Sunday, May 24, 2009

Caroline, Or Change (The SOB Review)

Caroline, Or Change (The SOB Review) - Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, Minnesota

*** (out of ****)

Finally! Change we can believe in.

Perhaps my biggest personal disappointment during the entire 2003-04 Theatrical Season was missing out on Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's Caroline, Or Change both in its early Public Theater incarnation, as well as its subsequent transfer to Broadway.

But thanks to the ongoing Kushner Celebration at Minneapolis' Guthrie, I've finally had the good fortune to take in this intensely profound, mystical musical as directed and choreographed by Marcela Lorca. Caroline, Or Change transfixes, even as it transports.

Set in Louisiana at the close of 1963, Caroline, Or Change is the story of an abandoned African American mother of three who provides for her children by working tirelessly as the maid for the Gellman family. Previously widowed patriarch Stuart Gellman (Bradley Greenwald) remarries Rose (Julie Reiber), a progressive-thinking New Yorker, and brings her to her new life in Louisiana where the march of time has yet to catch up with the change up North.

Kushner ingeniously uses the coins Caroline Thibodeaux continually finds while washing the pants of young Noah Gellman as a transcendent metaphor for all the sweeping change surrounding her, including the emerging civil rights movement, the swelling Vietnam War and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That Rose urges Caroline to keep the change, not only to provide Noah with a valuable ongoing lesson, but also to supplement her wages is small consolation to Caroline, whose strength and pride is shaken.

Greta Oglesby's brave turn as Caroline alone is worth the price of admission. She wrings every last drop of pathos out of her performance, making her Caroline infinitely sympathetic. In delivering "Lot's Wife," we witness a tremendously powerful, yet sobering performance of a woman who feels shame for wanting more, even as she seems to fear the overwhelming degree of change may have already left her behind. As Oglesby transforms, she breaks your heart.

While most of the cast admirably rises close to the same league as Oglesby, there are a couple regrettable shortcomings, particularly one screechingly horrendous performance (when I saw it) by one of the young actors, who significantly detracts from the production.

Nevertheless, seeing Caroline, Or Change was definitely worth the wait. Given how much I enjoyed it, I only wish I hadn't missed it the first time around.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 27 May, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

erik sez...

I'm so glad you got to see this show, Steve. I saw both the Public and Broadway productions, and have NEVER been so moved by a story, score, or performance. "Lot's Wife" killed me.

I have a hard time explaining this show to people who haven't seen it; it sounds trite whenever I try to do so. "So she feels guilty about the coins. Big deal." But, as you've noted, it's sooooo much more than that.

Can't believe that this show hasn't been mounted by Atlanta's Alliance.


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