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BWW Review: POOR CLARE at Echo Theater Company

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The sparkling comedy runs through November 29 in Atwater Village

BWW Review: POOR CLARE at Echo Theater Company
Martica De Cardenas, Jordan Hull,
and Ann Noble

Saint Clare of Assisi, born Chiara Offreduccio, was one of the original followers of Saint Francis of Assisi, founding the Order of Poor Ladies (hence, Poor Clare), an agnostic all-female religious order, after eschewing a privileged upbringing. Her story of devotion, austerity, and understanding, while at first glance not comedic, is brought to vivid and laugh-out-loud life by playwright Chiara Atik.

Our heroine (Jordan Hull) is a medieval Elle Woods, silly and frivolous with a total lack of self-awareness. Gossiping with her handmaidens (Kari Lee Cartwright and Martica De Cardenas) and 15-year-old sister, Beatrice (Donna Zadeh), in 1211 Assisi, Italy, she has no understanding of her wealth and standing in her village. This changes when she meets Francis (Michael Sturgis), who has eschewed all creature comforts as he sets out to found his own church, his own religion, prompting Clare to slowly start peeling away the layers of artifice-jewelry, clothes, comfort-she's been groomed to accept, setting her on course to eventually be sainted.

BWW Review: POOR CLARE at Echo Theater Company
CaptiMichael Sturgis and Jordan Hullon

A world premiere play, also heralding the Echo Theater Company's 25th season, POOR CLARE is an inspired project with fizzy and dazzlingly delightful dialogue as our heroine navigates her way from clueless heiress to devout monastic. The opening night audience came unglued throughout, surprised by both the script and the performances, guided with a deft hand by director Alana Dietze (THE WOLVES, THE FOUND DOG RIBBON DANCE, DRY LAND).

The set is spare with just a colorful wooden backdrop of a castle by scenic designer Amanda Knehans and minor props. The costumes are beautifully designed and tailored by Dianne K. Graebner; you can see the quality in the fabric and the stitching. Hull balances the fine line between pampered and mindless with a humanity and sympathy a lesser actor wouldn't have been able to mine. Her Clare is silly but not stupid, garnering understanding from the audience even when she's at her flightiest. She's surrounded by top-notch comedic actors, with Zadeh and Ann Noble (as Clare and Beatrice's mother, Ortolana) being particular standouts. Everything they do is rife with humor and pathos. Sturgis also gets laughs from his future saint, whether it's his clothing, his haircut, or he's just cracking wise. His dry, acerbic wit brings to mind the comic brilliance of '80s actor Jim J. Bullock at his best.

The themes of wealth redistribution, religion, and politics are perennial and particularly pertinent in our current trying times, making POOR CLARE relatable despite its taking place centuries ago. This means the show is both astute and alarming-because not much has changed despite the best intentions of both Clare and Francis of Assisi. The rich keep getting richer and the poor struggle to squeak by; religion tears people apart as much as it brings them together; and politicians more and more act like they are celebrities versus public servants. So for all the sparkling energy of the show, there is still a reality check to be reckoned with, as the best comedies hold up a mirror to ourselves and our society.

BWW Review: POOR CLARE at Echo Theater Company
Martica De Cardenas and Ann Noble

The show runs two hours with one 15-minute intermission, though it will breeze by so fast, you won't even consider checking your phone for the time. The Echo Theater Company puts on consistently fine work and POOR CLARE adds to that tradition.

How To Get Tickets

POOR CLARE is performed at the Echo Theater Company, 3269 Casitas Avenue, through November 29. Tickets can be purchased by calling 310-307-3753 or going to EchoTheaterCompany.com. The show is open to people 12 and older. Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours will be required of all patrons.

All photos by Cooper Bates


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