Director - Charles Ballinger
Music Director - Mark-Brian Sonna
Assistant Director - Penny Johnson
Scenic Designer - Alejandro de la Costa
Lighting Designer - Mark-Brian Sonna
Costume Designer - Alejandro de la Costa
Sound Designer - Mark-Brian Sonna
Properties Designer - Alejandro de la Costa
Stage Manager - Penny Johnson
Marianela - Charli Armstrong
Theodore - Mark-Brian Sonna
Pablo - Brian Cook
Francis - J. King
Celipin - A. Solomon Abah, Jr.
Florentine - Keila Lorenc
Reviewed Performance 4/4/2014
Reviewed by Scott W. Davis , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Have you ever wondered what life must have been like back in the 1920’s? MBS Productions transports you back into the heart of the twenties with their new production of Marianela.
Marianelais the story of a young servant who’s tasked with helping take care of her employer’s son Pablo, blind since birth. Through their time together you see a bond building between the two. Pablo meets a doctor who may finally be able to fix the man’s blindness. Florentine, Pablo’s girlfriend, talks her family into paying for the surgery in return for Pablo’s hand in marriage. But he loves Marianela, and in the end Pablo must make the decision whether to leave Florentine for the woman who’s taken care of him for some years.
Mark-Brian Sonna took on the challenge of adapting this extremely good book by Benito Pėrez Galdós for the stage and does a good job recreating the characters faithfully. While the book goes into much greater detail about Francis, Pablo’s father, and his racist qualities along with the other characters demeanor, Mr. Sonna brought enough character development in so quickly you knew who the characters were within the first ten minutes. This allowed the story to really progress from that point on. The play flowed so well I didn’t even notice that it ran two hours. Mr . Sonna wore many hats for this production but most impressive, tech wise, was his lighting design, being extremely basic but effective. His use of LEDs didn’t make sense at first, but at the end of the play all the pieces fell into place. The Stone Cottage is always a tough place to light any production due to lack of dimmers and instruments and Mr. Sonna did probably the best job I’ve seen lighting that venue.
Alejandro de la Costa was a busy man on this production, taking on set design, props and costumes. The cottage is a small venue so sets are rare and his was extremely basic. With the audience on two sides, it could have been a challenge for sightlines but Mr. de la Costa did a wonderful job creating a garden without anything obstructing the audience’s view. Wooden lattice was placed on the walls to break up the space and create a garden atmosphere. A white glass cast iron garden table with chairs and matching white bench rounded out the look.
I was extremely impressed with the costuming in the show. Marianela’s rags were colorful while all the men were dressed as they would have been in 1920’s America. Another favorite was Florentine’s dress in Act Three. It was a beautiful, yellow, almost peach-colored dress that flowed well on the actress. But when she put the hat on, all of a sudden I was seeing Downton Abbey right before my eyes.
Director Charles Ballinger used the set to its fullest with his blocking. There wasn’t a place in the play where the blocking got stagnant as kept your eyes visually stimulated. Mr. Ballinger’s best accomplishment wasn’t the blocking though. No, it was the casting. Every actor was perfect for the role they were playing. The blocking and acting were so pristine I almost forgot I wasn’t at an Equity theatre.
Charli Armstrong was put to the test in this production. As Marianela, she was constantly engaged in monologues. As if those weren’t enough, she had to sing a cappella throughout the play as well. I was not expecting to hear a voice like that in this type of production but was seriously blown away at how good her singing was. It’s not easy for an actor to perform something this demanding but she did it beautifully, even while being barefoot through the entire play.
Mark-Brian Sonna played Theodore, the doctor hired to surgically repair Pablo’s eyes. This was a tough role for any actor. The character’s sympathetic side comes out in Act One, but then his bigoted nature shows up in Act Two. The swing in character is quite severe but Mr. Sonna did a great job with it. Throughout you saw subtle changes in his stance that conveyed the man’s change in demeanor.
Probably the toughest male role in the show is Pablo, played by Brian Cook. Having to play a blind man is not the easiest thing to do but wow what a performance. I watched Mr. Cook’s eye’s every time he was on stage. Not once did he falter and look at his fellow actors. Since his character was blind, facial expression was extremely important and he produced some of the best I’ve seen. His concentration was impressive and his Southern dialect crisp and clean with just enough drawl to make him seem the perfect Southern gentleman.
J. King portrayed Francis, Pablo’s father. From the moment he entered you hate him. Mr. King did one of the best portrayals of a racist bigot I think I’ve ever seen. The stare and glare Mr. King would use anytime Marianela or Celipin spoke was so noticeable you could see it from anywhere in the theatre. While Francis becomes the character you love to hate, Mr. King did show diversity in the way he played off his son Pablo. He pushed the character into almost caring about his son. It was a complete and well-rounded performance.
The character Celipin was portrayed by A. Solomon Abah, Jr. who took command of the stage whenever he entered. This was another actor that showed extreme versatility in his role. Being a tall man, during the first half, Mr. Abah, Jr. played Celipin as a colossal, dossal teddy bear. His interaction with Marianela in the first act was soft and subdued. Then during Act Three, wham, Celipin becomes a different person. Mr. Abah, Jr. took his character to a whole new level, both visually and vocally. His lower register voice reverberated through the cottage so much I swear people could hear it over at WaterTower Theatre. He really did a wonderful job playing both sides of the fence.
Last but not least was Keila Lorenc who was my favorite character in the play. Her portrayal of Florentine was priceless, playing her as a slightly ignorant-to-the-world Southern belle. Between her confused facial expressions and the way she verbally moved on when she didn’t compute what was happening was incredible. You could see Florentine’s wheels just weren’t turning. Lorenc became the comic relief in a very serious drama. Her performance was stellar and was the other performer who had a realistic dialect for the South. She was just a lot of fun to watch.
MBS Productions has proven you don’t need thousand-dollar sets to put on a top quality production. I can actually say this will go on my list of one of the better shows I’ve seen this year and should make it on your list to go see.
Stone Cottage, Addison Conference and Theater Center, 15650 Addison Road , Addison, TX 75001
Running through April 26th
Shows are Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, with added shows on Saturday, April 19th at 2:00 pm and Wednesday, April 16th at 8:00pm.
Tickets range from $18.00 to $23.00, depending on the performance night.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.mbsproductions.net, call the box office at 214-477-4942 or come to the theatre thirty minutes before curtain.