×

Now Circa Then

It's bittersweet to see Carly Mensch debut her finest play so far just as she heads to LA to write for "Weeds."

With:
Gideon - Stephen Plunkett Margie - Maureen Sebastian

It’s bittersweet to see Carly Mensch debut her finest play so far just as she heads to Los Angeles to write for “Weeds.” “Now Circa Then,” Mensch’s sweet-spirited two-hander, stars Stephen Plunkett and Maureen Sebastian as historical reenactors at a venue a lot like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, realized by designer Lauren Helpern in a great-looking period set that allows the actors plenty of space to play in (it also barely fits into tiny venue Ars Nova, to the dismay of aud members seated to the set’s extreme left). Both characters, as you might imagine, are also living in the past in less literal ways.

Margie, for example, is in New York trying to escape her family in Michigan, where her folks expected her to end up pretty much like Josephine, the woman she plays at the museum: a domestic slave with five kids and no prospects.

Sebastian has a ball playing Margie as Josephine, with all the stiff posturing of an amateur performer in an amateur profession, but it’s her portrayal of Margie proper that really gives the play its depth. A little bit crazy, a little bit sad, a little bit desperate, Margie careens from extreme to extreme until she finally has to decide whether to collapse in self-pity and recrimination at the end of the show or stand up straight. Sebastian’s portrayal is so volatile that we’re not sure whether she’ll pull it out until the end of the show.

Popular on Variety

As her foil Gideon, Plunkett is lower-key but not eclipsed; Gideon’s sarcastic asides and casual narcissism (the acting “lesson” he gives Margie is one of the funniest scenes in the play) make for several excellent jokes, and his pining for his dead mother — hence the desire to live in the past — gives the character plenty of pathos. When the two reenactors decide to perform (in private) the less tourist-friendly part of their characters’ marriage, the play really lifts off.

Ars Nova a.d. Jason Eagan has directed the proceedings so smoothly that it’s easy to forget about some of the play’s missed opportunities. Margie, who has a Filipino ethnic background, is mistaken for Hispanic by her racist landlady, but it’s just a one-off reference. Margie also appears to have a very complicated relationship with her family, which we never hear explained very fully — the same with Gideon and his widowed dad.

But none of this keeps “Now Circa Then” from being thoroughly charming for its brief running time. Still, it’s just enough to make you wish that Mensch had set her sights a little higher — her last few funny-sad plays have accomplished a lot of the same things we see here. Here’s hoping she finds an idea big enough to challenge her.

Now Circa Then

Ars Nova; 99 seats; $25 top

Production: An Ars Nova presentation of a play in one act by Carly Mensch. Directed by Jason Eagan.

Creative: Set, Lauren Helpern; costumes, Jenny Mathis; lighting, Traci Klainer; sound and original music, Ryan Rumery; production stage manager, Damon W. Arrington. Opened Sept. 27, 2010. Reviewed Sept. 25. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast: Gideon - Stephen Plunkett Margie - Maureen Sebastian

More Legit

  • Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening

    'West Side Story' Broadway Opening Night Sparks Protests

    Roughly 100 protestors gathered outside the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” on Thursday night, carrying placards and chanting in unison to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they cried while holding signs that read “Keep predators off the stage,” “Sexual predators shouldn’t get [...]

  • West Side Story review

    'West Side Story': Theater Review

    Whittled down to one hour and forty-five minutes, “West Side Story” – with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins — has grown exceedingly dark and mislaid some of its moving parts in the new Broadway revival from edgy Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. (Can [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Closing in March After Box Office Struggles

    “The Inheritance,” a sprawling and ambitious epic that grappled with the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, will close on March 15. The two-part play has struggled mightily at the box office despite receiving strong reviews. Last week, it grossed $345,984, or 52% of its capacity, a dispiriting number for a show that was reported to [...]

  • MCC theater presents 'Alice By Heart'

    Steven Sater on Adapting 'Alice by Heart' From a Musical to a Book

    When producers approached lyricist Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”) to adapt Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into a musical, his initial reaction was to recoil. His initial thought was that the book didn’t have a beginning, middle and an ending. But Sater pulled it off with his production of “Alice By Heart.” After an off-Broadway [...]

  • The Lehman Trilogy review

    Sam Mendes' 'Lehman Trilogy' Kicks off Ahmanson's New Season

    Sam Mendes’ “The Lehman Trilogy,” which took London’s West End by storm will be part of the Ahmanson’s lineup for the 2020-21 season. It will be joined by Broadway hits “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Artistic director Michael Ritchie announced the season that will also feature four fan favorites and another production to be [...]

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content