Ivanhoe | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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IVANHOE, Apocrypha Productions, at Ivanhoe Theater. Inaugurating the Ivanhoe's new 200-seat studio theater, Ivanhoe-2, is J.C. Steele's sprawling and ultimately exhausting adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's 1819 neo-medieval best-seller. Played straight and earnest in Geoff Callaway's turgid staging, this Ivanhoe offers declamatory rhetoric, crashing sword fights, stylized jousts, daunting rescues, and a range of histrionic noble conflicts between Saxons (including Robin Hood and his merry men) and Normans (headed by evil Prince John), Jews and Christians, and witch-hunting Knights Templars and Plantagenet defenders of Richard Coeur de Lion.

The supposed interest of the predictable plot lies in whether Ivanhoe will choose the bland Rowena over the far more intriguing Rebecca, the Jewess who saves his life and clearly earns his love. More interesting is the tortured romance between Rebecca and a Knight Templar--almost daring for 1194--and Scott's textured treatment of the Jew Isaac, a sympathetic Shylock.

For almost three hours Callaway tries to boil the pot while Steele's static speeches spare us no obvious plot complication, including an epilogue that tells the futures of characters whose current lives never quite gripped our attention. Led by Ed Dubbs's plucky Ivanhoe and Christine Calkins's valiant Rebecca, the cast of 17 take it all far more seriously than an audience will. That's the formula for camp, which Ivanhoe could easily become.

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