Theater Review: John Malkovich returns to Steppenwolf in 'Lost Land'

Nearly nine years have passed since John Malkovich appeared onstage at the Steppenwolf Theatre. As one of the original ensemble members, he, like Gary Sinise, Joan Allen, Gary Cole, Terry Kinney, John Mahoney, Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Perry, has become highly visible in film and theater worldwide. Last seen here in Stephen Jeffreys’ The Libertine, the current production is also Jeffreys’ work. Soon to be seen in Klint, Art School Confidential, Malkovich continues to star in productions not always in the mainstream.

Lost Land definitely fits that genre. Set in Hungary at the end of World War I, the country is being dismembered. Political factions strive for power, and under the leadership of Count Mihaly Karolyi, a mass land distribution is attempted. Malkovich as Kristof is part of aristocracy. With his sister, Ilona, played by Artistic Director Martha Lavey, they cultivate the vineyards that produce the prized Tokaj wine. An interesting side note: “Pope Benedict XIV thanked the gift of Tokaj with ‘Blessed be the land that has produced you. Blessed the woman that has sent you. Blessed be I that drink you.’”

Kristof, although of the aristocracy, believes in distribution of land to the workers. His dichotomy centers the drama. Miklos (Yasen Peyankov) arrives to persuade Kristof to go to Budapest to assist in the new government. A member of the military, his character manipulates everyone including Ilona.

Katrina Lenk is Anna, a young maid who finds her Slovak heritage prevents her marriage to Tamas (Ian Barford). The master of the vineyard, he will go to extremes to regain his family’s land. Anna’s relationship with Kristof further complicates the plot.

Professional theater seldom disappoints. Every aspect reflects the ability of the company. Lost Land represents that attribute. Audiences who understand the historical context will find the play enjoyable.

Seeing the performance of Jesus Christ Superstar the following night, a comparison was inevitable, and the Guilford production won hands down. Lost Land plays through June 5 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 Halsted St., Chicago. Call (312) 335-1650 or online at for ticket information.

From the May 18-24, 2005, issue

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