To be watching plays again inside a theatre after 18 months was certainly a strange experience considering that Poor Clare, now playing at the Echo Theater Company, was something I was supposed review right before the pandemic shut everything down and drastically altered our lives for many months to come. To finally be able to watch this play (written by Chiara Atik and directed by Alana Dietze) was made all the worthwhile in how utterly fantastic it was and how much its themes struck even harder after everything we experienced during this chaotic time.
At the heart of it, Poor Clare is a hilarious and poignant modern spin on on the medieval story of Saint Clare of Assisi. But first, who is Saint Clare of Assisi?
The founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, Saint Clare of Assisi was an Italian saint and one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Clare of Assisi was born into a wealthy Italian family but soon shunned her luxurious upbringing to embrace the life of piety and poverty. Inspired by the words of Francis of Assisi, Clare fled her home and joined Francis, establishing her own religious order. The group became known for their austere and devout lifestyle and for the power of their prayer, which is credited with saving Assisi from invaders twice. After Francis’ death, Clare continued his work and broadened her own influence. Clare died in 1253 and was canonized two years later by Pope Alexander IV.
What is most evident is the modern vernacular juxtaposed with the medieval time period and the situations that concerned its citizens at the time, which wasn’t too different from our own as evidenced by the gossip about boys and latest fashion that our main lead Clare (played by Jordan Hull) would have with her live-in help (Kari Lee Cartwright and Martica De Cardenas).
Before we go any further, it must be noted that I applaud Dietze’s decision to cast Jordan Hull as the historical titular character and until the time comes when non-traditional casting occurs so frequently, I will always take notice when these things happen. But as fantastic as this casting choice was, the decision is fortified even further by how much Hull shines in her role and embodies the earnestness, anxiety, concern, and all around deep love she has for her fellow human beings. This is completely her play and she anchors it with aplomb.
The rest of the cast is no slouch either and the play is gifted with every talented actor contributing at least one memorable moment to make it theirs. Kari Lee Cartwright and Martica De Cardenas hits right off the bat as Alma and Peppa, the bickering help that is put in one rather awkward situation to which both convey drastically different reactions. Michael Sturgis is utterly hilarious as Francis, the aristocrat who sacrificed everything to become a monk and thus serving as the inspiration to Clare’s journey as a saint. Ann Noble is sublime as Ortolana, the pampered and loving mother who wants only the best for her children, even though her intentions may questionably misguided. Donna Zadeh is simply wonderful as Beatrice, the quintessential sister who has one particular meltdown scene that had me howling with laughter.
If Jordan Hull is the anchor of this play, then Tony DeCarlo is the heart. Though he only appears in a few scenes throughout, the moments he is in is absolutely heartbreaking and leaves an immense impact. The actor manages to convey so much anguish, sorrow, and true genuine joy with so few words that I challenge folks not to have a dry eye in the house when they leave the play. It is a master performance and plays an integral role in why the play works as well as it does.
The writing was snappy and humorous without overstaying its welcome and when it came to the heartfelt moments, Chiara Atik successfully managed to hit those notes just as beautifully by interweaving the present with the past. Ultimately, it is a morality play and the success of whether it hit its mark depends on the actions of its viewers when they go home, especially when American theatre-goers are typically middle-upper class white folks (to which to no one’s surprise was most of my audience members that night). Dietze further excels the material by moving the play at a brisk pace but allows moments to breathe for the moments that deserve such moments. Special mention to Dianne K. Graebner for exquisite costume design because my gosh, the costumes were GORGEOUS.
I was completely smitten with Poor Clare and if you’re comfortable being inside a theatre (once more, masks and vaccine proof / 72 hour negative COVID test required), then do yourself a huge favor and watch this play. Watch with an open mind, heart, and perhaps you may take away a bit of something that Clare did with Francis. For more details:
The world premiere of Poor Clare, Chiara Atik’s powerful and very funny modern spin on the medieval story of Saint Clare of Assisi, opens the Echo Theater Company’s 25th anniversary season. Clare is just a regular noblewoman living in 13th century Italy, trying out hairstyles and waiting to get married… until a man named Francis starts ranting in the courtyard. But what happens when your eyes are opened to the injustice of the world around you — and you can’t look away?
• Written by Chiara Atik
• Directed by Alana Dietze
• Starring Kari Lee Cartwright, Martica De Cardenas, Tony DeCarlo, Jordan Hull, Ann Noble, Michael Sturgis, Donna Zadeh
• Presented by The Echo Theater Company, Chris Fields artistic director
Extended through Dec. 5
• Wednesday at 8 p.m.: Dec. 1 ONLY
• Thursday at 8 p.m.: Dec. 2 ONLY
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: Nov. 19, Nov. 26. Dec. 3
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Nov. 20, Nov. 27. Dec. 4
• Sundays at 4 p.m.: Nov. 21, Nov. 28, Dec. 5
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: Nov. 29
Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
• Fridays/Saturdays/Sundays: $34
• Mondays: $20 in advance; Pay-What-You-Want at the door (subject to availability)
• Previews: Pay-What-You-Want
FREE in the Atwater Xing lot one block south of the theater
• Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours will be required of all patrons.
• Admittance is limited to ages 12+.
• All current CDC and local guidelines regarding seating and masks will be followed at each performance.