Harbinger Theatre’s Mrs. Packard Is Irresistible
Written by Staff on December 9, 2023
Harbinger Theatre’s Mrs. Packard Is Irresistible by Joanna Palladino.
“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid.” – Dwight Eisenhower
Often the past is forgotten and old plays or historic theatrical pieces are tossed to the side for more edgier modern works that are sure to thrill and engage an audience. Harbinger Theatre’s premiere of the play, Mrs. Packard by Emily Mann, recipient of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award, is a poignant play that reveals the real-life historical events of Elizabeth Parson Ware Packard, a woman forcibly institutionalized to an asylum by her husband against her will. The play takes place in Illinois in 1861 during a time when a woman could be deemed insane for simply disagreeing with her husband. After defending her sanity at trial in 1864, Mrs. Packard campaigned to ensure the rights of women as well as the treatment of those most vulnerable -those struggling with mental health issues. The plot of this play sounds more like a torturous middle school history class than a fun and engaging night at the theater. However, Harbinger Theater’s production at the Albany Barn delivers a memorable show that is engaging and fun, and is a thought provoking look at the treatment of women, people with mental health needs, and exposes a forgotten part of our own history
If you are a woman – go see this play If you are a man of character who loves and appreciates strong women – go see this play. If you are a person who believes that knowing our own history is valuable, especially in this day and age– go see this play.
Director Chris Foster pulls off one of the hardest directorial jobs a person could be tasked with – wrangling the energies and performances of 16 local community theater actors. Large casts bring complications, and Chris Foster’s skilled direction delivered structure, organization, fine acting, and an overall stellar show. The ensemble of actors did an incredible job, never losing sight of the purpose of the play and keeping the humanity of each of their respective characters – even when some characters at the surface appeared to be lacking just that. There are too many actors to mention in a short review of the play, but notable standouts include:
Richard Michael Roe as the Reverend Theophilus Packard – acted with the perfect blend of equal parts bluster, frustration, and ignorance;
Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm as Dr. MacFarland – adeptly balanced an appearance of empathy pitted against the learned misogyny of the time.
Robin Leary as Mrs. Stockton – her second act transformation to a woman broken by the barbaric practices at the asylum is tenderly portrayed; and
Kathleen Carey as Mrs. Packard- a knock-out performance by this veteran actor who delivers a perfect portrayal of Mrs. Packard suffused with strength, poise, intellect, vulnerability, sheer determination and grit.
Beth Rulman managed to costume this entire cast, most likely on a shoestring budget, and she should be commended for her efforts.
Lighting Designer Nick Nealson, and Stage Manager Lauren D’ Annibale did an incredible job tackling the challenges of a mixed-use performance space and a large cast. Of special note is Sound Designer Joshua Horowitz who continues to thoughtfully select music that contributes beautifully to the overall quality of the production. Mrs. Packard heavily showcases the work of Yutaka Minobe, a self-taught musician who composed for several Sonic games while employed by Sega. Many of the songs during the actual performance time of the show are pulled from Minobe’s game Rule of Rose, a PlayStation 2 game originally published in Japan. The game is a fictional account of the survival of a young woman who pieces together her past in an orphanage. During the moderated Talk Back held after the play on Friday night, Joshua Horowitz disclosed that he felt that the game Rule of Rose had similar themes to that of Mrs. Packard and felt that the orchestrations fit well into the play. Minobe’s orchestrations create tension and suspense and are a perfect musical addition as the underpinning for much of the play. Yutaka Minobe’s Rule of Rose soundtrack can be found on YouTube and some of his other work like Tension, can be found on Apple music. Horowitz relies on more traditional and period “appropriate” music for the pre-show and intermission soundtrack, including: Fauré’s Shylock Suite Nocturne; Dvořák – Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 22: IV. Larghetto – Metamorphose String Orchestra, Pavel Lyubomudrov; Schubert’s – Four Impromptus, Op. 90, D. 899: No. 3 in G-Flat Major, Andante – Vadim Chaimovich; Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, Book 1, Op. 19b: No. 1, Andante con moto – Vadim Chaimovich; and Tchaikovsky’s The Snow Maiden, “Snégourotchka”: X. Melodrama.
Harbinger Theatre’s production of Emily Mann’s Mrs. Packard at the Albany Barn is an enjoyable night of theater – giving the audience a dose of history with modern day relevance, and challenging theater goers to appreciate how far we’ve come as a society and what fights are left to finish. Don’t be timid, you can see performance of Mrs. Packard Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm through 12/16/23. $15 tickets can be reserved via Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.com/…/mrs-packard-by-emily-mann.
Photos by David Quiñones Jr.
1-John Quinan, Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm, J. Scala, Richard Michael Roe, Kathleen Carey, Michael Schaefer
2-Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm & Kathleen Carey
3-Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm, J. Scala, Kathleen Carey, JJ Paul
4-Cindy Campbell, Robin Leary, Kathleen Carey, Jean Carney
5-Tiffany McWilliams, Victoria Vine, JJ Paul, Sara Paupini
All photos by David Quiñones Jr.