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Wendy Beckett's "A Charity Case" at the Clurman Theatre
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Wendy Beckett's "A Charity Case" at the Clurman Theatre

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A Charity Case

Written and Directed by
Wendy Beckett

At the
Clurman Theatre
(Theatre Row Website)
410 West 42nd Street

Alison Fraser, Alysia Reiner, Jill Shackner

Production Stage Manager: Scott Pegg
Asst. Stage Manager: Michal Salonia
Scenic Design: David L. Arsenault
Costume Design: Haley Lieberman
Lighting Design: Travis McHale
Sound Designer, Engineer: Ian Wehrle
Music Composer: Felicity Wilcox
Casting: Judy Henderson, CSA
General Manager: Adam Fitzgerald
Production Supervisor: Production Core
Production Manager: Amanda Raymond
Press: Glenna Freedman Public Relations
Marketing & Advertising: The Pekoe Group

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 18, 2011

A Charity Case, by Wendy Beckett, who also directs, has been mounted at the Clurman Theatre, in Theatre Row, and it runs a painful hour plus a few agonizing extra minutes. Even though the story of Deirdre, an adopted teen (Jill Shackner), living with a cold, distant, narcissistic adoptive mother, Faith (Alison Fraser), is a common story in a complex society and in tormented novels, Ms. Beckett missed an opportunity to make her point. Her Director’s Note states that this play “tells the story of adoption from the child’s point of view”. Yet, Deirdre’s point of view is thickly clouded. The birth mother, Harpie (Alysia Reiner), a shrewish, unstable, metaphysical type, with ragged attire, haunts the stage from the rafters above, in angst-filled monologues, obtusely unintelligible.

The action in this intermission-less work takes place in a paneled basement work room, where Faith designs and sews for a living. Deirdre wants attention and affirmation from Faith, but Faith wants her drinks, her boyfriend, an abusive one at that, and her sewing machine. Even when Deirdre tries to take on her mother’s métier, as she sews a dress for a high school dance, Faith pulls it apart at the seams, deriding Deirdre’s ineptitude and failure. No honest attempt at reforming herself goes unpunished, and Deirdre dreams of the mother she never knew. Simultaneously, Harpie tears her heart out, pining for her lost motherhood, and initiates her own self-improvement, one good enough to take her to Faith’s door, a-knocking. Meanwhile, truly tingling music (Felicity Wilcox) unnerves the audience, as Harpie recites, sings, and wails. In fact, there’s almost not a moment, upon which one can view and reflect on the import of the plot and the sad injustice of it all. The sound, set, and screeching are all too strained and strident.

Of the three actors, Alysia Reiner is the most interesting, as well as chilling, as her Harpie becomes unhinged, then rooted again, in her quest for love and belongingness. As an actor, Ms. Reiner exudes charisma and pathos. Ms. Fraser seemed contradictory, at once competing with Harpie, while at the same time blaming Deirdre for competing with the offstage brutish lover. The character of Faith was not finely tuned. Ms. Shackner’s Deirdre was hyper-kinetic and more than annoying, not a magnet for empathy, as she could have been. David L. Arsenault’s basement set was true to form, and I’ve actually seen a lower level den for sewing that’s almost a match, some years ago. Theresa Squire’s costumes were mostly appropriate, although Harpie’s outfits and wigs were 70’s hippie or thrift shop mode. This is not a play I’d want to see again, on any stage, but Ms. Beckett could certainly re-work her theme and concept and hire an outside Director next time, for an objective modus operandi.

Alysia Reiner in
Wendy Beckett's "A Charity Case"
Courtesy of Kevin Thomas Garcia

Alison Fraser and Jill Shackner in
Wendy Beckett's "A Charity Case"
Courtesy of Kevin Thomas Garcia

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at