As a platform for five great performers, as proof that books can be successfully transformed into vibrant plays and as a dramatic dissertation on disintegrating relationships, one likely to send shock waves of recognition through anyone who’s ever experienced one, there’s not much currently on the boards to beat Lifeline Theatre’s “Talking It Over,” writer Peter Greenberg and director Dorothy Milne’s world-premiere adaptation of English novelist Julian Barnes’ book. And like the 1991 novel upon which it is based, this stage version charts the three’s a crowd arrangement and Truffaut-like “Jules et Jim” dynamic among two men and one woman, and the damage that ensues after one of the men—Oliver—decides to pursue his best mate Stuart’s wife Gillian. Ultimately, this is your typical adult relationship drama replete with deception, resentment, accusation and some reconciliation, but albeit one laced with a thick British accent—which to my untrained ear sounded authentic and spot-on in this production. Adaptor/writer Greenberg deserves most of the praise: usually suspect of literary adaptations—unless one has eight hours of stage time a la “Nicholas Nickleby” it’s hard as hell to distill the essence of a long novel into a satisfying theater piece—I was deeply impressed with Greenberg’s decision to fold in much of Barnes’ original rhetoric into direct address monologues for the first act, setting up the foundation to these characters’ personalities and narrative arcs, and then abandoning much of this in the second half for a more traditional dramaturgical structure incorporating dramatized exchanges. Certainly the piece still has its dense passages and feels a bit overlong, but a balance between the discussed and the dramatized has been found and rewards are to be had for the audience member with an attention span. After all, it’s the details that make the characters exceptionally interesting, and it’s the details that leave one somewhat exasperated by them: the pompous and prolix Oliver could be the British cousin to any of American filmmaker Whit Stillman’s insufferable yet compulsively entertaining characters; Stuart’s obsequiousness gives ways to a perverse stoicism and a manipulative streak subtly runs through Gillian’s babe in the woods routine. In other words, the complete emotional experience is alive and kicking on the stage, thanks to the great charisma of all the performers, but mostly due to a fine adaptation that entertains while remaining truthful to the work’s literary roots. Since this is Lifeline’s raison d’etre, “Talking It Over” is nothing less than an unqualified artistic success. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, (773)761-4477. This production is now closed.