Capital Stage’s ‘Now Circa Then:’ When the past meets the present and the future

Courtesy photo

By Patti Roberts

During the day, Gideon is an enthusiastic museum employee whose job is to reenact an immigrant living in a New York Lower East Side apartment in 1890. By night he’s a geeky history nerd with little social life.

He’s joined by new museum employee Margie, hired to portray his immigrant wife, though she has little interest in the job, in reenactment, or in history — she just needs a paycheck.

Bringing these two unlikely characters together in an ever-shifting storyline is the creative premise of playwright Carly Mensch’s “Now Circa Then,” currently playing at Capital Stage, on J Street in Sacramento. As usual for Capital Stage, this production is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Each day, both Gideon (Hunter Hoffman) and Margie (Nicole Anne Salle) live two different lives — one in front of museum guests as historic figures and the other in real life as themselves. 

It soon becomes apparent these two are very different in personalities. For Gideon, history is his religion and he is its passionate preacher, while Margie sees her job as temporary until she finds her true passion, whatever that may be. But of course, mutual attraction finds its way into their lives, and romcom starts to bloom with twists and turns ahead. The play manages to balance humor with a wee bit of heart tug along the way.  

“Now Circa Then” is a two-actor play that runs 90 minutes without intermission — a wise choice that keeps the story running and the audience engaged. Both Hoffman and Salle give realistic portrayals of their opposing personalities and how it affects their relationships as one’s confidence grows while the other’s diminishes. 

They play off each other well with Salle embracing her character’s initial awkwardness in contrast with Hoffman’s charm, while engaging and encouraging the audience to participate in the museum’s reenactment moments. 

The set and costumes showcase the museum’s 1890 apartment alongside modern-day scenarios. And the background music throughout the play subtly transcends from deep Klezmer music to more modern selections. It’s also fun to see the interplay between the actors and the Capital Stage crew when both pass each other during set changes.    

The play’s storyline and dialogue does slowly lose momentum toward the end, though, thankfully, the two actors and director Jeffrey Lo keep the train on track. 

“Now Circa Then” runs through July 21; 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. $25-$48. Capital Stage Theatre, 2215 J St.; (916) 995-5464; 

This story was funded by the City of Sacramento’s Arts and Creative Economy Journalism Grant to Solving Sacramento. Following our journalism code of ethics and protocols, the city had no editorial influence over this story and no city official reviewed this story before it was published. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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