Review: The Book of Joseph at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

(l-r) Megan Anderson, Helen Hedman, Beth Hylton, and Bari Hochwald. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

There are secrets in every family whether close or estranged. There are untold stories and questions we may have about or family we just let go of because we either don’t want to know or we don’t know where to find the information and with the current rage of DNA testing and ancestry more and more folks are finding answers to the questions they have about their own families. Everyman Theatre’s latest offering, The Book of Joseph by Karen Hartman is Directed by Noah Himmelstein and is based on the book The Life of Joseph A. Hollander and His Family by Richard Hollander. It is a journey of discovery of a man who was a father, son, brother, uncle, and husband who kept his past in letters and documents that tell an

The Cast of The Book of Joseph. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

extraordinary story of the bonds of family and an unconditional love.

In a nutshell, The Book of Joseph concerns itself with the story of Joseph Hollander, a Polish immigrant who happens to be Jewish, and his correspondence with the family he left behind during World War II, as the Nazi Party took over most of Europe. The story is told by his son, Richard, as he discusses the book he wrote about these correspondences he discovered after the death of Joseph. The thing is, it took years for Richard to read these correspondences because of the fear he had of what he might find out about his family after noticing the Nazi emblems on the letters in his father’s briefcase. Richard had managed to tell the story with kid gloves, glazing over the horrible parts and concentrating on the good parts, while possibly adding a bit of his own optimism. However, Richard’s son, Craig, is determined to get the truth about what happened, even if it means facing a darkness that has been hidden within the family.

Daniel Ettinger’s Set Design is, once again, impeccable, and helps move the story along nicely allowing for easy exits and entrances with thoughtful use of projections and dark colors to express the poignancy of the story. The turntable that takes the audience from one setting to the next is clever and makes for smooth transitions between scenes. Ettinger has created yet another successful design.

(l-r) Wil Love, Beth Hylton, Hannah Kelly, Danny Gavigan, and Bari Hochwald. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Working in tandem with the Set Design, the Sound Design by Elisheba Ittoop and Lighting Design by Cory Pattak is superb and sets the mood of not only entire production but each scene as well. Pattak uses rays of isolated light and subtle dimming of light to represent the dreariness and uncertainty in the story as well as brightening to express the more uplifting points. Working with the lighting Ittoop’s sound design blends perfectly into the production and may not be noticeable until she wants you to notice it which makes for an intelligent design. Her original compositions are faintly heard in the background during certain scenes, but are fitting and well-thought out. Together, these aspects of light and sound do not hinder the production and performances but enhance and help them along.

David Burdick rarely disappoints and his Costume Design for this production is no different. His attention to detail is immaculate and, being a period piece that requires a specific style, Burdick’s design is spot on. His choice of wardrobe for each character gives them an individuality and the modern and bygone era styles are presented flawlessly and transitions smoothly from one scene to the next. Kudos to Burdick for his work on this production.

Noah Himmelstein takes the helm of this superb production and presents the story clearly with a focused vision. It’s obvious he has a great comprehension of the text, the characters represented, and the message of the story. Himmelstein has amassed a balanced, well-rounded cast with a chemistry that is second to none and his staging is engaging, making for spot on pacing that is just about perfect. Himmelstein should be applauded for his impeccable work on this production.

Danny Gavigan as Joseph (foreground) and Cast. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Commenting on the performance aspect of this production, it’s worth mentioning that, according to this story, the Hollander family is a family driven by strong women, with Joseph being the only male amongst supportive females. Hellen Hedman as Berta, the matriarch of the Hollander family, plays her character as a woman who has an unencumbered faith in family and puts on a show of strength for her daughters and only son. Hedman is comfortable with her role and plays it with confidence.

In the same vein, Bari Hochwald plays Mania, the eldest sister, and she plays it in a way that makes this character relatable to anyone who has an older sister, like myself. She seems to portray this character as an obligated caretaker, as many eldest children feel, having a nice blend of being both strict and stern as well as compassionate for her family. The match with Everyman Theatre Resident Company member Wil Love as Salo, her husband, is brilliant and Love’s portrayal of a loving and supportive husband with a gentle demeanor is believable and charming.

