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The land of opportunity is a lie in this stirring drama
When Ewa (Marion Cotillard: Anchorman 2) emerges from the dank hull of an immigrant ship into the gray New York winter, the land of opportunity is cold and foreboding. Crammed into lines at Ellis Island, Ewa is nervous that her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan: Paranoia), who fell ill on the boat, won’t pass inspection.
 
She’s right. 
 
Magda is ushered into a quarantine room while Ewa tries to figure out what’s going on. As a woman alone, Ewa too is an immigration risk, sent to a room with other unsuitables awaiting deportation. Afraid, alone and about to lose her American dream, Ewa glimpses possible salvation. 
 
Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix: Her) is scouting rejects for talent. A pimp and strip show producer, he promises to help Ewa and her sister. But she will work to earn the money he’ll need. Ewa reluctantly joins Bruno and the women he manages. 
 
Counting the seconds until her indentured servitude is over, Ewa continues to hope to free her sister from Ellis Island isolation. 

Bleak, pensive and beautifully shot, The Immigrant is a fascinating look at the dark side of the American dream. Writer/director James Gray (Two Lovers) explores how easy it was for predatory men to force desperate women into sex work. Gray’s Prohibition-era New York is dirty and grey, filled with filthy people and dark corners. This is an unwelcoming world to foreign people, who must learn the rules of this new corrupt society fast or be swallowed by exploiters. Gray pairs his strong script with carefully considered camera work. Frames filled with action and detail enhance the story. 
 
Luminous even with minimal makeup, Cotillard is fantastic as a woman who sells herself piece by piece for hope. Her beauty and solemnity set her apart from the chaotic crowds swirling around her. Her Ewa is never helpless, even when victimized. She accepts what’s happening to her stoically, remaining focused on her goal. Her mix of vulnerability and steel makes her a compelling heroine. 
 
As Ewa’s mercurial pimp, Phoenix swings wildly between terrifying and pathetic. He gives Bruno a wild look, as if he’s clinging to sanity with his fingernails. Indeed, he has deluded himself into believing he’s a savior to the women he uses. Chalking his mood swings up to “artistic temperament,” Bruno becomes obsessed with Ewa, seemingly the only woman repulsed by his behavior. 
 
Troubling, brutal and sadly beautiful, The Immigrant won’t appeal to a mass audience. But it’s part of the truth of the Land of Opportunity.
Great Drama • R • 120 mins. 
It would be a shame for one seat to go empty during this run.
Debuting to 10 Tony Awards 50 years ago, Hello, Dolly! is a rarity among musicals: song and dance blend seamlessly with story, its buoyant innocence saving it from contrivance. Based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, it’s a perfect vehicle for 2nd Star Productions, long recognized for outstanding musicals. The combination of strength in show and talent makes this the best amateur musical production I have seen in 13 years of reviewing. 
 
Dolly Levi (Nori Morton), as charming as she is perceptive and manipulative, is a marriage broker who, after a long widowhood, has set her own matrimonial sights on Horace Vandergelder (Gene Valendo), the half-millionaire from Yonkers who also happens to be her client. Horace is set to marry Irene Molloy (Pam Schilling), a lovely widow and milliner from the city. But his quest does not end as he — or six younger romantics — anticipated, as Dolly lets drop some slanderous rumors about Irene’s character.
 
Horace’s two clerks at Vandergelder’s Feed Store — Cornelius (Nathan Bowen) and Barnaby (Daniel Starnes) — close the store without Horace’s knowledge to follow him, intent on sightseeing and kissing a girl — all on two dollars. Horace’s niece Ermengarde (Emily Freeman), meanwhile, steals off to the city at Dolly’s urging with her forbidden love Ambrose (Josh Hampton). Dolly enters the pair in a polka contest at the swanky Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where Horace will dine.
 
In the city, Cornelius and Barnaby spot their boss and take refuge in Irene’s hat shop, where Horace discovers them and abandons Irene. She and her assistant Minnie (Colleen Coleman) then fall for Cornelius and Barnaby. Dolly next sets up Horace with a mannequin, then with Ernestina (Rebecca Feibel), a crass floozy, interrupting their miserable tête à tête so that he will fall for her in desperation. Horace’s employees, meanwhile, are trying to entertain the milliners on a pittance in an adjacent booth when an accidental wallet swap saves their day but causes Horace to be arrested for not paying his bill. The polka contest turns into a riot. Everyone is hauled to court, but Cornelius saves the day with a speech on the power of love that moves the Judge (Mark Jeweler) to free everyone but Horace. Dolly, of course, is there to save his day.
 
