Review of HOPE
By Si Kahn
Directed by Elizabeth Craven
Musical Direction by Jim Peterson and Roxanne Olivia
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: December 1-18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 9, 2016)

HOPE Main Stage West Si Kahn

Photo by Main Stage West

HOPE is an intensely personal memoir of playwright and composer Si Kahn’s family and their journey to America. It meanders in the manner of a relative sharing tales of their youth, lingering here, jumping forward there. Stories are grouped by side of the family—act one ‘Mom’ and act two ‘Pop’. Remembrances are a mix of factual, rather embellished, and completely outrageous. The small cast switches roles frequently, which can cause confusion. One moment they speak in the voice of the writer, the next they take on a variety of characters, real and imagined. A talented group of musicians swap instruments as often as the actors change character, offering sound effects in addition to toe tapping songs and melancholy notes for softer emotions. The musical wanders a great deal, yet never fails to entertain. Elizabeth Craven’s set design of vintage trunks, suitcases, and benches sets the past in a tactile present, emphasizing how vibrant our great-grandparents were in their lives.

John Craven’s Cossack and Shoe Factory Owner demonstrate his comedic range, and he shines in “Crossing the Border”, a combined narrative and song of a soldier trying to flee the horror of war. Mary Gannon Graham’s Angel of Death with a strong Brooklyn accent turns an outlandish tale into comedy gold. Sharia Pierce owns the shoe factory story with a steely glint in her eyes, and continues to draw laughter through her impersonations. Her devotion to the yellow frying pan stands out as particularly well done.

Jim Peterson primarily plays guitar and mandolin, breaking out a trombone for a jazzy number. I rarely tear up at a play, but his tribute to Warsaw Ghetto victims, “Children of Poland”, was quietly heartbreaking, augmented by projected images from historical archives. Tim Sarter and Roxanne Olivia rounded out the musicians; HOPE’s style is primarily folk music, with infusions of gospel and Irish melodies evident in songs like “Dreamers”. It is a mix of standouts, such as the opening “Gone, Gonna Rise Again” and less compelling songs that serve as transitions or general commentary on the dialog.

HOPE follows the dreams and struggles of immigrants longing for a fresh start, passing on family stories of strength and sorrow. Even the playbill becomes part of that sharing, with immigrant backgrounds of the actors instead of the usual biographies. We learn about Pierce’s eccentric and fun Aunt Rose, and Peterson’s father performing in big bands during World War II. HOPE joins us together as a community, looking forward from a foundation of inspiration through our ancestors, with reopened eyes toward the immigrants of today who long for a safe and free country to call home.