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Dignity Players exits stage left field, imagination amok

For nine years, Dignity Players has mounted quality productions on the themes of social justice and equality — morality plays that inspire with occasional forays into seriocomedy — brilliant, thought-provoking stuff. And now, as Monty Python would say, for something completely different: a hilarious send-up of John Buchan’s classic thriller The 39 Steps, which became a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock hit. Like a beloved professor playing a prank on the last day of school, Dignity delivers an unforgettable couple of hours of pure pleasure, with a gag a minute and romance to boot.
    The story follows the adventures of Richard Hannay (Ty Cobb), who leads a boring life until he meets a woman with a thick German accent, Annabella Schmidt (Rebecca Ellis), who says she’s a spy. He takes her home where she is murdered, and soon a mysterious organization called The 39 Steps is hot on his trail in a manhunt across the British Isles that climaxes in a death-defying finale.
    This film noir classic has enjoyed a renaissance of late as a riotous blend of virtuoso performances in which three of the four actors portray 25 roles ranging from walk-ons to leads. It sounds impossible, yet with inventive stagecraft it’s not only possible but preferable to the traditional production. There’s Chaplinesque physical comedy, cartoonish pranks, puppetry, shadow play, mime, a train-top chase scene — and references to every Hitchcock blockbuster.
    From the opening scene at a Vaudevillian performance featuring The Amazing Mr. Memory (Duncan Hood) and his manager (Eric Lund), these two actors (billed simply as Clown 1 and Clown 2) never take a break. No sooner does the imperiled Annabella appeal to Richard for protection than the clowns are lurking outside his apartment as the two most delightful trench-coated spies since Boris and Natasha. Each time Richard glances out the window, they skulk and slink into view carrying their own full-sized lamppost, reappearing throughout the show as cops, businessmen, inn keepers, farmers, Hitler sympathizers, newsboys, conductors, maids and milkmen. Ellis, meanwhile, reappears as a helpful farmer’s wife and a traitorous confidante who unmasks him only to find herself handcuffed to him for the duration.
    Technically more complex than Dignity’s usual fare, this production features fog, gunshots, special lighting and a slide show backdrop. The hilarious preshow of Alfred Hitchcock’s tongue-in-cheek videos introducing his greatest hits is not to be missed.
    Director Jim Reiter, a veteran of Dignity Players hits such as Sordid Lives, The Crucible and Shadowbox, has assembled a brilliant cast. Cobb — a Dignity alum from 8 and Sight Unseen — is equal parts suave, sly and charming. Ellis — who has appeared with nearly every local theater except Dignity — is cool and glamorous with a demure style perfect for the period. Lund — who has worked with Dignity on and off stage in productions such as The Vagina Monologues, A Christmas Carol, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and The Shadow Box — exhibits Peter Sellers’ comic genius in his portrayal of characters such as Professor Jordan, the Nazi.
    Hood — an ubiquitous local favorite memorable for his hilarious Scrooge, Psuedolus and Shakespeare — displays his box of tricks: from Mr. Memory’s out-of-body experiences to a sanctimonious Scot’s brimstone mealtime blessing. After appearing with countless theaters in the Baltimore-Washington area, he is excited to be doing this play, his one and only with Dignity, because of this show. “Normally the stuff they do is too serious for me to care about,” he says, “but THIS ONE!”
    If the perception of seriousness has kept you from Dignity’s many outstanding productions over the years, change your ways. The 39 Steps is the funniest play you’ll see all year and Dignity’s swan song: a parting gift for nine great years.


Costumes: Jeannie Christie. Stage manager: Andy McLendon. Technical designers: Julien Jacques and Mickey Lund.
Playing thru May 17. Th-Sa 8pm at The Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 333 DuBois Rd. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-266-8044 x127; www.dignityplayers.org.

