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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

An impressive troupe of young people takes on one of the most challenging races in theater

Producing a Shakespeare play is similar to running a marathon. It’s grueling, frustrating, thrilling and exhausting — and that’s just training.  Maintaining forward motion through the entire course is an accomplishment for any age.
    Twin Beach Players youth production of Much Ado About Nothing has taken on that challenge with great success. 
    Framed at the end of World War II, Twin Beach Players’ Much Ado is a largely festive story made even more spirited by the smart and snarky banter between the fiercely independent Beatrice (Neha Chawla) and the perpetual bachelor Benedick (Cameron Walker). There’s a shadier side as well involving a malicious scheme by the military leader’s illegitimate brother (reimagined here as a sister), Don Jon (Olivia McClung). The ne’er-do-well sets her plan into motion to spoil the wedding of young Claudio (Conor Reinold) and their host’s daughter Hero (Ashley Venier).
     Teeming with elements of trust and deceit within families, friends and romance, the storylines lead to both triumph and disaster. 
    While fondness for Shakespeare and familiarity with the story are helpful, they are not necessary to enjoying this aspiring production. Actors Chawla and Walker set the over-arching tone for the exuberant physicality that helps keep the plot moving when the language — at times challenging for even experienced actors — threatens to bog the performance down. The two offer laugh-out loud moments and engage the audience. The central romantic story is sweet and its actors expressive.
    Other notable performances come from Travis Lehnen as Leonato, E.J. Roach as Don Pedro, Olivia McClung as Don Jon, Aaliyah Roach as Friar Francis and Andrew Brinegar as Antonio. 
    The mood of the era is well set with the sounds of Glenn Miller-esque tunes on a tinny radio, complemented visually by military uniforms, Hepburn–style slacks and charming vintage dresses. Some of the best-staged scenes were teamed with excellent lighting choices, for instance when the entire backdrop glowed in twinkling lights as the full cast launched into a joyful swing dance.  All is supported well by a young tech staff who keep the show rolling at a decent clip.
    Without question this is a teen production and at moments the mark was missed. But those moments were, in a way, appreciated. Otherwise, we might forget we are watching an impressive group of young people taking on one of the most challenging races in theater.


Two and a half hours with an intermission. Thru June 26 FSa 7pm, Su 3pm, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $10 w/discounts, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

(For Friday performance, arrive very early to enjoy the North Beach Farmers Market to ensure decent parking.)

