Elden Street Players Caroline, or ChangeBy David Siegel • Aug 19th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Elden Street Players: (Info) (Web)
Industrial Strength Theater, Herndon, VA
Through August 24th
2:20, with intermission
Reviewed August 3rd, 2013
The ever daring Elden Street Players have produced a musical that desires wide attention, Caroline, or Change. It is an inspired production with a deeply rooted social conscience.
Words that come to mind are Brave; Moving; Formidable. Caroline, or Change is a show with clearly written characters played by a bevy of seventeen actors who put their hearts and souls into their performance. They are led by the forceful performance of Anya Randall Nebel as the lead character, Caroline, a world-weary Black maid in the Deep South in 1963.
Written by award-winning playwright Tony Kushner, Caroline, or Change is raw and emotionally-charged. This is not for those who seeking out escape into a mega-musical with glitter, soft focus and sugar-coated dreams. Kushner’s sharp-pointed outlook make this an intellectually complex, stimulating evening of open-eyed entertainment.
It is a production that is sung through, almost always with musical underpinning pushing the action and emotions. The music is an electrical charge to the proceedings. Dialogue is rarely just spoken. The Caroline, or Change score by award-winning Jeanine Tesori is jaw-dropping in the swept and variety of styles from full-blown numbers to bits and snippets in its 50 or so numbers. The score runs the gamut of spirituals, blues, Motown, folk music, the classics and Jewish klezmer.
The show is set in late 1963 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It was the time of the Civil Rights Movement. The August 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr. and the November assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Change was in the air. Voices being raised. The old ways were giving way; grudgingly. Would it be through non-violent or stronger means?
The story follows Caroline (a commanding Anya Randall Nebel) the Black maid for a Jewish family, the Gellmans. She earns $30 per week, scraping by, raising her own family as a single parent. She spends her days in a clammy basement doing the Gellman’s laundry. As we first meet her, she sings in a most powerful voice, “nothing ever happen underground in Louisiana. Cause there ain’t no underground in Louisiana. There is only underwater.”
The Gellmans’ young son, Noah (wonderfully played by Aidan White at this performance, with John Ray at other performances), seems emotionally connected to Caroline. “Caroline who’s always mad! Caroline who runs everything! Caroline who’s stronger than my dad!” Noah is dealing with his own unceasing sorrows and is seeking some solace given the death of his mother, and his father’s re-marriage to Rose (a sensitive Shaina L. Murphy).
Unable to give Caroline a raise, Rose has a plan that involves Caroline keeping coins (change) money that she finds in Noah’s pockets while doing the laundry. What seems a generous act to Rose and Noah, feels like humiliation to Caroline. The lesson goes unfortunately amiss. Harsh words are spoken; very harsh, with relationships tattered, if not ruptured.
“That money reach in and spin me about my hate rise up, rip my insides out. My madness rise up in a fury so wild and I let myself go!” beseeches Randall Nebel. Can she change or will she sink and drown?
What happens next is for audiences to witness. With “Lot’s Wife” Randall Nebel sings straight-up to Heaven. It is an awe-inspiring spiritual to God to be delivered from pain and humiliations in ways unexpected. “Turn me to salt. A pillar of salt… Don’t let my sorrow, Make evil of me.” Randall Nebel took over audience who sat in was utter silence as if in pews.
There is an epilogue sung by Caroline’s eldest daughter (with youthful force by Caelyn D. Sommerville) providing her respect for her mother that gives a positive ending that resonates into loving kindness.
This Elden Street production is confidently directed by Evan Hoffman, a 2000 graduate of Herndon High School with a degree in theater from the College of William and Mary. The orchestra is under the baton of veterans J. Michael d’Haviland and Elisa Rosman. The orchestra is masterful with the wide-ranging repertoire they perform.
Kathy Dunlap’s costume design and Catherine Oh’s choreographer are spot-on. The set is an evocative multi-story design including a laundry area that gives the word “dank” a physical presence. The large cast surrounding the featured players are a joy to hear sing and watch act as they perform in a wide range of characters, including some fanciful ones.
Caroline, or Change is story-telling as probing and pointed entertainment. Make your way to the Industrial Strength Theater before it goes.
Photos provided by Elden Street Players
- Caroline: Anya Randall Nebel
- Noah Gellman: John Ray and Aidan White
- Rose Stopnick Gellman: Shaina L. Murphy
- Stuart Gellman: Matthew Scarborough
- Dotty Moffett: Brenda Parker
- The Moon: Rosemarie Stephens-Booker
- The Radio: Ivana Alexander, Ariana Kruszewski, Andrea Gerald
- The Washing Machine: Rikki Howie
- The Dryer: Malcolm Lee
- The Bus: Jared Shamberger
- Emmie Thibodeaux: Caelyn D. Sommerville
- Jackie Thibodeaux: Mareike Elisabeth Nebel
- Joe Thibodeaux: Royal (Tre’) Jones, III
- Grandma Gellman: Lorraine Magee
- Grandpa Gellman: Rick Kenney
- Mr. Stopnick: Tom Flatt
- Producer: Theresa Nichols Bender
- Director: Evan Hoffmann
- Assistant Director: Kari Ginsburg
- Music Directors: Elisa Rosman, J. Michael d’Haviland
- Choreographer: Cathy Oh
- Stage Manager: Sierra Banack
- ASM: Laura Moody
- Master Carpenters: Marty Sullivan, Ian Mark Brown
- Assisted by: Skip Gresko, Theresa Bender, Jeff Boatright, Evan Hoffmann, Caitlyn Sullivan, Sierra Banack, Eric Burkholder, Richard Durkin, Laura Fontaine, Brian Garrison, Amy Skiavo, Jill Tunick, John Vasko, Amy Weber, Matt Williams, Robin Zerbe
- Lighting Design: Jeff Boatright
- Assisted by: Frank Coleman, Richard Hildebrand, Adam Konowe, Jill Tunick, Wade Corder
- Sound Design: Stan Harris
- Assisted by: Brian Christensen
- Scenic Painting Design: Brian Garrison, Mary Speed
- Assisted by: Kevin Walker, Amy Weber
- Costume Design: Kathy Dunlap
- Assisted by: Chelsea Robinson
- Hair/Makeup Design: Molly Hicks Larson
- Set Dressing/Props: Theresa Nichols Bender
- Assisted by: Robin Zerbe, Evan Hoffmann
- General Production Assistant: Chelsea Robinson
- Photographers: Laura Moody, Jacki Young
- Playbill: Ginger Kohles
J. Michael d’Havliand and Elisa Rosman, Music Direction
- Reeds: Gwyn Jones, Alisha Coleman, Allen Howe*
- Violin: Kirby Lee, Audrey Chang
- Viola: Caroline Brethauer
- Cello: Virginia Gardner
- Guitar: David Smigielski
- Bass: Meagan Frame, Matt Henry*
- Piano/Conductor: J. Michaell d’Haviland/Elisa Rosman
- Drums/Percussion: Jim Hofmann
*denotes substitute on selected performances
Disclaimer: Elden Street Players provided two complimentary media tickets for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9707.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.