Theatre Review: “Caroline, or Change”
Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s musical “Caroline, or Change,” directed by Chase Kniffen for Cadence Theatre Company, centers around single mother and maid, Caroline Thibodeaux, played by Desiree Roots.
Set in the 1960’s in Louisiana, Caroline is the maid for an affluent Jewish family, The Gellman’s. Caroline has a close relationship with The Gellman’s young son, Noah, played by Brandon McKinney. Noah looks up to Caroline and loves how she lets him light her daily cigarette for her.
The relationship between Caroline and The Gellman’s becomes strained when Noah’s new stepmother Rose Stopnick Gellman, a former New Yorker played by Bianca Bryan, decides to teach Noah a lesson by letting Caroline keep any loose change she finds in the boy’s pockets when she’s doing laundry. Caroline feels insulted by the suggestion at first, but eventually keeps the change so she can give her kids some money to buy toys and treats, as well as pay some overdue bills.
Caroline’s children love and admire their mother, even though Caroline’s headstrong, budding activist, daughter, Emmie, played by Tyandria Jackson, is contentious and not in support of her mother’s profession.
Mrs. Gellman is often left alone to tend to Noah, whose father, played by John Winn, is constantly practicing his clarinet. The two women try their hardest to make their home lives easy for their children, which makes the character’s slightly more similar than either of them believes each other to be.
As the play unfolds, international incidents occur in the background, like the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam War, further reinforcing the theme of “change” in the musical, be it literal or figurative.
The washing machine, dryer, radio, bus, and moon are all played by actors. Which was a bit confusing at first, but actually really grew on me as the musical progressed. This detail, for me, served as a visualization of Caroline’s imagination and how she entertains herself downstairs in the basement as she’s doing the laundry.
Desiree Roots is amazing as Caroline. Her voice is commanding and very clear. Roots continues to be one of the most authentic actresses I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Bianca Bryan is fantastic as the uptight and usually very stressed out Rose. She delivers every line with precision and has a gorgeous singing voice.
Brandon McKinney gives great depth to Noah and is professional in his performance, playing the at-times quite petulant child, brilliantly. Tyandria Jackson blew me away with her performance of Emmie. She has amazing energy and her vocals are always on point. Honorable mentions go to Carolyn Meade, playing Caroline’s friend and fellow maid, Dotty Moffet. Meade’s performance is memorable and gives the audience some insight into Caroline’s character.
I really enjoyed watching a musical of this size in the small Theatre Gym space.
It feels very intimate. The set by Chase Kniffen consists of a large split staircase that sits center stage and panels that move and change on either side. The set is amazing and dynamic, my only issue was that the entire front is painted in an outdoor scene even when the action is happening inside the Gellman’s house, so it was a bit disorienting at times.
“Caroline, or Change” is playing in the Theatre Gym at VA-Rep through March 14th.
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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