Poor Clare, now playing at the Echo Theater, is a moving portrait of a young woman’s transition from entitled noblewoman to a saint who embraced poverty and dedicated her life to serving the poor. It’s also a raucous and hilarious coming-of-age tale about teens who gossip about hair, clothes and mates. But wait: it’s also a timely commentary on today’s societal ills.
Playwright Chiara Atik, a San Diego native, covers all the bases in her script for this world premiere production. She tapped into her dating blogger background to inform her young and very modern characters. She tracks the radicalization of Clare through her encounters with Francis of Assisi, her growing awareness of the poor near her palazzo and her changing family and servant relationships.
The play brilliantly builds Clare’s layers of ego and compassion, confidence and vulnerability, selfishness and benevolence. Even the minor characters are fully rounded. Successful as a comedy, a biographical portrait and a representational morality play, it’s truly a religious experience.
Francis (a properly charismatic Michael Sturgis) tells Clare (a luminous Jordan Hull), “You’re rich. The first step is to admit it.” He doesn’t have to work hard to open her eyes. She becomes disgusted by the excess of her suitor’s gifts and her privileged life. “I renounce all my accessories,” she avows, a step in her transition to hair shirt and bare feet.
For those who have been delaying their return to indoor theaters, Poor Clare, originally scheduled to open in March 2020, is what you’ve been waiting for. The cast is uniformly excellent. Director Alana Dietze choreographs the action as if it were a ballet. The scenic design, by Amanda Knehans, is, fittingly, simple but beautiful. Luscious costumes (Dianne K. Graebner), fabulous wigs and hair (Klint Flowers), lighting (Azra King-Abadi) and sound (Jeff Gardner) are all exceptional.
Poor Clare is performed on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 4 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. through Nov. 29 at the Echo Theatre in Atwater Village, 3269 Casitas Ave. Running time is about two hours, including intermission. Tickets are $34 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; Monday night performances are $20 in advance and pay-what-you-want at the door (subject to availability). On-site and street parking are free. For reservations and information, call (310) 307-3753 or go to www.EchoTheaterCompany.com. Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours is required. Ages 12+.