Lions in Illyria Review - A Clever Adaptation of Shakespeare's Classic Comedy

(L to R) Brandi Lee as Violet and Ryan Stajmiger as Sebastian


Playing at the Lifeline Theatre, Lions in Illyria (Robert Kauzlaric’s clever adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), opens with a gazelle, Lady Olivia (Kate McDermott), grieving the loss of her older brother.  Burdened with grief, she declares that she will remain in mourning for seven whole years before returning to the vibrant life she once knew.  This declaration saddens Duke Orsino (Mykele Callicutt), a peacock known for his colorful preening, who greatly pines for the lady’s attention.  At the same time Lady Olivia’s other brother, Sir Belch, a brutish warthog with a thing for candy, hopes that his sister will marry his wealthy and none-too-wise friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a silly dodo who provides much of the comic relief here).  Coming unexpectedly to this strange land are the fraternal twin lions Violet (Brandi Lee) and Sebastian (Ryan Stajmiger), who survive a shipwreck and are then separated from one another.  Violet disguises herself as a man and finds herself working for and in love with Orsino while Sebastian mostly remains off stage until the comedic closing of the play. 

(L to R) Mykele Callicutt as Orsino and Brandi Lee as Violet

Although methinks Shakespeare never imagined Sir Toby Belch cast as a warthog, it makes perfect sense (after all, Toby does have that certain “Hakuna Matata” air about him made famous by that other warthog, Pumbaa).  In fact almost all of Robert Kauzlaric’s touches work well in this very ambitious and well realized adaptation.  More surprising actually than the characters being cast as animals, is the naked emotion present in many of the opening scenes.  This may be primarily meant for children, but I suspect more than a few parents will be touched by the young lioness reaching out to Olivia in her time of need.

(L to R) Kate McDermott as Olivia and Brandi Lee as Violet

Also worth noting is Director Amanda Delheimer Dimond’s careful attention to the little things.  Many productions, for example, would have been content just to have a monkey pirate on stage (as one character says, “How cool is that?”).  Here the monkey pirate goes as far as to absentmindedly pick a friend’s scalp in search of a bug to eat.  And while Dimond does makes good use of music, silly dancing, and a few flirtations with the fourth wall (all staples of children’s theater), she never allows these antics to distract from the story.  Helping her immensely in this endeavor is the very talented and enthusiastic cast who seem the best of friends on stage.  Their energy and devotion to the work is contagious and all but guarantees a good time.

(Foreground) Ryan Stajmiger as Andrew and (Background, top to bottom) Brandi Lee as Maria and Mykele Callicutt as Toby

The sweet spot for this production might be the eight to twelve year old range.  Some of the plot twists, as well as the actors playing multiple roles, might confuse some of the younger audience members although my nieces (age four and seven) both greatly enjoyed the play.  As for myself, I left the theater impressed with this new, but old, offering.

(Top) Kate McDermott as Antonia and (Bottom) Ryan Stajmiger as Sebastian

Bottom Line:  Lions in Illyria is highly recommended especially for children age 8-12 (although younger children will also likely enjoy this production).  Tickets are $15 with performances Saturday and Sunday at 11 A.M. and 1 P.M. through February 15 at Lifeline Theatre (6912 N. Glenwood Ave.)  For more information or to purchase tickets click here or call (773) 761-4477.  Between shows, Lifeline Theatre also offers a workshop for children ($5 per child) called Stories Come Alive! Hour.  For more general theater information and reviews, go to theaterinchicago.


Photos by:  Suzanne Plunkett


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