Clover is the story of a 19th century socialite, Marion “Clover” Hooper Adams who was a participant and keen observer of the Washington, DC scene in the Gilded Age of the 1870s and 1880s. This new play inspired by her life (while disclaiming historical exactitude) presents a captivating portrait of both the challenges that women generally faced in that era and the particular conflicts of this fascinating woman. Despite a few rough spots in Laura Rocklyn and Ty Hallmark’s script, the Ally Theatre Company production of Clover skillfully balances history with modern feminist themes in a compelling manner.
At the play’s beginning, Clover (Laura Rocklyn) is deceased, looking back on her life when Clover was an educated young woman with ordinary looks but extraordinary intellect and wit. She seems destined for spinsterhood (her sister points out that she is on the “wrong side of 25’) until she meets Henry Adams (Nick DePinto), great grandson of President John Adams and his famous wife Abigail.
John is delighted to meet a companion with whom he can share his intellectual passions and his love of travel. He falls in love with Clover and marries her despite family worries about her suitability, including the fact that there is a history of depression and suicide in her family.
The couple is happy early in their married life, even after John moves Clover away from her family in Boston to Washington, DC to facilitate his work as an historian and author. Just as in Boston, the couple becomes known for hosting salons of politicians, artists, and other social and intellectual elites at their Lafayette Square home.
Trouble slowly develops in the marriage. While Clover enjoys her life as a prominent socialite, she chafes at social boundaries and public criticism. Henry becomes increasingly absorbed in his work. He later engages in an emotional (but apparently unconsummated) affair with Elizabeth “Lizzie” Sherman Cameron (Tamieka Chavis), daughter of General William T. Sherman (who as a 20-year-old was encouraged to marry 44-year-old widower Senator Don Cameron).
Clover finds distractions in riding and later becomes an accomplished amateur photographer (who photographs can still be seen at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boson), although her husband prevented her from publication and professional activities. However, the death of her beloved father to whom she faithfully wrote every Sunday causes her to become increasingly involved with Grief (capitalized because Grief is a silent character in the play embodied by Megan Khaziran), leading to a tragic outcome.
Rocklyn and DePinto make an interesting couple. Laura Rocklyn presents a well-layer portrait of a complicated woman. Nick DePinto as Henry best invokes the period nature of the play. Perhaps the best post-play debates will involve that relationship, the extent to which Henry was either protecting or suppressing Clover, and the motivations for the mixture of activities he undertook after her death, including commissioning the famous sculpture now known as Grief at Clover’s gravesite in Rock Creek Cemetery.
closes October 28, 2017
Details and tickets
Less successful aspects of the play fall under the writing maxim or “show, don’t tell.” Although Rocklyn has a few clever moments as Clover, too often characters simply gush over how wonderful she is. Clover’s close relationship with her father is not adequately demonstrated or explored, especially given her later intense reaction to his death. Despite Tamieka Chavis’s charms as Lizzie, Henry’s attraction to the young woman is less than persuasively shown. the script is heavy-handed at times when falling back on a shallow recital of Henry’s need to work.
The play is buttressed by a fine ensemble. Alani Kravitz and Ben Lauer especially bring welcome energy and enthusiasm to the story. Megan Khaziran wordless movements and emotive face make the appearances of the Grief character far more interesting and involving than expected, assisted by somber original music from Katie Chambers and Ariel Bliss.
Director Angela Kay Pirko paces Clover well and effectively uses flurries of activity for transition scenes. The evocative set design of Audrey Bodek works in conjuring up the period setting of the play and the use of the photographs decorating the walls is a simple but effective touch.
Clover presents a detailed character story set in an interesting world (even if 19th century DC is amusingly described as an “awkward, dusty city”). The intimacy of Clover’s world and that of Caos on F make this Ally Theatre Company production a fine choice for an evening of theatre about DC that entertains and provokes.
Clover by Laura Rocklyn and Ty Hallmark. Directed by Angela Kay Pirko. Featuring Tamieka Chavis, Nick DePinto, Megan Khaziran, Alani Kravitz, Ben Lauer, Reginald Richard, Laura Rocklyn, and Stephanie Svec. Stage Manager: Steph Connor. Set & Props Design: Audrey Bodek. Lighting Design: E-hui Woo. Sound Design: Hope Villanueva. Costume Design: Dominique Gaddy. Choreography: Angelisa Gillyard. Dramaturg: Katie Keddell. Original Music: Katie Chamber (cello) & Ariel Bliss (flue). Produced by Ty Hallmark, Ivana (Tai) Alexander, and Ally Theatre Company. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.