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The Two Towers Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre

a novel adaptation based on part two of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings

\[ Click here to see the program \]

By Trey Long

I just caught a performance of The Two Towers at the Lifeline Theatre in Chicago. The play adaptation by James Sie and Karen Tarjan is running through May, and I highly recommend it to any Tolkien fans in the Chicago area! This student-founded playhouse ran The Fellowship of The Ring in 1997, and indicate that part 3 is in the works as well (I hope I’m still living in Chicago at the time!). As you can see from the attached playbill, only 9 young actors covered almost 20 roles as well as filling in as random Riders of Rohan and Orcs. I’m a die-hard Tolkien fan who has read the trilogy a half dozen times and I thought the 2-hour play was incredibly accurate.

The Lifeline is a very small theatre, with only 8 rows of seats and an unadorned stage. They only get45% of their revenue from ticket sales, so their tight budget has lead to very creative theatrical techniques. The stage has translucent screens that silhouette images are projected onto, which sounds simple but worked very well. In addition, the sound design is fantastic… you always know exactly where in Middle-earth you are.

The actors wear versatile black costumes with pouches for props such as Frodo’s Phial, Sam’s Elven rope, and flashlights that they use for clever lighting in certain scenes. They also used puppets here and there, and illustrated the battle at Helm’s Deep with models. There was a great introduction in which the Fellowship members introduce themselves and actually point out locations on a map of Middle-earth (drawn on a curtain). My girlfriend has never read any of the books, but after a quick background from me on the way to the theatre and what was in the play she had no trouble following and enjoying the show.

I can’t say enough good things about this play… it’s definitely worth the $18. I may see it again! There were only four inaccuracies that I could see: First, the Nazgul were hardly mentioned (but their part in the Two Towers is seldom more than flying overhead and being scary). Second, Boromir’s final battle was acted out to start the show… but I think it helped quite a bit. Third, the palantir was not really explained and Pippen and Gandalf’s flight to Gondor was not shown (although Pippen’s conversation with Sauron was). Fourth and most severe, Faramir and the Window on the West were not part of the play. This is a major omission, and I’m not sure how Faramir’s part in The Return of the King will be played out by the Lifeline Theatre. I’d have to say highlights were Treebeard’s meeting with the young hobbits, Gandalf’s meeting with Theoden, Helm’s Deep, and Shelob (who was full-size). All of the actors were great, especially the guy who played Gollum. I think each actor read the books, because all of the characters were dead-on in demeanor and personality. Some highly imaginative people put this show together, and it leads to a sometimes moving, sometimes funny and wholly entertaining experience. Check out http://www.theatrechicago.com/lifeline/ for information.

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