SR reviews: “The Man Who Was Thursday” and “May the Road Rise Up”

It’s a Rogers Park two-pack with new plays at Lifeline and the Factory.

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Linsey Falls and Eduardo Xavier Curley-Carillo

Bilal Dardai and Jess Hutchinson’s G.K. Chesterton adaptation returns to the stage a decade later, this time with a little less danger

Theater review by Kris Vire

Recruited by Scotland Yard as a detective in its “anarchist division,” poet Gabriel Syme (Eduardo Xavier Curley-Carrillo) is tasked with infiltrating the Supreme Council of Anarchists, a group of seven top bomb-throwers who sport the days of the week as code names. These oddly organized anarchists seek to disrupt order across Europe, led by the mysterious head anarchist Sunday (Allison Cain). That Syme is tossed undercover into this underworld without proper detective training or departmental support—and that “head anarchist” feels like an oxymoron—are all part of the satire in G.K. Chesterton’s 1907 novel The Man Who Was Thursday.

Playwright Bilal Dardai and director Jess Hutchinson first tackled Chesterton’s work nearly a decade ago, at the dearly departed New Leaf Theatre. That production of The Man Who Was Thursday earned a spot on my list of 2009’s ten best plays, based on the deftness of Dardai’s adaptation, Hutchinson’s wildly inventive staging—which reconfigured the audience into different seating configurations for different scenes and also got us on our feet for promenade segments—and a crackerjack ensemble cast that could navigate both heady wordplay and farcical silliness.

I can’t say much more without a spoiler alert, so consider yourself alerted. In both Chesterton’s novel and Dardai’s script, Syme soon discovers he’s not the only plant among the anarchists. In fact, as becomes clear by intermission here, the undercover detectives on the Supreme Council outnumber their foes. In 2009, just months into the Obama administration’s first term, Dardai and Hutchinson made Chesterton’s conceit—Scotland Yard fighting a fake threat created by Scotland Yard—feel like a commentary on the ginned-up War on Terror begun in the George W. Bush era.

In 2019, it’s harder to read Chesterton’s portrait of moral-philosophy pretzel logic as any kind of analogy to a leadership that operates with neither morals nor philosophy. Dardai’s script remains sharp, and Hutchinson’s all-new cast is up to the silly task.

Curley-Carrillo, though a thoroughly charming Syme, is perhaps a little too unflappably suave; as the audience surrogate, we need him to be shocked by his discoveries so we can be, too. But he’s surrounded by quality supporting performances, particularly from Jen Ellison as Saturday, Corrbette Pasko as Wednesday and Marsha Harman as Monday. That Hutchinson and Dardai have allowed for the new cast to be smartly gender-balanced, in contrast to the all-male original, is one welcome innovation.

Yet there’s a little something lost in the new staging, owing mostly I think to the constrictions of Lifeline’s space. With its permanent, stadium-style seating and its small stage footprint, the theater both keeps us at a remove and makes for some repetitive movements. The Man Who Was Thursday is still worth your while as an urbane literary adaptation. But the rock & roll thrill of the previous iteration has been polished away.


The Man Who Was Thursday

Lifeline Theatre (6912 N Glenwood Ave). By G.K. Chesterton. Adapted by Bilal Dardai. Directed by Jess Hutchinson.

Cast: Eduardo Xavier Curley-Carrillo (Gabriel Syme), Allison Cain (Sunday), Jen Ellison (Dr. Bull/Saturday), Linsey Falls (Professor de Worms/Friday), Sonia Goldberg (Buttons, Colonel, et al.), Cory Hardin (Lucian Gregory), Marsha Harman (The Secretary/Monday), Oly Oxinfry (Constable, Lieutenant, et al.), Corrbette Pasko (The Marquis de St. Eustache/Wednesday), Christopher M. Walsh (Gogol/Tuesday).

Designers: Lizzie Bracken (scenic), Eric Watkins (lighting), Caitlin McLeod and Anna Wooden (costumes), Christopher Kriz (sound and original music), Jenny Pinson (props), Greg Poljacik (fight choreography), Elise Kauzlaric (dialect coach), Zev Valancy (dramaturg).

Running time: 2hrs 20 minutes; one intermission. Through April 7. Tickets ($20–$40) at lifelinetheatre.org.

Photographs by Suzanne Plunkett.


Vic Kuligoski (from left), Patrick Blashill and Loretta Rezos

A heartfelt if slightly overstuffed family drama at the Factory

Theater review by Kris Vire

Michael Murphy (Vic Kuligoski) ran away from his hometown right after high school graduation. Now, five years, three months and ten days later, he’s back from New York City on the eve of his Irish grandfather’s 70th birthday party. His surprise arrival is a source of consternation for said grandfather, Danny (Patrick Blashill); Michael’s mother, Patty (Loretta Rezos); and several of Michael’s former friends, but especially Ruby (Julia Rowley).

Factory Theater ensemble member Shannon O’Neill may share a surname with Eugene, but her version of Irish family drama is much more concise and ultimately more hopeful than his. May the Road Rise Up is a warmly observed tale of a multigenerational family whose relationships were interrupted by a past trauma—though the nature of that trauma is withheld a little too long, and once it’s revealed, the timeline becomes confusing if you think about it too hard.

Vic Kuligoski (from left), Jose Cervantes, Julia Rowley, Bob Pantalone and Scot West

Still, O’Neill writes some lovely two– and three-person scenes with a terrific ear for dialogue, and in Spenser Davis’s staging, they’re often beautifully realized. Kuligoski, as the troubled but trying Michael, has an intensity and mien that recall James McAvoy; he’s well countered by Rowley, who provides both solid chemistry and a nicely comic foil.

While I suspect Blashill is about 25 years younger than the irascible old coot he’s playing, he gives solid truth to the tropes (widower, retired boxer, etc.). And Davis manages both the traffic and the emotions well. The ten characters that O’Neill has written are, honestly, three or four more characters than this story needs; I hope she edits the cast down for her next draft. And yet I was impressed by the birthday party scene, which had all ten actors on stage for one of the least-stagey, most organic-feeling group gatherings in recent storefront-theater memory.


May the Road Rise Up

The Factory Theater (1623 W Howard St). By Shannon O’Neill. Directed by Spenser Davis.

Cast: Vic Kuligolski (Michael), Loretta Rezos (Patty), Patrick Blashill (Danny), Julia Rowley (Ruby), Bob Pantalone (Rosie), Jose Cervantes (Sam), Zach Bloomfield (Don), Maggie Cain (Evelyn), Scot West (Andy), Ron Quade (Mr. Bommer).

Designers: Evan Frank (scenic), David Goodman-Edberg (lighting), Emma Cullimore (costumes), Tony Ingram (sound), Christine Jennings (props), Mandy Walsh (violence and intimacy), Shane Murray-Corcoran (dialect coach).

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes; no intermission. Through March 30. Tickets ($25) at thefactorytheater.com.

Photographs by Michael Courier.


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