Review: ‘Everything is Wonderful’ at Everyman Theatre

Having helmed last season’s widely-acclaimed The Book of Joseph, Everyman Theatre Associate Artistic Director Noah Himmelstein has returned to the director’s chair for Everyman’s latest offering. Told through a combination of flashbacks and current day narrative, playwright Chelsea Marcantel’s Everything is Wonderful is a poignant story of loss and forgiveness set in an Amish community. Himmelstein combines the efforts of excellent designers and a talented cast to create a substantive, yet sensitive production worth braving the cold for.

Steve Polites, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Tony Nam, Alex Spieth, Deborah Hazlett, and Hannah Kelly. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

In Everything is Wonderful, a guilt-ridden young man named Eric (Tony Nam) arrives at the home of an Amish family, in search of redemption. At the same time, the family’s daughter Miri (Alex Spieth) returns home. Her reception is notably cooler than Eric’s, particularly by her ex, Abram (Steve Polites).

Among an exceptional cast, Everyman company members Bruce Randolph Nelson and Deborah Hazlett’s performances are noteworthy. They play the Amish parents, Jacob and Esther, with dignity and the quiet tenderness of shared hardship. Nelson skillfully conveys the maelstrom of emotion under his character’s measured, placid demeanor. Hazlett gives an equally powerful performance; particularly moving is the vulnerability with which she navigates her character’s complex relationship with Miri.

Hannah Kelly, as Jacob and Esther’s younger daughter, Ruth, also gives a laudable performance. Her exuberance for the simplicity of Amish life reads as honestly optimistic and cheery. She’s refreshing.

Daniel Ettinger’s set design is beautiful and not as simple as it appears. It looks like a straightforward, painted wooden barn, but it’s surprisingly flexible in appearance when viewed with Cory Pattak’s thoughtful lighting design. Adding to the pastoral vibe of the Amish homestead was Pornchanok Kanchanabanca’s pleasing sound design and original music composition. Ben Argenta Kress met the challenge of designing costumes that were largely uniform, yet still interesting and tailored to the characters’ personalities.

Bruce Randolph Nelson, Alex Spieth, Deborah Hazlett, and Hannah Kelly. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Though it centers around a tragedy and deals with issues of forgiveness and faith, tradition and family, Everything is Wonderful isn’t dreary or uncomfortably confessional. Well, there is an uncomfortable confession or two, but it’s not dreary. There’s a surprising amount of humor in the play and the cast’s timing – on which much of the humor depends – is spot on. There’s even a musical number!

Everything is Wonderful at Everyman Theatre is a well-balanced show, with drama and hope in equal measure. It succeeds in representing an Amish family, people from a culture that most folks never experience, without judging, cartoonifying, or fetishizing it. Brought to life by a top-notch cast, the characters are people you care about and their story is compelling. As usual, you can count on Everyman Theatre to deliver if you’re looking for a lovely evening and a show you’ll want to talk about on the ride home.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.

Everything is Wonderful plays through February 24, 2019, at Everyman Theatre – 315 West Fayette Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-2208, or purchase them online.

PARKING:
Available across the street at the Atrium Garage. The cost is $11.00 for those attending the theater.

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