Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 13, 2019

Review: Chester Theater Company, Now Circa Then

Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through July 14, 2019
by Stacie Beland

You don’t have much time left to see Chester Theater Company’s “Now Circa Then,” but you should make every effort.  The two-person performance shines. The play centers on two modern-day actors who, as historical re-enactors, portray a couple in the New York City Tenement Museum.  It is funny and engaging.

Photo by Andrew Greto
We first meet Gideon (portrayed by Luke Hofmaier) and Margie (Lilli Hokama) on their first day of work.  Margie is obviously unengaged in her role as Josephine; Gideon’s entire young life seems to have been dedicated to recreating history. The mismatched pair clashes immediately, and Hofmaier and Hokama shine as they slip in and out of vignettes depicting their scripted museum roles (engaging the Chester Theater audience directly, as Josephine and Julien) to the modern-day awkwardness of being very different co-workers.

In a show that centers on connection—to oneself, to the modern-day world, to one’s past, to one another—Hofmaier and Hokama are brilliant as they show the ebb and flow of growth of Gideon and Margie as people.  Hokama’s facial expressions and her impeccable comic timing elevate what could be a standard-form rom-com script to heights that may not have been reached by another actor. Hofmaier, too, proves himself a master at comedic pauses, lending a great deal of life to his role of a person firmly dedicated to dusty history.

Under Sean Christopher Lewis’ direction, we watch the relationship between Gideon and Margie develop. We become aware of how similar they are to the characters they portray. Margie struggles to understand the character of Josephine, who, like her, is trying to find her way in a city to which they both just moved. Gideon has lived a life of privilege (marked by a significant loss) growing up in NYC, but clings to his role as Julien and all the scripted, predictable lines that come with it.  Margie seems to feel everything, she wants to experience everything, and she wants to matter. Gideon wants to stick to a predictable script, both as Julien and in his real life. Like magnets, they sometimes attract and sometimes repel one another. The result is a lovely tale of a couple whose inter-personal relationship we are uninterested in, while rooting instead for the development of Margie and Gideon as individuals.

Additionally helpful are the beautiful set design by Lara Dubin and the lovely scenic design of David Towlun. Timing in-between vignettes is well choreographed, however at times needlessly long.