Providence College's latest show is "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" by Bertolt Brecht. Based on an ancient Chinese legend, the show takes place in Soviet Georgia near the end of World War II. A kitchen maid, Grusha saves the governor's son, Michael from death after a coup takes place on Easter Sunday. We follow her exploits for the next two years as she flees to the north to escape from the soldiers. The real mother who is a jealous, greedy woman wants Michael back to claim her dead husband's fortune. A drunken judge, Azdak decides to use a Solomon type of test to determine who the child belongs to. The chalk circle is drawn and the child is pulled by both women. Since Grusha releases the boy both times, the judge gives her the decision proving the one who treats the boy humanely wins the judgement from him. Director David E. Sullivan and his talented college cast bring this parable to life in a theatre in the round, 90 minute presentation.
David directs the students beautifully, getting deep emotions from them within the context of their characters. He chooses Elisabeth Bailey, a terrific singer and actress to narrate this story to the audience. She weaves the tale, floating in and out of every scene in the show while singing original music by the talented, Steve Rougas, who accompanies her on the piano. This helps everyone understand what is going on. David also does a great job blocking his ensemble so every side of the audience is played to by the actors. The gorgeous and numerous costumes including Mongol warrior outfits are by David Cabral as is the utilitarian set. The lighting design by Sean Keating moves from each playing area to the next seamlessly, keeping the action flowing continuously. David and his crew do a wonderful job on a very difficult show.
The 17 member cast handles their multiple roles with ease. Betsey Jensen plays the enormous role of Grusha with the high energy and passion, it needs. She runs away from the guards with the baby, protecting him by fighting with them, climbing over dangerous passages and even marrying someone she doesn't love to keep Michael safe. Betsey also displays the tenderness needed with the baby and her true love, Simon. Daniel Janeiro as Simon, gives this soldier the heart he needs to forgive Grusha and help her keep Michael as her son after being betrayed by her marriage to another. Katie McBrine plays Natella, the real mother of Michael, who is a monster of a mother. She does great work as this shrewish, shrill harpie who demands to be given the riches she thinks she deserves while abusing her servants and heaping insults upon the lower classes. Michael Propster steals many scenes in his numerous roles but his best role is as the drunken judge, Azdak. His antics are hilarious as he insults and denigrates Grusha and everyone else in sight. His rulings are mixed up but he ends up doing the right thing by mistakenly giving Grusha a divorce from her tricked into marriage.
The lawyers defending Natella are played by Eric Jon Hanson who also plays the governor and Amy Hayes who also plays Grusha's bitchy rich sister-in-law. Eric delivers the attorney dialogue wonderfully, making you believe you are actually in a courtroom. Amy is just as good as the other lawyer but it is as the penny pinching sister-in-law that she really shines in especially when she makes sure Grusha is thrown out of her house at the end of winter. Stephen Pollak does a great job as the pompous, murderous Prince at the start of the show and does the same later on as the supposed dead husband who is really a draft dodging cad who gets Grusha to marry him. Conor Tansey, a talented freshman, plays Grusha's brother who convinces her to marry this sick man, so he can get her out of his rich wife's house. He shows he can handle a serious type of role as well as the comic one, having proven this earlier in the season in "A Flea in Her Ear". Another comic role in this show is played by Chris Ursillo as the head soldier. He gets to utter sexual threats at women and yell and abuse his soldiers.
The other cast members creating the numerous roles include John Roger Charest, Katie Cheely, Elizabeth Larsen-Silva, Kerry McCormack, Marisa McGrady, Sarah Orr, Dana Santomenna and Peter Waugh. So for an interesting look at how a difficult show can be done very well, be sure to see "The Caucasian Chalk Circle".