Review Roundup: THE AUDIENCE at TimeLine Theatre
THE AUDIENCE, written by Peter Morgan, centers around Queen Elizabeth II. More specifically, her Tuesday afternoon meetings with her Prime Ministers, which have occurred for more than 60 years. The cast features Janet Ulrich Brooks as Queen Elizabeth II, Matt DeCaro as Churchill / Wilson / Blair / Archbishop, David Lively as Equerry, Cameron Roman as Thatcher / Bobo / Secretary / Security Officer, Mark Ulrich as Major / Brown / Eden / Cameron / Detective, Sophie Ackerman as Young Elizabeth, and Audrey Edwards as Young Elizabeth.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: But Nick Bowling, who directs TimeLine Theatre's simple but enjoyable Chicago premiere, has both a more intimate toolbox at his behest and a few fresh ideas, including a cheeky final sequence. I won't spoil the surprise. You couldn't honestly say that Janet Ulrich Brooks (in the lead role here) evokes the full dimensions of queenly power and detente, any more than the trio of top-drawer actors playing her minsters prime (Matt DeCaro, David Lively and Mark Ulrich) capture every class-based nuance of these familiar figures.
Barbara Vitello, The Daily Herald: Led by an ace -- the superb, subtle Janet Ulrich Brooks -- director Nick Bowling's royal flush features five accomplished actors and a youngster who holds her own opposite them... Their duties and the passion with which they perform them is never in question in Bowling's affectionate, eloquent revival, astutely staged in-the-round -- beneath the grandest of chandeliers -- on Jeffrey Kmiec's all-white set. (With Elizabeth, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher on stage, what more color do you need?).
Hedy Weiss, The Chicago Sun-Times: Now, you can now have an audience of your own with the Queen by way of TimeLine Theatre's superb Chicago premiere of "The Audience," Peter Morgan's whip-smart portrait of a woman whose character, intelligence, biting humor and quiet ferocity emerges in the most surprising ways... But in Chicago, where actress Janet Ulrich Brooks is giving the performance of a lifetime, Elizabeth has found another extraordinary interpreter. Brooks brings to life the woman who quite quickly learned to play her role when, early on, she had to confront the aging Sir Winston Churchill, beloved for leading Britain through World War II, but now out of favor and determined to hang on... The ever razor-sharp director Nick Bowling has staged "The Audience" in-the-round, with Jeffrey Kmiec's all white set defining the space, and Theresa Ham's picture-perfect costumes defining the characters.
Colin Douglas, Chicago Theatre Review: One of Chicago's most richly talented and critically acclaimed actresses is Janet Ulrich Brooks. For theatergoers familiar with this great artist's work, the pleasure of seeing her again, holding the intimate TimeLine stage in the palm of her hand for two hours, is an extreme pleasure. Enjoying Ms. Brooks' performance, not only as the star of this entertaining play, but sharing the stage with four other equally remarkable, talented Windy City actors, is sheer theatrical heaven. Add to this performances by juvenile actresses Audrey Edwards and Sophie Ackerman, alternating in the role of young Princess Elizabeth at different performances, and you have a recipe for an evening of royal splendor.
Adelaide Lee, Theatre Mania: Playing anybody aging through six decades onstage is demanding, and The Audience adds the additional challenge of portraying a woman who is as iconic and publicly known as anybody alive. Brooks rises to the task with grace and skill, using precise variations in her voice and posture to move between decades, aided by the decisive period shifts in costuming, designed by Theresa Ham. Brooks is supported by similarly versatile performances from two actors playing seven prime ministers, instead of the expected deep bench of character actors. The rubber-faced Mark Ulrich finds specific mannerisms to differentiate between Anthony Eden, John Major, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron. Matt DeCaro is imposing as Winston Churchill, breezily confident as Tony Blair, and warm and wry as Labour leader Harold Wilson, whose scenes with Queen Elizabeth are the play's best. While Carmen Roman plays only one PM, her Margaret Thatcher is appropriately hard-nosed and aggressive, leading to a heated scene in Act 2.
Lawrence Bommer, Stage and Cinema: Employing five of Chicago's top thespians, Nick Bowling superbly conducts the dramatic orchestrations of Morgan's The Audience... Most poignant is Morgan's use of the Queen's discerning "Jeeves," an Equerry (David Lively) who impassively describes the state rooms and unfailing registers the Queen's reactions to the absurdities she encounters. Just as persuasive and even more intimate are imagined visits from a "Young Elizabeth" (Audrey Edwards alternating with Sophie Ackerman), a lonely princess who affectingly learns from her older self the privileges and restraints of becoming both the world's richest woman and the embodiment of the United Kingdom's lost glories.
Danielle Levsky, New City Stage: Peter Morgan's script finds an unexpected, but satisfactory, marriage with director Nick Bowling's intimate look at a leader who is known for her privacy. It is the delicate balance of presenting a sheltered, privilegEd Royal yet a meticulous, empathetic civil servant that distinguishes Brooks' portrayal of the Queen. Brooks' telling reactions paint a slightly more complicated portrait than what Peter Morgan's written projection-respectful and positive, yet slightly mechanical-initially presents. Matt DeCaro (Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, Tony Blair), Mark Ulrich (John Major, Gordon Brown, Anthony Eden, David Cameron) and Carmen Roman (Margaret Thatcher and also the Queen's childhood taker Bobo MacDonald) are winning supporting actors. DeCaro and Ulrich possess the ability to transform from one Prime Minister to the next seamlessly, using physical tics, vocal alterations and atmosphEric Changes to push beyond the caricature of personalities presented in Morgan's script.
Photo: Lara Goetsch