Open Circle Theatre is dedicated to creating professional productions in the Washington area that incorporate the talents of performers with disabilities. The company's current production of Evita ably showcases this goal, bringing together speech and American Sign Language throughout, and casting paraplegic actor Rob McQuay in the pivotal role of Che.
The company is using Round House Theatre's black box stage in downtown Silver Spring, MD. This flexible space places the audience on the two long sides of the room, with the bandstand at one end and curtained entrances at the other. The six-piece band (two keyboards, percussion, two guitars, bass) ably keeps pace with the continuous demands of Andrew Lloyd Webber's score and Tim Rice's lyrics.
Director Joe Banno, who has worked extensively with Washington area theatrical and opera companies, brings a fluid physicality to the proceedings. For this production, he has worked closely with choreographer Cassie Meador, who brought in the performers and company members of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange to help create a unified, organic sense of movement for the physically diverse cast.
McQuay has done a lot of noteworthy work in the area, including Helen Hayes Award-nominated performances as Tateh in Ragtime and Jesus in both Godspell andJesus Christ Superstar. He is a dominating, sardonic Che, with an attendant (Warren (Wawa) Snipe) who assists him physically and translates his words into sign language. Banno and set designer David C. Ghatan use wheeled set pieces and ingenious blocking to bypass any possible awkwardness caused by the actor's inability to walk.
Amanda Johnson is a tough, determined Eva from her first entrance. She conveys the skill that Eva must have had as an actress: while the insincerity of her positive, selfless image is never in question, she makes the audience not care with a judicious application of charm on top of her steely resolve. Roslyn Ward signs for Johnson, and occasionally serves as her mirror image in the dance numbers.
Scott Sedar is comparatively low-key as Juan Perón, but sufficiently authoritative and able to convey the barely restrained violence of the man, and well matched by the signing of Raymont Anderson. (One of Banno's inspirations is to replace the usual “musical chairs” staging of Perón's rise to power with another tableau that is simpler yet much more chilling.)
Debra Buonaccorsi shines in the small role of the Mistress, performing in tandem with signer and dancer Tami Lee Santimyer. The entire ensemble works as a single unit, taking on characters from nightclub patrons to soldiers and worshippers of Eva's public image.
Ghatan uses the basic floor plan of a nightclub as the template for the action: individual set pieces enter from offstage, or are cobbled together from cabaret tables and chairs. Marianne Meadows' lighting design helps the actors create a succession of locales, and Zoe Cowan's costumes remain simple for most of the cast while keeping Eva in the spotlight.
Open Circle Theatre