Review: Everything is Wonderful at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Different cultures have different ways of dealing with tragedy. Most will encourage looking to your faith to find a higher meaning than what we mere mortals can imagine. Some encourage forgiveness to those who have wronged you and, some go even further to encourage forgive and forget. How do you forgive and forget someone who has taken the lives of your loved ones, accident or not? Everyman Theatre’s latest production, Everything is Wonderful by Chelsea Marcantel, Directed by Noah Himmelstein, tries to answer this tough question as we see tragedy and loss through from the viewpoints of a family in crisis, a young man full of guilt, and a man who believes he’s near perfect because he’s practically been told so his whole life.

Bruce Randolph Nelson, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

In a nutshell, Everything is Wonderful concerns itself with an Amish family who lost two sons when a drunk driver smashed into their buggy, a daughter who doesn’t seem cut out for the Amish life, and a culture that forgives and forgets, but only on the surface. Ultimately, I gathered this piece is about following your own conscience to find forgiveness, regardless of what those around you may think or do.

Marcantel’s text is easy to follow and presents these complex problems in simple terms which is why I believe this script is so successful. The dialogue is natural and it flows as conversation between folks should. She has a good comprehension of the subject matter and creates a world into which we can step and be a part of the story making for an enjoyable evening of theatre.

L-R: Steve Polites, Bruce Randolph Nelson*, Tony Nam, Alex Spieth, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The story that Chelsea Marcantel weaves is flawless and Noah Himmelstein has given us simple, yet engaging presentation with the help Daniel Ettinger’s exquisite Set Design. Himmelstein and Ettinger use the space well and the action moves at a great pace working in tandem with a precise and effective Lighting Design by Cory Pattak that puts us in each appropriate location without a bunch of bells and whistles. Sometimes less is more and it is absolutely true for this production and both Ettinger and Pattak knock it out of the ballpark.

L-R: Alex Spieth, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Tony Nam, Deborah Hazlett, Hannah Kelly. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Himmelstein has a tight grasp on this material and his staging is immaculate. He keeps the audience interested in the story by using practically the entire theatre with the correct entrance and exit points while keeping a good flow without a lot of clunky scene changes, which is what I’ve come to love about theatre these days… not a lot of, if any, blackouts, unless they are absolutely appropriate. It’s the details that make this production so successful, as well. For instance, the slight accent of the Amish characters is so authentic, both Himmelstein and the performers are to be applauded for their efforts. Overall, Himmelstein hit the nail on the head with this and should be commended for his work.

Bruce Randolph Nelson, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The cast is simply amazing, and I mean every single one of them. Resident Company member Bruce Randolph Nelson portrays Jacob, the patriarch of the Amish family and, he completely embodies this character taking on all of his trials and troubles. He seems comfortable in this role and his performance is strong and confident making him a standout in this piece in both his authenticity with the role and his gentle handling of the character. Along with Nelson, another Resident Company member, Deborah Hazlett shines as Esther, the matriarch, and the mixed, bottled up emotions just spill out of her throughout this production. She has a deep understanding of this character and her portrayal of her, as a grieving, staunch mother is impeccable. Both Nelson and Hazlett, through their performances, bring home the message of forgiveness in their portrayals of these two characters, and not just surface forgiveness, but true and deep forgiveness, even in the hardest of situations.

Tony Nam, Alex Spieth. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Two highlights in this production are Alex Spieth, who tackles the role of Miri, a former Amish girl and estranged daughter to Jacob and Esther, and Tony Nam, who takes on the role of Eric, the driver of the car that hit the buggy, taking the lives of Jacob and Esther’s sons. Both Spieth and Nam are able actors who have a good comprehension of their characters and portray them naturally in both delivery of the dialogue and in manner. Eric wants to get in and Miri has gotten out, and is fine with her choices and the conflict between these two characters is beautifully presented by Speith and Nam and both give strong, confident, and poignant performances.

