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Theatre Thu Feb 16 2012

Review: Hunger @ Lifeline Theatre

Lifeline_HUNGER_1.jpeg

Adapted from a novel by Elise Blackwell by Lifeline Theatre, Hunger is based on the true story of a team of Soviet Russian botanists struggling to preserve a collection of edible seeds during the 900-day siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany. Bombings, food shortages, and the bureaucratic nightmares of Stalinism all test the physical and emotional limits of the scientists as they are forced to confront "hunger" in its multiple forms, and the unpleasant choices that hunger leads to.

John Henry Roberts shone in his role as Ilya, the lead character. I enjoyed the way he revealed new aspects of Ilya as the story progressed, particularly in the scenes exploring the complex relationships between Ilya and his wife, Alena (Kendra Thulin) and between Ilya and his lover, Lidia (Jenifer Tyler) - both fellow botanical genetic researchers in the same Institute of Plant Industry laboratory.

My favorite actor during the performance was Peter Greenberg, who held three roles as a wisecracking scientist Vitalli, a nameless series of government agents/secret policemen, and another fantastic role I won't spoil whose presence completely shifts the plot and escalates the drama faced by Ilya and the other scientists. It's a testament to Greenberg's acting chops that both of his major characters seemed to nearly dominate the scenes when they spoke. Fellow cast members Katie McLean Hainsworth, Christopher M. Walsh, and Dan Granata also played double-duty, dutifully switching between major and minor characters as if they were new actors in the performance.

Director Robert Kauzlaric's creative use of lighting and set design seamlessly shifted between settings ranging from laboratories and offices to bedrooms and the streets of Leningrad. Original music by Sound Designer Andrew Hansen helped anchor the audience into the World War II-era Soviet setting and heightened the emotion in the scenes.

The best part of Hunger was watching the drama unfold as the characters dealt with more and more suffering, deprivation, and unhappy surprises. Given the subject matter, the performance did an excellent job of building and sustaining the tension between and within the characters. What I did not expect was the dialogue to be so witty - particularly by the characters played by Tyler and Greenberg, with snappy retorts and bitter one-liners that served to reaffirm the dire circumstances around them.

Overall, Hunger is a compelling, tragic, and believable tale about the complications of choosing between duty and basic needs in a time of crisis.

Hunger runs Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and Sundays at 4pm through March 25 at Lifeline Theatre (6912 N. Glenwood Ave.). Regular single tickets are $35 on Saturdays and Sundays, $32 on Thursdays and Fridays, $27 for seniors, and $20 for students, with group pricing available. Tickets may be purchased at the Lifeline Theatre Box Office (773.781.4477) or by visiting www.lifelinetheatre.com. Hunger author Elise Blackwell will appear for a talkback and book signing event on Saturday, March 3 at 4pm immediately following the performance.

 
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