Monday, April 27, 2015

Pirates of Penzance

Photo by Barry Wisdom
Saving the best for last, the Sacramento Theater Company closed out its current season with a sparkling new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” directed by Michael Laun and choreographed by Ryan Blanning, with musical direction by Samuel Clein.

I was somewhat concerned, checking the program and seeing that there did not appear to be a women’s chorus, other than the principal women and how were they going to get both a band of pirates and a bunch of policemen with only five non-principal men?

Silly me.  This show is so tightly directed and so exquisitely choreographed that the small cast was more than adequate.  The whole show moved with the precision of the Rockettes. Every move was sharp and crisp with wonderful little bits added, such as the Pirate King’s interaction with the small band, and in one spot the spectators, in unison, following an exchange between two characters with the head turns of an audience at a tennis match.

It was a dream cast.  Michael RJ Campbell was outstanding as the Pirate King, with eyes that flashed, and body language that left no doubt whatsoever that he was In Charge of things. 

Gary S. Martinez was beautifully befuddled as Major General Stanley, plagued with agony over his lie to the Pirate King to save his daughters from being carried off to the nearest Doctor of Divinity to be married.  Stanley’s “Modern Major General” may be the most famous of Gilbert & Sullivan’s patter songs and Martinez delivered it flawlessly, with impeccable diction.  And just when you are left breathless at the speed with which he spews out these lines, he speeds it up.

Zak Edwards is making his STC debut in one of his dream roles, Frederic, the apprentice pirate celebrating his 21st birthday and finally out of his indentures and able to live a blameless life.  And he is a dream in the role, with a full steady tenor and wonderful actor to boot.

Aviva Pressman is likewise making her STC debut in the role of Mabel, who captures Frederic’s heart.  Whether not so coyly enticing Frederic or militantly leading the band of policemen to attack the pirates, she is a powerhouse.

Ruth, the piratical maid of all work, is deliciously portrayed by Martha Omiyo Kight.  She is the only female face young Frederic has seen in his life and tries to convince him that she has won her way into his boyish heart (though, as she was his nursemaid when he was a baby, this has always struck me as somewhat creepy!)

The second act trio of Ruth, Frederic, and the Pirate King was great fun and, as did Joseph Papp in his modernized version of this operetta, STC opted to include the “Matter Matter” trio from “Ruddygore,” in addition to the song “Paradox” because it just fits so well.

Mabel’s sisters, Edith (Miranda D. Lawson), Kate (Katherine Cooper) and Isabel (Abbey Williams Cambell) were fun, but it is the youngest, Lucy (Courtney Shannon) who stands out by blending in so beautifully that you just want to watch her the whole time.  This role is double cast and Shannon will share the role with Meghan Greene.

Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly is the Sergeant of Police, big and blustery and not at all enthused about going off “to glory and the grave.”

I must also give kudos to whichever of the scenic designers (Jarrod Bodensteiner, Renne Degarmo or Brian Watson) was responsible for the ever changing (but very subtly) sky.

If I have any criticism at all, and it is a very slight one, it is that I wonder if body mics were necessary.  Everyone had a big voice that easily filled the small theater, one mic malfunctioned all night long and a couple of other performers had such strong voices that the amplification was almost overpowering.

On the whole, however, this is just a superlative production.  I’ve been following Gilbert & Sullivan around the world for some 50 years and I think this ranks up there as one of the best productions of “Pirates of Penzance” that I have seen.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Wizard of Oz

The Davis Musical Theater Company has opened a perfectly charming production of “The Wizard of Oz,” directed and choreographed by Jan Isaacson.

While this is a bare bones production, as far as tech is concerned, there is nothing bare bones in the delightful performances, the costumes or the choreography.  The production is a mostly faithful interpretation of the iconic movie.

Cass Olson is a lovely Dorothy, sweet and innocent and full of wonder, yet longing for her Kansas home.  She has a strong, clear voice that gives perfect pitch to “Over the Rainbow” and she has good rapport with all of her fellow actors.

“Pico Taormina” (who has his own Instagram account) was one of the best behaved Totos I have seen.  He entered the stage when he was supposed to, stood when he was supposed to stand, ran off stage when he was supposed to, and never barked once.  He even chewed Professor Marvel’s hot dog when he was supposed to.  The last time I saw this show, at a different theater, Toto was so obstreperous he disrupted every scene he was in.

