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  • Rosie Roche

Vilette - a world premiere at Lookingglass Theatre adapted from the novel

Updated: Mar 5, 2023



Lucy Snowe descends the auditorium stairs musing on who a story belongs to, who gets to tell

it, characterize it, summarize it and decide where to begin and end it. Because I first

encountered Mi Hang standing very close to me, talking over my head in a voice too loud and

over annunciating for our proximity, she seemed to me to be overacting, but that immediate

impression soon dissipated as she stood on the stage and became a witty and perspective

narrator of her own tale. Her plain gray wool jacket and full skirt, neatly parted hair in a simple

bun certainly screamed ‘Jane Eyre!” as much as her wry nod to the more famous heroine,

promising this was not a fairytale with mad women shut up in attics.

The playwright’s note promises that we will recognize the humanity and common dilemmas

that Lucy faces through the changes the intervening years have brought - that this is an

Everywoman’s story. It was not immediately accessible, as the convoluted Victorian-novel

narration and extensive exposition without much action of any kind, let alone dramatic scenes,

made it distant and removed. But funny asides about what should be included the bad form of

confusion an audience by introducing a character who would not reappear, soon had me

chuckling and more involved. I particularly enjoyed her frequent elongated neck expressing

surprise and incomprehension of other characters’ ignorance of her feelings. Kang gives many

knowing asides and this lack of fourth wall does indeed involve the audience as players in the

story, as she promises at the beginning.


My young teen companion particularly enjoyed Debo Balogun as the arch, stand offish teacher

Paul Emmanuel, who just wants a good friend. It was his beautiful deep voice and way of

swishing his fez tassel that did it, as well as the soft spot he always has for the comedic

sidekick. Balogun played the most developed character and it was great to see him grow in

confidence and sharing personal truths as the play progresses.


In true Lookingglass style, the set was simple and changeable. The sliding panels with images

of the novel or hand written letters on them were over used - moved to indicate a change in

scene more than to actually reveal or conceal a new stage element. They created a slight

Japanese house feel that may or not have been intended. Certainly the ethnicities of the cast

were not alluded to in any other way and did not impact the storytelling beyond a refreshing

variety of faces and voices. The garden was beautifully rendered by hanging glass bottles and

lamps, and the simple slightly different levels of the stage used well to convey different spaces.

The sound design by Deon Custard and Brandon Reed was brilliant, transporting us from tense

school room to crowed ball and theaters, completely.


The ending was the most satisfyingly Lookingglass - languid and poignant slow motion

meeting and parting of lovers, silks and lights churning us in the sea as in so many memorable

productions. I prefer Lookingglass in the round where I feel more immersed and part of the

story, but I have never been so explicitly invited to be a part or the telling and making sense of

a play before, and I liked it.


Vilette starts as a comedy of manners more in the Jane Austen vein than the more elemental

Brontë (perhaps a false dichotomy but one I was taught by my mother, so it remains!) and

develops into a story of human determination and suffering, making our own luck and subject

to the vagaries of class and birth, unrequited and unexpected love. This six-hander takes us

on quite a journey.


Vilette is playing at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611 through April


For more reviews go to www.TheatreInChicago.com

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