"The Sundial" Review- City Lit Theatre's faithful Rendering of a Shirley Jackson Novella

City Lit Theater Company is currently presenting Paul Edwards’ adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s “The Sundial” through February 12, 2017, on their stage inside the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago.  Directed by Edwards, who designed the sound and props as well, the play runs a tad long at 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission. Starring Kingsley Day, Sheila Willis, Morgan McCabe, Teresa Champion, Lauren Mangum, John Blick, and a full supporting cast, the play is an accurately staged production of a lesser-known work  and probable interim piece by an acknowledged genius of some cult status.

Director/Adapter Paul Edwards

Jackson is known for writing about strangely haunted houses, homes built by husbands as gifts for wives who died shortly after seeing the house, houses that have a “mind of their own”, that are off-kilter, that become the subject of struggles for ownership. She also has shown herself a master at creating strange and narcissistic characters, not without a sense of humor. And she’s a dab hand at portraying the sinister in the midst of whimsy, the vicious characteristics lurking in the seemingly mundane, both in terms of situations and persons.

The Sundial” contains many of Jackson’s signature elements and more- it’s a parody of Americans caught up in the 1950’s threat of mankind’s obsolescence and obsession with The End of The World. There are also many subplots, many characters- brilliantly limned-and an extremely disquieting uncertain ending.

Lauren Mangum, Morgan McCabe

In this novella, the house contains messages written on the walls, a sort of trompe l’oeil testament to the original owner’s mind. An obvious criticism of the script and stage set: we should’ve seen or heard more of these inscriptions, and less of other matters. It would’ve helped also if the audience could have been shared the fact that the supplies stored up on the library shelves resulted in the burning of all the books.

At the heart of the story there exists- as so often the case in Jackson’s work- a knowing and conspiring child character who is not at all young at heart.

Nora Lise Urey, Stephanie Monday, Kingsley Day

While the nuances might be difficult for some audience members seeking to tie up loose ends to appreciate, the acting was often priceless. Fancy, the ultimately murderous girl, is portrayed with absolute gleeful cynicism by Lauren Mangum. Kingsley Day is sensational in his dual role of the querulous and dim-witted Richard- the invalid you love to hate- and in drag as Miss Inverness, the perfectly expressed small town creepy old lady. John Blick couldn’t have been more smarmy and awful as Essex while Sheila Willis was a hoot as the sex and money obsessed murdering Orianna. Kudos to Morgan McCabe for an Aunt Fanny we all wish we could lure into a garden maze and leave.

There was an awful lot to capture in this production and most of it was rendered as writ, leaving an unsettled audience not quite certain as to whether they watched a farce or a moral tale.  It was both, and it maintained it’s air of sardonic glee throughout, as well.

Morgan McCabe

For information and  tickets to "The Sundial" and all the great plays by CityLit Theatre (Literate Theater), go to the CityLitWebsite

 

  All photos by Tom McGrath TCMcG Photography

 

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