Now Circa Then
Historical re-enactors Margie and Gideon discover love and meaning to life in playwright Carly Mensch's hilarious, but sweet relationship comedy set in New York's Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Now Circa Then makes its West Coast premiere at the Lucie Stern Theatre presented by TheatreWorks.
Margie and Gideon, played by Kimiye Corwin and Matt Harrington, meet after Margie is hired to play Gideon's wife as 1890s Jewish immigrants from West Prussia who were forced together by an arranged marriage. And much like the characters they play, they are also trying to navigate their way through a new and different world.
While their alter egos, Julian and Josephina, struggle to overcome the perils for a better life in America, Margie is a Midwesterner who thinks people should stop worshipping boring old facts. She is busy escaping her family, which expects her to end up just like Josephine—a domestic housewife with five kids. Gideon is a history buff who is trying to make it as an adult, while still pining for his dead mother.
The two strike up a relationship that begins to mirror the historical characters they play. The audience is witness to their budding, yet at times awkward, romance, and follows the couple until the very end. Mensch, who is a writer for the popular TV series Weeds, clearly has a sharp ear for dialogue, which is evident in her characters' sarcastic delivery with impeccable timing.
When Margie and Gideon decide to perform in private, the play really takes off. Harrington is an engaging ball of energy as a dedicated historical enthusiast who has made a career of re-enacting, although the uptight native New Yorker has failed to develop much of a personal life outside of work. Corwin is captivating as she bounces from one extreme to the other. At first, her stiff posturing as an amateur re-enactor with no interest in history—she simply needed a job—is a bit much, but she quickly settles in and lets loose.
Under the direction of Meredith McDonough, set designer Andrew Boyce cleverly keeps the action moving between several rooms of the tenement museum, with his special attention to detail. While costume designer Jill Bowers chooses pieces that accurately reflect the late 19th century.
In Now Circa Then, Harrington and Corwin provide plenty of laughs as their relationship encroaches on the characters they are channeling and vice versa. They sift through the dialogue, extracting every possible joke, even after the story takes a serious turn.
Runs through April 1; $19-$69
Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto