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Beautiful, tragic: Trustus explores SC history in ‘Constance’

The Restoration’s Constance may not be the title you recognize most quickly out of a list of productions from Trustus Theatre’s thirty-third season.  Nevertheless, the show features so many significant emotional milestones that it begins to feel somehow instantly, organically iconic, a work of historical fiction that connects to its audience in the deepest parts of their core.  It is a play that speaks to the land, people, culture, and history of the state in which we live, and for some, that glimpse into the past may carry a little bite.

The Restoration’s Constance is a lively, fast-paced, and emotionally heavy musical featuring American folk style numbers.  The music celebrates love, but the play itself tackles major race and class issues.  This musical may have you swooning with adoration over a love song, or clenching your fists with anger during a scene of violence, or wiping a tear off your cheek after another moment.  It is a trip back in time, and it’s set in, of all places, Lexington, South Carolina.

Originally a concept album, The Restoration’s Constance was written and adapted for the stage by Trustus’s artistic director, Chad Henderson.  With original material, Henderson’s talent for storytelling is showcased—he is able to balance concurrent plot lines purposefully and effortlessly, and if you have a close eye, you’re sure to be impressed by just how much he has going onstage at once.  Henderson has a knack for gracefully juggling multiple storylines, huge time lapses, and aging characters; the play’s flow of action is dreamlike, as scenes melt in and out.

We meet the title character, Constance, at multiple times in her life, and because of that, she is portrayed by multiple actresses (Vicky Saye Henderson, Brittany Hammock, and mega-talented child actress Clare Kerwin).  After Constance’s mother dies, she is raised by her father, a poor farmer.  As a young woman, she helps out at her local theatre, where she meets Aaron Vale (Mario Carpenter), a bi-racial pianist, carpenter, songwriter, and all around man of everyone’s dreams.  (Seriously—you could feel the adoration in the audience’s gaze.) Hammock and Carpenter share an electricity together onstage that seemed to leave most of the audience hypnotized, drooling, or staring wistfully at two soulmates.  Carpenter’s voice has both edge and smoothness, in the style of John Legend, and Hammock has a classically feminine, sweet voice that complements his ideally. Their duets together are breathtaking and beautiful—by far some of this play’s most impressive and touching moments.

With a cast of 25 actors, though, there is quite a bit else going on during Constance.  It would be negligent to not mention Paul Kaufmann’s show-stealing performance as a booze-loving pastor.  Kaufmann might be one of Columbia’s most understated, and yet immeasurably talented, theatrical performers, and he does not disappoint in Constance.  (Also, every time you drive through Blythewood after seeing this play, you’re going to think about him and werewolves.  Just wait.)

Michael Hazin and Patrick Dodds offer some of the play’s most heated, charged moments, portraying Constance and Aaron’s son and his childhood best friend.  There is something almost disturbingly contemporary about the fear of death, violence, war, and society that these two characters express.  Hazin and Dodds realize that fear with the insight of two young men who have grown up in an era where headlines constantly allude to hate crimes, police brutality, and protests.  You realize watching these young men that they share several of the same fears as the generations after them have.  It’s intelligent, emotional, and ultimately quite tragic.

There is no shortage of poignant, gripping moments in this musical, and it is written in a way that seems determined to affect everyone in the audience, sometimes by reminding us of our own memories.  But it is the setting that makes the stories within Constance most impactful—this is an entire musical set in Lexington, South Carolina, through several decades.  You see people living in the Midlands during the post-Civil War Restoration, World War I, and into the Great Depression.  You see them make childhood friends, fall in love, get in fistfights, get drunk, lose loved ones, get married, have children of their own—all experiences that you likely have had on the same soil on which this musical is set.  Identifying with the characters is all too easy, so be forewarned: the questions that haunt their lives may linger in your mind even after you leave Trustus Theatre.

You can only go back in time and sing along with the all-star cast of The Restoration’s Constance through May 19.  For those who regularly attend local arts events, you’ll be sure to recognize many familiar faces in the cast.  This is also a great play to bring along a theatre newbie—it is accessible and unpretentious, and the music is a gift in itself.  For showtimes and tickets, click here.

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