Chicago Theatre Review
That Hurly Burly Girl
Sylvester at Lifeline
The marriage game. Jane Austen wrote of its rules and pitfalls, so did Hardy, and so did Georgette Heyer, whose tale of mismatched persons, fantastic plots, and missteps of station give us the fun and frolicsome Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle. Sylvester Rayne Duke of Salford (Andrés Enriquez) a proud rich man with fascinating eyebrows stands aloof from the world, with a chill in his manner and a stick up his rear. Phoebe Marlow (Samantha Newcomb), aspiring authoress, is held in contempt by the world for being too plain, too outspoken, and too apt to tear away across the moors on horseback. The machinations of their elders throw these young persons together, much to their dismay. But an affinity and a shared sense of humor begin to draw them together, despite various impediments, most glaring is that the villain of Phoebe’s first novel bears a striking resemblance to the man she’s falling in love with.
In Dorothy Milne’s imaging of Christina Calveit’s sprightly adaptation the whole of the plot is played across a giant board of snakes and ladders, to mirror the characters standings in stature. It sounds like the gimmickiest gimmick of all the gimmicks but it works. Less the hight differences than the stack of giant monopoly cards that serves as humorous under narrative. But more than Alan Donahue’s beautiful board set and childish prosperities (including giant bouncy balls as stands in for horses, an undeniable stroke of utter brilliance) it is the playfulness of the ensemble, acting like the prongs and obstacles of a pinball game, bouncing our heroes all around. Kristina Loy (Alice a sprightly maid and Lady Inathe, Sylvester’s insipid sister in law, among others) never fails to let out a “whee!” when she goes down the slide or grin when she zips by on roller skates, and Katie McLean Hainsworth throws herself into playing a duchess a child or a dog with a serious twinkle.
The principal problem is a slow start and molasses thick accents that often obscure speech more than inform character. But by the time Sylvester and Phoebe are snowed in at a rural inn and phoebe passes the time by acting out characters of their ridiculous mutual acquaintance (masterfully on Newcomb’s part) our ears are suitably attuned and we’ve given enough room for our principals to show off their subtleties. Enriquez is a byronical hero to a T, full of knowing look and swallowed emotions, but allows himself to be drawn out cautiously of his shell. Newcomb keeps her heart decidedly off her sleeve, letting her cutting wit disguise her feelings, setting us up for a lovely view when her walls fall down. For lovers of Austen, inventive staging, and that warm feeling of camaraderie unique to the stage; Sylvester is a lovely evening reminding us that we can never win if we never play.
by Ben Kemper
Lifeline Theater 6912 N Glenwood Ave (Just off the Morse red line)
9/18-10/29 Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00, Sundays at 4:00
$40 tickets, $30 for seniors and military (active and retired), $20 for students with ID. and $20 rush.
For more information on this and other productions visit theaterinchicago.com