A very good play balancing good ­fortune with bad luck

“To live in poverty is to exist in a war zone,” award-winning Colonial Players director Edd Miller notes in the playbill for Good People. “Not necessarily with bullets and bombs but with situational choices of conscience.”
    Do choices pull people out of poverty? Determine our lot in life? Or is it luck? Or hard work? Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and Miller ask us not to decide but to ­consider.
    The 2011 drama is set in South Boston, or Southie, in 1998, but its questions are timeless and beyond boundary.
    To help us do that Lindsay-Abaire gives us Margie (with a hard “g”), a middle-aged single Southie mother who loses her job at a dollar store because she’s always late, usually because her adult handicapped daughter can’t be left alone. Margie doesn’t want a handout, just a job that will pay the rent. To find that, she sets aside her ego and reluctantly asks help from her years-ago boyfriend Mikey, an Irish lace doctor who escaped from the neighborhood and got rich because … luck? Hard work? Choices?
    Act I sets us up with the firing by young manager Stevie, with Margie and her friends Dottie and Jean urging her, sometimes hilariously, to look up Mikey. Turns out he has no work to offer. But he has an extravagant birthday party coming up, and Margie invites herself. When she hears by phone that the party is off because of a sick child she believes she is being disinvited lest she won’t embarrass Mikey in front of his non-Southie friends. She goes anyway and is mistaken by Kate, Mikey’s wife, for a caterer picking up dishes that weren’t used because the party was indeed canceled.
    Identities straightened out, Kate invites Margie to chat, much to Mikey’s dismay. Now fly the slings and arrows of good fortune versus bad luck.
    With Miller at the helm, this fine cast navigates the stream of comedy at the surface of much of this show while personifying the undercurrents of deception, despair and distrust. Shirley Panek gives us a Margie who shouldn’t be likeable, but is, thanks to Panek’s deft ability to deliver a stinging yet funny blow to the ego while allowing us to see the pain in her eyes. It is a riveting and emotional performance.
    Likewise, Ben Carr takes Mikey beyond a caricature of a local boy who made good to a finely crafted multidimensional character who relishes his success but, under Margie’s jealous glare, becomes so defensive that his own doubt about luck vs. work show through. Panek and Carr click, so for the audience Margie and Mikey do, too.
    As Kate, Ashley Spooner does some navigating as an elite African-American inexperienced in the past lives of Mikey and Margie. Her Act II performance in a long, yet riveting, three-person scene moves from elitist to understanding as flaws in her husband and their marriage are revealed.
    Karen Lambert’s Jean and Bernadette Arvidson’s Dottie are fine Southie friends, delivering hilarity that resonates with despair. As Stevie, the young store manager whose mother was the women’s friend, Glen Pearson displays the nervousness of a character appearing as the cause of despair.
    Director Miller’s multi-use set cleverly moves from a store alley to a Southie house to a bingo hall to a well-off doctor’s living room all with minimal movement — clear proof that in theater in the round, less is more. His cast keeps the pace moving, and each is clearly invested not only in what we see of their characters but also in what we can feel is so subtly moving under the surface.
    Good People is very, very good.


About two hours, 15 minutes with intermission. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Costume designer: Dianne Smith. Sound designer: Theresa Riffle. Lighting designer: Frank Florentine.

Thru June 25: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, Colonial Players Theatre, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: ­www.thecolonialplayers.org.

A sure bet for a good time

From auditions to curtain, every theater production is a gamble, but 2nd Star Productions’ Guys and Dolls beats the odds. A period piece lampooning its own subculture, this 1950 Tony winner for Best Musical still feels funny and frisky from the opening Call to Post to the classic Fugue for Tinhorns. It grabs you by the lapels and doesn’t let go as Nicely Nicely Johnson (James Hulcha), Benny Southstreet (Nathan Bowen) and Rusty Charlie (Daniel Starnes) vow I Got the Horse Right Here.
    Ya gotta love characters like Nathan Detroit (Brian Mellen), who runs The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game In New York, and his adorable doxie, Miss Adelaide (Jamie Erin Miller), who headlines at The Hot Box nightclub. Never was there a sweeter, more devoted couple, even after 14 years of engagement.
    Then there’s suave Sky Masterson (E. Lee Nicol), a high-roller on the sticky end of a sucker bet whereby he must convince prim Sister Sarah (Erica Miller) of the Salvation Army to go out with him — to Havana. Despite their professed disdain for each other, it’s an offer she can’t refuse when he promises to deliver 12 certified sinners to a critical prayer meeting where General Cartwright (Carole Long) will determine the mission’s fate.
    Broadway is crawling with sinners. There are gamblers: Big Jule from Chicago (Steve Streetman), Harry the Horse (Julian Ball), Brandy Bottle Bates (Eric Meadows), Liver Lips Louie (Stevie Magnum), Angie the Ox (Joshua Hampton), Society Max (Tyler White), Scranton Slim (Andrew Gordon), Li’l Pete (Michael Mathes), Jimmy Two Bags (Jerry Murray) and Black Jack Jolly (Brian Jollie).
    And the Hot Box dolls: Mimi (Lucy Bobbin), Betty Lee (Debra Kidwell), Penny (Allison Baudoin), Lily (Victoria Brown), Josephine (Emily Morgan), Ruby (Christa Kronser), Charlie (Genevieve Ethridge) and La Rue (Sarah Williams and Angeleaza Anderson).
    Despite Sarah’s daily sermonizing to Follow the Fold and Stray No More — complete with a band of Uncle Arvide (Dave Robinson), Agatha (Hillary Glass), Calvinette (Alice Goldberg) and Martha (Kimberly Hopkins) — the sinners see the mission as just another potential gaming site where they can hide from Police Lt. Brannigan (Gene Valendo).
    It’s all so suspenseful! Will the sinners find salvation? Will Sarah and Sky find each other’s arms? Will Adelaide drag Nathan to the altar?
    Jamie Miller is phenomenal as the old-fashioned girl in fishnets, whether spouting her mother’s homespun wisdom or performing at the Hot Box.
    Brian Mellen makes it easy to see why she loves such a weasel as Detroit in his Sue Me.
    E. Lee Nicol (recently of The Music Man) charms in such hits as Luck Be a Lady and I’ve Never Been In Love Before. Erica Miller is flush in the campy If I Were a Bell and her Marry the Man Today duet with Adelaide.
    Dave Robinson delivers a tender More I Cannot Wish You. James Hulcha and Nathan Bowen are Aces in the title song and dance. Hulcha’s jackpot of Pentecostal fervor, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat, brings the house down.
    From barbershop to choral extravaganzas, the harmonies are always true and the clever lyrics clear to the back row. The choreography is kitschy and tight with several big dance numbers such as Havana and The Crapshooters’ Dance spotlighting the eye-popping moves of choreographer Andrew Gordon alongside Bobbin, Kidwell and White. The Hot Box chorus girls, under the management of the Emcee (Mangum), turn burlesque into burlee-cute whether dressed in short coveralls for I Love You a Bushel and a Peck or undressed in lacy corsets for Take Back Your Mink.
    With a live pit of 12 musicians, five winning sets and at least 60 period costumes, this is spectacle to beat all spectacles. For a little action, Guys and Dolls is a sure thing for all ages.


