even if you've never read the book, you'll surely become wholly invested in her not marrying that boringly suitable loser Cecil Vyse (played, odiously, by Robert Kauzlaric).

There are a few pulpy moments. So goes the novel. But the vast majority of this show feels literate but never stuffy; intellectually stimulating but vulnerably human; wide-eyed but understanding. This affordable show especially deserves theaters full of mothers and rapt daughters, probing together how the perils of growing up have changed and how they surely remain the same.

From the Chicago Sun-Times

'View' comes of age with zest, charm

October 24, 2006

Highly Recommended

The latest little charmer from Lifeline Theatre is a wise and witty stage adaptation of A Room With a View, E.M. Forster's classic novel that is both a coming-of-age story and a zesty comedy of British and Italian manners.

Notable for the breezy way it dances around the popular 1986 Merchant-Ivory film -- proceeding on its merry, winking way by employing simple yet highly effective theatrical tricks -- the show is most sharply focused on that all-important thing called character, and its development.

What's more, in Hillary Clemens, the young, winningly pretty, exceptionally skillful actress who plays the crucial role of Lucy Honeychurch (a proper English girl who blossoms before our eyes, or, as one onlooker puts it, finds the ideal mix of light and shadow in herself), this production has discovered an ideal interpreter. Clemens hits each and every note of her character's transformation from girl to woman with precision, and she seems entirely natural even when exercising her considerable guile.

Of course there is something about Lucy Honeychurch herself that is full of potential from the start. When we first see her in this Lifeline production -- sensitively adapted by Christina Calvit and ingeniously staged by Dorothy Milne -- she is lounging on a trapeze in her Edwardian finery. And she confides that she is invariably a little "peevish" after playing Beethoven on the piano.

Lucy will grow even more peevish -- and a great deal more luminous, too -- after she visits Florence, Italy, with her cousin Charlotte (Sandy Snyder), a bit of a Victorian relic, and encounters the middle-class, socialist-bohemian Emersons (the delightfully self-possessed John Coriell as the imperturbable father and Bryson Engelen as his handsome, brooding son George). It is the first unexpected but not at all unwelcome kiss she gets from George -- during an excursion to Fiesole and a field of violets (a place conjured with nothing more than bits of light-catching metallic paper) -- that will do real wonders. Yet it won't change everything. It will only hint at possibility, and along with many other epiphanies, ultimately undo any real possibility for a match between Lucy and the bookish, upper-class Cecil Vyse (deft work by Robert Kauzlaric), a man incapable of real human intimacy.

Love and adventure and the need to trust one's instincts are at the heart of Forster's deceptively deep story. And there is more than a little mystery in how people react to the stirring of their souls -- a mystery that this production captures with easy panache, playfulness and keen intelligence. Youth and death are in continual tension here, yet that natural balance is captured with an almost feathery touch.

The funerary sculpture in the Santa Croce church comes to life by way of white-faced actors. A doubles tennis match is played without a net. And three fellows scamper (in the nude) in a swimming hole conjured from nothing but gauze curtains, fine sound effects and actors having a ripping good time. (One of them, Lawrence Kern, plays Lucy's brother to terrific comic effect.)

The ensemble (Mark Richard, Morgan McCabe, Hilary Williams and Patricia Donegan) is full of easy shapeshifters playing multiple roles. And Elizabeth Powell Shaffer's costumes are nothing short of sublime.

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