Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mariette in Ecstasy

Sunday was a special treat: we went to see an adaptation of Mariette in Ecstasy written by our good friend, Christina Calvit.

Christina is one of those extremely talented people I've mentioned who attends our ridiculous little church, which is where we met her and her husband, Eric Haugen*. In addition to holding down a full-time job in advertising, Christina is an ensemble member at Lifeline Theater here in Chicago, for which she writes plays and adaptations of novels. The first of her plays we saw was Pride and Prejudice, which we enjoyed twice at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival about 10 years ago. To give you an idea of her artistic range, Christina also adapted Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, which is the current children's matinee show at Lifeline.

Lifeline Theater is 25 years old now, founded by graduates of Northwestern University's justly famous School of Theater. It is located less than a block from the Morse Avenue "El" stop on the Red Line.

The theater offers free parking, but because this neighborhood was built before anybody thought of such a thing, the parking lot is six blocks away. No problem: there's a free shuttle that will carry you to the theater, and back to your car afterward.

The young lady standing here in front of the theater is passing out maps to the parking lot.

Inside the theater we found this great photograph of the Lifeline Ensemble. If I knew the photographer's name I would tell you. Believe me: I try to take photos half this good and can't. My hat is off to a master. [Of course, having professional actors posing for you probably helps.]

That's Christina in the middle, peeking over the top of her book. She just found the naughty bits, I think.

And here's the theater lobby.

I snuck a picture of the set for you before the play started.

Mariette in Ecstasy, a novel written by Ron Hansen, was a best seller in 1991. It tells the story of Mariette's remarkable career as a postulant at the priory of the Sisters of the Crucifixion.

The storyline is basically this: In 1906, Mariette arrives at the priory to begin her life as a nun. Shortly after her arrival, she announces that Jesus has talked to her. Pere Mariott says yes, Jesus guides all of us in our lives. She says, no, she has actually heard his voice.

People are ... shall we say, skeptical.

Then she displays stigmata. Okay, this is something else, entirely. Her fellow nuns are believing, disbelieving, envious, adoring, and every emotion in between. Her own father, a physician, examines her and essentially declares her a fraud. She is expelled from the priory.

But things are rarely that simple, are they? I can't wait to talk to Christina to hear her take on the story. Hansen left it ambiguous, I think. Christina left it ambiguous, too.

I hate that about Christina!

A few comments on the production: the cast is superb, the directing is superb, and the set is superb. Brenda Barrie as Mariette manages to transform herself from a lush young thing when arriving at the convent into an anorexic, post-stigmata fright.

Priory life is demarcated by the daily cycle of prayer and work (at least that's what it says in books; I have no personal knowledge), and the director, Elise Kauzleric, communicates those daily rhythms effectively. You'll know what I mean when you see the play.

I particularly liked Brian Parry as Pere Mariott.

Finally, there was some first-class singing. Really first-class. How do they find people who can act AND sing?

Oh, one other thing: this is the only play I can remember seeing where someone comes out to wash the blood off the floor during intermission.

If you live in or near Chicago, you should see this show. If you're visiting Chicago on business or pleasure, you should see this show. It's a shining example of the superb work that can be done by smaller professional theaters -- something with which Chicago is richly blessed.

Update: You can see a short video of Mariette in Ecstasy here. Click on Now Playing! up at the top.

Another update: Go here to read the press clippings.


* This post is not about him, but Eric is an actor and author who keeps body and artist together by doing fascinating work of another sort: he rebuilds enormous, 100-year-old organs -- and keeps organs alive in ridiculous little churches. He also specializes in leaving disrespectful comments on blogs. If you've written a devastating attack on some government policy, against which there is no defense, you can count on a comment demanding more pictures of your cat.

1 comment:

Jeannelle said...

Great post! I feel as if I attended the play, too, and am acquainted with the writer of it, as you are. Good background info and wonderful photos.