Guys and Dolls by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Director: Debbie Barber-Eaton. Music Director: Sandy Melson Griese. Choreographer: Andrew Gordon. Producer: Nathan Bowen. Stage Manager: Joanne D. Wilson. Set Designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes, Makeup and Hair: Linda Swann. Lights & Sound: Garrett R. Hyde.

Playing thru June 25, F & Sa at 8 pm, Su at 3pm at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr., Bowie. $22 with discounts, rsvp 410-757-5700; ­www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Catch the second weekend of fun and frivolity

Time-travel nearly 350 years from the court of King Louis XIV of France to Twin Beach Players’ version of Molière’s 1668 comedy of manners, L’Avare. The Miser, as English has it, completes performer/director Jeff Larson’s production of a Moliere trilogy, including Tartuffe and the Imaginary Invalid, spanning 14 years of theatrical performances by Twin Beach Players. Through all, he’s teamed with company president Sid Curl.
    Colorful and convincing characters embroiled in a twisting plot make up The Miser’s world. In two acts, we witness what happens when Harpagon, the miser, obsessed with adding to his sizeable fortune, secrets away his wealth. To add to these riches, he plans marriages for his two children. Those around him, however, are equally determined to carry out their own plans.
    These are familiar characters. Comedic archetypes we recognize had their roots in Moliere, including the bumbling Inspector Clouseau character of Pink Panther fame, first imagined as the Miser’s Inspector ­Sansclou. The characters use slapstick, physical humor and clever banter to keep us entertained.
    As in Moliere’s time, some characters break through the imaginary fourth wall that separates the audience from the performers onstage to engage with us directly. The technique is visually interesting and involving as well as revelatory of a character’s private thoughts.
    Larson’s blocking uses stage space wisely, helping to focus our attention toward or away from imposing character action or dialogue, especially when multiple characters share the stage simultaneously.
    Overall, acting is solid with some outstanding performances, including Luke Woods’ commendable physical and verbal character choices as Harpagon.
    Annie Gorenflo’s Elise balances youth and experience. Aidan Davis adds strength to Valere with a pleasing and resonant vocal tone. Tom Weaver’s Cleante is sincere and believably love-struck, while Jenny Liese’s Marianne is bright and affable. Jim Weeks shows commanding physical agility and range as La Fleche.
    Jeanne Louise as Mâitress Jacqueline Ze Chef is animated and excitable; her French accent is believable and her movements charmingly gazelle-like. Stage veteran Helenmary Ball is delightful as marriage broker Madame Frosine, offering impeccable comic timing, hilarious facial expressions and rich vocal variety. Kevin McAndrews masterfully performs his roles of Maitre Simon and Inspector Sansclou, shaping subtle nuances between them. Curl entertains in his cameo as Senor Anselme, drawing comparisons to the chameleon-like talent of actor Tim Conway in physical appearance, comic ability and vocal diversity.
    The production staff skillfully executes their technical responsibilities, giving legitimacy to time and place. Music designer Robert Snider’s selection of pre-show, intermission and post-show music is consistent with the Baroque era. An able stage crew professionally and discreetly transforms the sparse set in Act I to a more fully furnished set in Act II. Costume design and makeup include period wigs, curls and costumes accented with bolder hues to enhance characterizations.