Hell hath no fury like the trio of women scorned in this crass comedy

What would you do if you found out you were an accidental mistress?
    When Carly (Cameron Diaz: The Counselor) makes a surprise visit to her boyfriend Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: Game of Thrones), she meets his wife. Horrified, Carly tries to lose herself in work to forget that she was conned by a philanderer.
    Carly’s plan fails when Mark’s wife, Kate (Leslie Mann: Rio 2) appears at her office. But not for vengeance. After marrying Mark, Kate quit her job to become a housewife, blithely redecorating their mansion while Mark slept around. Carly’s appearance snapped Kate out of denial. But with no career, money of her own or friends, Kate has nowhere else to go. Carly is her default.
    Their awkward connection blossoms into friendship when Carly and Kate switch from whining about Mark’s behavior to getting even. Another of Mark’s myriad mistresses makes three scorned women out to ruin one man.
    Equal parts girl power and gross-out comedy, The Other Woman is a wildly uneven entry into the revenge genre. Director Nick Cassavetes (Yellow) arrives at no consistent tone. A farcical comedy of manners devolves into crass physical jokes that are both obvious and, worse still, not funny. As Kate and Carly bond over Mark, the dating scene and how hard it can be for a woman in the world, Kate’s great Dane relieves himself on Carly’s floor. When a movie spends more time on dog poop than on crafting believable characters, it’s a bad sign.
    Writer Melissa Stack (Tependris Rising) offers a slightly feminist twist on girls’ comedy by having wronged women team up instead of fighting. But her characters remain broad stereotypes of, well, broads. As the youngest of Mark’s mistresses, model-turned-actress Kate Upton is cast as the dumb blonde. Her Marilyn Monroe impersonation is adequate, but the character is a stereotype. Diaz’s Carly is a cold career woman. A man helps humanize her because where would women be without the love of a good man?
    Mann elevates Kate above the stereotype through sheer will. She makes Kate a sad, silly woman whose plucky attitude avoids pathos. Mann and Diaz have good chemistry, and although the movie is a vehicle for Diaz, Mann steals every scene she’s in and wrings laughs out of the dated material.
    If Cassavetes had trusted the three leads, he wouldn’t need crude, silly sight gags.

Fair Comedy • PG-13 • 109 mins.

If you can survive the language, you might enjoy this brash character study

It’s rare to know within the first five minutes whether you’ll enjoy a movie. With Dom Hemingway, you do. Dom’s (Jude Law: The Grand Budapest Hotel) opening five-minute monologue on the legendary status of his genitalia is a crude, rambling moment of bravado for the character and the film, literally letting it all hang out.
    For some, it’s the cue to run. For others, it’s an indicator that Dom Hemingway is a character study bold enough to make its characters unlikeable or ridiculous.
    Now that I’ve warned you what lies ahead, let’s examine the plot.
    Dom is a safe cracker, paroled after 12 years of hard time. He could have made a deal for less time by testifying against his co-conspirators, but he is a criminal of principles. To reward his silence, Dom’s former boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir: The Bridge) has agreed to pay a hefty sum.
    Dom’s first act as a free man is to beat the snot out of the man who married his ex-wife. Why? Because he’s Dom expletive Hemingway, that’s why!
    Dom and best pal Dickie (Richard E. Grant: Girls) head to Mr. Fontaine’s French villa for a big pay day and a weekend of debauchery. A punishing night of sex, drugs and poor decision-making, leaves Dom penniless.
    He sobers up to three choices: Return to London in hopes of joining another criminal syndicate; repair his fragmented relationship with his daughter; track down the dirty thief who took his money.
    Can Dom get out of his own way to make a sound decision? No, but it’s fun to watch him try.
    Dom Hemingway is stronger on nudity, imaginative cursing and drugs than on plotting. The plot is the bare sketch of a story, and your involvement with the character minimal. Writer/director Richard Shepard (Girls) is interested in Dom, and he builds his film around absurd situations that invite Dom’s reactive bombast. Stylish editing tricks keep the movie rushing along.
    Law turns in a dazzling performance as an unlikeable crook at the end of his rope. His Dom is a verbose, ferocious loser sustained only by his delusions of grandeur. His unearned confidence would be hilarious if it wasn’t so pathetic. From his chest-puffed swagger to his frantic eyes, Dom is a man desperate to believe the lies he tells about himself. It’s a performance that will likely be overlooked for awards — hard to find a clip of curse-free dialog for the ceremonies — but should be seen.
    Dom Hemingway isn’t a movie for the casual filmgoer; don’t make your hapless critic’s mistake of taking your mother.

Good Dramedy • R • 93 mins.