There is not a clinker in this cast. The leads, all well cast, know how to sell their songs. With hummable hits like Put on Your Sunday Clothes, It Takes a Woman and It Only Takes a Moment, the singing is pitch-perfect and the dancing precise. Morton is every inch the marvelous meddler; Valendo delivers just the right blend of tightwad anxiety; Bowen charms with naïve sincerity and energy to burn; Starnes is an impressive presence as the teen playing a teen; Schilling sings like a lark in Ribbons Down My Back and Coleman is her perfect ingénue foil. Tim Sayles is hilarious as Rudolph, the maître d’ who barks orders like a German drill sergeant in the Waiters’ Galop, a stunning ballet of  tuxedoed servers. Feibel wrangles the laughs with her bumptious shenanigans. There are even children — two talented girls — always a welcome sight in community theater choruses.
 
Sets and costumes are a feast for the eyes with half a dozen ornate set changes and two dozen beautiful ensembles complete with parasols, plumes, boaters and bonnets. The robust nine-piece orchestra sometimes overpowers the soloists, but never a word is lost. 
 
Money is like manure. It isn’t worth anything unless you spread it around, Dolly is fond of saying. The same is true for talent. It would be a shame for even one seat to go empty during this run. So buy your tickets now, Before the Parade Passes By.
 
 
Hello, Dolly! by Stewart and Herman. Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann. Musical director: Joe Biddle. choreography: Vincent Musgrave. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde. With Heather Jeweler as Mrs. Rose and Brianne Anderson, Aaron Barker, Rosalie Daelemans, Austin Dare, Genevieve Ethridge, Samantha Gardner, Ethan Goldberg, Ann Marie Hines, Julie Hines, Amy Jones, Crista Kirkendall, Brigid Lally, Erin Lorenz, Rebekka Meyer, Spencer Nelson, Malarie Novotny, Sharon Palmer, Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, CeCe Shilling, Jordan Sledd, Deb Sola and Sarah Wessinger.
 
Playing thru June 29. F & Sa at 8 pm; Su at 3pm at 2nd Star Productions: Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $22 w/discounts; rsvp 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Can you change the future with a few super powers?

The future isn’t very bright for Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart: American Dad) and his X-Men. Machine sentinels have been created by a fearful human population to exterminate mutants. Excellent hunters, the sentinels are able to adapt to any mutation, taking on their targets’ powers and finding a way to vanquish them. Only a handful of mutants remain, running for their lives.
    The most successful group of fugitives is a scavenging team led by Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page: The East). When the sentinels attack, Kitty uses her powers to transport the consciousness of a teammate back in time to warn the group.
    Impressed by Kitty’s success, Xavier believes he can use this trick to send himself back in time — to 1973, when the sentinel program began — and avoid the mutant war. The problem with the plan: Sending a mind that far back in time will rip it apart. Fortunately for the X-Men, a teammate with the power to heal rapidly might be able to withstand the journey. Unfortunately, this teammate is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman: Prisoners), whose volatile personality is unsuited for a delicate mission of diplomacy to change the political tide and the future.
    But beggars can’t be choosers. Wolverine’s mission is to reunite a despondent young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy: Filth) with his best friend and nemesis Magneto (Michael Fassbender: The Counselor). If he’s successful, X-Men will have a brighter future. If he fails, everyone will die. No pressure.
    Think of X-Men: Days of Future Past as a dark retelling of Back to the Future with Wolverine in the Michael J. Fox role. The film has lofty goals and metaphors. But its jumble of odd performances and logic gaps make you wonder how the X-Men survived so long in the mutant wars.
    The biggest mystery may be Wolverine, who is always the most entertaining character in these ensemble films but is consistently terrible when taking the lead in an X-Men origins movie. Here Jackman is in his element, snarling, flexing and quipping with aplomb. Jackman uses his natural charisma to make Wolverine a fun fish out of water, exasperatedly dealing with the younger versions of his friends and enemies.
    As the mercurial Magneto, Fassbender is a cunning villain. However Magneto’s inevitable turn to the dark side, now a third-act staple of the X-Men series, makes Fassbender’s character work moot. Magneto will always choose to kill humans, given the opportunity, so it’s mind-boggling that Xavier (supposed to possess the greatest mind in the world) and the rest of the good guys continue to trust him.
    Mutant motivation aside, director Brian Singer (Jack the Giant Slayer) packs the movie with some impressive action sequences. Who has time to wonder why Xavier and Wolverine would trust a mortal enemy who has betrayed them at every turn when we’re watching a mutant lift a stadium and zoom it around Washington, D.C.? Unfortunately, Singer is so busy with these tricks that he shortchanges the plot, which had some possibly interesting things to say about politics and weapons.
    Singer is now adept at superhero franchises that are light on logic and heavy on effects. So X-Men is a diverting film that offers great spectacle at the cost of a good story.

