Full disclosure: One of the stars of Mrs. Caliban, Brenda Barrie, and the Lighting Designer, Brandon Wardell, are ensemble members of BackStage Theatre Company. The adapter, Frances Limoncelli, has directed for BackStage.  I’m on the BackStage Board of Directors.

On Sunday, I saw my first show at Lifeline Theatre. I can’t claim difficult geography for keeping me away before. Amy and I lived in Rogers Park before we moved to Oak Park. And before we were married, I lived in Edgewater and frequently passed Lifeline on Glenwood, walking to the Heartland Cafe. So, yes, I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t been there before. The lobby space is quite nice–cozy but not cramped, and the mainstage is just about the perfect size for intimate performances. But, best of all, because Lifeline deals in adaptations, this is a great place to see a play that you haven’t seen before and are not likely to see anywhere else. That is almost reason enough to go. Mrs. Caliban is adapted by Lifeline ensemble member Frances Limoncelli from the novel of the same name by Rachel Ingalls.

Given the comfortable, intimate space, I would have liked to have seen Mrs. Caliban more intimately designed and staged. The best moments were one-on-one scenes between frustrated housewife Dorothy (Brenda Barrie) and her distant husband, Fred (Dan Granata), or her best friend, Estelle (Lifeline ensemble member Jenifer Tyler), or especially a green-skinned amphibious humanoid monster, escaped from the sadistic government scientists who named him Larry (Lifeline ensemble member Peter Greenberg). All could have benefited from a tighter, less bland environment (to be fair, I think bland is what they are going for). At a few points in the first act, the bland overwhelms the tension. But overall, this is an enjoyable show. The intimate scenes between Dorothy and her various foils are often passionate, anxious, and delightful.

But too much of this production deals in cliches. Mrs. Caliban says a lot about our cultural willingness to sell our life experience to the highest infotainment bidder, our obsession with consumer products marketing, our wish to brutally dominate the natural world, and the quiet desperation attendant to apparent middle-class comfort. But none of this is new. There is no fresh take on these topics, no reason to restate what has become obvious. The marketing describes Rachel Ingall’s short novel, the source material, as postmodern. I haven’t read it, but perhaps what was ground-breaking and postmodern 25 years ago is no longer so astonishing.

The play is supposed to be about Dorothy. But Greenberg, as Larry, covered with green body paint, more completely commands our attention. He’s fun to watch, a little unpredictable, with a tinge of menace right on the surface. This is unfortunate, because he is the least complex character–very much an embodiment of the tired, inaccurate, unhelpful noble savage myth. This archetype is what prevents the story of a woman falling in love with a sea creature from being novel. He is there to finally catalyze the chemical reactions between Dorothy, Fred and Estelle that have been long a-brewin. His character development is, frankly, not what the show is about. The humans, however, are changing and developing quite a bit, so we should be more involved with them. You get some of this with Barrie’s Dorothy. It is compelling to watch her work out her love affair with Larry. This is worth the price of admission.

Speaking of which, since the theme of this blog is theater on $20/week, I should tell you that the tickets, on Goldstar.com, cost $15 plus $4.50 in fees. Full price is $30. You can check the “about” page to see more about my approach to prices and discounts. Mrs. Caliban was directed by Ann Boyd, and the designers are Josh Horvath (sound), Branimira Ivanova (costumes), Brandon Wardell (lighting), and Chelsea Warren (scenic and properties).  Mrs. Caliban runs through March 28th on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. www.lifelinetheatre.com