You won’t want to go through this looking glass

Software developer Alan Russell (Rory Cochrane: Parkland) moves wife and children to a country house after hitting it big. Decorating it becomes his downfall.
    An antique mirror known as the Lasser Glass speaks to him. Alas, this is no ordinary reflective surface. A host to evil souls and supernatural forces, the mirror drives Allan and his wife, Marie (Katee Sackhoff: Longmire) insane.
    Reader, this is why you should shop at IKEA.
    Police find Alan and Marie dead and their two children, Kaylie and Tim, raving about an evil mirror. Tim is sent to a ward for the criminally insane. Kaylie goes to foster care.
    At 21, Tim (Brenton Thwaites: Blue Lagoon: The Awakening) is declared sane. He goes into the world hoping to leave his troubled past behind.
    Kaylie (Karen Gillan: Doctor Who) is not so committed to her brother’s mental health.
    Consumed with rage, she has made it her mission to track down and destroy the Lasser Glass. She has an elaborate plan to steal the mirror, record its supernatural properties and smash it so that the evil can’t spread. Tim reluctantly follows Kaylie to their childhood home. Hanging the mirror to taunt the evil is not a good idea.
    The plot is thin, the lead performances strong and the gore thick.
    If you are at all squeamish, you will writhe in your seat. Though the gore certainly earns the film its R rating, director and native Marylander Mike Flanagan (Absentia) uses it for maximum tension. See Oculus in a theater, where you’re part of a screaming audience.

Good Horror • R • 104 mins.

That was pretty cool!

Rock musical and Andrew Jackson make a logical theatrical fit when you think about it: arrows cutting people down in mid-sentence; the scandal of marrying a married woman; a “people’s president” who strengthens the power of his office — yet sparks the creation of the Democratic party while crafting his image to get what he wants. There’s a lot of stage-worthy material to be mined from the life of our seventh president, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson reaches deep. What emerges is a loud, profane, politically incorrect, funny and raucous show that offers daunting challenges to any company daring to stage it.
    The Theatre at Anne Arundel Community College surmounts most of those challenges, offering a lively and enjoyable production overall. One big plus: A talented and tight rock combo nestled upstage. They adeptly accompany screaming rock and quiet ballads. I’d love to credit them but, curiously, their names do not appear in the program. 
    As Andrew Jackson, Vincent Capuano plays at both ends of the hit-and-miss spectrum. He has a commanding stage presence, a good voice and knows his subject, both as history and as written by the playwrights. But he misses a few of the screamin’ rock ‘n’ roll high notes early on, though his voice warmed up as the show progressed.
    In Act II of this second night of the run, he carried a script. There are a lot of legitimate reasons that can happen — usually an actor has taken on a role late in production after another actor leaves. No explanation was offered, so there will be no judgment here. But those paying $20 a ticket may have done some judging. To his credit, Capuano didn’t seem to miss a beat. Here’s hoping the break between weekends eliminates the on-stage book because Capuano’s talent deserves to be unleashed in this role.
    Jennie Woods excels as Rachel Jackson, Andrew’s wife. Her comic timing is sharp, and she is equally adept at drama. Her pleasant voice is perfectly matched to her songs, which is another way of saying she is so talented she makes them her own. Rachel grounds her rock star husband. Woods likewise gives substance to this production, adding heart to the zaniness.
    The rest of the cast commits to each role, often playing several. They have a blast doing it, yet director Dr. Lars Tatom’s guidance has set clear parameters so that they resist the temptation to go too far in a very over-the-top show. That makes it a lot easier for the audience to go along for the ride.
    What isn’t easy on the audience is, too often, the sound. By definition, a rock musical is going to be loud, and there are times when the college sound system and acoustics, clearly not built for such volume, erupt into painful distortion. When the entire chorus gets going, with all those body mikes fighting for radio frequency, the din often drowns the words. 
    When’s the last time you went to a rock concert and heard all the words? Still had fun, didn’t you?
    That’s how to approach Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. It’s a fun show, performed by a talented cast. Like any rock concert it has its hits and misses. But you walk out, ears ringing, saying that was pretty cool.

Director and producer: Lars Tatom. Music director: Aaron Smith. Choreographer: Tommy Parlon. Stage manager: Brittany Adams.

Playing April 17-19, ThFSa 8pm at Kauffman Theatre, Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410 777-2457; boxoffice@aacc.edu.

