Thursday, February 26, 2015

Emerson Stage Presents "Mother Hicks" by Suzan Zeder - Part I of The Ware Trilogy

Typically when I see a show that is produced by a non-professional theater company and then I write about it, I write in generalities, refraining from critiquing the individual artists and creative team. For, in most cases, it would not be fair to hold them to the same standards that I apply to reviewing the myriad professional productions I witness each season.  In the case of Emerson Stage's current production of "Mother Hicks, The Ware Trilogy, Part I," I am laying aside those compunctions, for everything about this show is of professional quality.

I attended a matinee performance held primarily for the benefit of some Boston area schools.  The way in which the Emerson Stage staff and students handled creating a pleasant, fun and challenging theater experience for these young audience members was First Class. An introduction prepared the audience for the integration into the performance of Signing Artists who would do simultaneous translation into American Sign Language (ASL) for each of the actors.  There was also an explanation of the video screens that would provide visible text of the lines that the actors were speaking.  In a Talk Back session following the play, students were taught some rudiments of ASL, shown how to "clap" for someone who does not hear, and encouraged to ask questions about the creative process.  They were also challenged to respond to questions that built upon the themes of the play:

  • Have you ever listened to a rumor that you later learned was not true?
  • Have you ever felt that you did not fit in or belong?
The play, "Mother Hicks" is the first installment of Suzan Zeder's remarkable trilogy that is set in the Southern Illinois town of Ware - stretching from 1935 in the depth of the Great Depression through 1945 and World War II.  The action of this play centers on three key characters, all of whom are outcasts of some stripe:
  • Mother Hicks (Cayla Komarow) is an outcast, living in isolation atop Dug Hill outside of town.  She  was a mid-wife and healer who is now believed to be a witch because several children under her care had died of scarlet fever.
  • Tuc (Elbert Joseph) is a young deaf man who does some menial work in the General Store run by Mr. Eudy.  The well-meaning townsfolk treat him with condescension.
  • Girl (Emily Elmore) had been abandoned and left in Ware by her young mother.  She lives for a while with one of the town families until she wears out her welcome by her wild, unconventional and freedom-loving ways, and then she moves in with the next family that is willing to take her in.
(Left to right)
Signing Artist Olivia Moriarty
Jonathan Acorn as Jake Hammond
Emily Elmore as Girl
Signing Artist  Emma Stephenson
Photo courtesy of Craig Bailey / Perspective Photo — at Mother Hicks.
Each of these three actors creates a believable, credible and sympathetic figure as they struggle to come to terms with their unique outcast status.  Girl and young Ricky Ricks (Joe Hornberger) would often play a game of Dare and Double Dare, urging one another to take risks.  What a wonderful metaphor for what the playwright is doing in urging audience members to take risks in opening up our eyes and broadening our horizons to accept those who are in some way different.  In the same spirit, Emerson Stage is daring us to bridge the chasm that often keeps the hearing community and the deaf community from communicating in a meaningful way with each other. 

The words that Tuc signs (spoken in interpretation by members of the cast) are always framed as poetry, The images are especially poignant and evocative.  He "talks"about having special abilities that compensate for his inability to hear and to speak.  He signs about being able to "taste the sunrise"!

(Left to right) 
Elbert Joseph as Tuc
Michael Kelly as Hosiah Ward
Simon Kiser as Wilson Walker/Ensemble
Photo courtesy of Craig Bailey / Perspective Photo — at Mother Hicks.
Other members of the excellent ensemble cast are listed below.

Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian has done a masterful job of seamlessly integrating many disparate moving parts to make this production flow smoothly.  The incorporation of the Signing Artists into the telling of this story not only makes the play more fully accessible and comprehensible to a diverse audience, it also adds a layer of artistic texture that enhances the overall aesthetic experience.  The Scenic Design of Samuel Vawter is first rate, with a rotating turntable that functions to represent Dug Hill, a cemetery and several other locations around Ware.  Costumes by Rebecca Thorogood seems to have been snatched from a steamer trunk packed in 1935, they are that authentic.Also worthy of note are the work of Lighting Designer Benjamin Rehm, Sound Design and Original Music by Nathan Leigh, Dramaturg Kaylee D'Amico and ASL Coach Michael Balint

General audiences will have opportunities to see this noteworthy production this weekend, 2pm & 7:30pm on Saturday February 28, 2pm on Sunday March 1.  

Take in this first installment of the trilogy, and then continue with Part II at Wheelock Family Theater in March and Part III at Central Square Theatre in April.  See details below.



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By Suzan Zeder

Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian

February 26-March 1, 2015

Paramount Main Stage

Mother Hicks is a witch, people say.

In the small town of Ware, a foundling child known only as Girl looks to Dug Hill, curious about the witch rumored to live at the top. On her search for answers, she learns about the taste of sunrise; makes friends with a boy eloquent in the language of silence; and discovers that sometimes, family is something that's made, not given.

Set in the Great Depression and filled with live music and lyrical poetry, Mother Hicks is a family-friendly tale which will delight, educate, and inspire theater-lovers of all ages. 

This show is the first part of The Ware Trilogy, a three-play cycle about the community of Ware, IL, which is produced in association with Wheelock Family Theatre and Central Square Theater. All pieces of the Trilogy are performed simultaneously in American Sign Language and English.


February 26 - March 1, 2015

Student matinees (grades 3-12): 10am on February 26 & 27. Contact us to learn more about student matinees.

Regular performances: 2pm & 7:30pm on Saturday February 28, 2pm on Sunday March 1


Tickets are available at any Emerson College box office , by calling (617) 824-8000 or visiting our online ticketing site.
$20 General Audience
$15 Students & Seniors
$10 Emerson Community & Children (under 16)
Ticket bundles: Get the best value by purchasing a ticket bundle—four tickets for just $30!
Group rates are also available. Please contact us to learn more about bringing a group.

Trilogy Tix

Mother Hicks is the first show of The Ware Trilogy -- a series of three plays that follow a young Deaf man named Tuc as he searches for community, understanding, and a place to call home. Inspired by oral traditions gathered by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Tuc’s journey is set in the context of the Great Depression and WWII.

The second part of the trilogy, The Taste of Sunrise, will be performed at Wheelock Family Theatre March 13-22, 2015

The third part of the trilogy, The Edge of Peace, will be performed at Central Square Theater April 3-12, 2015

A multi-play pass for all three productions is now on sale. Select your trilogy multi-play package »

The Cast

Mother HicksCayla Komarow
TucElbert Joseph
GirlEmily Elmore
RickyJoe Hornberger
Jake HammonJonathan Acorn
Izzy Sue RicksSarah Franco
Clovis P. EudyJoshua Telepman
Wilson WalkerSimon Kiser
Hosiah WardMichael Kelly
Alma WardTonasia Jones
Signing Artist / Sign CaptainOlivia Moriarty
Signing ArtistChelsea Glasner
Signing ArtistEmma Stephenson

The Creative Team

DirectorMegan Sandberg-Zakian
Scenic DesignerSamuel Vawter
Costume DesignerBecky Thorogood
Lighting DesignerBen Rehm
Assistant DirectorTania Sung
Scenic ArtistSamantha Penninipede
Associate Lighting DesignerTaylor Ness
Master ElectriciansCameron Moustoufi & Colin Landeck
Assistant Master ElectricianJeremy Stein
Production SupervisorCate Agis
Assistant Production SupervisorTaylor Starr
Second ASMJessica Kemp
First ASMCharlotte Morrill
Stage ManagerSean Swords

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