Two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission; light refreshments available for purchase.

Th-Sa 8pm, Su 3pm thru April 17 at the North Beach Boys and Girls Club, 9021 Dayton Ave. $15 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Spread the word about this haunted place of miraculous possibilities where the crippled are made whole, body and soul

“I’m sure there is magic in everything,” says the invalid child Colin in The Secret Garden, “only we have not sense to get hold of it.”
    If you want to believe in magic again, see Colonial Players’ production of the children’s classic that has been delighting musical theater audiences for 25 years. With award-winning songs, clever staging and an animated cast, it delivers all the haunting magic of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Edwardian original and then some. Like a dream in black and white, this show blurs the line between this world and the next in spinning the tale of headstrong Mary Lennox (Madi Heinemann), orphaned in India and shipped home to her miserable Uncle Archibald’s (Justin T. Ritchie) English estate. It’s a haunted place of miraculous possibilities where the crippled are made whole, body and soul.
    Colonial’s tiny theater-in-the-round is perfect for the show’s musical narratives enhanced by sharp choreography and an imaginative set. Dance takes center stage as a plot device in the seamless prologue when a scarlet silk handkerchief passed among dancers illustrates the cholera epidemic that orphans Mary. One by one the victims fall, starting with her parents, Captain and Mrs. Lennox (Heather McMunigal and Kory Twit).
    Accompanying the dance is a sterling chorus of neighbors who provide back story and commentary on life at Misselthwaite Manor: Major Holmes (Cory Jones), Alice (Kaelynn Miller), Betsy/Mrs. Winthrop (Erin Branigan), Lt. Shaw (Kyle Gonzalez), Claire Holmes (Kaitlin Fish) and Lt. Wright (Greg Anderson).
    The manor is crawling with ghosts, primary among them Archibald’s wife, Lily (Lindsay Espinosa), who worries over him and their invalid son Colin (Reid Murphy), despite the ministrations of Archie’s jealous physician-brother Neville (Kevin Cleaver). But Mary has the company of a sympathetic maid, Martha (Ella Green), her young brother Dickon (Samuel Edward Ellis) and the gardener, Ben (Danny Brooks). With their help, she discovers Lily’s secret garden and brings its healing power to all the sick and restless.
    With just one piece of furniture, some tissue clouds and myriad special effects, this show conveys a better sense of time, place and action than more opulent productions I have seen. Innovative lighting evokes a full moon, thunderstorms, a skyline of minarets suggesting Mary’s homeland and a robin flitting overhead, symbolized by migrating red chaser lights. Three projectors broadcast films around the theater to simulate actions from the mundane act of opening the curtains to a bucolic train ride and the inner sanctum of the garden beyond its imposing walls.
    The costumes range from drab English earth tones to the tropical whites and lacy gowns of India’s ruling class, where only the turbaned Fakir (Aubrey Baden) and sari-clad Ayah (Fish) dazzle in color. Attention to detail is evident from the housekeeper’s (Cristina Shunk) magnificent key belt to the red trim incorporated into Mary’ dress as she warms to her surroundings.
    Among a cast of talented singers, Ritchie and Espinosa thrill in A Bit of Earth and How Could I Ever Know, and Green delights with her fine Yorkshire accent in A Fine White Horse. Cleaver’s duet with Ritchie (Lily’s Eyes) is unforgettable, and Ellis delights in Wick with a presence that feels metaphysical. Heinemann’s signature song, The Girl I Mean to Be, is charming but difficult to hear over the taped accompaniment — a dilemma common to the other children’s soli and the sole technical problem of this production.
    See this chestnut with someone you love, young or old, and bring a hanky.


By Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, based on the novel by Frances ­Hodgson Burnett. Director: Lois Evans. Musical Director: Wendy Baird. Choreographer: Carol Cohen. Stage Manager: Andy McLendon. Set: Laurie Nolan. Sound/Effects: Julien C. Jacques. Lights: Eric Lund. Costumes: Jean Carroll Christie. Dialect/Vocal Coach: Nancy Krebs. Musical Accompaniment by Right on Cue Services.

Runs two and a half hours: Thru May 8, Th-Sa at 8pm, Su at 2, Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis. $20 with discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.
 

Life, love and inspiration from a humble hiding place

The miracle of Anne’s work is that no matter our background, it feels like she is talking directly to us. Indeed. Those are the words of Steve Tobin, the director of Compass Rose’s beautifully constructed production of The Diary of Anne Frank. In the playbill’s director’s note, he goes on to say, “The triumph of her story is that more than 70 years later we are still telling it, and still being inspired to be better members of the human race.” The wit and wisdom generated by a young teenager stuck for two years in the crowded upper rooms of her father’s workplace in Amsterdam as the Nazis surrounded city blocks to ferret out Jews still resonate today because Anne’s energy love for life and intelligence are timeless. But it was, of course, the extraordinary circumstances that make her diary, and its recovery, close to a miracle. At Compass Rose, Tobin and his cast and crew completely commit themselves to the universal truths of this story, and the result is an emotional, suspenseful and sometimes funny tale of life, love and inspiration. Mia Goodman is young, but her acting credentials are impressive even for an adult: Ford’s Theatre, Arena Stage and Signature Theater, to name a few. Goodman pours every ounce of that impressive pedigree into her portrayal of Anne. She’s a typical young teen, but with a depth of understanding of her situation that manifests itself not so much in fear as in optimism. When Hanukkah threatens to slip by uncelebrated but with a prayer, Anne comes to the rescue with a special homemade gift for each of her compatriots. In this scene and others, Goodman gives us an Anne whose buoyancy and love cannot be contained by her circumstances. When she writes in her diary she talks directly to the audience, and Goodman’s depth as an actress, combined with her youth, make us believe she is indeed talking directly to each of us. Goodman’s performance is, in a word, captivating. Her supporting cast achieves the same standard. As Mr. Frank, Steve Lebens is wise, understanding and brave in a very impressive performance. Alicia Sweeney gives us a Mrs. Frank who displays an inherent love and generosity that cracks when one of the other adults is caught stealing food. Jenny Donovan does a fine job as Anne’s sister Margot. As Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, the guests whom the Franks generously offered hiding, Bryant Centofanti and Jill Kyle-Keith are suitably contentious. Their son Peter is very nicely played by Eli Pendry, who subtly allows Peter’s teenaged nervousness and awkwardness to wane as his friendship with Anne grows. Edd Miller is impressive as Mr. Dussel, the latecomer whose demanding crankiness melts into an acceptance of his situation and a love for the family who have taken him in. And Rachael Murray is effective as Miep, everyone’s connection to the outside world. Helping transport us into a cramped 1940s hiding place are the multi-level set by Tobin, appropriate costumes by Beth Terranova, props by Joann and Mike Gidos and lighting by Alex Brady that is so emotionally effective it almost acts as another character. Anne Frank’s words on the page are inspiring. In the hands of these outstanding performers, they, and we, are transformed. We understand how, despite her circumstances, she could write: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”


About two hours with one intermission.

