OVERNIGHT REVIEWS’The Two Towers’ at Lifeline Theatre

By Chris Jones

Thursday, February 3, 2000

The perennially beloved tales of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien occupy a distinctive and rather peculiar niche in British literature history.

On the one hand, Tolkien’s works are a uniquely fantastic mixing of mythology, medieval archetypes and monsters. Given his singular penchant for rich detail and complex backstories, the South African-born scribe would doubtless have been welcomed to the Nintendo or Atari payrolls, had be been writing 50 years later. But then there’s also no denying the literary merit of remarkable Tolkien works like “The Hobbit” (written in 1937), a story that many of us read as a child and never quite forgot. When you add in the books that made up “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, there’s a good argument that Tolkien was greatly ahead of his time, anticipating our later obsessions with the works of Steven Spielberg or George Lucas.

Even today, Tolkien has dedicated fans of all ages. One could spot them easily enough at last Thursday’s opening of “The Two Towers” at the Lifeline Theatre. The people not of that church were simply entertained–if also slightly puzzled–by James Sie and Karjen Tarjan’s adroit dramatic adaptation of the fiendishly complex “The Two Towers” (Book 2 of “The Lord of the Rings”).

But the real Tolkienites leaned forward in their seats, nodded from time to time with recognition, and spent the evening sporting huge grins. It was clear that Ned Mochel’s epic production had impressed these devotees with its authenticity, veracity and faithfulness to the author.

Theatergoers who have never read the book will still enjoy a very entertaining and impressive effort. But since this is actually the second of a three-part series of stories, you might want to do some preliminary reading if you hope to actually follow the plot.

Despite Lifeline’s small size and far from extravagant budget, Mochel’s richly detailed production employs complex sound reinforcement, numerous puppets and models, live-action battles and a variety of other theatrical tricks. Since it’s far from easy dramatizing a novel featuring a huge and deadly spider (among other non-human things), this is really imaginative work

But it’s the exuberance of the acting that really makes the show. Even though the production has a sense of humor (and this Dark Kingdom stuff can be deadly without a light touch), Mochel obviously told his all-male cast that they had to convince their audience that all of the events in Tolkien’s Middle Earth are matters of life and death. As a result, the show is breathlessly paced and conveys much of the excitement of the novel.

The shows at Lifeline have been patchy of late, so it’s especially thrilling to sense this important theater return to its core mission with such power and passion.