Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Now Circa Then

If you're interested in the history of the Lower East Side, you could go to the Tenement Museum, or you could see Carly Mensch's Now Circa Then at Ars Nova, or even better, make a day of it and do both. Though the play is more about relationship drama, there is a lot of history woven in, and funny, but educational bonus materials are handed out after the show.

The play takes place in a Lower East Side tenement house. The action begins as Gideon (Stephen Plunkett) and Margie (Maureen Sebastian), two historical reenactors playing immigrant couple Julian and Josephine, begin our tour. Gideon is a history enthusiast and an expert reenactor while Margie is a recent transplant from Michigan and just needs a job. Some of the action takes place during the tour and sometimes we see Gideon and Margie interacting on their downtime. Plunkett and Sebastian make it easy to follow whether or not they are in character with subtle changes in posture and voice.

Each act is cleverly set up in a different part of the house. It starts in the parlor as Gideon and Margie get to know each other, then moves into the kitchen as they become involved romantically, and finally ends up in the bedroom, as things start to get serious and complicated. Plunkett and Sebastian easily adapt to the shifts and tone throughout the piece. Though Gideon is an annoying know-it-all, Plunkett makes him likable with a hint of vulnerability. Sebastian is hilarious in Margie's clueless moments, but also manages to make her pain and confusion palpable in later scenes.

As believable as Plunkett and Sebastian are in their roles, I question a few aspects of the play. I'm not an expert on museums, but it seems that eventually someone would catch on that the reenactors are going severely off-course or that a museum patron would complain. Still, it's easy to overlook and get caught up in the relationship between both couples. As an added bonus, Ars Nova is one of the best deals in town. All tickets are $25 and if sign up for a free Super Nova membership online, you get a free drink at every show.

Photo credit: Carol Rosseg

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