Syracuse Stage musical ‘Caroline, or Change’ explores issues of race, class and culture

The musical “Caroline, or Change” wades deep into the turbulent waters of relationships in Lake Charles, La., in 1963 — between blacks and whites, Southerners and Northerners, haves and have-nots, young and old.

At the vortex is Caroline Thibodeaux, an African-American maid. She struggles against currents of conflict everywhere. Caroline is suffocating in the basement as she washes, dries and irons for a young family and is drowning in the discord in her home life.

Upstairs, the Gellmans, who are Jewish, also are in distress. A grieving Stuart Gellman has married Rose Stopnick, his late wife’s best friend from New York City. She is trying to raise his 8-year-old son, Noah, who longs to be one of Caroline’s four children.

Haven’t we been here before, dissected and discussed these issues to death?

“There lies the power of theater,” says Marcela Lorca, who is directing Syracuse Stage’s production of “Caroline, or Change,” which opens Friday and continues through Feb. 26. “You can put things onstage in the way that you haven’t seen them before. You don’t see it like you’re watching the news or reading a newspaper or you’re hearing a lecture in class. You see it through the power of imagination, of live performance, of music, of live engagement in a way that can be very direct but also very entertaining.

“So, I think that theater has tremendous power to bring people together and look at the same issues that maybe you’re fatigued about … but now you can see them through fresh eyes and through a fresh mind set,” Lorca said.

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