Thru April 17. Th 7pm; F 8pm; Sa 8pm (and 2pm April 9 & 16); Su 2pm, Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis, $38 w/ discounts: www.compassrosetheater.org; 410-980-6662.

Colonial Players presents a laugh-filled farce with Boeing, Boeing

French playwright Marc ­Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing made a successful takeoff overseas in 1962, playing for seven years in London. But on Broadway three years later, it stalled after 23 performances. A movie version with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis was widely ignored. But a 2008 Broadway revival was a hit, and that version has landed at Colonial Players in Annapolis.
    Bernard (Brandon Bentley), an American living near Orly Airport in Paris, is juggling three fiancées, each an air hostess: Gloria (Debra Kidwell), the American; Gabriella (Sarah Wade), the Italian; and Gretchen (Rebecca Gift) the German. Making meticulous use of airline timetables and the complicity of his French housekeeper Berthe (Cece Mcgee-Newbrough), Bernard has managed smooth flying for his ruse.
    Along for the bumpy ride comes Bernard’s old pal Robert (Colin Hood), a nervous naïf from Wisconsin who can’t believe his friend’s luck in keeping “one up, one down and one pending.” Robert finds himself more than a witness when the planes get faster and weather sets in. That’s when the wit hits the fanjet, and the laughs start to soar.
    As Bernard, Bentley knows how to deliver a punch line and lands several. But by overdoing his physicality, he seems to be trying too hard for a cool, calm lothario. His later breakdown as things … well, break down … is more believable, so perhaps he’ll get comfortable with his sexy baritone and good looks and settle into the role more comfortably as the run progresses.
    As Robert, Hood uses his comic chops to perfection, taking his jittery body and voice right to the edge of credulity and then stepping back just enough so that we not only believe him but also share a certain empathy. He lands a nice transition from nervous pal to would-be lothario.
    As Berthe the housekeeper, Mcgee-Newbrough walks a similar comedic tightrope, balancing physical comedy and character without falling into caricature. Her lines are funny. but what she does with those lines is even funnier. Her almost silent but quite physical reaction when she first discovers that two of the fiancées have somehow infiltrated the flat at the same time is 15 seconds of comic angst that alone are worth the price of admission.
    As the stewardesses, Kidwell, Gift and Wade shine. Wearing brilliantly colored stewardess costumes by designer Christina McAlpine, each maintains a credible accent and her own brand of clichéd character — but it’s in the clichés that the comedy works.
    Gretchen is the dominating German whose voice and body are whip smart and just as stinging. Gift maintains the dominatrix attitude with aplomb; a long early scene with Robert flies by as she and Hood circle and collide hilariously. Wade’s cooing Italian and Kidwell’s Betty Boop-like cosmo girl each commands her own entertaining niche, while still being brilliant at the ensemble work that the play demands.
    Director Scott Nichols, who also chose the fun 1960s soundtrack, keeps the timing tight. Even on opening night there was nary a blip.
    So fasten your seat belts, put your tray tables up and fly on over to Colonial for a laugh-filled flight to farce.


ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm & 7:30 thru March 12. 108 East St., Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org. Two and a half hours with intermission.

Stage manager Dave Carter; Set designer Alan Zemla; Lighting designer Eric Lund.

