G. K. Chestertons 1908 novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, continues to intrigue readers with its interweaving of mystery thriller, social commentary, political philosophy and metaphysical musing. Little Green Pig Theatrical Concerns version exhibits the best of the companys often-unorthodox staging techniques, resulting in one of its most engaging presentations.
Chestertons plot concerns Gabriel, a gentleman in Edwardian England who has been recruited by the police to infiltrate a global secret society dedicated to destroying all government. The societys ruling council has seven members, named for days of the week, to which Gabriel cleverly gets himself elected as Thursday. Facing constant exposure, Gabriel attempts to learn what the anarchists are planning and also the identity of the frighteningly powerful leader, Sunday.
There are many surprises along the way as it becomes clear that more is going on than just bombings and assassinations. Chesterton deftly works in allusions to religious principles, offering much to reflect upon but leaving the ultimate interpretation of events to the reader.
Neal Bell, a professor of play writing at Duke University, has created an admirable script, keeping every major scene from the book but in beautifully compact form. The set design looks like a period vaudeville theater, with scenery on painted curtains that are drawn to reveal each new scene in ever-elongating vistas. The lighting has a vintage, gaslight quality, especially in the shadowy hideaways and foggy streets.
Director Jaybird OBerskis staging concept is particularly imaginative and often breathtaking. The tight pacing whisks the audience along on a whirlwind ride that lasts a short but satisfying 70 minutes. OBerski overlays the production with satiric humor without diminishing the materials underlying seriousness.
One of the books tenets is that things are not always what they seem, which OBerski furthers by having an all-female cast. The women play men without exaggeration, the familiar performers often completely unrecognizable under beards, moustaches and hats.
Dana Marks Gabriel has great range and fervor, Laurie Wolfs Friday is amusingly dapper, Susannah Houghs Sunday is chillingly nonchalant and Tamara Kissanes Lucian (the anarchist who introduces Gabriel to the council) is wittily self-absorbed. Kyma Lassiter, Jessica Flemming, Molly Forlines and Caitlin Wells add further fun to this most arresting and entertaining production.