Good Action • PG-13 • 131 mins.

Gather under the stars for satins and sequins, top hats and tails and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness

It seems only yesterday we were urged to come and meet those dancing feet … on 42nd Street. But the 2001 revival of the 1980 Broadway hit (both multiple Tony Award winners) debuted as a 1933 Warner Brothers film starring Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers. Now Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre brings back this buoyant musical extravaganza, after a 20-year hiatus, in a show billed as a “bold celebration of the transcendent joys of Broadway.”
    Packed with show-stopping classics, it stars several dynamic leads guaranteed to satisfy the strongest nostalgia craving. ASGT’s stage can’t provide the same trademark visuals of Busby Berkeley’s film choreography, but the tapping is complex and tight, highlighting the virtuoso performances of Hannah Thornhill as Peggy Sawyer, the sudden starlet, and Summer Garden Theatre newcomer Nicholas Carter as her friend Andy, the dance captain of her star vehicle, Pretty Lady. Maggie (Allie Dreskin), the show’s wisecracking writer, is equally impressive for her singing.
    Because even the spunkiest musical needs a story line, no matter how flimsy, Peggy the small-town-girl takes the city by storm and wins the hearts of hard-nosed producer Julian Marsh (Brandon Deitrick) and sweet chorus boy Billy (Kyle Eshom).
    Meanwhile, aging diva Dorothy Brock (Allison Erskine) gives Peggy her lucky break, literally, when age trips over youth in rehearsal. Dorothy was due for a change, anyway, having tired of her sugar daddy who is the show’s backer, Abner Dillon (Wendell Holland), and desperate to reunite with her secret love, Pat Denning (Thomas Brandt).
    For a show with two love triangles, there is nary a spark beyond the music. But with hits like We’re in the Money glittering green as a lotto commercial, Lullaby of Broadway with its great male harmonies, and Shuffle Off to Buffalo staged in train cars, the rest is fluff.
    Thornhill, ASGT’s star of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago, has it all: voice, moves, personality and Renée Zellweger’s looks. Carter astounds as an Astaire for the modern age. Dreskin brings a Bette Midler quality to Maggie, wowing early on in Shadow Waltz, and dominating the stage for a third of the show. Newby Erskine’s strong contralto is best showcased in About a Quarter to Nine and I Only Have Eyes for You. Eshom shines in Dames. Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Lacy Comstock, Amanda Cimaglia and Trent Goldsmith excel in the tertiary lead chorus roles of Anytime Annie, Phyllis, Lorraine and Brent, featured in the big-production numbers.
    From an acting perspective, Aubrey Baden is worth mentioning for his terrific impersonation of a rehearsal pianist, despite the fact that he doesn’t play or speak. All the music, in fact, is provided by a tiny, tinny backstage combo. Holland is a quintessential milksop. Deitrick does a decent job with his famous pep talk, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star,” but he has trouble navigating 42nd Street in his solo reprise of the title song in the finale. Similarly, some dragging tempi and a lighting problem siphoned some of the show’s energy on opening night.
    Still, if you love satins and sequins, top hats and tails, and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness, you will thrill to this chestnut.


