In writing about Firebrand Theatre and TimeLine Theatre’s apt co-production of “Caroline, or Change,” I could talk about a lot of things. I could talk about Andra Velis Simon’s strong music direction or how ideal the piece is for collaboration between TimeLine and Firebrand, two companies consistently committed to thought-provoking, progressive work that challenges their audiences to engage. I could talk about the creativity in scenic design from Lauren Nichols or how Rashada Dawan (Caroline) and Nicole Michelle Haskins (Dotty) gave performances that beg for a cast recording. All of these things are true and then some.
Under Firebrand artistic director Harmony France and director Lili-Anne Brown, this “Caroline, or Change” is an exceptionally skillful, seamless and enjoyable production of a work by two theatrical giants, Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner. Beyond skillful, the work of this team is deeply felt and empathetic, all of their technique and heart coming together to tell a story that is elusive, particularly in musical theater.
When artists talk about change, revolution, political movements or group experiences, when audiences look at them in retrospect, stories are too often told in wide strokes, sweeping across the surface of a broad historical narrative. With “Caroline, or Change,” Brown and her team have let us into the complex emotional responses to oppression, progress and regress within several perspectives and relationships. Compassionately and truthfully, we address many cultural biases, white egotism, intergenerational tension, the education of children, and the cost of compromising integrity. These characters, and actors, have permission to be dark and messy and stubborn and heartfelt in how they navigate their given and evolving circumstances.
In a culture where the voices and experiences of women and people of color are disbelieved, Brown’s direction takes it slow, walking the audience into and through each well-crafted moment, deepening our understanding and with it our empathy.
“Caroline, or Change” is not about the beginning or the end of a revolution because there is no beginning or end to progress. It’s not even about the beginning or the end of an event or an experience. It’s about the middle. There is no historical retrospective, no clarified hindsight, no placing ourselves at the beginning or the end of a period of time with an imitation of certainty. “Caroline, or Change” is about multiple human beings, multiple women, sorting through the confusion and the power, the murky emotional middle of change, where we make the choices that define us.
This art is rare and beautifully done. (Erin Shea Brady)