Theater Review: POOR CLARE (Echo Theater Company)

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by Tony Frankel on October 27, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles


Every once in a while, a bright shiny play comes along that absolutely restores my faith in theater as a place to be entertained, enthralled, and enlightened while nodding my head in agreement with the universal themes therein. It’s also a pleasure to discover a playwright with a love for language, a skill with language, and an appreciation for the comedy of language. Chiara Atik is just such a playwright, and her play Poor Clare, now receiving a lovely world premiere by The Echo Theater Company, is that play.

Jordan Hull and Donna Zadeh. Photo by Cooper Bates.

Using a Middle Ages situation with modern vernacular — especially the patois of, like, you know, the modern teenage girl — Atik rethinks the medieval tale of Saint Clare of Assissi, a wealthy teenager who was one of the first followers of her Italian countryman St. Francis. Here, Clare is from a privileged family in which even the privileged gossipy servants don’t think they are privileged. Mostly unaware of her station in a caste system, Clare hears of a rich man who removed his clothing in front of the Bishop, renounced worldly goods and turned his life to service. Clare, after meeting Francis, begins to question her entitled sister and doting mother about why they don’t help the homeless more. Her journey rethinking the redistribution of wealth, and the life she was meant to lead, is compelling, robust, and very funny.

Jordan Hull, Kari Lee Cartwright, Martica De Cardenas. Photo by Cooper Bates.

Written, cast and ready to open before COVID struck it down 19 months ago, the original actress playing Clare got a series, so with only three weeks to prepare, Jordan Hull, a TV actress (The L Word: Generation Q) is making her first appearance in a play. The results are stupendous. Hull nails the sincerity, the sweetness, the confusion, the conviction, and — ultimately — the fervent religious belief of this 18-year-old seeker of destiny (Hull herself is 18.) She shares something in common with her castmate Michael Sturgis (Gloria) as Francis; both actors are acute listeners who react organically and never overplay their situation. The simplicity of Sturgis’s delivery is as simple as the life Francis has chosen, but an internal machinery makes him incredibly watchable. Director Alana Dietze (Dry Land) is to be praised for NOT treating this as a comedy, which of course makes the evening all that more meaningful, memorable and, yes, humorous.

Jordan Hull and Ann Noble. Photo by Cooper Bates.

The wildly entertaining Ann Noble invests her always fascinating acting chops into Ortolana; here’s a mother who wants what is best for her daughter … but wants money … but wants — or feels compelled — to be giving … but needs to be domineering … but, but, but. Madam Noble has all these dancing around her head as she makes Ortolana completely endearing and understandable. Noble is priceless in a scene which has Clare opening gifts from an ostentatious suitor she is pledged to marry. Watch her try to keep her cool as the room is festooned in riches.

Kari Lee Cartwright, Donna Zadeh, Jordan Hull, Martica De Cardenas, Ann Noble. Photo by Cooper Bates.

Clare’s sister Beatrice, as played by Donna Zadeh, could probably be seen shopping on Rodeo Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Sure, it’s the thirteenth century, but this girl likes her comfort and goodies, and glares angrily when she doesn’t get her way, or is asked to be socially conscious. The live-in help (Kari Lee Cartwright and Martica De Cardenas) side with their boss as they make sure no stone is unturned in the Anything Scandalous Department. Tony DeCarlo is a homeless beggar who isn’t crazy, just stuck in his place.

Martica De Cardenas and Ann Noble. Photo by Darrett Sanders.

Scenic designer Amanda Knehans offers appropriate simplicity even in the royal quarters, Dianne K. Graebner‘s costumes are marvels of embroidery and hand-me-downs, and wig and hair designer Klint Flowers makes Francis’s tonsure — that bald spot on top of his head encircled by a furry crown of brown locks — as ugly as it’s supposed to be; Clare’s locks are astoundingly real as the servants arrange different hairstyles in many scenes. The lighting designer is Azra King-Abadi; sound designer Jeff Gardner; and graphic designer Christopher Komuro. And none of this could be done without the tireless leadership of Artistic Director Chris Fields.

Tony DeCarlo. Photo by Cooper Bates.

Many of the issues facing Clare came to the fore after COVID hit — a period where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Is there ever going to be a middle ground? Or will it be, as suggested by a prescient Atik, a revolutionary way of thinking and action about how we consume to change things? Can taking a stand while living with little allow one to be content? Or is just being a good person enough? And if we desire to be a good person, will that alone make us good? Go to Echo Theater and laugh while you think about it.

Michael Sturgis. Photo by Darrett Sanders.

Poor Clare
Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 4; and Mon at 8
for tickets (pay-what-you-want thru $34), call 310-307-3753 or visit Echo Theater

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