REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s quintessentially local ‘A Woman of the World’ fascinating and full of surprises

Scandalous secrets unfold and things are not what they seem in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s  (MRT) quintessentially local and fascinating production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Partnering with the Emily Dickinson Museum and directed cleverly by Courtney Sale, this one-woman show led by Massachusetts native Denise Cormier lights up the stage with natural charisma as enigmatic lecturer and historical figure Mabel Loomis Todd. She claims to bring insight into the real life of the late, renowned poet Emily Dickinson, but what she unveils is so much more. 

It was wonderful to see another production from MRT filmed onstage.  A Woman of the World also offers plenty of local references such as Harvard, MIT, the New England Conservatory, Boston, Amherst and the surrounding areas.  The show contains some hinted adult themes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World.’ Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Scenic designer Bill Clarke and Original Music/Sound Designer David Remedios seamlessly combine the inviting comforts of home with the sights and sounds of a serene Maine setting.  However, don’t let the serenity of this island home fool you.   Mabel gears up for a quiet storm as the sound of the wind and crickets fill the air.

From welcoming to haunting, Carolina Ortiz Herrera’s soft, dynamic lighting not only transforms each mood in an instant, but does more so with Cormier.  At first Denise Cormier as Mabel seems a lively, well-to-do speaker with well coiffed blond hair, but as the show progresses, the subtle lighting reveal tinges of gray. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Though it is a one-woman show, other “cast members” such as Mabel’s daughter Millicent is addressed offstage.  Delivering a multi-layered performance, Mabel’s charm to win over her audience first comes off as egotistical, but gradually becomes earnestness and she soon seems like an old friend.  Nothing short of a captivating showman, a warm and inviting presence, but the guarded moments intertwined in her storytelling is the stuff that keeps you hooked and her drifting reflections are when the show truly hits its stride.  Having had a stroke, Mabel is also somewhat an unreliable narrator in more ways than one. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

The show tackles relatable issues on feminism and Cormier as Mabel may make you root for her one moment and against her the next.   However, she’s a survivor and an enigma ahead of her time. 

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman is streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Following the production is a short interview between director Courtney Sale and Denise Cormier on the inspiration behind the show.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for more about the Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s season.

REVIEW: Tensions run high at sea in Moliere in the Park’s searing ‘pen/man/ship’

Aboard a whaling ship in 1896, two powerful forces cross paths that could cause a disaster of their own doing.  Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship is a rich, quietly tense production that deepens within the intriguing script’s discourse and reflections and flows into the production’s dark setting.  Self-righteousness, dominance, and trust carry heavy weight as Anderson’s multi-faceted characters become more complex as the plot thickens.

Skillfully directed by Lucie Tiberghien in English with French subtitles, Moliere in the Park’s theatrical film, pen/man/ship continues live streaming for free through April 24.  RSVP is required and the show is two hours with a five-minute intermission.  Click here for more information and how to stream the show.

Aboard the Ship in ‘pen/man/ship’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Capturing the illusion of being on a ship without the cast actually being on one is no easy feat, but attractive visual illustrations by Rocco DeSanti and effective sound effects by Daniel Williams depict large groups and cast members sitting side-by-side do not look out of place or jarring to the flow of the story.  Subtle technical details such as the gentle sway of the ship seem natural with the cast aboard.  One particularly innovative moment shows Jacob reflected in a mirror next to Ruby to make it appear as if he is standing in front of her.  The film flows so well from scene to scene without the quirks that zoom can sometimes cause. 

Kevin Mambo as Charles Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Widow Charles Boyd (Kevin Mambo) and his son Jacob (Jared McNeill) embark on their first maritime voyage to Liberia when Jacob meets seasick Ruby Heard (Crystal Lucas-Perry) and is immediately attracted to her mysterious ways.  Mambo as Charles pens reflections on his voyage by candlelight but his real motivations are unwritten. 

Pen/man/ship boasts an impressive cast including Kevin Mambo as obstinate, domineering, and manipulative Charles and Crystal Lucas-Perry as mysterious, headstrong, blunt, and stubborn Ruby sterling in their portrayals.   Both of these strong characters are more alike than they care to admit.  Mambo and Lucas-Perry are eloquent in their discourse and both have a commanding presence in their own unique way.  Their slights and verbal exchanges become riveting as the show progresses.  One is persuaded by faith and the other by facts, but both seem too emotionally invested for that to be entirely true.

Jared McNeill as Jacob Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Jared McNeill delivers an amiable performance as modest, shrewd, loyal, and sympathetic Jacob who struggles with his heart and his head.  McNeil and Lucas-Perry’s chemistry is earnest, yet complex and McNeill and Mambo have a warm and wary father and son camaraderie.  McNeill is particularly shrewd at seamlessly evoking his inner conflict with Mambo, evident right across McNeill’s face.

Bearded and dressed as a crew member faithful to the period, Postell Pringle portrays humble, fair-minded, and altruistic crew member Cecil.  Pringle has a welcoming presence as Cecil who often defuses tension as the show progresses.  Forthright, experienced, and respectful, he is well-spoken and has the discernment to navigate each character just as well as any ship.

Postell Pringle as Cecil and Crystal Lucas-Perry as Ruby Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Pen/man/ship is a thought-provoking exploration of what motivates people who have the best intentions and how stubbornness, isolation, and fear can wield an ugly course and a stunning revelation. 

Moliere in the Park’s theatrical film, pen/man/ship continues live streaming for free through April 24.  Click here for more information and how to stream this free show.