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Theatre Mon May 10 2010

Review: Neverwhere @ Lifeline Theatre

Neverwhere2.jpg
Mr. Vandemar (Christopher M. Walsh, left) and Mr. Croup (Sean Sinitski, center) question Richard Mayhew (Robert Kauzlaric, right) about the whereabouts of their missing "sister," Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.


Through adaptations of classic novels, Lifeline Theatre aspires to tell "big stories, up close." With this in mind, it seems fitting for them to tackle the work of author Neil Gaiman, whose work isn't done justice by calling it "epic." His fantasy novels encompass countless worlds, with all stripes of the supernatural weaving in and out of the mundane lives of hapless everymen, all of whom are drawn with a playful, and often tragic, humanity. Lifeline's adaptation of the 1996 novel (and television miniseries) Neverwhere, which opens tonight, definitely feels like a work of Gaiman in tone and atmosphere, reveling in the cheeky dialogue, creeping menace, and murky ambiance that's intrinsic to his work.

Neverwhere follows Richard Mayhew, a desk jockey and displaced Scotsman, as his selfless attempt to help an injured girl unwittingly draws him into a dark, labyrinthine world beneath the streets of London. If he ever hopes to make it back to London Above he must do all manner of epic and huge and brave and wild things, all the while running with and from the sleazy and dangerous denizens of London Below. Sean Sinitski and Christopher M. Walsh, playing the hilariously sadistic duo Croup and Vandemar, are an absolute delight, their dry banter and garish demeanor heightening a menace that's nothing but playful. Spirited supporting performances from Kyra Morris and Chris Hainsworth feel most in line with Gaiman's work, offering us complicated characters who transcend the stock types at their core.

My problem with Neverwhere is Mayhew, the man at its center. While adapter Robert Kauzlaric plays him with a lovable gusto, the character's journey from office drone to underground warrior feels hollow. This isn't to say the journey is unearned (the adaptation most certainly hits all the right points), but Mayhew, unlike several of the supporting characters, never seems to rise above his stock type, still seeming bumbly and precious in his moments of great strife. This superficiality makes the play's triumphant coda feel rather shrug-worthy.

But Lifeline's adaptation is beautiful to watch, consistently amusing, and briskly paced by director Paul S. Holmquist, never feeling close to its 150-minute running time. Fanboys, take a deep breath: they've done it justice.

Neverwhere opens tonight, May 10, and runs through June 20 at Lifeline Theatre (6912 N. Glenwood). Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are a $30 for single tickets, $25 for seniors with ID, and $15 for students with ID. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 773-761-4477.

 
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