Monday, August 23, 2010

Carry It On! By Ellen Geer

By Joe Straw

Theatricum Botanicum is a very relaxing place to see theatre.  The people are friendly and one has the feeling of being one with nature.  It is so peaceful one takes the time to notice a loved one, the sparkle in her eyes, and the way an afternoon sea breeze gently brushes the hair from her face.  It’s a place where one can take a breath and absorb.

The performance of Carry It On! caught everyone in this audience by surprise.  Not sure what happened but somewhere near the beginning deep rooted feelings overcomes the audience and they openly weep at the vision on stage. Tissues come out and sobs are heard all around.  Because it is a daylight performance, one cannot be hidden by the darkness, and the audience is a mess. But nevertheless, one can truly relax and absorb the love and just let the emotions go in this lovely amphitheatre. 

Carry It On! is a delightful history lesson written and directed by the incomparable Ellen Geer.   One that will make you laugh and cry and one that encourages the audience to sing to their hearts content.  (Those that can belt out a good number are encouraged to attend.)

But what is it about this performance that touches so many heartstrings?  If you care about humanity, the people who made history, and the against all odds strength inside of them, then you will love this show!

Geer presents a picture that is almost all-inclusive. Presented here are humans, black and white, red and brown, the famous and the infamous, rich and the poor, the sympathetic and the unsympathetic, the dastardly and the compassionate.

But what does the indefatigable Geer do that makes us want to come back for more?  How does she do it?  And when does she find the time to do it.  It’s all about the love of her craft.

The play starts with the shameful episode of slavery in American history and takes us to the present day.

There is something about immigrants coming on ship to America that absolutely tugs on the heartstrings. Ellen Geer stages this beautifully. She is a master craftsman (person/woman) and a consummate professional, writing songs, playing a few instruments and taking on a few rolls as well, Mother Jones and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Is there anything she cannot do?  

Ellen’s staging has a purpose and manages to push the audience buttons in the process.  What is remarkable is the craft of acting.  Although budget constraints leave the actors (for the most part) in modern day dress, they are able to overcome their appearance through the art of the craft.  A show this vast does not have the luxury of dressing Civil War soldiers, suffrage women’s movement, and Nazi Germany all in the span of two hours.

While the history lesson is huge in scope ending to the present day there are some very fine performances in this hard working cast.

A Native American (Michael Keith Allen) sits gently above us all and tells us how it is with nature. 

Rachel Applebaum as Mary Todd Lincoln has a voice against slavery.  

Daniel Chacon does a nice turn as Caesar Chavez as well as Reies Lopez Tijerina. 

A doleful-eyed Mollyann Davis has a very nice moment as Anne Frank.

Lucero Garcia gives us a nice little turn as Martha Graham. (Yes, this is a pun.)

Willow Geer was fantastic as Emily Dickinson. It’s the little character traits that make her performance wonderful to watch.

William Dennis Hunt is always fantastic, here playing Walt Whitman.  Hunt is a working actor that manages to find roles all over town. There is such sincerity and joy watching him in his craft, as he seems to narrate throughout this entire production.

Mark Lewis does a fine job as Robert Frost.

Melora Marshall does not disappoint as Elizabeth Stanton.  She is a very fine actress.

Earnestine Phillips has a number of roles, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks.  She is quite incredible and a joy to watch.

Gerald C. Rivers does a mind-blowing impersonation of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Paul Turbiak was a sinister Henry Ford, a Snidely Whiplash of his day. 

Others in the cast were Jane Bacon, Melissa Camilo, Leah Gutentag, Rowena Johnson, Dave Mack, David Mamor, Andrew Ravani, Alice Sherman, Jackson Thompson, and Matt Van Winkle.  And not to make light of these performers they were wonderful and hard working and make up the whole of this wonderful production.

There are some caveats.  Native Americans were not very well represented here.  Also, the programs and literature suggest the play deals with Hispanics and for the most part the play is about Mexican Americans.

Also because there are so many characters the introductions to the audience gets to be laborious.  Some need no introductions, the words will tell you who they are, others need major introductions. Sometimes this show is a bit too wordy, and can use some judicious editing.

Still, Carry It On! is a wonderful history lesson and something for the whole family. One can sit back, pick or choose the lesson they like, and later study those individuals who made history on the web. 

August 7 through September 18, 2010
Saturdays at 4 pm:  August 7, 14th, 21st, 28th, September 11, 18
Sundays at 3:30 pm: September 5th, 26th

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