Theater Review: THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY (Lifeline Theatre in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 25, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Deemed a “metaphysical thriller,” The Man Who Was Thursday is religious writer G.K. Chesterton’s celebrated satire from 1908. Intentionally confounding its characters as much as its plethora of plots, it’s a very rational romp. Chesterton’s political parable conjures up a conspiratorial world of bomb-throwing anarchists, proletarian poets, and single-minded and double-crossing spies — all of whom come too close for comfort.

Chesterton is very good at conflating radicalism and respectability. His depictions of delicious duplicity work like catnip on the ten zanies in Jess Hutchinson’s Lifeline Theatre presentation. Their clever concoction, packed with intriguing absurdities, is well-driven in its adaptation by ensemble member Bilal Dardai (formerly mounted in 2009 by New Leaf Theatre).

It’s London at the height of the Edwardian Era and, if you go by the novel’s central gang, the town’s afoot with anarchist cabals plotting the overturn of the ruling order by strategic assassinations whose chaos will finally trigger social justice.

Such seething discontent is, of course, anathema to a conservative like Chesterton. Better to spoof than succumb to these enemies of (high) society. So he imagines a clandestine European Anarchist Council, an evil version of Christ’s apostles and, for today’s Brexiteers, as threatening as the European Union.

The seven members of this shadowy bunch bear the “cover” names of the week and dress accordingly. Indulging in arcane arguments — is the knife better than dynamite? — they seem mired in self-defeating doubts and entangled loyalties. (These human failings gave Chesterton hope that goodness and decency will ultimately prove to be straighter, smoother and more efficient than the dirty doings of twisted operatives.)

A candidate to become “the man who was Thursday” is Lucian Gregory (Cory Hardin), a suburban poet who holds that the best fuel for verse is simply dissent. (He thinks the most poetical work is the timetable of the London Underground.) Opposing him in the election is opportunistic Gabriel Syme (Eduardo Xavier Curley-Carrillo), an exponent of law and order whose tie to Scotland Yard is just one more secret to be exposed.

Keeping the members in line by distracting them with plans of incendiary outrages in Paris is their president Sunday (Allison Cain), a duplicitous devil. Like everything in this delicious deception, Sunday is not who she says he is (as the casting alone implies). Hardin is merrily monomaniacal as the Council’s strangely straightforward nihilist, while, Curley-Carrillo brings supple fluidity to the much slipperier Gabriel Syme.

Playing a rogues’ gallery of pompous asses, florid aristocrats, double agents, serviceable thieves, and xenophobic (and gender-bending) stereotypes — and nailing them from the start — are Jen Ellison, Linsey Falls, Sonia Goldberg, Marsha Harman, Oly Oxinfry, Corrbette Pasko, and Christopher M. Walsh. Like the Cagelles in La Cage Aux Folles, they conceal their genders very artfully indeed.

In just a little over two hours, Lifeline’s group portrait of bumbling terrorists seems refreshingly innocent, compared to our present breed of bastards. Dardai’s sprightly dramatization richly exploits Chesterton’s mercurial nonsense and the chase never slackens.

photos by Suzanne Plunkett

The Man Who Was Thursday
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave
Thurs-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 4 & 8, Sun at 4
ends on April 7, 2019
for tickets, call 773.761.4477 or visit Lifeline

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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