City Lit Theatre
The challenge when adapting a piece of literature to the stage is remaining true to its original source. Of course one has to remember that novels are novels and different rules apply to its form of storytelling than apply to the theatre. Many adaptors trip themselves up because they are drawn to the tone of the novel which does not translate into stage-able action.
City Lit Theatre has made its bread and butter from adapting and staging American and English literature. From the classics like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles to popular modern stories like Gidget, City Lit has made its mark as the only Chicago theatre to be solely dedicated to the performance of literature. They have become a perennial finalist at the Joseph Jefferson awards in the adaptation category.
This new adaptation of American satirist Mark Twain's Puddn'head Wilson, continues that tradition of City Lit's other adaptations as it is faithfully rooted in its literary tradition. Created by City Lit's Artistic Director Terry McCabe and Managing Director Brian Pastor, this staging relies heavily on the use of a narrator to lead us through the plot and fill in the details. Sections of long dialogue are played between the characters climaxing in the court room scene.
Providing the through line is Ehren Fournier in his portrayal of Chambers, the slave boy switched in the cradle to become a spoiled rich white boy. You love to hate Fournier's oily dandy. At the same time, Fournier creates enough humanity that when the reversal ending leaves Chamers to a sad fate, you cannot help feel that he has been the victim of other people's whims.
Also delightful is the performance of Mark Pracht who takes the challenge of moving between three different characters in stride. Pracht's various characters are each distinct not only with different costumes, but each has their own unique physicality and accent to match.
Some jarring lighting shifts are soothed by Keith Pitts' subdued scenic design. The costumes are overall simple and inviting. Despite some inconsistencies in dialects, the show is a valiant effort at staging this controversial and little-read Twain piece. A hearty thanks to City Lit for getting it out there and into our consciousness.
Happy Birthday: Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)