The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol

Over the last six years or so Chicago’s theater scene has been flooded with literary adaptations. But few have approached the power, polish, and grit of the Theatre de Complicite’s take on John Berger’s novel Pig Earth. Retelling Berger’s earthy, gloomy, violent story of a misfit peasant woman, Lucie Cabrol–from birth to death and beyond–this British company reproduces in unflinching detail the squalor of country life. Early in the play a hog is slaughtered in a bathtub, and in the company’s trademark style the hog is played by a squirming, squealing actor. Artistic director Simon McBurney, who studied mime at the famed Jacques Lecoq School, has his ensemble play not only several dozen peasants but horses, trees, chickens, even furrows of earth being turned by a plow in one magnificent scene. But the mimed whimsy of the hog killing is not meant to soften its brutality. Where one of our local Northwestern-trained companies might have aestheticized the act with long, beautiful red ribbons, the actor’s cries and thrashing terror here make the butchery palpable. The next moment, in a bit of Brueghel-like low comedy, a woman wearing a look of pure boredom dumps out a bloody bucket of guts, showing how much this killing is just part of the daily rural grind. Still, there’s a stark beauty to this unsentimental work, including an image at the top of the show: we see pair after pair after pair of empty work shoes, grave markers for peasants who’ve died in harness. Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, 722-5463 or 902-1500. Opens Wednesday, September 4, 7:30 PM. Through September 8: Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $10-$36.

–Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo by Hannes Flaschberger.