Compass Rose shows why ­Tennessee Williams deserves his reputation

Reportedly Tennessee Williams’s favorite of his plays — which is saying something — and what many consider his best — which is also saying something when you consider his prolific output — Cat on a Hot Tin Roof premiered on Broadway in 1955 and won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for drama.
    Williams’s proclivity for tearing the facades off the American dream, particularly those of southern Americans whose culture used to seem so different from the rest of the country, still resonates today. At its core is the very use and meaning of the word mendacity: the inability of so many families to be honest with themselves and each other.
    The famous 1958 movie classic starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor is a diluted version of this powerful and at times jarring drama.
    At Compass Rose Theater, director Lucinda Merry-Browne has assembled the cast of strong actors the play demands. They immerse themselves in the mendacious undercurrents of Williams’s work while inviting the audience to understand the motivations that have led into each abyss of dishonesty. They do what is most critical in Williams’s familial works: relate to each other and keep the pace moving.
    These are icons of American drama. Big Daddy, the rich landowner, is protected by his family’s lies from the truth about his mortality. Brick, his youngest son, douses with alcohol the flames of a forbidden love. Maggie the Cat, Brick’s frustrated wife, escaped poverty to marry into a family rich only in material goods.
    Each is depicted here by solid actors who understand what their lines mean and how they relate to those of the other characters. It’s an accomplishment that can be subtle. Led by Browne and assistant director Steve Tobin, these talented actors bring to this well-known story realism that lends it freshness and an edge that cuts to the bone.
    As Brick and Maggie, Jacques Mitchell and Katrina Clark open with a long scene of exposition that reveals their depth of despair. Mitchell gives us a Brick who seems a touch laid back at first, as he figuratively shuts down in the face of Maggie’s pleading, cajoling and lecturing. But when he uncoils in anger or frustration or honesty, Mitchell’s Brick is bared, earning our sympathy and scaring us a little.
    Clark’s Maggie is in love with her husband yet can sink her claws into his psyche with the twist of a word or a memory. We are so sucked in that it’s a shock when they are suddenly interrupted by other characters.
    As Big Daddy, Gary Goodson’s physical command of the stage is matched by his vocal command, with modulations that can be funny or threatening. When Big Daddy and Brick have the protracted, emotional and probing conversation in which Brick, of all people, finally tells his father the truth, two fine actors allow themselves to be carried away by some of Williams’s finest writing.
    Hillary Mazer as Big Mama is as bombastic as the husband who loathes her. Chris Dwyer as Cooper, Brick’s older brother, and Samantha Merrick, his wife, do a fine job as a couple whose love is driven by mendacity.
    See it and be reminded of why Tennessee Williams is one of the best American playwrights ever to put to paper the pen of profundity.


Th 7pm, FSa 8pm, SaSu 2pm thru Feb 28. 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis, $38 w/discounts: compassrosetheater.org.

Stage manager, Michelle Wood; Lighting designer, Ethan Vail; ­Costume designer, Cameron Ashbaugh; Props, Mike & Joann Gidos.

