Mrs. Caliban

Chicago Sun-Times
February 17, 2010


Take note: The most erotic scene on any Chicago stage at the moment can be found at Lifeline Theatre, where a superb stage adaptation of "Mrs. Caliban" -- based on the deceptively whimsical, darkly disturbing 1983 novel of the same name by Rachel Ingalls -- received its world premiere Monday.

Note, too, that it hardly matters at all that the coupling here involves Dorothy, a lovely, sadly desperate housewife whose marriage has gone cold (she is played by the altogether exquisite Brenda Barrie, an actress of breathtaking expressiveness), and Larry (Peter Greenberg, revealing a previously unexplored aspect of his talent here), an aquatic creature of the large green lizard variety, who might well be a figment of Dorothy's imagination.

The foreplay between these two could not be more winningly imagined (she offers the hungry, vegetarian-only monster stalks of celery, and later happily feeds his appetite for avocados). The sheets could not be more diaphanous. The lovers' intimacy (including his initial crudeness) could not be more believable or more ideally choreographed. And the afterglow could not be more luminous.

Whether "Larry" is a true (and illicit) lover hardly matters. Dorothy believes in him, and so do we, be he an escaped mental patient, a prisoner on the run, a victim of torture or something altogether different. Her madness easily becomes ours, and it is compelling.

Ingalls, who grew up in Cambridge, Mass., but has lived in Europe since 1965, was catapulted into the spotlight in 1986 when the British Book Marketing Council named the barely known Mrs. Caliban one of the 20 best novels by a living, post-World War-II American writer. That aside, it surely is a story that captures the post-feminist era as it knowingly probes into the more devastating pitfalls of marriage, divorce, promiscuity and the death of a child. Its title, which uses the name of Shakespeare's angry, battered, affection-starved slave in "The Tempest," also suggests that love and anguish and captivity are inextricably linked.

Lifeline's production is an entirely seamless work, with Frances Limoncelli's spare but eloquent adaptation, Ann Boyd's fluid yet precision-tooled direction, Julia Neary's dreamy, comic-tinged choreography, Chelsea Warren's subtly disorienting white-on-white set and Branimira Ivanova's magnificent costumes all of a piece.

Barrie, who has created a series of indelible portrayals in recent seasons (in "Mariette in Ecstasy," "Graceland" and "The Ruby Sunrise"), is a true treasure. With her alabaster skin, sonorous voice, balletic grace and palpable inner life she is worth seeing in "Mrs Caliban" for its opening sequences alone, as she repeatedly bids mechanical goodbyes to her detached husband, washes dishes and dances into deep fantasy to the sound of classical music on the radio.

Greenberg, ordinarily the master of crisp, brainy British gents, displays an impressive sensual heat, humor and woundedness in his eerily "beached" character. And there is smart work by Dan Granata as Dorothy's lost husband, Jenifer Tyler as her shrilly stylish yet broken best friend, and Monica Dionysiou as everyone from saleswoman to savage teenager.


Photo Credits   |   © 2015 Brenda Barrie