Dannette Vassar is an Auntie Em to be reckoned with, while the Uncle Henry of Scott Daughterty was more subdued.  Both appear later in Oz, with Daughterty also playing the Captain of the Winkie guard.

Edward Arakelyan is just wonderful as the Scarecrow (and in Kansas, the farmhand Hunk).  He is winsome and engaging and it’s no wonder he and Dorothy become BFFs.

Gabe Avila maneuvers around in that big Tin Man suit and was also the farmhand Hickory.  He has a big heart in that empty chest of his.

And what can one say about Steve Isaacson as the Cowardly Lion (and farmhand Zeke).  He’s big and cuddly, with a powerful voice.  He is wonderfully reminiscent of Bert Lahr and is truly a Dandy-lion.

The delightful Brian McCann is Professor Marvel and, in Oz, the Wizard.  This role is just perfect for him and he is so much fun to watch on stage.

Lucinda Otto must have been channeling actress Billie Burke because she sounded just like her as Glinda.  She enters and leaves from the wings instead of in a magical bubble, but while there She’s perfect as the Good Witch of the North.

Sarah Kraemer, on the other hand is not good at all...which means she was very good portraying the Wicked Witch of the West (and nasty Kansas neighbor, Almira Gulch).  She had a marvelous time chewing the scenery and at times with that green makeup, her eyes seemed to glow as she spat out her hateful words at...well...everyone.

Fiona Cubbage and Veronica Kyker were great at the Mayor and Coroner of Munchkin land, while Ava Guisino, Lexi Telles and Gillian Cubbage were the cutest Lullabye League you’ve ever seen, particularly six year old Gillian, who stole the show whenever she was on stage.

The other Munchkins, flying monkeys, jitterbugs, snowmen, apple trees, Ozians, and Winkies were a mixture of adult actors and members of DMTC’s Young People’s Theater.  All were delightful. 

Special note should be made of Ryan Everett, who played the lead snowman, as well as other roles throughout the show, and stood out from the rest for his dancing ability.

DMTC needs a video person.  The show could have been enhanced in several places by using projections for, for example, the tornado, the flying monkeys, and the Witch’s “Surrender Dorothy” written in the sky, but they did as well as could be expected within the constraints of a small budget.

The yellow brick road, for example, was played by Tessa Hickman, also an excellent dancer, who wore a yellow tux with a long brick-printed tail, who went ahead Dorothy to show her the way.  It was a little odd, but it worked.

The review would not be complete without mentioning the DMTC orchestra, which sounded better than usual, and the marvelous costumes of Jean Henderson, who must have had a wonderful time putting this show together.  It showed. I loved that all the Kansas costumes were in grey, black and white, saving the explosion of color for Oz.

Bring your kids, bring your grandkids, and bring yourself, if you loved the movie.  You’ll have a wonderful time at this production.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Little Shop of Horrors

It’s always interesting when a director takes a new approach to a familiar show. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

Based on the Roger Corman 1960 film of the same name, the musical “Little Shop of Horrors,” with book and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, had its world premiere off Broadway in 1982, where it ran for more than 2,200 performances.

The movie musical version, starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, was produced in 1986, and in 2003, “Little Shop of Horrors” hit the big time with a real on-Broadway production.
A new production, directed by Jason Hammond, opened last weekend at the Woodland Opera House.

“Little Shop” is the story of Seymour Krelborn (Spencer Alexander), a nerdy employee at Mushnik’s Florist shop, a failing business on Skid Row. Seymour, somewhat of an experimental botanist, bought an odd plant from a Chinese flower shop during a solar eclipse. He named the plant “Audrey II” to honor his colleague, Audrey (Christianne Klein), for whom he has tender feelings.

Audrey, however, is in an abusive relationship with a dentist Orin Scrivello (Dan Sattel), whose mother encouraged him to go into dentistry because of his love of inflicting pain.

Audrey convinces Mr. Mushnik (Gil Sebastian) to display Audrey II in the window of his shop and it begins to attract customers. But the plant soon starts dying because Seymour can’t figure out what to feed it. Accidentally pricking his finger, he then discovers Audrey II needs human blood to thrive.

Seymour is in the position of having to find more and more blood to feed his plant, while the plant grows to eventually practically take over the flower shop, when Seymour finally learns the terrible truth about her.

