Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Caroline, or Change
Round House Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Baby Screams Miracle, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and As You Like It

Nova Y. Payton and Griffin McCahill
Photo by Grace Toulotte
Having staged (in partnership with Olney Theatre Center) a beautiful and shattering production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America this past fall, how could Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, follow it up? By presenting a different side of Kushner: the musical Caroline, or Change, for which he wrote the book and lyrics to Jeanine Tesori's music.

Unlike Angels, which uses its epic scope to address universal issues of life, truth, and healing a world in turmoil, Caroline is a chamber piece that looks at issues of civil rights and understanding through the experiences of a single family. Kushner draws on his childhood in a Jewish family in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and the family's African-American housekeeper to create a society in microcosm.

Most of the characters are motivated by their emotions, overt and hidden, and director Matthew Gardiner ably draws out and clarifies their different viewpoints as they conflict, overlap, ignore each other, and sometimes resolve themselves. He also understands the role of fantasy, showing that it's perfectly understandable for Caroline Thibodeaux (Nova Y. Payton) to anthropomorphize the objects of her daily life: the kindly Washing Machine (Theresa Cunningham); the insinuating Dryer (V. Savoy McIlwain); the harmonious Radio (Felicia Curry, Olivia Russell, Kara-Tameika Watkins); and the benevolent Moon (Delores King Williams).

Change is in the air in 1963; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech earlier in the year and activists are taking steps toward the end of institutional racism (including the abduction of a statue of a Confederate soldier from outside the Lake Charles courthouse). Caroline, a divorced mother of four, works for the Gellman family, whose young son Noah (Griffin McCahill) is looking for someone he can hold on to.

Noah has good reason to feel isolated. His father (Will Gartshore) has submerged himself in grief following his wife's death; he tried to make a new start by marrying Rose Stopnick (Dorea Schmidt), his wife's best friend, but she's a New Yorker still trying to find her way in the South. Caroline is often harsh and bitter, but at least she pays attention to Noah—and he wishes he could be one of her children.

Payton brings majesty and grace to her portrayal, shining especially in her extended solos (one could call them arias). Other standouts are McCahill; Schmidt, bringing great heart to a small but important role; Scott Sedar as Rose's combative father; and Korinn Walfall as Caroline's daughter, a budding activist.

Round House Theatre
Caroline, or Change
January 25th - February 26th, 2017
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book & lyrics by Tony Kushner
Caroline Thibodeaux: Nova Y. Payton
The Washing Machine: Theresa Cunningham
The Radio: Felicia Curry, Olivia Russell, Kara-Tameika Watkins
Noah Gellman: Griffin McCahill
The Dryer/The Bus: V. Savoy McIlwain
Grandma Gellman: Naomi Jacobson
Grandpa Gellman: John Lescault
Rose Stopnick Gellman: Dorea Schmidt
Stuart Gellman: Will Gartshore
Dotty Moffett: Awa Sal Secka
The Moon: Delores King Williams
Emmie Thibodeaux: Korinn Walfall
Jackie Thibodeaux: Elijah Mayo
Joe Thibodeaux: Micah Tate
Mr. Stopnick: Scott Sedar
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-564-1100 or

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