From Dec ’08 Spotlight: Midway between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I went down to Hyde Park to see Court Theatre’s superb new production of Caroline, or Change. When Caroline opened on Broadway in 2004, audiences didn’t know what to make of it. Closer to opera than musical comedy (like Porgy and Bess and Sweeny Todd), Caroline closed after only 136 performances, even with critical acclaim and six Tony nominations. But “change” is now our national mantra, and this sincere, emotional, poignant drama is a play whose time has come.
Caroline’s narrator is a Jewish kid named Noah Gellman who lives in a Louisiana suburb in the early ‘60s. Noah’s mother is dead and his father has recently remarried. Raised in a left-wing New York household, stepmother Rose has no respect for the local customs that supposedly govern her relationship with Caroline (the African-American housekeeper originally hired by Noah’s mother). Their domestic battle of wills inside the house intensifies, mirroring the growing political turmoil on the streets. Then Rose’s father arrives to celebrate Chanukah, inadvertently tearing the mask of Southern gentility off the ugly face of segregation.
The place and time are true to playwright Tony Kushner’s own childhood, and there are obvious autobiographical elements. Caroline also revisits themes from Kushner’s earlier work (for example, Rose’s father is clearly another incarnation of “the oldest living Bolshevik” first introduced in Angels in America), and it resonates with historical significance.
According to Mike Webb, director of the new production opening this month at the Starlight Theatre in Rockford, “Caroline, or Change is about the crossroads in time where it all starts—the moment in time where Americans start to turn the corner that eventually—unbelievably—gets us to what happened on Tuesday, November 4.”
Starlight’s production runs from December 3 through December 13. Purchase tickets from the box office at (815) 921-2160 or the website: www.rvcstarlight.com. More productions of Caroline will also open next year in Baltimore and Minneapolis.