Review: Stages SUNRISE COVEN is a Homegrown Inspiration and a Wonderous World Premiere

By: Apr. 04, 2022
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.




Existing user? Just click login.

Review: Stages SUNRISE COVEN is a Homegrown Inspiration and a Wonderous World Premiere
Susan Koozin in SUNRISE COVEN at STAGES. Photo by Melissa Taylor

Don't let the name scare you. SUNRISE COVEN at Stages Repertory in Houston is a wonder of dark comedy by one of Houston's most high-minded playwrights.

This spring, Brendan Bourque-Sheil's story of a woman dealing with life's impossible changes is one of Houston's best plays. Set in the fictional town of Buxtop, Texas, the protagonist, Hallie (Susan Koozin), wakes up after an overdose and the resultant story is about how a person copes with almost impossible odds. The story is not a sad one but instead illuminates the troubling headlines of not only our healthcare system but also the ripple effects it has on our lives. Hallie's problems is the catalyst for her meeting Winter Moon (Carolyn Johnson), a Wiccan with a struggling occult shop, which helps our main character interpret her newfound supernatural powers. As Hallie recovers from addiction, she, Winter, and friend Ethan (Aaron Ruiz) scheme up to create a "religion" that provides expensive medications to the people of Buxtop at a low cost. Hallie's experience as a revered former nurse practitioner leads to the "religions" success but finds trouble when the town's admiration reaches extreme false idolatry. Tensions grow as Hallie fan Doctor Annie Gin (Mai Lê) realizes the tricky moral and legal grounds that the religion is treading.

Review: Stages SUNRISE COVEN is a Homegrown Inspiration and a Wonderous World Premiere
Aaron Ruiz and Susan Koozin in SUNRISE COVEN at STAGES. Photo by Melissa Taylor.

The play itself is brilliant and well-written. Dramaturgically speaking, Brendan's writing is some of the best in the contemporary era. The playwright allows each character their own voice but creates an ensemble piece that any theater should relish producing. Every actor on stage is performing a master class in character work. Mai Lê, fresh off the Alley's production of High School Play, is in top form, as her portrayal of the young Annie elicits physical tears and piles on emotions that millennials will understand. As town spokesman, Jax, Byron Jacquet does incredible accent work and effortlessly blends his character to the situation. Jacquet character serves a sort audience proxy and does effortlessly and with a zest that is unmatched by many. Carolyn Johnson as Wiccan, Winter Moon, is comedy gold. Johnsons paints a perfect foil against the incongruous Hallie and does so with some of the most physical and vocal intensity one can currently see on stage. The loveable dullard, Ethan, played by Aaron Ruiz, is also a millennials fever dream of acting. Ruiz portrays the young man with enthusiasm and grit, and his acting will leave you with laughs and chills moments later. Finally, the star of the show and tour de force is Susan Koozin. Koozin's remarkable acting and physical likeness to film star, Jessica Lange (in this sphere most recently known for American Horror Story: Coven) is only the surface of how the actress leaves audiences in awe. The actress commands the stage and pushes herself to the limits of acting innovation. Her Hallie is worth more than the price of admission. It is worth all the gold in the world. When award season comes around, Koozin deserves at minimum a nomination for her efforts in Brendan's incredible work.

Review: Stages SUNRISE COVEN is a Homegrown Inspiration and a Wonderous World Premiere
Carolyn Johnson in SUNRISE COVEN at STAGES. Photo by Melissa Taylor.

All the design elements are absolute eye candy. Of course, what would one expect when discussing the subject of witches. The props, some hilarious, some all too realistic, are done by Jodi Bobrovsky and are incredibly well done. L.A. Clevenson's costume design is a contemporary one but truly exudes the personality of the production's characters. Sound at STAGES is still being worked out, primarily not a problem. Still, some of the sound elements of Sean Ramos's intriguing sound design are hard to hear at times. The star of the design elements of the production are the lighting and scenic elements by Janessa A. Harris and Torsten Louis, respectively. Harris and Torstens designs could be the subject of university design courses, for they should be studied because of their brilliance.

Review: Stages SUNRISE COVEN is a Homegrown Inspiration and a Wonderous World Premiere
Mai Lê and Susan Koozin in SUNRISE COVEN at STAGES. Photo by Melissa Taylor.

Finally, one can't underestimate the directing mammoth that this play exudes. Director, Leslie Swakhamer, and Assistant Director, Benito Vasquez, have greatly inspired both cast and crew in this production. They both deserve awards for their creation.

Review: Stages SUNRISE COVEN is a Homegrown Inspiration and a Wonderous World Premiere
Carolyn Johnson and Byron Jacquet in SUNRISE COVEN at STAGES. Photo by Melissa Taylor.

Overall, SUNRISE COVEN is one of the best plays this theater season. The difficulty of following such a brilliant production is enormous. Still, I have no doubts that Stages' next venture will be just as bright. Shawanna Renee Rivon's YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO SIT IN is next on their docket. I know both productions will only add more crown jewels to a already fantastic season. I see a bright future for the brilliant Brendan. I only hope Houstonians can witness SUNRISE COVEN before the candle runs out.

Review: Stages SUNRISE COVEN is a Homegrown Inspiration and a Wonderous World Premiere
Susan Koozin and Carolyn Johnson in SUNRISE COVEN at STAGES. Photo by Melissa Taylor.

SUNRISE COVEN is running at Stages Repertory until Sunday, April 10th. Performances are Wednesday thru Sunday, with performances Wednesday thru Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00pm, and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm. Vaccines and masks are no longer required at STAGES, but masks are highly encouraged. Tickets can be bought at the theater's box office at 800 Rosine St., by calling 713-527-0123, or online at stageshouston.com.



Videos