Traditionally, Audrey II is a large blob of fabric that has an opening through which food can be tossed. An unseen puppeteer manipulates the plant while its voice, sounding like the voice of Satan, booms out ominously from a speaker somewhere.

In this production, Audrey II looks more like — sorry I have to say it — a giant vagina, with a gaping opening through which the indomitable Deborah Hammond stands and sings as the voice of the plant. Though Hammond is definitely menacing, it just doesn’t give the same degree of horror as the original staging.
The actors, however, are excellent. Alexander is a wonderful nerd, uneasy, especially around Audrey. He’s uncomfortable in his new role as celebrity as the fame of Audrey II spreads. And he is both horrified and repulsed by the things he is willing to do to keep Audrey alive.

Klein is sweet as the ditsy Audrey who believes she is unworthy of anyone but an abusive male because she is a woman with “a past.” Yet she fails to recognize that Seymour is in love with her.
Actually, anyone would fall in love with her as she sings “Somewhere That’s Green,” her wistful wish for her perfect dream life. I liked that Klein used a Bronx accent, but didn’t go overboard with it, as some actresses do.

When Audrey and Seymour finally confess their feelings for each other, their duet “Suddenly Seymour” is a lovely break from all the horror going on in their lives.

Sebastian was an appropriately grouchy and blustery Mr. Mushnik, who rescued Seymour from a Skid Row orphanage and gave him a bed under the shop counter and allows him one Sunday off every two weeks. He is not above offering to adopt Seymour if it will ensure that he will keep Audrey II at the flower shop.

Doing his best to steal the show in the small, but important role of the nitrous oxide-sniffing dentist Orin Scrivello, Sattel is deliciously unlikable. A Michael Imperioli lookalike, Sattel is also able to transform himself rapidly into several other small roles, with several looks, including that of a woman.

The trio of doo-wop singers who act as a quasi Greek chorus throughout the show are Emily Jo Seminoff, Julia Spangler and Erin Bruni. They each get a moment to shine and display their strong voices.

Also, Lenore Sebastian appears in the small role of a Skid Row homeless woman. A consummate actress, Sebastian makes the most of her character, though she has no lines to speak.

Jason Hammond and Denise Miles are credited with costume design. Those for Audrey are particularly appropriate while the red gown for Hammond is stunning, and the transformation of the girls’ trio from drab Skid Row clothes to sequined dresses was fun.

Special mention should be made of the small orchestra — Jia-Min Rosendale, Dale Proctor, Scott Plamondon, Alex Rieff and Dave Gill — who provided the perfect accompaniment.

There is no great message in this show, unless it’s “if you find a strange plant which appears suddenly following a total eclipse of the sun, walk by and leave it alone.” But this musical is fun for the whole family.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Buyer Cellar

Playwright Jonathan Tollins wants everyone to know that his hilarious one-man play, “Buyer Cellar,” now at the B Street Theater, is a work of fiction.  In fact, actor Nick Cearly takes great pains to explain to the audience before the play starts that this whole story is Tollins’ fantasy based on the then-newly released Barbra Streisand book, “My Passion for Design,” in which she photographs the rooms in her mansion and takes the reader on a tour.  But Tollins has never been in Streisand’s house and he certainly would do nothing to upset  "someone as famous, talented and litigious as" Barbra Streisand.  “The whole thing is preposterous,” Cearly says.  “You know that, right?”

The one thing that is true, apparently is that the book shows a shopping mall in the basement of Streisand’s house, set up with different stores (including a toy shop, vintage clothing shop, and soda fountain) to display the many tsatskes collected over her lifetime.

Cearly also tells the audience that he doesn’t “do” Streisand and that there are lots of Streisand impressionists out there (“some of them women”) and that while Streisand will appear in the piece, it won’t be an attempt to mimic her, but rather to suggest her.

Explanations out of the way, let the fun begin. Over the next 90 minutes, I can’t remember laughing so hard in a long time.

Cearly plays Alex More, an out of work actor (he was recently fired from Disneyland for threatening an obstreperous child with a churro) who is offered a job by some mysterious person in an estate in Malibu.  He explains to the audience that he ultimately learns this is the home of Barbra Streisand and hastens to assure us that though he is an out and proud gay man, he is not a Barbra Queen or a Judy Queen, though his boyfriend Barry is and so he knows a bit about Streisand through Barry.

Alex’s job is to sit in the mall all day, keep the shops organized and await the only customer who will ever shop there.

