Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

'Tranced ' is Spellbinding


By Bob Clyman

Directed by Kyle Fabel, Scenic Designer Campbell Baird, Costume Designer Deborah Newhall, Lighting Designer Brian Lilienthal, Composer Shane Rettig, Dialect Coach Julie Nelson, Stage Manager Emily F. McMullen, Assistant Stage Manager Peter Crewe

CAST: Mark Zeisler (Philip), Zainab Jah (Azmera), Kimber Riddle (Beth), David Adkins (Logan)

Performances through March 8 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Box Office 978-654-4MRT (4678) or

What constitutes a good play? For me, it starts with the written word. I'm looking for a compelling story, complex characters that have to struggle with some conflict, authentic dialogue, and a dose of humor even in the most dramatic work. When it transfers from the page to the stage, I want the production to breaThe Life into it, to make it three-dimensional and engage the audience from curtain up until final blackout. Bob Clyman's Tranced, now enjoying its New England premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, does all that and more with a solid cast under the direction of Kyle Fabel.

Dr. Philip Malaad (Mark Zeisler) is an expatriate psychiatrist renowned for his technique of trancing who lives inside his work. Azmera (Zainab Jah), a London graduate student from Africa who suffers from panic attacks, seeks treatment to unearth repressed traumatic memories. After a few sessions, Philip determines that her story must be heard and brings in journalist Beth Rosenthal (Kimber Riddle), who then entrusts the tale to Logan (David Adkins), Under Secretary of African Affairs, and her contact at the State Department. The political intrigue involves the proposed building of the Kanguya Dam and displacement of indigenous tribes in the fictional nation of Guyamba, Azmera's homeland presided over by Dr. Siska, an economically progressive leader and American ally. Something dreadful happened the previous summer when the young woman was working to promote the dam to the villagers, but she can only recall the horrific events when tranced. The ambitious reporter wants the big story first hand, not from an audio recording, and implores Logan to use his influence to delay funding of the dam unless Siska allows an inspection team to check out Azmera's allegations of genocide.

Azmera's story is intricately layered and Clyman masterfully dissects it like an artichoke, allowing the audience to savor each leaf before moving on to the next. Jah is spellbinding as she goes in and out of her tranced state, indicating with the twitch of a finger, rapid breathing, or a faraway look that she has gone under. Her walk and her body language indicate her deepening rapport with the doctor and that she is getting stronger from the sessions. The actress uses every inch of her physical being in transforming from an angry, frightened girl to a self-assured woman, capturing our hearts along the way and making it credible that the other characters are equally taken by her. Zeisler reveals the change in Philip from self-confident, cloistered man of mystique to more expansive, caring advocate, engaging with larger world issues in spite of himself. He wears his secrets close to the vest and struggles with the opposing needs of self-preservation versus safeguarding his client. Adding to the dramatic conflict, he believes that the choice he makes is truly a matter of life and death, and the ambivalence is etched on Zeisler's face.

While Beth and Logan are secondary, each has an agenda that is not always in concert with the other's. Reminiscent of Clyman's earlier play Secret Order (produced at MRT in 2007), the playwright gives his characters a choice between doing something expedient or for the greater good and having to live with the consequences. Beth has the journalist's drive to get the truth out, but she would also like to win the Pulitzer Prize. Logan is a career government official who can serve the public in his sleep and wants to do the right thing, but he has very little power and does not wish to risk his job security at ground zero of a firestorm. Adkins is relaxed and effective in the role, humanizing this bureaucrat who is clearly torn between acting on the startling information presented to him and merely being the gatekeeper to his boss, the Secretary. Riddle succeeds in bringing out the persistent go-getter in Beth, but is less than convincing when trying to show her other dimensions. However, the two have an easy chemistry between them and give life to the banter they share. The same can be said about the wordplay between Riddle and Zeisler.

The verbal jousting is only one illustration of Clyman's artistry; another is the often poetic language ascribed to Azmera, notably when she describes the ghostly faces of departed river dwellers, or the infusion of sardonic humor into the initial give-and-take between the client and her doctor as they size each other up. In addition to the compelling story and intelligent dialogue, Clyman utilizes an interesting device to shift the action from one scene to another. The set consists of the offices of Philip and Logan and, rather than have set changes, each shift is accomplished by synchronized sound and light. Philip clicks his audio recorder on, the light brightens in his office, accompanied by the sound of a cord tugging on a light bulb, and the scene kicks into action; click the recorder off, lighting change, and the scene switches to the other tableau. The doctor and patient meet only in his consulting room, and Logan and Beth convene in his government office, but the reporter travels freely between the two spaces, as she is the link that connects them all. To expedite continuity, the four actors remain onstage throughout most of the play, even when their half of the set is in dimness. The simplicity of the set allows the focus to remain on the dialogue and intrigue, but there is at least a soupçon of African flavor with an artifact in each man's office, and Azmera wears a colorful brown and gold over blouse and large, wooden hoop earrings, giving her an ethnic look.

