October 8, 2010

Lifeline's Wuthering Heights looks at the dark side of romance

Most people regard Wuthering Heights as a love story, a romantic tale of a doomed love that is stronger than death. In fact, the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail named it the best romantic novel of all time. But there is a rather large portion of Wuthering Heights that is far from romantic, and Lifeline Theatre’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic gets this part right. It captures the essence of the story in all its thematic elements while avoiding the failures of numerous other adaptations that cast it purely as a tale of love.

In adapting the novel for the stage, Christina Calvit does not bring a new “twist” to this enduring classic. She tells the story just how it is, albeit with a much different tone than usual. Wuthering Heights is as much about hate, despair, and revenge as it is about love. Although the thwarted love of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff is at the tale’s center, their passion effects the lives of all those around them.

It is a story full of brutality and emotions more powerful than the cold winds that blow on the wild moors where the story takes place, and Christina Calvit’s version is fearless in its portrayal of violence, hate, and passion. There is little of the sappy romance that one might expect from other stage adaptations. She unhesitatingly stages fights between the characters that make the viewer flinch.

At one particularly grisly moment, Heathcliff (Gregory Isaac) hits his son Linton (Nick Vidal) so hard, that he sprawls right at the feet of the front row. Heathcliff and Catherine do not go off for romantic walks in the moonlight; the only suggestions of the love between the two come from quotes taken directly from the novel.

Indeed, quotations from the novel compose much of the dialogue, thus ensuring that the characters and plot stay faithful to the original. The only addition seems to be the ghost of Catherine (whose existence was not so definite in the novel), which reappears (perhaps unnecessarily) again and again to tempt Heathcliff and prowl around with clawed hands and a hard-to-define look on her face. While Brontë’s novel includes narratives within narratives (within narratives), this adaptation does away with these, so that the viewer is confronted directly with the tale ‘as is.’

Calvit attempts to bring the viewer into the story, increasing the involvement of the audience in general. She floods the theater with cold air to evoke the cold and desolate atmosphere of the moors, forcing shivering audience members to borrow blankets during the intermission.

Gregory Isaac perfectly plays the part of the charming villain, captivating audience members but later revealing his fiendish nature. Lindsay Linton, although at times lacking the willfulness of Catherine Earnshaw’s character, was nevertheless sublime in the climactic scene before her death. John Henry Roberts gives quite the performance as Hindley, Catherine’s cruel and drunk brother.

However, the cast’s attempt at Scottish accents was hit-or-miss, often sounding unnatural. At times they seemed more Southern than Scottish, which seemed to alienate the audience, despite the production’s attempts to the contrary.

Overall, the play failed to find the middle ground between fidelity to the original and creative license in adaptation. Yet, in the end tåhis was a satisfying, well-staged production. Go see this play if you would like to remind yourself of what the novel is actually about.