Providence (the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth). That is the recurring theme of both the original Alexandre Dumas novel "The Count Of Monte Cristo" as well as the remarkable current Christopher Walsh adaptation now playing at Lifeline Theatre. Sculpting a 500+ page novel with numerous subplots into a coherent 2 ½ hour theatrical event is not an easy task, but Mr. Walsh has made a coherent if not inconsistent script from the course material.
For those who have forgotten their literature class, the Count is really Edmond Dantes who is imprisoned for 14 years for various reasons by various persons and upon his escape, exacts his revenge on those who wronged him by donning the persona of the wealthy Count and all in the name of ‘providence‘.
Chris Hainsworth is bequeathed the title role and handles so admirably, always with an element of camp in his portrayal. As for his prey, Don Bender (Caderousse), John Ferrick (Danglars), and Robert Kauzlaric Villefort) and Jesse Manson (Bendedetto) all turn in fantastically strong and believable performances. The doomed Jesse Manson's Benedetto turns in a very complex and nuanced portrayal and sure knows how to milk a death scene.
However, it is the women the rule the roost in this house of cards. Jenifer Tyler is magnificent as the Count's former lover Mercedes and has a very haunting and moving scene in the second act of the play which contains some very intricate emotional work. Susaan Jamshidi is a very competent and assertive Haydee who is right at home with the Count's rampage and Cathlyn Melvin becomes more comfortable with her role of Eugenie as the play progresses (although the magnificent artwork her character is to have painted looks more like the work of Muppet Prairie Dawn).
All the pieces of this play fit wonderfully together, from Joe Schermoly's grand set and Aly Renee Amidei's gorgeous costumes, to Christopher Kriz appropriate (if not a tad annoying) underscore. If there is any issue with the production it with director Paul S. Holmquist's pacing of the scenes and the notion that you have to shove every metaphor into the audiences' lap. There is no need for the Count to be playing chess as he is somehow magically manipulating their every move. If that was the case, the Count would not need to rely on Providence. The production is also about 20 minutes too long, but these are minor issues in what is otherwise a fine escapist evening with a classic piece of literature.
‘The Count of Monte Cristo' runs through October 30, 2011 at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago. For tickets please call the box office at 773-761-4477 or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com