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BWW Review: Elaine Romero's HALSTED Is A Bold Stroke Of Illumination ~ Launching RomeroFest, A Monthlong Celebration Of The Playwright's Work

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Elaine Romero’s HALSTED Is A Bold Stroke Of Illumination ~ Launching RomeroFest

BWW Review: Elaine Romero's HALSTED Is A Bold Stroke Of Illumination ~ Launching RomeroFest, A Monthlong Celebration Of The Playwright's Work

The scope and breadth of Elaine Romero's work as a playwright is monumental, ranging from a trilogy about border issues to a pentalogy of plays dealing with the emotional trauma of war and then to a play asserting the imperative of equal rights for women. Always topical, insightful and compelling, the creative accomplishments of Arizona Theatre Company's Playwright-In-Residence have earned her a monthlong celebration ~ RomeroFest ~ featuring live and prerecorded online presentations of twelve of her most distinguished plays.

Among these is HALSTED, a work-early-in-progress that Ms. Romero has described as a "very autobiographical" play. (ATC's production, directed by Sean Daniels, launched on March 10th and will be available for viewing online through March 14th.)

For a play in its earliest stages of development, with only six days of rehearsal under the actors' belts, HALSTED reveals itself as a striking and powerful meditation ~ a stirring reverie on things past and possibilities yet to be realized ~ expertly delivered by an outstanding cast and enhanced with brilliant graphics and projections. (Frankly, as a visual and theatrical experience, I was transfixed for the full 90 minutes.)

Within this frame, HALSTED is rich with Romero's evocative, poetic and philosophical lines of reflection on the turbulence, the highs and lows, of one's life ~ as much of the life of the author as it may be of any member of the audience, and so we are easily drawn into her narrative.

It is a deep and reflective dive into the adjustments that come with relocation from the familiar desert landscape of Tucson to the cacophony and yet-to-be-welcoming arms of Chicago; the unanticipated events that disrupt and thrust a couple into the heart of disquieting darkness; the resilience and stamina that is required to shift from fear, uncertainty, and sorrow to hope for the future.

The traumatic event at the heart of the play is a stroke. Claire (Catherine Castellano), while delivering a tender, candid, and often bemusing account of her personal journey, awaits patiently, prayerfully, and reflectively for the recovery of her one true love Brian (Nick Cordileone).

Castellano delivers a rich, embraceable and nuanced performance...sharing with illuminating clarity the details of Claire's life before the disruption; the voices and inspirations of her culture; the bonds that tie her to Brian; the new facts of her Chicago life; and the accusative challenges that she poses to the Almighty (Why did you invent strokes? When inventing nature in all its perfection, this tendency to destroy oneself from the inside out seems particularly cruel! Who made god? Where does infinity originate?)

Decisive and incisive sculpting of words and universal questions! Enough to evoke responses from a God (one of several characters played by Caroline Neff) whose true gender might be tucked under her beard.

Romero does not allow Claire to fly solo in her ruminations. She invites us to consider as well Brian's experience, to explore the trauma of the stroke patient's own feelings, or lack thereof, of bodily connections.

So, in a brilliant theatrical manoeuver, Romero's canvas becomes home to Brain (ne Brian), Limbs (John Gregorio), and Butt (Caroline Neff), who carry on with their own reflections about the world beyond their shared body and the struggle they're encountering with reconnecting the neural pathways that will restore their wholeness. The exchanges between Brain and Limbs are especially lighthearted and humorous, albeit nevertheless poignant.

Altogether, the juxtaposition of this parallel universe with Claire's is an amazing and absorbing stab at discerning the displacement and anxiety that comes with a patient's loss of control and paralysis and even conjuring up the inner mind of their journey between darkness and light.

In a profound and meaningful way, Romero has rendered more than autobiography. HALSTED is a deeply engaging allegory about the vital importance of connections, connecting, and connectivity. In every exchange, we are drawn closer to the power of the heart and mind to overcome and to the exhortation to cherish the now and fulfill possibility.

To the credit of Sean Daniels ~ the festival is his brainchild, the idea of inviting audiences into the very early stages of the play-making process his innovation, and the unique collaboration among fourteen theatre companies across the country and in Mexico City the result of his dedicated outreach ~ the introduction of HALSTED is a gift very likely, as it develops further, that will keep on giving.

Kudos to Benjamin Scheuer for original music, Will Rogers for digital design, and Max Baines for sound design.

HALSTEAD will be available for viewing online at www.arizonatheatre.org, YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo through March 14th.

Photo credit to Arizona Theatre Company

Arizona Theatre Company ~ https://arizonatheatre.org/ ~ 1636 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ ~ 602-256-6995

RomeroFest is presented by Arizona Theatre Company, Winding Road Theatre Ensemble, and The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The following is the schedule of plays, which can be viewed at www.arizonatheatre.org, YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo ~ and which will originate from Tucson, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; Mexico City; Colorado Springs, CO; New York City, NY; Portland, OR; Philadelphia, PA, Raleigh, NC; and South Bend, IN.

  • March 1 - Launch event, 5 p.m., live
  • March 3 - Colorado College (Colorado Springs): Monologues from the Vault, 5:30 p.m., LIVE
  • March 10 - Arizona Theatre Company, Halsted, 5 p.m., prerecorded, streams March 10-14
  • March 11 - Theater Ariel (Philadelphia), Secret Things, 5:30 p.m., prerecorded
  • March 12 - ATC Teens Book Club, 3 p.m., LIVE with playwright Elaine Romero
  • March 15 - Winding Road Theater Ensemble (Tucson), Wetback, 7 p.m., LIVE with post-show talkback
  • March 16 - Teatro Travieso/Troublemaker Theatre Company with an international ensemble of artists from U.S. and Mexico, Elaine Romero Shorts (3/16-3/19), prerecorded
  • March 17 - University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film and Television (Tucson), Mother of Exiles, LIVE
  • March 19 - Justice Theater Project, (Raleigh, N.C.) A Sentiment, 24-hour free film streaming period, 12 a.m. EST
  • March 20 - Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre (Tucson), Title IX, 2 p.m., prerecorded and live post-show talkback, streams March 20-April 11
  • March 20 - InterAct Theatre Company (Philadelphia), Revolutions, 5 p.m., LIVE stream
  • March 21 - Childsplay (Tempe), Alicia, 2 p.m., prerecorded
  • March 24 - Arizona Theatre Company, Ponzi, 5 p.m., prerecorded, streams March 24-28
  • March 25 - University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IND), ¡Curanderas! Serpents of the Clouds, 4:30 p.m.,
  • LIVE
  • March 26 - Seven Devils New Play Foundry (New York City/Idaho), When Reasons Sleep, 1 p.m.
  • March 27 - Bridge Initiative (Phoenix) The Dalai Lama is Not Welcome Here, 7 p.m., prerecorded, streams March 27-28
  • March 29 - Artists Repertory Theatre (Portland, Ore.), Walk into the Sea, 6 p.m., LIVE streaming via Facebook

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From This Author Herbert Paine