Last chance to catch the Vitalist Theatre's British adaptation of George Eliot's 19th century novel, The Mill on the Floss. The show proved such a critical and popular success in Chicago, it closed as scheduled on Dec. 21, then resumed performances Jan. 9 for a run ending Feb. 1.
The play is being performed by the newly formed Vitalist troupe at the 73-seat Blue Rider Theatre in Pilsen.
The adaptation is by Helen Edmundson and was first performed in London during the 1993-94 season by the Shared Experience Theatre. The Shared Experience production, directed by Polly Teale, received outstanding reviews and went on to tour the provinces. Edmundson is well-known for her adaptations of literary warhorses; other plays she has scripted include Anna Karenina (the drama, not the musical version seen briefly on Broadway a few years ago) and War and Peace, which was performed earlier this year at the National Theatre's Cottesloe.
"The Mill on the Floss script is unique because of Edmundson's ability to extract the essence of character and the dynamism of action from Eliot's novel," says Elizabeth Carlin Metz, who previously directed the play at Knox [IL] College and is making her Chicago directorial debut with this production. "[Edmundson] has captured the depths of character in a broadstroke," brilliantly reducing a 400-page novel to an 85-page playscript, Metz added.
The central character in The Mill on the Floss is Maggie, an unfettered young girl who is caught up in the throes of the Industrial Revolution -- and who quite literally faces death by machinery in the story's tragic ending. The Chicago production, like the London one, uses three actresses to portray Maggie -- as a 9-year-old, a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old who has just found love. And set designer Craig Choma has created a cupboard like kitchen hutch that doubles as a rowboat -- the prop that is so pivotal to the plot. In the Chicago production, nine actors depict a total of 20 characters. The play's director of movement, Dawn Arnold, has made much use of modern dance and -- for the climactic flood scene -- has staged a montage of slow-motion movement that had the Chicago critics raving.
It turns out that this is not the Chicago premiere of the Edmundson's adaptation of the Eliot novel; a production by another company in September received poor reviews and died a quick death.
But then no one said that bringing The Mill on the Flossto the stage would be an easy task. Still, with this unusual dramatization Carlin Metz and her troupe of nine actors are proving to be highly successful at swimming upstream, no pun intended.
For more information on the Vitalist Theatre production of The Mill on the Floss at Chicago's Blue Rider Theatre, 1822 S. Halstead, call (312) 409-3970.
-- By Rebecca Paller