With Samantha Curbelo, Ashley Gladden, Debra Kidwell, Maureen Mitchell, Erin Paluchowski , Aaron Quade and D.J. Wojciehowski.
By Stewart, Bramble, Warren and Dubin. Director and choreographer: Kristina Friedgen. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Dance captains: Nick Carter and Caitlyn Ruth McClellan. Set designers: Friedgen and Dan Snyder. Costumes: Miriam Gholl. Lights: Alex Brady. Orchestra conductor/pianists: Hawk and Laura Brady.
Playing thru June 21. Th-Su plus Wed. June 18 at 8:30 pm @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.
 

You can get (most) anything you want — even a good book

If the medium is the message, then there’s more to be learned from Calvert Library’s huge festival of local authors than you’ll read in this week’s feature story, The Writers Next Door.
    Your neighbor may have written just the one for you, I say, introducing 33 authors and their latest (or favorite) books. These are quick introductions, the literary equivalent of speed dating, with a life compressed into one sentence and a plot into another. At the May 31 festival, you’ll meet even more authors from 9:30 am to 4pm.
    All that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
    The submerged message is that Calvert County’s ­public library system is ambitious in a big way to be a place where people connect with ideas and each other.
    You see it in the Prince Frederick library building, built in 2006 to change the way people use their libraries. Twenty-first century libraries will trend that way, using architecture and location to draw people in and interior design to make them feel comfortable, welcome and ready to stay a while.
    Libraries of the future will be community centers — with the visual appeal of bookstores — according to Anne Arundel Public Library director Skip Auld, who’s thinking toward a new Annapolis Public Library that will be state-of-the-art.
    Sending the message that your library is the center of your community is more than putting it in a place people are likely to go. It’s more than a light-filled building with maritime and local allusions, human-sized spaces and comfortable chairs.
    The medium of that message has to be that here, as in Alice’s Restaurant of Arlo Guthrie’s song, you can get anything you want.
    That’s just about true of our 19 libraries, in Anne Arundel as well as in Calvert.
    They’re open when you want to go. This year, Anne Arundel libraries regained the county funding to open every branch from 9am to 9pm four days a week, and until 5pm Fridays and Saturdays, with some Sunday hours in regional centers. Calvert’s libraries have always opened 9am to 9pm four days, with shorter hours Friday (noon-5pm) and Saturday (9am-5pm).
    Along with longer hours, the Anne Arundel library system added 31 new staffers.
    Many of Anne Arundel’s new service are devoted to kids. The libraries’ Early Literacy Initiative runs 144 programs a year for infants through five-year-olds, as well as reaching out to schools and Head Start centers.
    Bay Weekly’s Kids Time at the Libraries lists as many as 50 kids programs each week. Of course kids programs involve grown-ups as well, and often stuffed animals.
    That’s another part of the message: programs for people of all ages. Stories, songs, fingerplays and stuffed-animal sleepovers for kiddies … Legos, homework help and tutors on call for kids … pizza parties and games, both board and electronic, for teens … and for all ages, computers, shelves and shelves of books in print (large and small) and on recording, collections of databases, movies, music and games — and all for free.

Return of the King of the Monsters

Fifteen years after a catastrophic nuclear power plant collapse in Japan, engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston: Breaking Bad) is convinced that the government is covering up the real cause of the failure that killed his wife and countless others. He breaks into the ruins of the nuclear facility to prove that this disaster wasn’t a malfunction or a typhoon, but a vast government cover-up.
    Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson: Kick Ass 2) just wants his dad to stop getting arrested. Ford has moved on, starting a family and joining the Navy. Father and son rarely see each other — unless Ford is bailing his father out of a Japanese prison. To get his father to stop his conspiracy theorizing, Ford agrees to visit the nuclear plant ruins on one last mission.
    Imagine Ford’s surprise when he discovers his father was right: The government was hiding something — something big and angry. A drilling company in the Philippines crashed into a cavern in the earth, awakening an alpha predator that feeds on radiation.
    Ford joins the military in a global effort to stop the monster from destroying the world.
    A classic monster movie worthy of the 1954 original, Godzilla is a fun, light take on the Gojira series. Credit goes to the brilliance of director Gareth Edwards (Monsters). Following classic monster movie style, Edwards is slow to reveal Godzilla to the audience, teasing us with glimpses of a tail or a massive footprint.
    Clever camera work emphasizes Godzilla’s immense size compared to the human world. Edwards forces you into the action. Shots framed with panicked onlookers in the foreground put you in the midst of the pandemonium. When he treats us to a wide shot of the action, he mindfully keeps a person in the frame as a reminder of just how massive and terrifying Godzilla would be stomping down your street.
    Still, the nature vs. man storyline is secondary to the cataclysmic battles. As a result of Edwards’ innovative and interesting camera work, Godzilla is one of the best arguments for 3D graphics and IMAX visuals to appear in theaters this decade.
    You’ll see all the types you expect in a disaster/monster movie: a crackpot who’s been right all along, a square-jawed soldier, his attractive but personality-free family, a scientist and thousands of faceless military men to act as cannon fodder. It’s hard to care about the fate of Ford, his pretty wife and his adorable moppet son because they’re cyphers instead of developed characters. But most people buying a ticket to a Godzilla movie aren’t expecting a stirring family drama.
    Still, appropriately melodramatic performances by veteran actors like Cranston and Ken Watanabe (Unforgiven) keep us invested in the fate of humanity.
    Godzilla is the perfect summer blockbuster: a fun story, amazing visuals and a monster worthy of the big screen. So buy a bucket of popcorn, adjust your 3D glasses and get ready for a modern monster classic.

