Far From the Madding Crowd | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Far From the Madding Crowd

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Far From the Madding Crowd, Lifeline Theatre. Reality-TV adventures like The Bachelorette have nothing on the tale of Bathsheba Everdene, the country minx at the heart of what may be Thomas Hardy's least dour novel (which isn't saying a lot). Christina Calvit's faithful adaptation for Lifeline largely captures the novel's theme: the roles played by vanity and public perception in thwarting the heart's better instincts.

Director Dorothy Milne underscores this theme through the adept use of picture frames, mirrors, and a chorus of farmhands who keep up a steady stream of commentary on their mistress's romantic misdoings. Jenifer Tyler's Bathsheba feels altogether too contemporary, which creates an off-kilter energy that's righted only in the second act, when Bathsheba's rakish soldier husband is presumed drowned: betrayal and loss eliminate the forced coquettishness in Bathsheba's behavior. Patrick Blashill brings a solid dignity to the symbolically named Gabriel Oak, who stands by his employer despite her capriciousness. Peter Greenberg's performance as Boldwood, the phlegmatic farmer moved to frightening depths of obsession by Bathsheba's thoughtless flirtation, deftly negotiates both the man's sadly comic and morbidly creepy aspects.

This is a solid, literate production with some charming and moving stage pictures. But the deeper fire of Hardy's anguished characters never quite emerges, making the show more of a handsome academic exercise than a compelling dramatic work.

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