A mouse and a bear prove families come in all sizes

Do you fear the big bad bear?    
    Since babyhood, mouse Celestine (Mackenzie Foy: The Conjuring) has been warned by her elderly guardian (90-year-old Lauren Bacall: The Forger) to avoid bears. Mouse society lives in intricate cities in the sewers, just below a bear metropolis. Mice venture topside only at night, sending their young ones to search bear dwellings for useful items.
    One of the procurers, Celestine is too curious to accept the tales of evil bears on faith. She’s enamored with the large bears and interested in their world. She dreams of meeting a bear, maybe making a friend.
    Celestine gets her wish when happenstance traps the little mouse like a rat in a trash can. Her savior is Ernest (Forest Whitaker: The Butler), a down-on-his-luck bear in search of a quick meal. At first, he proves the Big Bad Bear stories true, trying to snap up Celestine in his massive jaws.
    But Celestine isn’t as easy to eat as Ernest hopes. She offers her ursine attacker a deal: She’ll help him find delicious treats if he stops trying to digest her. Celestine shows Ernest how to break into a candy store, where he feasts on marshmallows, honey and taffy.
    Soon, Ernest and Celestine team up for another heist, this one on her behalf. As the interspecies Bonnie and Clyde become a wanted duo in both their worlds, Ernest retreats to his hibernation cabin until the heat dies down. Alone in the world, Celestine decides that a gruff and grumbly bear is better company than the police.
    At first, neither is happy with this living arrangement, but the odd couple eventually forms a family dynamic. Celestine brings out nurturing and selfless qualities in Ernest. In turn, Ernest admires Celestine’s artistic ability and encourages her to paint.
    But will an interspecies police force ruin their happy home?
    Based on the popular Belgian children’s books, Ernest and Celestine is a delightful animated film about avoiding society’s labels and finding a family that fits you. Filled with visual gags and sly humor, it’s a film to charm all ages.
    The movie takes a painterly approach to animation, eschewing slick 3D graphics for a watercolor palate. The animation, which is often minimalist, lets you focus on the characters and makes the movie seem like a literary illustration sprung from the page.
    Originally released in Europe with French dialog, this version is by directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, who carefully cast American actors to dub the story. Whitaker’s low growling voice makes him an inspired choice for Ernest. Film fans will also appreciate the voice of the 90-year-old Bacall, who is commanding and funny as a slightly deranged mouse matriarch.
    You’ll have to go Baltimore or D.C. to catch this one, but it’s worth the trip. C’est Merveilleux!

Great Animation • PG • 80 mins.

This romanticized Frankenstein story is a shocking musical with a rocking score.

The story of a Bat Boy living in a West Virginia cave — illustrated with a photoshopped baby picture —  amazed America in 1992 when published by Weekly World News, which bills itself as The World’s Only Reliable News. Playwrights Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming shared the popular fascination, and a gothic science fiction began stewing in their minds.
    Five years later, with the help of composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe, their romanticized Frankenstein story — a sort of Edward Scissorhands meets Dracula and Liza Doolittle — became a hit musical with a shocking book and rocking score.
    Now, Beverly van Joolen and Colonial Players shake up staid Annapolis with a five-star production and an all-star cast exultant in pathos, religiosity, hypocrisy and tasteful debauchery.
    Ron Giddings as Bat Boy/Edgar is phenomenal, embodying his character’s mutations with curled extremities, nasal mewling, haunted eyes and adorably creepy ears. Yanked from his subterranean home, he lives like a curiosity with the family of Hope Falls’ veterinarian Dr. Parker (Chris Patton), suspended arms folded from his cage or flitting to the tabletop. Starved for love and blood, he is dependent on the charitable Parkers, who transform him from a bald beast to a civilized boy.
    The virginal missus, Meredith Parker (Wendy Baird), mothers and tutors him as she sings A Home for You, feeding him people food he retches. Meanwhile, the villainous doctor secretly feeds his bloodlust and plots his destruction even as sister Shelley (Paige Miller) learns to love him.
    Despite good intentions, proclaimed in the song Christian Charity, townsfolk are not so accepting.
    Edgar alienated the locals right off the bat by biting young Ruthie Taylor (Emma Panek), who with brothers Rick (Nathan Bowen) and Ron (Corey Jeweler) discovered him in the cave. She’s been languishing in the hospital ever since. There Mrs. Taylor (Alicia Sweeney) croons Mrs. Taylor’s Lullaby to her with the comic shrillness of Edith Bunker. Hormone-crazed Rick seethes, in Whatcha Wanna Do?, over Edgar’s place in Shelley’s home and heart.    
    Meanwhile, Edgar’s Pygmalion-like transformation — mastering English with a British accent no less, singing Show You a Thing or Two — proves fantastic and fatal. Sheriff Reynolds (Scott Nichols), Mayor Maggie (Debbie Barber-Eaton) and citizens (Bronwyn van Joolen, Shannon Benil, Sam Cush, Kendra Penn and Shirley Panek) can’t warm up to the freak in formalwear.
    When Edgar crashes a church revival where the Rev. Hightower (Lynn Garretson) raises the roof with Christian love, singing A Joyful Noise, Edgar’s earnest prayer for healing in Let Me Walk Among You is thwarted by Dr. Parker’s slanderous lies. Thus, the Bat Boy becomes the scapegoat for the community’s woes.
    He and Shelley flee to the woods where Pan (John Hamli), sublime in fur and codpiece, presides over their coupling amid an animalistic orgy. His song is Children, Children. The couple quarrel over their future together in Inside Your Heart before her parents discover them and resolve the mystery of Edgar’s history (via a video projection to onstage scrims) to determine the couple’s fate.
    It’s macabre, zany, sweet and ridiculous with rousing tunes like Hold Me, Bat Boy that you’ll continue humming all weekend. The entire cast delivers in this biting social commentary. Miller and Giddings will break your heart with their harmonies and humanity, while Hamli and Garretson astound with their powerhouse vocals. Baird and Bowen display comic genius in their singing and acting roles.
    Colonial’s most technically intensive project to date, Bat Boy employs four types of LED lights, colored strobes, center stage floating projections, fire, smoke, fog, a mirror ball and moving sound. Even the program, in tabloid format, delivers with flashy headlines and bat-themed trivia.
    You’ll have to see this extraordinary two hours and 15 minutes to believe it.
    But don’t take the kids: Content depicts violence, sex and drug use, and special effects are alarming.