Great Monster Movie • PG-13 • 123 mins.

Take an intimate look at private lives affected by corporate callousness.

Colonial Players has kept audiences engaged in a season that has swung from the ridiculous to reality: from a time machine to Death Row, and now from a tabloid fantasy to the Industrial Revolution. In Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives, a fictional treatment of a factual tragedy, we meet four victims of radium poisoning whose plight spawned a landmark Supreme Court decision on corporate responsibility and workers’ safety. Despite the legalistic dénouement, this story is less Erin Brokovich than an intimate look at the private lives affected by corporate callousness.
    If you’re a fan of television’s Big Love or The Big C, you’re already familiar with Marnich’s work. Or perhaps you were lucky enough to catch this show’s 2008 debut at Baltimore’s Center Stage. Regardless, this touching chronicle of friendship and suffering will arouse your anger and sympathy for Catherine (Sarah Wade), Charlotte (Krissy McGregor), Frances (Josette Dubois), Pearl (Aricia Skidmore-Williams) and thousands like them who, for over a decade, decorated watch faces with a paint composed of radium powder and their own saliva.
    From the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression, these working girls were heady with newfound freedoms and “easy money” thanks to the newly discovered element thought to impart a healthy glow and beneficial side effects. They got $8 a day; they lost teeth, jaws, limbs, their jobs, their good names and their lives.
    Through it all, the men around them tiptoed around the obvious. Mr. Reed (David Carter), the supervisor, kept a watchful eye on their degeneration even as he denied the hazards of the job. The company doctor (Eric Hufford) prescribed aspirin and rest. Catherine’s adoring husband Tom (Ben Carr), suspicious from the start, nevertheless grew resentful of and dependent on his wife’s work even as she
withered before his unbelieving eyes.
    The powerful story could have been more affecting with a more elaborate set. For despite luminescent designs on the floor and walls, the recycled kitchenette and worktables are ineffective substitutes for a deathbed and courtroom, and even those pieces remain unchanged throughout the production. Period costumes add a colorful touch to an otherwise drab environment, as do the scratchy recordings. But a vintage cathedral radio and more period embellishments would have added a whole new dimension of ­reality and interest.
    From a performance standpoint, Wade glows as Katie, from her first ecstatic entrance to her dying breath, meshing with Hufford with palpable chemistry in last weekend’s fine understudy performance of husband Tom. Carter brings a charming smarminess to the role of the calculating boss. McGregor, Skidmore-Williams and Dubois construct a decent rapport as the smart aleck, the jokester and the moralist. Yet beyond a couple limps and a sling, they are less convincing than Wade in their personas and their frailties. Where are the crutches, the bruises, the pallor, the blacked-out teeth and the physical manifestation of persistent pain? Without them, the tragedy feels less immediate than it should.
    Still, this show does a good job of reminding us that precious time is ticking and we should never take a moment of our shining lives for granted.

Director: Craig Allen Mummey. Set designers: Mummey and Laurie Nolan. Sound: Keith Norris. Lights: Alex Brady. Costumes: Beth Terranova.
 
