Mrs. Caliban

by Robert Bullen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday February 18, 2010

Mrs. Caliban (Brenda Barrie) experiences a sexual awakening from the sea.
Mrs. Caliban (Brenda Barrie) experiences a sexual awakening from the sea.  

Love knows no boundaries. Sometimes, it can even cross life forms.

Adapted by Lifeline ensemble member's Frances Limoncelli from Rachel Ingalls' genre-bending novella, Mrs. Caliban tells the haunting, dreamlike fable of Dorothy Caliban, a sad housewife trapped in a loveless marriage, who encounters a scared, hunted sea creature. For reasons pretty much only known to Dorothy, she conceals the creature, named Larry, and engages in a hot and heavy affair with him.

It's a bittersweet story, punctuated with touches of whimsy, melancholy and heart. There are even moments, thanks to Brenda Barrie's subtle, sad performance as Dorothy and Ann Boyd's lyrical direction, where the beauty of the piece truly resonates. However, there are a few problems that keep one firmly planted in the seat, rather than swept away.

The first major issue is the motivation behind Dorothy's choice to even house this creature, let alone bed him. The critical scene where she first encounters Larry is so subtly set up and played, nothing about it gives any sense of urgency or drive. Perhaps there are revelations in Ingalls' work that explain Dorothy's thinking (I haven't read the book), but nothing in Lifeline's production spells it out to me. As an actor, Barrie has a lot of dots to connect with incredibly few resources.

The second problem is, quite simply, the length of the piece. After two hours and 10 minutes, the fragile magic in the story has been wrung out. There's a scene at a fashion show that seems entirely out of place and completely unnecessary, for instance. The story could be told just as effectively as a one-act - particularly with a piece so invested in setting and maintaining such a unique tone. A pity, as Limoncelli seems to excel at telling a lot with a little - for example, the opening montage sets up Dorothy and her husband Fred's increasingly distant relationship quite well.

My first visit to Lifeline theatre, I was impressed with the care and support this group seems to give their artists and their work. I just think this piece needed to be a bit more workshopped/finessed before moving to Lifeline's main stage.

Mrs. Caliban plays through March 28 at Lifeline Theatre in Rogers Park. For more information, visit

A native midwesterner, Robert is a self-confessed Chicago theatre addict. You can read more about his addiction at