Musical director: David Merrill. Choreographer: Jamie Erin Miller. Set: Terry Averill. Sound: Wes Bedsworth. Lights: Frank A. Florentine. Costumes: Elizabeth Chapman. Makeup: Eddie Hall. Additional special effects: Keith Norris. Musical accompaniment: Right on Cue Services. Film: Make Your Mark Studios.
 
Playing thru April 19. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.
 

No competition for the Greatest Story Ever Told

After Cain murdered Abel, humanity fell into two factions: the sons of Cain and the sons of Seth. Marked by his misdeeds, Cain’s descendants are greedy and base. They’ve traded their faith in the creator for a life of sin. Lead by the ruthless Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone: Lords of London), the people of Cain have built industrial cities and violated Earth.
    Seth’s descendants have taken a nobler path, living off the land, taking only what they need and upholding the rules of God. Their path is righteous, but it’s not very successful. Tubal-cain and his men have killed the sons of Seth, ensuring that goodness dies with them.
    Or so the evil king thought. Surviving is one last heir, Noah (Russell Crowe: Winter’s Tale), who has lived in hiding after witnessing the murder of his father. Over the years, Noah has built up a family and lived as the creator dictated. His fealty is rewarded with a vision: God will send a great flood to the world, killing all impure life. Noah’s job is to build a vessel and save innocent life from destruction.
    Over 10 years, Noah and his family construct an ark as animals arrive two by two. But the grand migration of fowls and beasts attracts the attention of Tubal-cain, who is on the lookout for land that isn’t ash. On finding the ark, Tubal-cain organizes an army to take it before the water rises.
    Part environmental parable, part Bible story and part bizarre fantasy epic, Noah is a confused, beautiful mess. Don’t expect the Sunday school story that you remember. Director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) gives us stunning visuals and a mixed up story. He has more good ideas than time — or ability — to explore them. The environmental story he begins is forgotten halfway in for CGI technology. Thus Aronofsky falls under the spell of The Watchers, angels who fell to Earth and were punished by having their angelic form covered with rock and molten mud. Neither impressive to look at nor interesting as characters, The Watchers are silly creatures of the type you might enjoy in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.
    When Noah pauses from spectacle, it offers some great acting. Crowe — who’s had a questionable run of late — is amazing as a devoted prophet. He imbues Noah with an intensity that teeters on the edge of insanity. As his foil, Winstone’s Tubal-cain believes he is as powerful as God, able to give or take life as he sees fit.
    If you’re interested in a few scenes of interesting Biblical debate or in considering how far computer-rendering technology has come, Noah is worth the price of admission. If you’re looking for deeper meaning, skip a film that wades in shallow waters.

Fair Fantasy • PG-13 • 138 mins.

Can two old geezers find a future past resentment?

For Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, Twin Beach Players reunites the biggest comedy team in Vaudeville for a nostalgic performance of their once-famous Doctor sketch.
    Willie Clark (Jeff Larsen) and Al Lewis (Tom Wines) were the act to catch for 43 years. But 11 years ago, Al walked out, leaving Willie to hold the bag of gags.
    Now, in their golden years, CBS asks them to reunite in a show that pays reverence to the great comic stars through the years. It’s a second chance in a lifetime, but resentment — and tension — get in the way. Clark’s nephew and agent (Tom Weaver) has to figure out a way to get the two geezers to bury the hatchet and pull off the television show.
    Mayhem ensues when Clark ­nearly dies trying. His heart attack keeps the double-trouble duo out of the television show.
    Fate has another plan for them: living together in relative peace and performing their acts in a retired actors’ home.
    Opening night brought not only the old boys but also new comfort to the theater’s small venue at North Beach Boys and Girls Club. Thanks to Twin Beach master carpenter Justyn Christofel, the audience looks down on the action from moveable-bleachers.
    But play-goers didn’t fill the bleachers or help keep the Sunshine Boys’ uptempo.
    Highlights — like the Doctor sketch rehearsal for a CBS television show and the scene where the boys threaten each other with dagger and cane — bring comic relief to a play slow to take off in Act 1. Act 2 regains momentum as the old boys regain their old timing.

Aidan Davis as Eddie; Staci Most as Vaudeville Nurse; Samantha Wadsworth as Nurse. Director and production designer: Sid Curl. Assistant director and stage manager: Donna Bennett. Costume designer: Dawn Denison. Music designer: Bob Snider. Setting and make-up designer: Wendy Cranford. Lighting tech assistant: Katherine Willham. Lighting and sound board operator: Camden Raines. Audience design: Richard Keefe Jr. Promotions and advertising: Viv Petersen and Philomena Gorenflo. House management: Lynda Collins and Viv Petersen.
Playing FSa 8pm; Su 3pm thru April 13 at North Beach Boys and Girls Club, North Beach. $12 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

See it, and Shakespeare lives

Shakespeare’s plays are still being performed 400 years after they were created because they were brilliantly written but also because their themes are timeless.
    Not every theater company that takes on Shakespeare can live up to the Bard’s talent and intent, moving beyond the page to vitalize his characters, prose and situations. But when Shakespeare is done well, his stories jump off the page and into our consciousness, demanding our attention and forcing us not just to understand but also to feel what his characters are feeling, and why.
    So it is with Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet. Beautifully realized, stylistically and brilliantly transposed into the current day, this Hamlet is a tour de force, a masterwork for the company. Director and set and sound designer Sally Boyett, the company’s producing artistic director, has earned a reputation for her economical yet transformative use of the Bowie Playhouse stage. This production furthers that reputation. From the huge gilded frames that hang from a dark sky to the sacrifice of a few house seats in favor of a platform that thrusts the actors almost halfway into the audience, this is an impressively aesthetic production.
    Boyett’s haunting and ethereal sound and Paul Collins’ often eerie lighting accompany our journey through Hamlet’s madness and his thirst for revenge. Maggie Cason’s costumes, mostly muted grays but with a touch of blood-red seemingly everywhere, remind us that madness, revenge and betrayal are not only to be found in Shakespeare’s time.
    Of course, none of this matters if the acting and direction do not achieve the same standards, and here both are surpassing. Every one of our community theater actors and directors would benefit from attending at least one of Annapolis Shakespeare’s productions, especially this one, because the dedication and commitment to character, to dialect, to pacing and to clarity are unsurpassed.
    Manu Kumasi’s Hamlet is stellar, the fire and humor coming not just from the staccato delivery of his lines but blasting from his every pore. His physicality seems to envelop the theater, especially when he ascends to the end of that aforementioned platform and with sheer passion imposes his world onto ours, his fiery eyes just feet away from ours, boring directly into us and gripping us with his madness.
    Likewise, Audrey Bertaux brings us an Ophelia whose own tragic fall into madness could have been over the top in less capable hands. Instead, we are drawn into the character’s decline and feel pity for the way Hamlet projects his anger toward his mother onto her.
    Nafeesa Monroe as Gertrude and Paul Edward Hope as Claudius lead the rest of the company, several of whom very effectively play multiple roles. From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Horatio to Polonius and all the rest you read about in school, this is Shakespeare at his best, flying off the pages and brought to life in a production whose superlative whole is far greater than the sum of its very excellent parts.

Producer: Kristen Clippard. Stage manager: Monica Jones. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.
Playing thru April 13. Th 7pm, F 8pm, Sa 2pm & 8pm, Su 3pm at the Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park Park. $24/$20: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.