Friday, May 9, 2008

Sweet Caroline

[Theater Review] It’s scary when a venue is small enough that the cast of a musical could be bigger than the audience. But up close is good for Wasatch Theatre Company’s production of Caroline, or Change.

In the Tony Kushner musical (few words are not sung), Caroline (Erica Richardson), a black single mother of four, cooks and cleans for—and butts heads with—a Jewish family in 1960s Louisiana. She also argues with her friends and kids about how to get ahead in a hostile world.

Requiring a mostly black cast singing pop and gospel, it’s an enormous challenge for a small Utah company. But with solid direction from Jim Martin, this is a winning group. Richardson, especially, is compelling and completely believable as a 37-year-old woman stuck in a job she hates and a family situation she can’t escape, denying dreams that have pretty much dried up like a raisin in the sun. This is no longsuffering, sympathetic Mammy; she’s angry and she’s bitter, and she lets the world know it. Without a missed step, Richardson draws us with a voice that seems energized by pain and deepened by hard experience.

I can’t think of any other actor in Utah who could have pulled off this performance, and I can’t think of any other play that would have given her the chance. Which means this is also a chance for us to see this blazing new talent in action before she (we hope) moves on to the bigger audiences she deserves.

Rose Wagner Studio Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, 801-355-ARTS, through May 17 (Christy Karras)

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