She arrives on the third day and decides to shop in the toy store, where she is taken by a certain French doll and asks the price.  It’s all play acting, but Alex, the actor, is up to the challenge and there is a fun give and take with him and Streisand, who doesn’t want to pay full price (for this doll which she already owns).  The interplay sets up a relationship between the two which continues over the coming weeks, as Streisand shops for this and that and the conversation between the two becomes more intimate, two somewhat lonely people developing a fantasy friendship.

Growing bolder, Alex tells her she should play Mama Rose in Gypsy and swept away by his enthusiasm she hires him as her acting coach

Barry, who at first was omigawd thrilled that his boyfriend would be in the presence of Streisand, begins to grow jealous and, feeling her behavior is becoming very odd, warns Alex not to get too involved and that he is just her plaything du jour.

But Alex sees a real friendship developing with the megastar, especially when she invites him upstairs to tour the main house, where he makes a social blunder which brings an end to his employment and teaches him a lesson about real friendship.

The play is never not double-you-over funny, though has moments of poignancy, the whole thing handled beautifully by the talented Cearly, who smoothly handles several different personalities with body posture, facial expression, and slight voice changes.  He is at his best in handling both sides of conversations with Streisand.

This is a not to be missed production if you like funny, if you like Streisand, and if you like to see a talented actor at the top of his game.

Friday, April 17, 2015


“Once,” with the book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, is not your typical Broadway musical. It was based on the movie by John Carney, made for an unbelievable $150,000.

Proving that you don’t need lots of CGI or to spend billions of dollars, this low-budget film became a big hit and won the 2007 Academy Award for best song and the 2007 Independent Spirit Award for best foreign film. It also grossed more than $9 million in the United States alone.

In 2011, the New York Theater Workshop brought a stage version to Broadway. It opened to a sold-out extended run, and picked up eight Tony awards. Now “Once” has come to Sacramento and, judging by the waves of crowds flowing into the Sacramento Community Theater, it is going to be a mega-hit here, too.

The original songs from the movie are in the stage show, though the book has been expanded.

This is a quiet show that doesn’t hit you over the head with any message. There are no fancy tech pieces flying about, no glitz, no loud synthesized music. It’s a love story — or it isn’t — and it’s a joyous celebration of music and relationships between people, through making music together. Its brilliance is in the impeccable direction of John Carney, and in the wonderful performances of the actor-musicians.

The set is a Dublin pub, slightly more expansive feeling than a real Irish pub, but they have lots of stage space to fill. The set design is by Bob Crowley, who cleverly includes a large mirror behind the bar, which allows the audience to see both sides of conversations that take place at the bar itself.
The musicians start “jamming” about 15 minutes before the show actually begins and audience members are permitted to join them on stage to enjoy the music, both toe-tapping Irish tunes, and the less-well-known, but equally lively Czech music.

The show begins without fanfare and, in fact, you aren’t sure it has really begun until the lights in the theater slowly begin to dim.

The hero, identified only as “Guy” (Stuart Ward), is a disillusioned young musician whose girl has just left to go to America and who has lost his confidence in himself and his ability to write music that others want to hear. He’s about to give up his dream of a musical career and continue to work in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop.

The heroine, identified as “Girl” (Dani de Waal), is a Czech young woman who hears Guy sing his song of unrequited love (“Leave”) and is taken with his passion. She offers to let him clean the vacuum cleaner she just happens to bring into the pub and in return she will pay him with music. She is an accomplished pianist.

DeWaal is a quietly winsome yet vulnerable Girl and her optimism about Guy’s talent is hard to resist. Over the next week she forces Guy to believe in himself again, to get a loan from the bank to pay for a recording session and, over 24 hours, to record a CD. Though that may seem a bit far-fetched in reality, you really do believe that this could be possible.

Girl’s costume helps in keeping space between herself and Guy as, though they are obviously having feelings for each other, she keeps her hands in her pockets almost all the time. We find out why in time.

A huge part of what makes this musical work is the musician-actors. Every musician on stage is also an actor — and a dancer, dancing some wonderfully choreographed numbers (movement by Steven Hoggett). Particularly delightful is Benjamin Magnuson (who also plays the bank manager) dancing with his cello, with moves Woody Allen never thought of in “Take the Money and Run.”

Also delightful is Evan Harrington (guitar, percussion, ukulele) as Billy, the owner of the pub. He’s big and blustery with that wonderful hair-trigger Irish temper that adds such authenticity to his performance.

