Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 20, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, Make Believe

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through September 30, 2108
by Shera Cohen

Photo by T. Charles Erikson
The cover of the playbill for “Make Believe” depicts a cartoon of four children, all in color, with little tags on their clothes and bodies. For those who remember the 50’s and 60’s, these kids look like those from McCall’s Magazine’s then-famous Betsy McCall toy paper dolls. For other audience members, the picture will imply a game of “make believe.” More importantly, the pictures of a mom and dad are hollow and grey, standing apart from each other. From the play’s start, it is obvious that there is something amiss in this imaginary family.

Although a one-act, the play is divided into two parts: the first features the quartet of children, the second with four adults three of whom are grown-up versions of their counterparts. “Growing pains” might be a very simplified subtitle of this story, which dwells on the subject of sibling relationships at two different stages in their lives – both without parental figures.

Roman Malenda (older brother), Sloane Wolfe (older sister), Alexa Skye Swinton (younger sister), and RJ Vercellone (younger brother) fill the individual personalities of their roles perfectly. Each is so real in his/her part. Hartford Stage’s casting crew could not have found more talented youngsters better than these four. Chris, the oldest and leader of the clan, enjoys “let’s play house.” As the youngsters replicate their household drama, the audience can see the touching and sad situation that their invisible parents have put them in.

Director Jackson Gay creates Bess Wohl’s work as a play within a play; i.e. the child characters enjoy their world of “make believe,” then the adult actors realize the not-so-pretty mysteries of “make believe.” The large playroom setting establishes the ideal segue from Part I (kids) to Part II (adults).

Important to realize that in spite of advertisements for “Make Believe” with the depiction of cute kids, this is not a show for audience members under age 18, as clearly stated in the venue’s literature.

Bravo to Hartford Stage for taking yet another risk presenting a world premiere.

Note: While this recommendation does not in any way reflect on Hartford Stage and/or “Make Believe,” it is important. Future patrons of any performance, in any venue, please do not drench yourself in perfume before entering the theatre. Sitting for a one-act play next to one of these culprits was nearly unbearable. Consider your neighbors.