June 9, 2016

With Aaron’s Arms Around Me and The Mire

Cherry Lane Theater

Directed by Charles Weldon for the Negro Ensemble Company

Written by Sophia Romma

Starring Naomi McDougall Jones, LaTonia Phipps, 

Tosh Marks, Carolyn Seiff, Allan Mirchin


Complete Review from THE NEW YORK TIMES:

The Borders That Love Crosses


Published: December 14, 2010


Love and the meeting of cultures are explored in one-acts by Sophia Romma now at the Cherry Lane Theater. Directed by Charles Weldon for the Negro Ensemble Company as part of the troupe’s recent takes on intolerance, “With Aaron’s Arms Around Me” is plainspoken, while “The Mire” is a farcical fable. Each takes a refreshing, almost sideways approach to the subject of ethnic tension.


In “Aaron’s Arms” one college student interviews another for an assignment. The droll, cynical Tanya (Naomi McDougall Jones), a Russian-American Jew, questions Madeleine (LaTonia Phipps), an aspiring dramatist from Jamaica, about her relationship with her Jewish boyfriend, Aaron — how they met, and how his parents greeted their union with dismay. Tanya has reason to be curious: her own boyfriend is a Roman Catholic Italian-American, and she has been baptized, to her parents’ mortification.

As Madeleine tells her tale, a portrait emerges of a generation far less concerned with intermarriage than its forebears. Ms. Phipps sustains the island lilt and meandering passages with ease, but her character is almost too saintly. It’s Tanya’s acerbic comments that get the laughs. The play ends abruptly, with the audience wanting more of her.


“The Mire,” an adaptation of Chekhov’s short story “Mire,” feels more complete. A disaffected Italian-American deserter from the Iraq war (Tosh Marks) goes to the home of Svetlana, a Russian Jew, seeking payment of a debt she owes his brother.


Svetlana (Naomi McDougall Jones) lives with her grandparents (Carolyn Seiff and Allan Mirchin). They are stock characters, but the actors, especially Mr. Mirchin, play them with comic dexterity, confounding Mr. Marks’s humorless lieutenant. He is further undone by Svetlana, who speaks in effervescent wordplay artfully derived from Chekhov, and is ensnared in her (and Ms. Jones’s) enchantments. So is the audience.



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