At Trinity: Sueño confounds and enchants

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At PPAC: Dear Evan Hansen is all heart

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Daniel Duque-Estrada as Segismundo, seen here in his prison. Photo by: Mark Turek.

Stephen Christopher Anthony as Evan Hansen, with the North American touring company of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by: Matthew Murphy (2019).

   Wow!

   Sueño means dream in English. The play called Sueño certainly possesses all the characteristics of a dream and much more.

   For instance, in this unusual piece of theater sometimes we don’t even know who the characters really are, and neither do they. Nor do they always know if what is happening is reality or possibly a fugue state. That’s all right, though. In fact, it’s partly the point.

   On stage through May 8 at Trinity Rep, the circa 1635 Spanish play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca as adapted by José Rivera, is part farce, part love story, and part ironic tragedy. It hilariously replicates the confusion and random circumstances of a dream at the same time it plumbs the depths of life-defining philosophies.

   Sueño does it all with irrepressible humor and incisive seriousness too, offering complex perspectives on the human condition, contemplating what motivates the passions and follies of kings as well as the common person, while it simultaneously illustrates the fog of contradictions that characterize our very existence, our assumptions about what everything signifies.

   Its nine characters, some of whom assume dual identities, represent various social strata ranging from royalty to prison guards. Almost everyone’s identity is somewhat fluid.

   At the center of the plot are Spanish King Basilio and his son Segismundo. Basilio has the prince imprisoned at birth when an astrological analysis convinces him that Segismundo will grow up to become a tyrannical king and set off a destructive civil war.

   After 25 years he is discovered by Rosaura and Clarin, her Sancho Panza-like servant. Rosaura is a young woman disguised as a man, who is seeking revenge against Duke Astolfo, cousin to Segismundo. Astolfo, not knowing about Segismundo and believing that Basilio has no heirs, is a pretender to the throne of Basilio. Previously, Astolfo had defiled Rosaura and taken up with Princess Estrella, which are the reasons why Rosaura wants to kill him.

   Are you following this? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t really matter. The players make it all come as clear as possible and entertain you immensely as they do.

For my full review, click HERE

   On opening night, audience members at the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) showed their love for Dear Evan Hansen with torrents of applause. The production deserves the enthusiastic outpouring it received.

   With a premise that seems unique, the musical employs an ingenious device to tell the story of a high school student – Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony) who is so traumatized by a deep and painful sense of insecurity and social isolation that his therapist has him writing letters to himself. It is prescribed as a way to develop some objectivity and gain awareness of his potential.

   Connor Murphy (Nikhil Saboo), a schoolmate he barely knows, is even more troubled. Drug use is leaving him profoundly depressed. Their one encounter is ominous and intimidating for Hansen, who later learns that Connor has committed suicide.  

   In his belligerent confrontation with Evan, Connor had swiped one of Evan’s letters to himself. Connor found the letter in a printer at the school computer lab. When after his death, his family learns of the letter, it is mistakenly perceived as a suicide note addressed to Hansen by Connor. When they become aware of it, they take comfort from it.

   Beset with timidity and doubt, and extremely self-absorbed by his woeful lack of social skills, Evan, meekly and half-hearted, tries to explain that he wrote it. However, Connor’s parents are so eager to find something redeeming in the letter’s ambiguous message that he is unable to crush their hope.

For my full review, click HERE

From my Journals 

At Trinity: Gem of the Ocean gleams and cuts deep

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Rose Weaver as Aunt Ester and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley as Solly Two-Kings in August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean at Trinity Rep. Photo by: Mark Turek.

   August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean is on stage in Trinity Rep’s Elizabeth and Malcom Chace performance space upstairs at the Lederer Theater, 201 Washington Street, Providence through March 27.

   Set in 1904 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it comes first chronologically in the much-acclaimed ten play American Century Cycle by Wilson. The prodigious series chronicles each decade of the African American experience over the course of the 20th century.

   In the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Wilson’s sure hands this rich and textured play manages to be mythic and allegorical at the same time that it is naturalistic. There is such a wealth of cultural symbolism, historical facts, and spiritual metaphors that it is a challenge to digest it all in the two-and-a-half-hour course of the play.

   At the story’s center is 285-year-old Aunt Ester, a former slave who is known for her power to cleanse souls. A quick mental calculation reveals that she was born in 1619, the year that the first African slaves arrived in the country which was to become the United States, coming as terrified captives, treated as commodities, and subjected to de-humanizing conditions.

   Aunt Ester’s personal journey from chattel to mystic seer spans the arc of race relations and racial identity formation in America both before and after the formal establishment of the nation.

For my full review, click HERE

 Guest Appearances

  Written May 16, 2003 at 12:10 a.m. at home, the farm   

At 11:14 p.m. last night (just 56 minutes ago) my mother and I picked our way over the side (south) lawn here at the farm house to witness a total lunar eclipse.  

     She was in her slippers. It was very dark and, at 85, with serious arthritis in her left ankle, I held her hand much as through the years of childhood she held mine, and together we marveled at the wonders of nature as we wobbled, unsteady, over the sod. 

Written July 21, 2005, Home, the Farm, at 2 a.m.   

   An occasional lunch companion tells me a story about going (somewhat reluctantly) with an undertaker friend to Montreal, Canada to collect a body.

   Upon their return to the funeral home in Woonsocket, Rhode Island the undertaker invited my lunch companion inside. He was not keen on the idea, but he acquiesced.

   Once in the work area, he sought things to look at so as not to have to watch the procedure of preparing the body for viewing.    The undertaker directed my companion’s attention to racks and racks of neckties and belts.

   “There must have been 200 belts and 200 neckties,” said my lunch partner. The undertaker invited him to take one, but he felt odd doing so. Yet, he didn’t want to offend the man by refusing his offer.

   So, he looked over a number of belts before finally settling on a heavy, thick workman’s belt.

    "That was the one I wanted,” recounted my companion.

   Then he continued. He explained how he took the belt home. He took it into the bedroom. There his wife had a dresser with finials on the back corners.

   “I made a knot in a loop of that big old belt, and I hung it on that bureau. That thing stayed there a good 20 years.”

   He paused. “It changed my life.”

 

 

COMING SOON