Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Simona’s Search”

Hartford Stage

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

Simona’s Search”, A World Premiere at Hartford Stage

Martin Zimmerman’s lovely new play, “Simona’s Search”, is currently enjoying its world premiere at Hartford Stage.  This three-character, 90 minute drama easily holds the viewer enthralled for its entire running time.

Simona (Alejandra Escalante), who has been raised by her father for most of her life after the accidental death of her mom, has always been curious about her dad’s past.  Papi (a wonderful Al Rodrigo) is an immigrant from Latin America who never talks about his life there.  He supports and provides enthusiastically for his daughter, but withholds physical touch and seems repressed in serious and significant ways.  Simona suspects Papi was tortured and suffers trauma that has never been acknowledged.  She begins to have trouble sleeping, haunted by dreams of a man she suspects was Papi’s torturer.  A budding scientist, Simona starts investigating the effects of second-hand trauma which may be genetically based.

Simona’s Search” is a touching memory play dealing with the parent/child dynamic and the devastating effect past events can visit on the present.  Zimmerman creates fully-formed characters in Simona and Papi, infusing them with humanity and humor.

Escalante does most of the heavy lifting here as the play’s narrator and her wry, sometimes sad, sometimes witty observations continuously make for compelling viewing  Rodrigo handily balances his character’s steel façade of normalcy with a fierce inner torment.  Christopher Bannow completes the cast in the nicely understated role as Simona’s patient college boyfriend.

Although in excellent shape for a new work, I have a few caveats with Zimmerman’s play.  The sequence where Bannow plays an adult lab rat (in full tale and whiskers) is no doubt an effort to inject some humor into the proceedings but comes off jarring and unfunny.  I also think the science Simona is researching is rarely convincing and the ending seems a tad abrupt in its current state.

While Yu Shibagaki’s scenic design is a little confused in execution, it is more than redeemed by Yana Biryukova’s superb projection design which may be the best I’ve ever seen in a show.  They are also enhanced beautifully by Aubrey Dube’s sound, Lucas Clopton’s original music and Aja M. Jackson’s lighting.

Simona’s Search” is a rare family drama that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.  This fine rendering, under the meticulous direction of Artistic Director Melia Bensussen, may be one of the best new plays of the season.

“Simona’s Search” continues at Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street in Hartford, through February 11th. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office 860-527-5151 or visit: boxoffice@hartfordstage.org

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