Now Circa Then

By Carly Mensch; Directed by Jason Eagan

Stephen Plunkett and Maureen Sebastian in Now Circa Then. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

BOTTOM LINE: A fun show about museum reenactors whose off-stage world bleeds into their on-stage life.

Now Circa Then is a surprisingly fresh show. The story involves two museum reeneactors who work in a tenement museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Gideon and Margie play Julian and Josephine, a couple from the 1890s who live in a tenement apartment. Gideon is the seasoned professional to Margie’s "green" performance. Right off the bat, the audience sees that Margie isn’t 100% comfortable in her role as Josephine. Real-life actor Maureen Sebastian plays the awkwardness of this situation brilliantly. In fact, both actors play their roles quite well.

The way the story is told is very unique. The scenes cut from the actors playing Julian and Josephine to behind the scenes with Gideon and Margie. What is fun to watch is that as Gideon and Margie’s relationship develops, so does the relationship of Julian and Josephine; sometimes too much of what is going on backstage comes out with Julian and Josephine on stage. It’s entertaining and helps the story evolve in some very hilarious ways.

The show is well-paced and holds the audience's attention from start to finish. A lot of that credit should go to the playwright for creating such an interesting structure. It’s well-suited for live theater and is very engaging. At the top of the show the actors (as Julian and Josephine) treat speak to the audience as if everyone is on a tour. This interaction is a fun way of breaking the fourth wall; it helps to draw the audience in.

Ars Nova provides an intimate setting, as the furthest seat in the house and is only four or five rows back. Lauren Helpern's set design is excellent and kudos to the prop department for finding such authentic looking items. The stage is well decorated and it creates an excellent playing area for the actors. I really enjoyed watching the actors interact in the space.

Now Circa Then is an impressive show to be performed by only two actors. Plunkett and Sebastian play well off each other and take the audience on one heck of a ride that is both hilarious and gripping. They put everything into these performances, which really delivers for an engaging show.

This play quite entertaining with serious moments that resonate. The themes of being an immigrant, being in your 20s, and figuring out what to do with your life are evocative. I recommend this show to theatre fans; it’s well worth its price.

(Now Circa Then plays at Ars Nova, 511 West 54th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, through October 9, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $25 and are available at or by calling 212.352.3101.)