Tina Stafford (accordion and concertina) plays Baruska, Girl’s mother, who seems to be developing a “thing”for Billy.

The only non-musician on the stage is Sarah McKinley Austin, as the child Ivanka. She is appearing in her first touring Broadway show and is adorable.

The final duet, “Falling Slowly,” with Girl at the piano and Guy on his guitar, is achingly beautiful and is at once a promise of a happy ending and a bittersweet reality of what might have been, and never will be.

This is an unforgettable musical and should appeal to everyone.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Point of Departure

UCD’s master of fine arts in dramatic arts program brings together actors, choreographers, designers and directors to work collaboratively over two years in a range of traditional and experimental pieces.

The finale of the program is for each student to choose to create an individual exploration or to work with one or more of their cohorts investigating research questions surrounding theater, dance and performance.

This year’s performances examine war, sex, technology, cross-dressing and more, under the collaborative title of “Point of Departure.”

A two-night event is taking place on the campus right now. The two pieces of Program 1 are being presented on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m at the Arena Stage in Wright Hall. Program 2 can be seen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m., starting with two pieces on the Wyatt Theater stage and then moving to the Della Davidson Studio for the final piece.

The “Echo Theater Suitcase Project: Yolo County” is the work of Daniel Bear Davis and his talented cast. The ensemble has been working together for the past six months in a process of continuous inquiry into our personal relations to war and the military.

A multi-generational group relate stories dealing with war experiences. The show is powerful and in some instances gut-wrenching as people relay either their own memories or experiences of others.
Audience members are given cookies and asked to think about their own sense memories, the sounds, smells and sights that evoke powerful past memories, while a veteran talks about his post-traumatic stress disorder triggers. It is a well-integrated piece that combines acting, dancing and video.

Performers are Cynthia Arellanes, Hien Huynh, Tiffany Martin and Ian Rowland, plus veterans Jim Corbett, a Vietnam vet, and Francis Resta, a veteran of World War II, who performs wearing his oxygen tank. Resta’s performance in particular was quite moving, especially when he dances the waltz with another performer.

At the conclusion of this piece, the theater is emptied and the audience asked to stand in the halls outside while the configuration is changed (and chairs blocked off).

“iGeneration,” the brainchild of Christopher Wolfe, answers the question “How have you been affected by smartphones?” Cast members Karina Chahal, Jesse Chung, Claire Wonjeong Jeong, Nicole Pinto, Michael Poole, Andre Starr, Edward Sukla, Lily Tanner and Christopher Wolf perform with cell phones in hand, the lights shining up into the cast members’ faces.

The story unfolds in Internet-speak and involves making and breaking of relationships, the debate over “winkie faces” and “Bitmojis,” and an active video game. It ends with a very cleverly choreographed cell phone hand-off from person to person and back again that must be seen to be understood.

In the talk-back with Wolfe following the show, the audience members were very enthusiastic and excited that the piece so accurately depicted their lives. For those of us who grew up in the day of dial telephones, it was a little less relatable.

“iGeneration” is an ongoing project. This is the first in a series of theatrical investigations into smartphones and how they affect us. It will be interesting to see where Wolfe takes the investigation from here.

Evening two begins with my personal favorite of the whole program. “Indecency (& Other Bawdy Bits)” is a one-woman show by JanLee Marshall as Mary Frith (aka Moll Cutpurse), a notorious pickpocket, pimp, and fence in 16th-century London.

Dressed in her favorite costume, this cross-dressing woman addresses questions about: What is indecent? What is it to be a woman on the stage in the 16th century? — as well as our fascination with celebrity and indecency.

Marshall has an easy rapport with the audience and her piece involves both monologues and conversation with the audience. She is so at ease in her skin that when her work is interrupted by a knock at the back door by latecomers, she makes it part of the act without missing a beat.

By the end of her work, I wanted to rush home and do some investigation about Mary Frith, who seems to have been a fascinating woman.

From the bawdy 16th century to the lascivious present, Joyful Simpson’s “Tales of a Sexual Tomboy (a one-woman comedy)” is definitely not for the tiny tots, or anyone offended by blatant sexual conversation. While there is nothing visually offensive, there is certainly a lot implied and mimed.

