Review: 'Evening – 1910' at the Axis Theatre Company

Review: 'Evening – 1910' at the Axis Theatre Company

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

NEW YORK NY - Henry (Michael Sheehy), a young immigrant, arrives to New York in 1910 with nothing but his film camera and his dreams. He finds a career opportunity very quickly presented by the producer George Spencer (James Scheider). The job comes with a reward, an aspiring actress Evelyn Spencer (Emily Kratter), the younger sister of the producer. The poor thing appears to be not very talented but genuine and sweet, and she quickly falls in love with Henry. 

George Spencer couldn’t be happier for his sister and his kinescope enterprise. To seal the deal on both forefronts he makes the young cameraman marry his sister. But as the law of drama dictates, the lovers can’t be happy because Henry falls in love with a factory girl (Shira Averbuch), who in turn dreams of a career as a showgirl. 

The setting is very charming; every New Yorker’s heart melts a little when they hear immigrant stories of the early twentieth century. And even if their ancestors didn’t start a new life by way of Elis Island, the romantic and dramatic gaze of it penetrated the city’s culture deeply. What a rich and fruitful setting for a musical. Paired with wonderful music and lyrics by Paul Carbonara and Randy Sharp, the show was promised to be a success. And yet it left very mixed feelings. 

The director Randy Sharp, perhaps, decided to compensate for the virtually non-existing set with busy choreography. All eight performers are on stage all the time, even during the solo numbers. The problem is that they are constantly doing some movements with their hands, mostly adjusting clothes, even when they are in the background. It seemed like a collective neurosis but it came across as the director’s fear of emptiness and stillness. But there was more to it.

Lynn Mancinelli, Stephanie Lynne Mason, James Scheider and Katie Rose Summerfield in Evening 1910. Photo by Pavel Antonov

Lynn Mancinelli, Stephanie Lynne Mason, James Scheider and Katie Rose Summerfield in Evening 1910. Photo by Pavel Antonov

It took me some time to see a pattern in every performer’s actions. They were in fact sequences of movements, which each actor was repeating like a part of clockwork. Taking into account the theme of the piece – movies and film cameras, the concept seems very appropriate and smart. The cast worked as one mechanism of a machine, with every piece of it responsible for its own task. 

Some of the choreographed sequences involved multiple people, which made for beautiful pantomime scenes. For example, the making of a marital agreement, which showed a dynamic between the trio of Henry-George-Evelyn. Within each new loop the expressions on the faces of the actors changed, demonstrating escalating concerns, disappointment and suspicions. 

Unfortunately this choreographic finding was overdone which made for a lot of distracting background action and unnecessary stirring especially when adjusting clothes. Luckily, the costumes designed by Karl Ruckdeschel were gorgeous, rich with detail and texture, yet almost monochrome so I didn’t mind looking at those skirts and blouses from inside and out, again and again. 

Even though the busy choreography was over the top, I would take it any day of the week over theatrical clichés, especially with the delightful cast of young and talented actors. I want to especially acknowledge the two female leads – Emily Kratter (Evelyn) and Shira Averbuch (Louise) for their subtle yet expressive performances.  

Evening – 1910 performs at Axis Theatre at One Sheridan Square, New York until May 28th. Information on the performance schedule and tickets here: http://www.axiscompany.org/mainstage.htm  

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