Chicago Theatre Review
“Hunger” plants the seed of thought at Lifeline
By Lazlo Collin
“Hunger”, which opened recently at Lifeline Theatre, is one part interesting, historically based thriller and one part Soviet soap opera. So put on your gray overcoat and hunker down with a dedicated cast with a powerful drama.
When the Nazi siege of Leningrad in 1941 starts to happen, we come upon a group of scientists huddle together in a laboratory. We soon learn these scientists, although with different specialties, all are gathered to serve Stalin’s regime. And what do they all have in common? The service is to the seed. We have begun our journey with botanists of all disciplines safe (for now) in their office, or rather, the seed stronghold.
“Ilya”, broodily played by John Henry Roberts, in the lead; takes us through the story of 900 days of terror, famine, loss, and redemption. He is ultimately charged to protect the seeds along with his colleagues. They examine, philosophize, and ponder the meaning of why the seeds are so important. And what the real science of seed growth and propagation can bring.
Ilya’s wife, and fellow botanist, is “Alena” played by Kendra Thulin. Ms. Thulin’s portrayal of dutiful wife and true believer of good is subtle and quiet. She makes little noise against her circumstances until it is too late. Her opposite in the work place is the lovely Jenifer Tyler portraying”Lidia”. Ms. Tyler’s sad portrayal in the decline of what was once beautiful and sacred is at times heartbreaking.
The vocal and unsettled co-worker who gets worked up quite easily is “Sergei” played by Dan Granata. Mr. Granta’s worrisome portrayal of a man torn between duty and want is excellent.
Rounding out the lab partners is “Vitalli” played by Peter Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg plays Vitalli with a fragile resignation brilliantly. Later he excellently portrays Lysenko. The opposite in every way, Lysenko becomes the director of the scientific team and uses intimidation and inside knowledge to toy with the remaining team members. Mr. Greenberg sinks his acting chops deep and never let’s go. I loved seeing his transformation from the first act to the second. Well done Mr. Greenberg.
The female counterpart to Mr. Greenberg’s duo roles is Katie McLean Hainsworth as the mousey, quietly rebellious, “Efrosinia” in the first act and the slithery, sneaky scientist,” Klavdiya”. Ms. McLean Hainsworth does an excellent job with both characters. She creates two distinctly different women, both characters ultimately fooling themselves in the end.
Christopher M Walsh’s brings the group together as “The Director” that keeps hoping that everything will turn out okay until he is whisked away in an effort to bring about chaos and change among the scientists. Mr. Walsh also makes a second act resurrection as a different character with satisfying results.
Chris Hainsworth’s adaptation of Elise Blackwell’s novel of the same name is well crafted. Its detail to the days of the struggle represented by all the scientists is well done. Its seriousness circumvented with some humor to lighten the mood where needed. The play moved well, but I think could be served by a few scene snips.
With the writing and characters firmly in place, we should introduce the last of the characters in the show, the set. Jessica Kuehnau’s multi layered a multi-use space, was amazing. The nooks and crannies of the set explored by the cast, made the adventure of watching “Hunger” all the more entertaining. The set really had a life of its own; revealing itself, layer by layer, as the story progressed. Along with Lighting (Kevin D Gawley), and Sound (Andrew Hansen) the setting could not have been more satisfying.
The soundtrack sometimes seemed a bit Tele Novella, although I could see the movie reel style design bringing us back to a time of uncertainty and intrigue. This play will plant a seed of contemplation with its audiences.
“Hunger” runs through March 25 at Lifeline Theatre. For tickets dial 773-761-4477 or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com