THE TWO TOWERS, Lifeline Theatre. When I was in high school I pored over "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, wore a Middle Earth T-shirt, and smirked to myself whenever I read "Frodo Lives" scratched into a cigarette-scarred sill in the boys' bathroom. Twenty years later J.R.R. Tolkien's cult novels seem overwritten, and the story takes forever to unfold. But Frodo's long journey to destroy a mystical weapon of mass destruction, a ring that gives its wearer power over all living creatures, still has the mythic resonance of a great fairy tale, suggests an allegorical meaning about nuclear disarmament, and boasts a charming band of elves, hobbits, dwarfs, and men.
It's not hard to see why Lifeline would want to continue its tradition of staging the trilogy, begun nearly three years ago when Kevin McCoy adapted the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring. James Sie and Karen Tarjan are responsible for adapting the middle volume--McCoy no longer lives in Chicago--and they've done a heroic job of boiling down this lengthy picaresque adventure. Fight choreographer-turned-director Ned Mochel mixes live action with puppetry to create a very entertaining, Tolkien-esque production, full of magic and fantasy without seeming childish or contrived. My favorite "special effect" involved a small cardboard castle and an army of tiny plastic Orc warriors--though in fact the only thing "special" about it was the quality of the storytelling, which made me want to believe the soldiers were real.