Simpson is a very funny woman, not afraid to reveal (and exaggerate on) her sexual exploits from a very early age. She’s not afraid of telling her truth, whether joyful or painful.

“I have taken a fair amount of poetic license with my stories to maximize their theatricality,” she explains. Still, she mentioned that her parents will be coming this weekend and I wonder if she is going to edit herself a bit for that performance!

For the final work, Brandon Gonzalez’s “Vibrant Matter,” the audience left the Wyatt Theater and walked over to the new Della Davidson Studio. Gonzalez’s work examines how objects might use us or have an effect on us.

In a multi-media work that includes video, sculpture, design and choreography, a floral quilt interacts with a piece of foam, a video dances on air currents and human bodies transform into still-life images. The results were fascinating. This quilt actually came to life, the video on airwaves was mesmerizing and the final piece did amazing things with balance.

The talk-back following the Program 2 pieces was interesting, and helpful in answering those unanswered questions.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Whipping Man

Photo by Barry Wisdom
Whoever thought a guy named Lopez would write such a gripping play about black Jews in the South at the end of the Civil War? But playwright Matthew Lopez has delivered an unforgettable drama now on the Sacramento Theatre Company’s Pollock stage, under the direction of Buddy Butler.

The notion that there were a number of Jewish families living in the South during the Civil War is perhaps not surprising — though we rarely hear of them as a group apart from everyone else — so it is also not surprising that some of their slaves, particularly those raised from childhood with Jewish traditions, would have converted to Judaism, or that spirituals like “Go Down, Moses” would be an integral part of a Passover Seder.

The play covers three days in April 1865. Gen. Robert E. Lee has surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and young Caleb DeLeon (Sean Patrick Nill), wounded and barely able to drag his gangrenous leg, has returned to the family estate, to find the place in ruins.

His father and the rest of the family (including the now-emancipated slaves) have taken shelter elsewhere until it is safe to return to Richmond, Va. The house is being watched by former slaves Simon (Michael J. Asberry), and the younger John (Anthony Simone).

Simon, who has obviously been with the family for many years, is devoted to them and to keeping the house safe from looters, while the opportunistic John is thrilled to be looting the nearby mansions for little luxuries like liquor, candles, silverware and a mattress and rug that will help them to survive until things settle down and the family returns.

There is an uneasy reunion of the former slave and former master, as Caleb falls into his old habit of ordering the older man about. Simon reminds him that given his emancipated status, the boy should make requests rather than issuing orders. It takes a bit for this shift in relationships to sink in.

The rich are now poor, and the slaves are now free. Caleb has lost his faith, while Simon and John continue to believe and practice their adopted religion. Discussions of faith and religion take prominence as the three men try to make sense of this new, uncertain world.

“Were we Jews or were we slaves?” John wonders aloud to Caleb, recalling the years before the war.
“Were we the children of Israel or we just the heathen that were round about you? Because we couldn’t be both, that was clear. And now you say you’ve given up praying just as easily as that.”

It is clear that Caleb’s leg must be removed to save his life, but the former soldier refuses to go to the hospital, so Simon, with some little medical experience, assisted by John, performs the deed.

Fortunately for the audience, there is a convenient blackout to cover Caleb’s screams and when the lights come up again, the surgery is over and Caleb is lying comatose in bed.

As the two-hour play moves forward, tempers grow short, old wounds are aired, long-buried secrets are revealed and all comes to a head during a Passover Seder.

One could not ask for a better cast. Asberry imbues Simon with a quiet dignity in the face of the horror around him, and a hope that on his return, his former master will keep his promise to give him money so that he and his family can get their own little house.

His speech when he learns of President Lincoln’s assassination, given with tears running down his face, had many in the audience crying with him. He also sings bits of spirituals in several spots, displaying a deep, rich voice that left the audiences wanting more.

Nill gives a notable performance, and manages to handle the task of being bed-ridden and comatose for a long part of the action, though he is given the opportunity to express himself on two good legs in a flash-back scene.

Simone’s John is a cynical character who has a sense of style in the new duds he liberates from deserted mansions, and he has a devil-may-care attitude, until topics turn more serious and he shares his memories of “the whipping man,” to whom the father would take his slaves when they needed to be disciplined.

His character confronts reality when he finally understands that his feelings about the DeLeon family may have been mistaken.

This is a powerful play that not only examines a little-known chapter of Southern history, especially in the post-Civil War era, but also raises questions about race, religion and responsibility.