It's 1963, and it's sweltering in the basement where Caroline Thibodeaux (Rashada Dawan) spends her days doing laundry—a full load a day from the Gellman family, washed in conditions that mimic the contradiction of Louisiana, underwater and above ground all at once. The darkness and the heat of the basement, the smoke of Caroline's cigarette, the danger implicit in the iron she wields, and the bass of a singing dryer (Micheal Lovette) contribute to an atmosphere like a cauldron about to boil over. Down the stairs come further irritations: eight-year-old Noah Gellman (Alejandro Medina) and his new stepmother, Rose (Blair Robertson), the one clinging to Caroline as the only sure thing in his little life—"Caroline, who's always mad. . . . Caroline, who's stronger than my dad"—the other earnestly sublimating her anxiety about her new role as mistress of the house into unwanted acts of charity, like sending Caroline home with cooked cabbage her kids won't eat and the change that Noah leaves in his pockets when his clothes go into the wash.
Caroline, or Change, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book by Tony Kushner, revels in tension, juxtaposing racial inequality with domestic unhappiness. Firebrand's production, directed by Lili-Anne Brown, is graced all-around with fearless, fantastic singers. Bre Jacobs turns in an especially strong performance as Caroline's eldest daughter, Emmie, who has all the impetuousness and petulance of a young girl eager for the change her mother has spent her life accepting can't and won't happen. v