The Man Who Was Thursday's visual splendors compensate for its extreme verbosity | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The Man Who Was Thursday's visual splendors compensate for its extreme verbosity 

When you get tired of listening to spies, there's a beautiful set and lighting.

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Suzanne Plunkett

G.K. Chesterton's 1908 satire about the battle between order and chaos gets a spirited and beautifully staged production at Lifeline. Though the extreme verbosity of the piece becomes tiresome by about the halfway point of the two-hour-plus show, there are enough visual touches to keep one interested beyond the chatter.

The shaggy-dog plot involves a poet recruited by Scotland Yard to infiltrate a supposed anarchist cell. After quickly gaining entry into the inner sanctum, he becomes involved with the anarchists' various plots to blow up, assassinate, and otherwise disrupt good bourgeois society. But wouldn't you know it, he isn't the only infiltrator in this cabal. The rest of the running time is devoted to a parade of spy-versus-spy chases and unmaskings. These machinations are what I could've done with a lot less of.

The two things that carry the piece are Eric Watkins's lighting design and Lizzie Bracken's sets. My favorite moments were the wordless pantomimes as the cast changed scenes, lit by noirish spotlights or candlelight that made them barely visible as they skulked about. The set, full of doors, and featuring a wrought-iron catwalk and staircases—used brilliantly to visually evoke how characters operate on different levels—does a lot more to tell Chesterton's story than his many, many words do. The gist: evil can lurk in plain sight while men's pride and need to be right will blind them to what's in front of their faces. Bilal Dardai adapted Chesterton's novel for the stage and Jess Hutchinson directed.   v

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