By Iris Dauterman; Directed by Victoria Teague
Produced by Spicy Witch Productions
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 4.15.18
Flamboyán Theater at The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Sarah Weber on 4.13.18
Dani Martineck and Veronique Jeanmarie in Merrily, Merrily.
BOTTOM LINE: Stephen is supposed to return home from the psychiatric facility, but neither he nor his family are sure if they’re ready for a reunion.
Stephen hasn’t seen his adopted family in ten years, but that’s about to change. The therapist at Tower Psychiatric Facility is trying to ensure the snarky, too-smart-for-his-own-good teen is ready to return home, but getting Stephen to open up about his feelings is akin to fumbling with a puzzle box. Stephen reminds the therapist "I'm not allowed to have complicated feelings." This clever double statement about mental health and unhealthy gender norms is one of the many gems to look forward to in Iris Dauterman’s new play Merrily, Merrily.
Dauterman is Spicy Witch Production’s (SWP) writer-in-residence this season. Every year SWP supports a female-identifying or non-binary playwright in adapting a classic text; the adaptation and the original are then presented in repertory so that audiences can experience their similarities and differences. Merrily, Merrily is Dauterman’s adaptation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 17th-century play La vida es sueño, and plays in rep with Shawn Morgenlander's English translation of that piece Life is But a Dream. Both plays are also part of The Clemente’s Fearless Series. Dauterman sets Calderón’s story in the present with a focus on themes of mental illness, gender roles, and how our past shapes our perceptions of the present.
Stephen, masterfully played by Dani Martineck, was placed in a psychiatric facility for exhibiting violent tendencies at a young age. Now that he's seventeen, we see the ways Stephen’s two worlds, at home and in the facility, collide. With a deft use of double casting, both Stephen’s family and the patients and staff at the facility are portrayed by the same actors. For instance, when Nick Bombicino isn’t trying to coax Stephen out of his shell as the therapist, he’s at home as the father trying to understand if the mother, played by Veronique Jeanmarie, is on the same page about Stephen’s homecoming. Meanwhile, Jeanmarie also portrays the doctor who has the thankless job of administering Stephen’s medicine. So, when mom and dad give Stephen too much medicine and he can no longer figure out where he is or who’s who, the audience experiences his whirlwind confusion with him. Will Stephen ever be able to separate reality from fantasy? Will he ever be able to return home?
Even as all of the characters’ dreams and expectations fall apart, Dauterman’s dark humor also brings a kind of optimism to the show. She has a beautiful way of shedding a warm light on even her characters’ darkest flaws. At first, Stephen's mother seems to have less than nurturing feelings about her child—she doesn't see a problem with considering him more "roommate" than son. Dauterman writes this character with compassion, however, rather than judgment, which allows the mom to be far more interesting than a mere “bad mom” trope. And this cast is more than up to the task of bringing Dauterman’s unique voice to life.
Theatre is meant to be collaborative, at its best when all the elements mix together seamlessly. In addition to Merrily, Merrily’s outstanding performances, I could spend days fixated on Caitlyn Barrett’s delightfully creepy scenic design. The cherry on top is director Victoria Teague’s expert use of the 360-degree space. Blocking a show effectively in the round is a challenge in and of itself. To do so gracefully, demonstrating Stephen’s internal chaos without overly confusing the audience is an extraordinary feat.
If you have even a modicum of free time, I urge you to catch Merrily, Merrily before it closes this weekend. For the full Spicy Witch experience, you should also see Life is But a Dream—this is a double feature you don’t want to miss.
(Merrily, Merrily plays at the Flamboyán Theater, 107 Suffolk Street, through April 15, 2018. Performances are Fri 4/6 at 7:30, Sat 4/7 at 2, Tue 4/10 at 8, Thu 4/12 at 8, Sat 4/14 at 8, and Sun 4/15 at 2. Tickets are $20, or $30 for both Merrily, Merrily and Life is But a Dream. To purchase tickets, and for more information, visit spicywitchproductions.com.)
Merrily, Merrily was written by Iris Dauterman. Directed by Victoria Teague. Scenic Design by Caitlynn Barrett. Composition by Nick Bombicino. Lighting Design by Yi-Chung Chen. Sound Design by Carsen Jewell Joenk. Props Design by Megan McQueeney. Costume Design by Noelle Quanci. Fight Choreography by Cristina Ramos. Stage Manager was Frances Swanson. Assistant Stage Manager was Sara Nishimura.
The cast is Nick Bombicino, Veronique Jeanmarie, Dani Martineck, Isabelle Russo, and Stephen Zuccaro.