Steve Polite and Hannah Kelly. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Rounding out the small ensemble, the adorable Hannah Kelly takes on the role of Ruth, the good daughter, who is content with her Amish life and wants to be a good person and is a good person, and the dashing Steve Polites, tackles the role of Abram, the tall, handsome, boy next door who seems to be the apple of the community’s eye, but has a secret dark side. Kelly undoubtedly knows her character inside and out and her portrayal is authentic, and, because of her portrayal, you can’t help but like this character from the get. She invokes a gentleness that’s believable and gives a tender performance that is required of this young girl. Polites has a strong command of the stage (it doesn’t hurt that he’s a little over 6’ in height, or so it seems) and his voice is smooth and booming, which works very nicely with this character. He takes this character and makes it his own, walking the line between the perfect son and the devil among us, making for an intriguing and exciting performance.

Final thought…  Everything is Wonderful at Everyman Theatre is a poignant, thoughtful piece that makes us look into our own selves and question what we would do in a certain situation. From Set Design to Costumes Design to performance, this production is not one you want to miss this season. There’s not one performer who can’t hold his or her own and the material is through provoking with dashes of humor that take the audience on a roller coaster of all the feels. It enlightens us about a culture that is seemingly veiled in plain sight and puts us all on a level playing field. If you don’t have your tickets already, get them now. I reiterate… you do not want to miss this one.

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

Everything is Wonderful will play through February 24 at Everyman Theatre, 315 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

Like Backstage Baltimore on  Facebook and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

 

Review: Aubergine at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

(l-r) Glenn Kubota as Father and Tony Nam as Ray. Credit: Stan Barouh

The memories people keep are vast and varied but most people have at least some memories that involve food. Even most of the greatest chefs of our time will remember, are inspired by, and mention his or her “momma’s cooking” and the memories it induces. Breaking bread with someone is one of the most civil acts we, as a species, can participate in to express our humanity toward one another and breaking bread with family is one of the most special and loving acts we commit in our lives. With that being said, we all have different tastes; some like simple cuisine while others enjoy more complex dishes, and even within our own family, our tastes clash and mirror our lives away from the dinner table. In Everyman Theatre’s latest offering, Aubergine by Julia Cho (in association with Olney Theatre Center), Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, gives us a glimpse into the lives of an Asian-American family in the last days of the father and how even in the most strained and estranged relationships, there’s hope for a reconciliation or redemption when we take the time to learn about one another and see each other from a different angle.

(l-r) Negan Anderson, Tony Nam, and Eunice Bae. Credit: Stan Barouh

Briefly, Aubergine follows the story of Ray, a young Asian-American chef, as he processes the passing and last few days of his father, with whom he’s had a strained and volatile relationship with for most of his life. The father, is a stern, simple man who doesn’t seem to appreciate the more stylish, complex life Ray has chosen to live. When Ray is called to care of his dying father, he reconnects with a jilted lover, Cornelia, who still has strong feelings for Ray, and his estranged Uncle from Korea. Together, through a language and cultural barrier and food, they learn to process the passing of this man they knew at different times and realize the lessons he’s taught them through his actions.

(l-r) Glenn Kubota as Father and Tony Nam as Ray. Credit: Stan Barouh

Technically, Everyman Theatre has not disappointed thus far and Aubergine is no different. Set Design by Misha Kachman is intelligent and appropriate using a unit set that can be used to portray different locations using set pieces that are easily set up and taken away, not interrupting the flow of the piece. The modern setting is authentic and adds value to the piece as a whole. Along with Kachman’s Set Design, Light Design by Harold F. Burgess II and Sound Design by Roc Lee work in tandem to help tell and move this story along. With isolated lighting on various sections of the stage at certain times, Burgess manages to set the mood for each scene beautifully while Roc matches the mood with traditional and modern music, as well as impeccable sound effects to represent certain locations. Overall, Kachman, Burgess, and Lee should be applauded and commended for their efforts in this production.

(l-r) Eunice Bae as Cornelia and Tony Nam as Ray. Credit: Stan Barouh

Vincent M. Lancisi, Founding Artistic Manager of Everyman Theatre, takes the helm of this piece and presents it simply with a clear vision. His staging is superb as the pacing is consistent which moves the story along nicely. This is a tricky subject matter that should be handled with kid gloves, and Lancisi has managed to present it respectfully and with due diligence, but truthfully, as well. His decision to use subtitles is wise as a lot of this dialogue is in Korean and this helps the audience keep up without sacrificing the tempo of the piece. His casting is splendid and his cast comes together as naturally as any real family going through this type of situation. It’s clear that Lancisi has a firm comprehension of this delicate material.

