Simona’s Search Finds Success at the Hartford Stage

 

Simona’s Search Finds Success at the Hartford Stage

Review By David Pulvermacher

Marvelous, mysterious, and methodical are just some of the praise the production of Simona's Search deserves for their performance Saturday night at the Hartford Stage. Written by Martin Zimmerman and Directed by Melia Bensussen, Simona's Search follows the life of Simona as she dedicates her life to understanding her father and the struggles he dares not tell a soul. Simona studies genetic research and its impact on inherited family trauma. Can Simona save her father from himself, or will she lose her identity as she analyzes the past? Bensussen and her company dedicate the ninety-minute performance to demanding that the audience reflect on their lives and choices. Commanding the viewer to think about life-long questions and to consider questioning our upbringing, potential trauma, and how communication impacts the ones we care for. Through the actors' portrayal of their roles, excellent writing, and use of staging, the cast of Simona's Search creates a compelling discussion that makes for a thought-provoking and rewatchable production.


Making her Hartford Stage debut, Alejandra Escalante carries the show with her performance as Simona. Escalante first debuted Off-Broadway in the production of Dying City. She also previously played Simona in the virtual reading of the show in 2021 at the American Voices New Play Festival. Escalante takes the audience on Simona's rollercoaster of a journey. Welcoming the viewer as a young Simona whose biggest struggle in life until that point is getting her father's approval to host a sleepover. Escalante demonstrates her acting range as Simona's sleepover reveals a side of her father that she never would have imagined. The revelation sets Simona on a journey to study trauma so she can try to understand and save her father from the struggles within his mind. Escalante displays Simona as she grows up. The audience watches as Simona graduates high school, goes to college, and meets her first love, while battling the ever-lingering daily struggles that roam through her thoughts. Experiencing life for herself, Simona struggles to find her equilibrium. Escalante's performance feels authentic and relatable. 


Returning for his second performance to the Hartford Stage, Al Rodrigo plays Simona's Papi and other roles throughout Simona's Search. Rodrigo has performed previously at the Hartford Stage in Pericles. In his role as Papi, Rodrigo plays a charismatic old-school patriarch of the family. A bit corny initially, Rodrigo conveys deep contrast in his character once Simona digs deeper into Papi's past. The cliche happy-go-lucky father figure quickly takes a realistic and surprising twist. Rodrigo's range in each character he performs acts as an interesting foil to the other. Papi builds walls to protect Simona from the struggles he's endured. Demonstrating the traditional man's struggles, Papi conceals his feelings and struggles to articulate them. The growing tension between father and daughter feels like a conflict many may have experienced. Rodrigo's performance is captivating and compels the viewer to think about the more prominent themes of the show.     


Making his first debut at the Hartford Stage, Christopher Bannow plays Jake and several other characters during the show. Bannow made his Broadway debut in Oklahoma!. In 2023, he won a Lucille Lortel Award for his performance in Hansol Jung's Wolf Play. As Jake, Bannow portrays a modern young college man who is quirky and self-conscious. In each of his roles, Bannow brings a breath of lightheartedness to the show that helps to balance the serious themes. Bannow's and Escalante's on-stage rapport with one another is enjoyable and makes their journey even more meaningful for the viewer to follow.  


The only minor complaint is the quality of sound was inconsistent. At times, the microphones flickered in or out. However, the theater has accommodations for individuals who are hard of hearing. 


Simona’s Search is a thought-provoking show that can be seen multiple times to truly soak in all its themes and symbolism. From its topics of trauma, communication, and self-care, this play is both powerful and relevant to our modern times. 


Simona’s Search will be at the Hartford Stage from Thursday, January 18th, 2024, through Sunday, February 11th, 2024. Tuesday through Thursday evening performances begin at 7:30 PM, and Friday and Saturday performances start at 8:00 PM. Matinee performances on Saturdays, Sundays, and a select Wednesday begin at 2:00 PM. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased online at HartfordStage.org, by phone at (860) 527-5151, or in person at the box office at 50 Church St, Hartford, CT. 

 


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