An impressive hallmark of this production is the attention paid to details, among them the dialects of Azmera and Zeisler. Philip describes his own international upbringing in an opening monologue, which accounts for the difficulty people have in discerning his roots, and results in his speaking in an unusual sort of brogue. He is also able to figure out where his patient has lived by hearing her speech. Music and percussive tones provide greater texture, as well as ramp up the suspense when Azmera describes what she sees in her trance. These little things enrich the experience of the audience, drawing us further into the web being woven on the stage, making our rapt attention (trance?) a set up for the jolt of the final twist that Clyman springs on us.


(MRT is holding a new or gently worn shoe and shoebox drive during the run of Tranced for use during its next production Bad Dates. After the show closes, all items will be donated to SuitAbility, a Lowell-based charity providing interview and work clothing to low-income women.)



SYREN Modern Dance Announce 20-City Tour For 20th Anniversary Photo
SYREN Modern Dance, New York City based company co-founded by Lynn Peterson and Kate Sutter, will share a split bill with kamrDANCE on December 2, 2022 at 6:30pm & 8:30pm at Arts on Site, Studio 3R, 12 St. Mark's Place, NYC.

Woodwindist/Composer Josh Sinton Embarks On 10-City Tour This December Photo
​​​​​​​Woodwindist, composer and creative musician Josh Sinton caps off an extraordinarily productive and busy year with a 10-city tour, Thursday, December 1 – Sunday, December 18. Performances include stops in New York City; Baltimore, MD; Cary, NC; Richmond, VA; Knoxville, TN; Athens, GA; Pittsburgh, PA; Bloomington, IN; Kansas City, MO; and Chicago, IL.

Taylor Tomlinson Adds Third Boston Show To THE HAVE IT ALL TOUR, February 1 Photo
Taylor Tomlinson has added a third show in Boston at the historic Boch Center Wang Theatre after the first two shows sold out. The new show for “The Have it All Tour” will be Wednesday, February 1st.

KEVIN BARTINI & FRIENDS, AN EVENING OF COMEDY At Shakespeare & Company, December 3 Photo
Shakespeare & Company and the Berkshire Mountain Comedy Arts Festival present Kevin Bartini & Friends, an evening of comedy featuring Bartini as Master of Ceremonies and two other headlining acts: comedians Jim Mendrinos and Carole Montgomery.

From This Author - Nancy Grossman

From producing and starring in family holiday pageants as a child, to avid member of Broadway Across America and Show of the Month Club, Nancy has cultivated her love of the art and respect for the... (read more about this author)

October 28, 2022

If you have yet to reach your fright limit for the Halloween season, you still have two chances to experience chills of the dramatic variety at THT Rep at the BrickBox Theater in Worcester. Reprising the production she created for small, socially-distanced audiences of 20 in the early days of the pandemic, Artistic Director Livy Scanlon is performing THE EDGAR ALLAN POE DOUBLEHEADER in front of 290 stadium-style seats.

October 26, 2022

Two hundred years after Washington Irving introduced the little hamlet of Sleepy Hollow and its superstitious denizens to the canon of American literature, the legend remains among the most enduring of stories that capture the imagination of adults and children alike, inspire questions about the supernatural realm, and scare the bejesus out of its audience.

October 22, 2022

JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE was the first Wilson play produced at the Huntington in 1986, the beginning of a 19-year relationship that saw all ten of his American Century Cycle plays chronicling the African American experience in the 20th century performed on the local stage.

Review: PIPPIN: Growing Up Is Hard To DoReview: PIPPIN: Growing Up Is Hard To Do
August 8, 2022

The second and final production of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s 2022 season is Stephen Schwartz’s PIPPIN, originally produced on the Broadway stage in 1972 with direction and choreography by Bob Fosse, and revived/reimagined in 2013 by Diane Paulus at the American Repertory Theater before going to Broadway. Undaunted by following in those two very large sets of footsteps, RMT Artistic Director Rachel Bertone forges her own path to stage a version that leads with an enlarged heart and a healthy helping of fun and whimsy.

Review: WEST SIDE STORY: You've got to be taughtReview: WEST SIDE STORY: You've got to be taught
July 11, 2022

What did our critic think of WEST SIDE STORY at Reagle Music Theatre Of Greater Boston: There's a new spring in the step of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham. Award-winning director and choreographer Rachel Bertone takes over as Artistic Director and opens the season with WEST SIDE STORY, with Dan Rodriguez by her side as music director.