Moving on the performance aspect of this piece, Everyman Theatre Resident Company member Megan Anderson takes on the supporting role of Diane and Hospital Worker and though her stage time is light, she makes the most of it, starting off the show with the first of a few monologues, setting the tone nicely and setting the stage for the piece as a whole.

(l-r) Jefferson A. Russell as Lucien and Tony Nam as Ray. Credit: Stan Barouh

Jerfferson A. Russell takes on the role of Lucien, the hospice nurse assigned to Ray’s father. Russell shines in this role and he seems to completely embody this special type of character who must have a perilous balance of compassion and logic dealing with death and the family members left behind. Russell has a great presence and understands his character and his part in the hospice process, making for a confident and authentic performance.

(l-r) Tony Nam as Ray and Song Kim as Uncle. Credit: Stan Barouh

The son, Ray, has an unlikely support system in this story and Eunice Bae tackles the role of Cornelia, the younger, but just as mature girlfriend and Song Kim takes on the role of Uncle, the brother of Ray’s father who is almost a stranger to Ray, but understands the value of family and travels far to be with him. Both of these actors are standouts in this production. Bae is outstanding in this bi-lingual role and she really grasps the meaning of her character. She plays the character with a natural flare that fits it nicely. Bae understands that this character is kind of the caregiver for the caregiver and, though she is not obligated to take on such responsibility, steps up and does so. Her comprehension of the character is clear and she is comfortable in the role, playing her confidently.

Kim, too, is impressive in his role which requires speaking Korean more than English (having only a few lines or words in English), he manages to play this character in a way we can understand exactly what he is saying (even though there are clear subtitles). This really displays his aptitude as an actor knowing how to communicate non-verbally, but clearly. His chemistry with his cast mates is spot on and his comprehension of the material and his character make for an outstanding performance.

(l-r) Tony Nam as Ray and Glenn Kubota as Father. Credit: Stan Barouh

Lastly, we have Glenn Kubota as Ray’s Father and Tony Nam as Ray, the two characters around whom this entire story revolves. Kubota is absolutely authentic as an immigrated Asian father (I grew up with one, I know all too well) and he hits the nail on the head in his performance. It’s like watching my own father up on the stage and it was both eerie and poignant, for just a moment, seeing my father here with me again. Though Kubota doesn’t have many lines, his performance is stellar. I admit, I may be biased, considering my life experiences, but Kubota wears this character like a perfectly fitting glove. He has a complete grasp on this character and plays it to the hilt making for an incomparable performance.

The character of Ray holds a special place in my heart as well, being a character to whom I can completely and utterly relate. Growing up American with deep Asian roots can be tricky and it’s a delicate balance one must keep and Nam portrays this flawlessly. He embodies his character and emotes the conflict of resentment and love he has for his father, which many folks have, I suppose, and makes it easy for the audience to connect with and relate to him. He has a good command of the stage, a great chemistry with his cast mates, and has a deep understanding of his character making for a splendid performance.

Tony Nam as Ray. Credit: Stan Barouh

Final thought… Aubergine is a heart-wrenching look at strained family relationships and regrets in the last days of a loved one’s life, but it’s also a redemption, of sorts, with new connections and positive self-realizations. It’s an emotional roller-coaster that brings out the best and worst in family relationships, especially between fathers and sons, when they are separated not only by generation but by culture and taste. This one hit home hard for me, experiencing the passing of my own father just last June, but this piece presents the hospice process exceedingly well with poignancy as well as with a pinch of humor, giving a well-blended mix of ups and downs that make for a good drama. The performances are authentic and natural, and the characters are extremely relatable. The staging and pacing is on point making for an impeccable evening of theatre. The passing of a loved one is never easy, no matter how your relationship played out, but this piece is a great account of how things could be handled and what happens in those final days. Do yourself a favor – grab your tissues and get out to experience this show! It’s not one you want to miss this season.

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

Aubergine will play through April 15 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online. As an added bonus, use the online code FOODIE18 for a 20% discount on tickets!

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook  and Follow us out Twitter @BackstageBmore and Instagram @backstagebaltimore