Playing thru May 31. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis; rsvp: $20 w/discounts; 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

This raucous comedy proves good fences make good neighbors

On paper, Mac (Seth Rogen: This is the End) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne: Insidious: Chapter 2) are adults. They’re married. They have a baby. And they just sunk all of their money into a house in a perfect suburban neighborhood. In reality, both Mac and Kelly are a little bored with their new responsible life and jealous of friends who still party all night.
    The couple hopes for a change in routine and maybe some interesting neighbors. Dreaming for a progressive couple with children — or at least a Taco Bell — to take over the vacant house next door, the Radners are horrified when fraternity Delta Psi moves in. Known for loud, outrageous parties, Delta Psi’s last frat house burned down after an unfortunate fireworks incident.
    Priding themselves on being cool, the Radners visit the fraternity, introduce themselves and tell the boys to keep it down, offering marijuana from Mac’s personal stash. Fraternity leaders Teddy (Zac Efron: That Awkward Moment) and Pete (Dave Franco: The LEGO Movie) befriend the Radners, inviting them to a wild party and asking for a promise to call the boys rather than the cops.
    After a night of drugs, loud music and youthful hijinks, Kelly and Mac are hung over and exhausted. They vow to grow up. Their neighbors are still ready to party. After a week of nonstop loud music, wild parties and drunken antics, the Radners have had it with Delta Psi. Their baby is up all night, they get little sleep and worst of all, Delta Psi isn’t even inviting them back.
    Fed up, the Radners call the cops.
    This act of vengeance sparks a war between Delta Psi and the Radners. The brothers want to make the old couple suffer. Kelly and Mac want the college to revoke the fraternity’s charter. As the war escalates, pranks become more dangerous until mutual destruction seems the most likely outcome.
    Filled with nudity, cursing and brutal physical comedy, Neighbors is hilariously inappropriate. Director Nicholas Stoller (The Five Year Engagement) makes sure the movie earns its R rating with plenty of off-color humor and outrageous scenes, including a fight that features Rogen and Efron using adult toys in lieu of swords.
    While it’s certainly not sophisticated humor, it’s effective thanks to a great cast. As the couple desperate to prove they’re still cool, Rogen and Byrne are a dynamic duo. Both commit so fully to the Radners’ outrageous plans that you can’t help but laugh at their shared insanity. Rogen plays the same character he does in every movie: an affable stoner dealing with adult responsibilities against his will. It’s not too hard to see how Mac could get drawn into a battle with boys who represent everything he loved in college.
    Byrne is refreshing as a straight woman who becomes more unhinged and diabolical as the Delta Psi boys threaten. It’s also nice to have a female lead openly question why she must always be the level-headed partner in a relationship. Kelly bristles at the thought that being a mother automatically means she needs to be responsible for the household. Perhaps she ­shouldn’t be, as her strategies against the Delta Psi boys would make Patton quake in his boots.
    Efron is still a dismal actor, but he was born to play the role of a dim-bulb frat boy with well-toned abs and a vindictive streak. Stoller keeps his emotional beats to a bare minimum, using Efron’s flat performance to his advantage. Teddy has nothing to do but obsess over “getting even with the old people”; he certainly wouldn’t be studying or looking for a post-collegiate job.
    I admit to laughing along with the audience at this incredibly crude comedy, but I can’t in good conscience recommend Neighbors to a wide audience. If you loved The Heat, Bridesmaids and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then Neighbors will delight you. But don’t go unprepared; several aghast parents rushed their children out of as I watched.

Good Comedy • R • 96 mins.

