"Ten Chimneys" Review - An Up Close and Personal Look at the Lives of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne

Continuing Northlight Theatre’s 2011-2012 season is Ten Chimneys (written by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by Artistic Director BJ Jones) at the center of which are Broadway legends Alfred Lunt (V Craig Heidenreich), Lynn Fontanne (Lia D. Mortensen) and the rest of the Lunt family. Much of the play takes place over the course of one particular summer, when the Lunts, longtime friend Sydney Greenstreet (Steve Pringle), newcomer Uta Hagen (Sara J. Griffin) and the rest of the company are to gather at the Lunt family’s retreat, “Ten Chimneys,” in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, where they are, among other things, to rehearse Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.

Though there are quite a lot of comic moments in the play, quite a lot of drama abounds during their time at the Lunts’ retreat as well, much of it offstage in the real lives of the actors, though it hardly seems that I should be making the distinction between on-stage and off when Alfred and Lynn barely make the distinction – if they do at all. The bulk of the drama, it must be said, happens within the Lunt family itself. Hattie (Linda Kimbrough) the matriarch of the family, though fond of her well-known, accomplished son, Alfred, makes frequent attempts to come  between him and her daughter-in-law, Lynn, who it could be said she sees as something of a threat, particularly when it comes to being able to get what she wants when she wants it. Her children, who haven’t “made it,” as Alfred has, Carl (Lance Baker) and Louise (Janet Ulrich Brooks) are treated, in essence, as second-class citizens. Carl, who is a pool shark and something of a layabout, essentially serves as chauffeur and gofer. Her daughter, Louise, serves as housekeeper. The one time that Louise even suggests that she would rather participate in the rehearsals than cook for everyone, Hattie dismisses the idea as ridiculous, and sends her back to the kitchen – which is where, it would seem, Hattie believes Louise belongs. The one thing that Hattie herself doesn’t seem to notice is that she didn’t exactly achieve success as an actress herself, though she believes that she has – or, at the very least, she wants others to believe she has -- and so often plays up her experiences in the theatre while living vicariously through Alfred.

Only adding to the drama, while all of this is going on within the family alone, are Uta’s rehearsals with Alfred – she is cast as Nina in The Seagull -- and the sort of flirtation that goes on between the two of them, which leads Lynn to see Uta as a threat to her relationship with Alfred and, as such, her asking Alfred to dismiss Uta immediately. At the same time Sydney has trouble with his wife who, unbeknownst to most people, has had psychological issues for many years and lives in a facility in Wisconsin.

But, for all of he personal dramas that are revealed, we also get glimpses of Alfred and Lynn’s life in the theatre, their professional side. If they don’t exactly demand perfection, they do expect it, mainly because they expect to achieve nothing less themselves. One scene that I feel serves as a great example of how attentive they were to detail, and how attentive they expect their actors to be, is the scene in which Lynn and Uta are discussing which makeup Nina would wear in various scenes. Lynn wants Uta to understand not only which makeup to use when, but the reasoning behind it as well.

I will say that on the whole Ten Chimneys is a wonderfully acted, engaging play. However, as was the case with Season’s Greetings, expecting some sort of real resolution may be disappointing. As sometimes happens in real life, many (if not all) of the dysfunctional relationships remain dysfunctional. Though they may realize that there are problems in their relationships, it almost seems that they are so used to those problems and so comfortable in their roles – even if they don’t particularly like those roles -- that they seem to be stuck there.

Ten Chimneys is currently scheduled to run through April 15, 2012. Curtain times are Tuesdays at 1:00 PM (April 3 only) and 7:30 PM; Wednesdays at 1:00 PM and 7:30 PM (no show April 11); Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 2:30 PM (no show March 10) and 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:30 PM (no show April 8) and 7:00 PM (March 11, April 1 and April 15 only).

Northlight Theatre is located at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie. To purchase tickets to Ten Chimneys, log onto the Northlight Theatre website, www.northlight.org, or call the Box Office at 847-673-6300.

For more information about Northlight Theatre, the rest of the 2011-2012 season, the 2012- 2013 season, or any special events associated with this production, please log onto the theatre’s website, www.northlight.org.


Production Photos: Michael Brosilow










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