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'Weeds' Writer Carly Mensch’s Play, 'Now Circa Then,' is a Delight

TheatreWorks puts on a charming West Coast premier at Lucie Stern Theatre.

Carly Mensch's two-hander presents viewers with the plight of two youths working as historical re-enactors—as Prussian immigrants at the turn of the century—in New York City.

Gideon is a history buff of unwavering passion, observing the past with a respect that transcends his working hours. Margie, on the other hand, moved to the Big Apple ready to take any job, especially if her workplace conveniently doubles as housing—which it does.

Mensch, who also works as a writer on the television series Weeds, shared the moment of realization for the play's premise: "The immigrant story to me has always been something I've wanted to write about. My grandfather was a Polish immigrant who worked as a furrier on the Lower East Side. I didn't know how to write about it without being hokey. I realized, 'Oh, historical reenactment!' It's so theatrical, it's such a fun way to get the history story in without writing a stodgy, old-fashioned play."

The romantic comedy's playful charm abounds as these two characters explore what it means to love, to live in the present, and to obsess over the past. Scenes alternate between off-stage reality and reenactments in which the audience members are treated as museum visitors. Soon Margie's means of paying the bills turns into a dangerously greater part of her life, while Gideon's own evolution is driven by the heady rush of coupled life.

The play is more humorous than academic, its characters growing by means of emotional trial and error rather than poised discussion. As such "Now Circa Then" might not have viewers walk away focused on its messages, but the two-hander gives viewers a lot to laugh about.­­

Life as a re-enactor becomes an extension of Gideon and Margie's personal lives, pristine if it weren’t for the dissonant intrusion of cell phones and Starbuck's coffee. Elsewhere, one can see how fun it must have been for actress Kimiye Corwin to act as a bad actress (Margie starts her thespian life in comically stilted manner). Matt R. Harrington also delivers a great performance as the happy-go-lucky Gideon, diving into romance without looking back.

Fans of romantic comedies should do the same. “Now Circa Then” runs through April 1st at Lucie Stern Theatre at 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are available through TheatreWorks’ website, or at (650) 463-1960.

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