Bruce Randolph Nelson. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Beth Hylton, an Everyman Theatre Resident Company member takes on the role of Klara, Joseph’s next eldest sister who seems to be a tough cookie, as well as Felicja Hollander, the first wife of Joseph. Playing these two vastly different characters is a representation of Hylton’s impressive skills as she plays Klara with a rough-around-the-edges but soft on the inside kind of sister and mother who manages to get along no matter what life throws at her and the snooty, uptight Felicja. Kudos to Beth Hylton on a remarkable performance. Along with Hylton’s Klara, Hanna Kelly tackles the role of Genka and the gender-bending role of Boy Arnold. Much like Hylton, Kelly’s portrayal of these roles is a natural and believable switching flawlessly between the anxious and nervous young immigrant, Boy

Arnold, and the young, optimistic, and hopeful Genka.

Megan Anderson and David Gavigan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Two highlights in this production are Everyman Theatre Resident Company members Megan Anderson and Daid Gavigan. Anderson takes the roles of Dola, Joseph’s sister to whom he seems to be closest, and Vita, Joseph’s second wife and lifelong love, and Gavigan takes on the titular role of Joseph, the man who kept correspondence with his family and tried to help them immigrate to the United States for as long as he possibly could. Anderson brings her usual energy and confidence to her roles that make her a joy to watch and she has a tight grasp on her strong, independent characters making for a remarkable performance. Gavigan, too, understands the nuances of his character, a conflicted and worried young man who is desperate to help his family. He has a good presence and is confident in this role and it makes for a fantastic performance that is the backbone of this production.

Bruce Randolph Nelson as Richard and Elliott Kashner as Craig. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Rounding out the cast are two more highlights – Elliott Kashner as Elliott, Joseph’s grandson, and Everyman Theatre Resident Company member Bruce Randolph Nelson as Richard, Joseph’s son. Both these actors bring the modern into this production amidst the flashbacks and memories and they do it seamlessly and they both have a deep comprehension of their characters and the text. Nelson brings a certain levity to this poignant piece that fits in perfectly without making a mockery of the story and his rollercoaster of emotions is clear making for an authentic performance that is a delight to experience. Kashner, who enters later in the piece, is absolutely believable with a great mix of flippancy that makes you want to smack him, a yearning to know his own history, and a compassion for his father. He has a confident presence on stage and it makes for an admirable performance, overall.

Final thought… The Book of Joseph is a poignant, heart-wrenching look into the life of one family during the turbulent and uncertain times during WWII. The story is well framed and structured even though it hops through time, it’s easy to follow in the way the script is laid out. It’s a story that incorporates hope, regret, love of family, survival, and moving on under extreme circumstances. It also has a certain amount of levity mixed in with the tragedy that gives the audience emotional peaks and valleys that make for great theatre. It reminds us of the untold stories of war and strife that don’t come to light until years later when those involved are long gone and we only have letters and documents to put the pieces of the past puzzle together. The performances are extraordinary and the script is well put-together making for a thoughtful and entertaining production as a whole. Once again, Everyman has not disappointed and you don’t want to miss this final production of the 2017-18 season.

This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s production of The Book of Joseph… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

 The Book of Joseph will play through June 10 at Everyman Theatre315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: DOT at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
title
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Family. You always love them but sometimes you don’t like them very much and that’s OK. The latest offering from Everyman Theatre, DOT by Coleman Domingo and Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, with Set Design by James Fouchard, Lighting Design by Harold F. Burgess II, Sound Design by Elisheba Ittoop, and Costume Design by David Burdick gives us a glimpse into the lives of a middle-class West Philadelphia family who are dealing with illness, change, and individual demons that are trying to get them down. All of these issues thrown into the pot make for an entertaining, bittersweet tale that is relatable and very important, tackling Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia in a way that is accessible to all audiences.