Compass Rose is the first theater to produce this edgy drama

“Why try something new when we already know what we like?” asks the conservative character in Compass Rose’s current production, Another Day On Willow Street.
    “Because,” says founding artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne, “the future of theater depends on new works.”
    So Annapolis audiences are the first ever to see this new work by acclaimed playwright, author and actor Frank Anthony Polito. Chosen for its unique structure and strong themes, this edgy drama about two relationships in crisis leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks considers the themes of sacrifice and commitment against a backdrop of domestic stress, isolation and jealousy.
     Ian (Ric Andersen) and Stacy (Renata Plecha) have it all: a townhome on Willow Street, his Wall Street banking career and her early retirement from publishing to have their baby. Only problem is, she’s not ready and he’s too busy enjoying his role as sole breadwinner to indulge her fears. Going stir-crazy at home, she makes a friend at the park. Mark (Jonathan Lee Taylor) is a struggling actor who rents the studio next door and is living as a geographic bachelor separated from his love, Paul (Anthony Bosco), a Boston-based lawyer. Paul, who is nursing his dying mother, is pressuring Mark to help him fulfill her dying wish to see them married. Only problem is, Mark still hasn’t come out to his parents.
    There are a lot of phone calls and domestic squalls, crossed signals and crossed paths between unacquainted neighbors, Starbucks and even some gratuitous gay phone sex as each couple hashes out the same issues in parallel conversations that echo each other. The main message, stated twice, is that, “people put things off and put things off and put things off only to realize their lives are over.” Not an original thought, but one worth repeating.
     Set and lighting are minimal, characters clichéd and dialogue circular. Yet there is some strong acting. Most notable are Bosco and Taylor, both Equity actors who were cast as last minute replacements with just one week to learn the show. Each fleshes out his role, to the extent the script allows, with finesse. Plecha, last seen as the nurse in Compass Rose’s Romeo and Juliet, is also convincing as the reluctant housewife.
    However, Andersen, last seen as Bob Ewell in Compass Rose’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is wooden and one-dimensional. There is more chemistry between Stacy and the gay neighbor than there is between husband and wife.  
     From a technical perspective, the blocking is awkward, often requiring downstage actors to turn their backs on the audience to carry on conversations with those upstage.
    Other problems come with the script. Characters’ names are barely used the first half of the show, making it hard to identify them. The play has a general flatness, and the roller-coaster of a pseudo dramatic arc culminates in a confusing climax, tidy resolution and abrupt ending.
    This is no instant classic, but it will make you think about the transience of life and the fragility of love.
    Adult themes make this show inappropriate for ages under 16, and runtime is advertised as 75 minutes with no intermission, yet opening night ran an extra 15 minutes.

Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Costumes: Julie Bays. Lights: Chris Timko.
Playing thru May 31. Th 7pm; FSa 8pm; Sa May 24 2pm and 8pm; Su and Sa May 31 2pm. Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-980-6662; www.compassrosetheater.org.

Declaring peace doesn’t stop the horrors of war

Eric Lomax (Colin Firth: Gambit) returns from World War II as a shell of a man. Avoiding people, he rides the rails and collects train memorabilia. On a train years later, he encounters former nurse Patti (Nicole Kidman: Stoker). Smitten, they quickly marry.
    Patti’s illusion of wedded bliss soon shatters. Eric stares off into space. Small things provoke violent reactions. A bit of radio static causes a meltdown. Eric is hostile about his odd behavior.
    Can Patti help her husband find his way back?
    In desperation, Patti reaches out to Eric’s only friend, fellow combat survivor Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård: Nymphomaniac), to learn what broke her husband nearly 40 years ago.
    Eric and Finlay were captured by the Japanese in 1942. Desperate to hear any news of the outside world, they used pilfered parts to build a radio. When the makeshift radio was discovered, the captors made an example of the men. What they did to Eric leaves lifelong scars.
    Finding his tormentor late in life, Eric has a choice: Try to forget or leave Patti to seek vengeance.
    The Railway Man is a moving drama about the lasting effects of battle on soldiers in a time before Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was known, let alone treated. Horrifying, touching and inspiring, it’s based on the real experiences of Eric Lomax.
    While director Jonathan Teplitzky (Burning Man) bombards you with horrors, faith in humanity gives The Railway Man its power. Veterans and their loved ones band together in unobtrusive support that enables these men to cope.
    As a man reliving torture every day of his life, Firth is remarkable. His performance isn’t showy, but it’s real, and one of the better portrayals of the lasting effects of PTSD ever captured on film. His face and body carry constant tension. In the midst of a violent episode, Firth is able to make his eyes go vacant and wild, showing the feral creature beneath the calm.
    For all their brief courtship, Kidman sells Patti’s deep connection to Eric. Firth and Kidman have an easy chemistry that make it seem possible that she is not afraid of her husband but afraid for him.
    A historic story about finding solace after life-shattering events, The Railway Man is a powerful message of hope. Just one tip: Pick up some extra napkins at the concession stand, lest you have to take your eyes from the screen to ask your seatmate for a tissue.

Great Drama • R • 116 mins.