Dawn Ursula and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh


Set in present day in an old neighborhood in West Philadelphia, Dotty is the widowed matriarch of a middle class family with three grown children including two daughters and one son. Recently, the tables have turned and the children are finding they are all of a sudden taking care of mom rather than the other way around. When it comes to family, you deal, you compromise, and you make sacrifices. Family is just plain hard to deal with sometimes but then, nature likes to throw a curve ball and it throws Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia on top of everything else and the ball game changes completely.
As I’ve stated before, Everyman Theatre has not disappointed when it comes to sets for their productions and James Fouchard’s exquisite Set Design is no different. He has managed to recreate an elegant upper-middle class home that is still “homey” with working kitchen appliances and crown molding that’s to die for! Fouchard’s ingenuity shines through as the entire set makes a complete shift to the left during intermission for Act II. What was once a large kitchen and dining room (left to right) becomes ¼ kitchen, dining room, and large living room (left to right) within 15 minutes. His attention to detail from the tchotchkes around the room to the beautifully decorated Christmas tree is superb and authentic and Fouchard is to be commended for his striking design.
Lighting and Sound Design by Harold F. Burgess II and Elisheba Ittoop, respectively, is well thought out and absolutely appropriate to this piece. Burgess’ Lighting Design is spot on giving the audience cues to what time of day it is both inside and outside and sets the mood beautifully throughout the piece. Working in tandem with Lighting Design, Ittoop’s Sound Design works nicely, especially when a good old fashioned vinyl record of a bygone era is played on the record player giving a nostalgic feel to the entire piece. Along with that, whether scripted or otherwise, the song choices for this production near perfect and move the piece along with ease.
Yaegal T. Wlech, Paige Hernandez, and Dawn Ursula. Photo by Stan Barouh

Yaegal T. Wlech, Paige Hernandez, and Dawn Ursula. Photo by Stan Barouh


Costume Design by David Burdick is superb capturing the contemporary look of this middle-class family in West Philly. Not being a period piece, costumes are pretty much every day styles but Burdick’s design still shines as each character’s style is unique, adding to each character’s presence. Urban elegance is what I would call this costume plot and it works impeccably with this piece, adding to the value of the production.
The script for DOT (by none other than Coleman Domingo, a star of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead) is touching on a delicate topic and is funny and poignant at the same time so any director has to handle it adroitly but under the bright helm of Director Vincent M. Lancisi, this piece shines. Lancisi really understands this piece and uses the humor of the script wisely, catching the audience off guard, at times, and breaking up the drama of this emotional story. His characters are authentic and his casting makes for great chemistry onstage. He keeps the action moving smoothly and presents an on point and very well put together production.
Moving on to the performance aspect of DOT, this ensemble is impeccable. They work well together, have the right look, and each actor understands his or her character and the inner emotional factors and outside actions that move them.
Ryan Carlo Dalusung and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh

Ryan Carlo Dalusung and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh


Ryan Carlo Dalusung takes on the role of Fidel, a more supporting role of caregiver to our titular character, Dot, but just as significant as every other character in this piece. Dalusung gives strong performance as the Kazakhstani caregiver who answered a Craigslist ad and really seems to get his characters purpose of going through a similar situation as Dot, not really understanding everything that is going on at all times with the only difference being his handicap is a language barrier while Dot’s is more physical. I did have slight issue with his accent as I heard it as more South American or Spanish but it very could be Kazakhstani as Kazakhstan is placed smack dab in the middle between Russia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia… any one of those accents may have worked. Regardless of the accent, Dalusung gives a believable performance making his character very likable and befitting with the family for whom he works.
Rob Jansen and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh

Rob Jansen and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh


The role of Adam, the fussy husband of the only male of the family who has some demons of his own to contend with, is masterfully played by Rob Jansen. Adam is a 40-year-old who is possibly in the beginnings of a mid-life crisis and Jansen’s portrayal is near perfect. He gets this character and he is comfortable on the stage. He manages to show two sides of this character with one being the nagging husband of Donnie as well as the empathetic, sweet son-in-law of Dotty. His delivery may be a bit too careful at times, sounding a bit scripted and unnatural, but overall, his character is congenial he gives a confident and enjoyable performance.
Dawn Ursula, Paige Hernandez, and Yaegel T. Welch.  Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula, Paige Hernandez, and Yaegel T. Welch. Photo by Stan Barouh


Yaegel T. Welch tackles the role of Donnie, the prodigal (and only) son of Dotty, who is a 40-year-old freelance writer and middle child, who might not like the idea of his mother being sick. Welch’s portrayal of Donnie is absolutely outstanding as he navigates through the emotions of this character, dealing with the possibility of growing apart from his husband, not having a steady job in New York, caring for a sick parent, and wanting children. Throw in an ex-girlfriend and you have the makings of a pretty heavy character, but Welch takes this challenge and runs with it. His mannerisms and overall attitude make for a very authentic and affable character and, comparing to my brother, the middle child in my own family, Welch plays this role beautifully. His chemistry with his fellow cast mates is wonderful and he gives a strong, confident performance.
Dawn Ursula and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh


Shelly, the overbearing, eldest child who is also a stressed out, day-drinking single mom is played by Resident Artist Dawn Ursula, and she pulls off this role flawlessly. Her character, like many caretakers, feels as though she’s the only one of her siblings dealing with the situation of a sick parent while trying to stay afloat in her own life and the gesticulations and emotion that exudes from Ursula’s performance are outstanding. She captures the desperation and stress of this character but also gets the humor that is intertwined making for a very real and relatable. Her delivery might be a bit too forceful in the beginning, sounding too scripted and deliberate, but as the show progresses, her delivery falls into a very good rhythm, fitting in nicely with the show as a whole. I just wish it would have happened from the beginning. Ursula managed to get to the heart of this character and it makes for a very strong, entertaining, touching, and noteworthy performance.
Dawn Ursula and Paige Hernandez. Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula and Paige Hernandez. Photo by Stan Barouh


Paige Hernandez takes on the role of Averie, the youngest, brash, lost-all-give-a-f**k, one-time YouTube sensation, and she is a standout in this production. Though the character, with her loud entrances and blunt replies, seems to be the comic relief of the piece, Hernandez pulls off the character with excellence and ease.  She is very natural and confident in this role and her comedic timing and delivery are spot on. Being the youngest in my family, I can assure you, her attitude toward and actions in the situations that arise in the show are just about perfect. I think the youngest of any brood has his or her own ideas on how things run and, usually, he or she thinks she absolutely right and Hernandez portrays this in a way that hits home for me. Her performance is definitely funny, but it is also moving making the character of Averie well-rounded and well-performed. Kudos to Hernandez on a great performance.
Dawn Ursula and Megan Anderson. Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula and Megan Anderson. Photo by Stan Barouh


Another definitely highlight in this production of DOT is Resident Artist Megan Anderson, who takes on the role of Jackie, the high school sweetheart of Donnie and a current hot mess. Jackie has a plethora of problems of her own, but sometimes family doesn’t mean just blood related and she gets sucked into the situations of this family she’s known her entire life. Anderson is so natural in this role and brings a realness to it that it was easy for me to forget she was reading from a script. Her story of life in the big city, infidelity, being single, and coming home for a break from life is just as interesting as the main plot and Anderson carries it well. She plays her character to fit right in with this family and she shines in her performance. Her authenticity and comedic timing are impeccable, as are her emotional scenes, making her character amiable and relatable. Kudos to Anderson for a job very well done.
Sharon Hope with the Cast of DOT. Photo by Stan Barouh

Sharon Hope with the Cast of DOT. Photo by Stan Barouh


The pinnacle of this production certainly Sharon Hope, who takes on the titular role of Dotty (or Dot), the elderly, strong matriarch of this crazy family who, by fate alone, is slipping into an inevitable oblivion because of the recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Hope takes this role and makes it her own and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role. Though an elderly character, she’s a contemporary character and Hope manages to embrace the old fashioned (and conservative) values of this woman but brings an air of au fait to the character. Her quick transitions from congenial mother to angry, confused woman is on point and poignant. She is able to portray the struggles of one whose mind is slowly slipping away, with no way of coming back while at the same time portraying a woman who loves and enjoys her family and wants to be present for as long as she can. Her performance is top notch and is worth the price of admission.
Yaegel T. Welch, Dawn Ursula, Sharon Hope, Ryan Carlo Dalusung, and Paige Hernandez. Photo by Stan Barouh

Yaegel T. Welch, Dawn Ursula, Sharon Hope, Ryan Carlo Dalusung, and Paige Hernandez. Photo by Stan Barouh


Final though… DOT at Everyman Theatre is a well-crafted story of an everyday family and is a relatable, poignant, and funny study into an issue that is far from funny, but absolutely present in our current lives. I laughed, I cried, I had all the feels, and whether you’ve experienced Alzheimer’s or Dementia first hand, indirectly, or not at all, you will walk away with a better understanding and perhaps a bit more compassion for our fellow humans, especially those affected by this disease. Get your tickets now because this is not a production that is to be missed this season.
That’s what I thought about DOT, playing at Everyman Theatre… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, please go to Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
DOT will play through January 8 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.