2nd Star Productions updates this classic with color-blind casting

Legendary acting gave The Philadelphia Story its fame. Philip Barry’s so-so comedic drama about high society marriage and divorce in the 1930s is synonymous with Katherine Hepburn, who debuted the show on Broadway and starred on screen opposite Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. That’s a hard legacy to live up to.
     Renowned for outstanding musicals, 2nd Star Productions tries to update this classic with color-blind casting. But this time the troupe aims higher than it can reach.
    The action covers a pivotal 24 hours in the life of golden girl Tracy Lord (Erica Miller), a privileged ice princess who finds her heart as she searches her soul to choose between three dissimilar men. The occasion is her impending wedding to establishment tycoon George Kittredge (Akili Brown). The society event summons attention from poet-cum-reporter Mike Connor (Erik Hatcher) and impish ex-husband, Dexter Haven (Joshua Hampton). George adores her as a goddess, Mike appreciates her surprising innocence and Dexter acknowledges both qualities — plus his culpability in souring their love.
     Subplots center on Tracy’s family: literary brother Sandy (Alex Hyder), meddling little sister Dinah (Miranda Newheart), philandering father Seth (Brian Binney) and long-suffering mother Margaret (Rosalie Daelemans), for whose sake they welcome the press in hopes of averting a public scandal. Uncle Willie (Gene Valendo) lends comic relief as resident philosopher and lecherous geezer smitten as he is with press photographer Liz Imbrie (Nina Y. Marti), who is in love with Mike. There is also the requisite black butler (Wendell Holland) and two domestics, May (Mary Retort-George) and Elsie (Lily George).
     This production stumbles on relevance and credibility. As the central characters bumble through a haze of champagne and sexist humor toward an incendiary misunderstanding, a relevant question is posed.
    “What place does a woman like Tracy have in the world today?”
    In our era of Kardashian socialites, that 80-year-old line describes an anachronism.
    Confounding credibility is the directorial concept of Tracy’s interracial engagement to George. For these characters, such a union would have been unthinkable. That scenario was the impetus for a different Hepburn blockbuster — Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — 40 years later.
     Stepping in for another director, Christopher Overly, who starred as Father in 2nd Star’s musical Children of Eden, inherited a challenge. The principals deliver their own brand of Hepburn’s fiery ice, Grant’s suavity and Stewart’s guileless charm, but they cannot live up to the expectation set by that charmed trio. Despite yet another award-worthy set from company founder Jane B. Wingard, this show feels immature and, at two and a half hours with two intermissions, long.


FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, thru Feb. 20. Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts: 2ndstarproductions.com.

Stage manager, Joanne D. Wilson; Costumes, Linda Swann; Lights & sound, Garrett R. Hyde

Reconsider what you think you know about relationships, sex and power

“Colonial Players might just want to bring playwright David Ives on as a resident artist. Last year, Ives’ witty version of the 17th century French farce The Liar won the company the coveted Ruby Griffith Award from the British Embassy for best all-around production by a Washington-area community theater. Now, Venus in Fur — Ives’ take on a stage version of Venus in Furs, the 1870 novel by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch — is equally entertaining and a perfect fit for Colonial’s intimate theater-in-the-round.
    Yes, Sacher-Masoch is the man who, unwittingly, gave us the term masochism, and as this play within a play progresses, it’s not easy for us as an audience to discern the difference between masochism and sadism. And that’s the way Ives intends it.
    Venus in Fur starts with thunder and lightning that portends the battle of the sexes we’re about to see, as playwright/director Thomas Novacek, cranky and spent after a day auditioning actresses without any classical training or “a particle of brain in their skulls,” is lamenting his plight on the phone with his fiancée. In walks young Vanda Jordan, profane, brash, beautiful and all wrong for the part. But she convinces Thomas to read her for the role, acting the male part himself, and we are off on a trip that is sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, but always riveting.
    Is it a coincidence that her name, Vanda, is the same as the character’s (well, she admits, her name is Wanda but her parents always called her Vanda)? Is it just solid preparation that she comes with a big bag seemingly with a closetful of costumes, both his and hers, that are perfect for the roles? Is it coincidence that, after telling Thomas she quickly scanned the script’s pages on the train ride over, she actually has it memorized?
    As Thomas and Vanda, Jeff Mocho and Natalie Nankervis are a fine match. He is the slightly nerdy, khaki-clad writer trying to bring to life a book he finds as deep and full of meaning as the cultists who read it in 1879. She is the firestorm that rips through his smugness by calling the book soft-core porn.
    Both actors do a fine job moving quickly from their characters into the characters in Thomas’s play, with Nankervis especially effective switching off present-day Vanda’s excitable vocal staccato and sliding right into what can best be called a seducing dominatrix — with her subject more than willing to be the submissive. Both are able to give us a laugh-out-loud line (and there are plenty) one minute, while the next draw us into the emotions and motivations of the modern and 1870 characters they are portraying. It’s truly fine acting.  
    Set designer Ricardo Seijo has turned Colonial’s stage into a very realistic yet generic New York rehearsal hall, complete with fluorescent lights and fire sprinkler pipes along the ceiling and a brick wall along one side with realistic sealed windows that hint at the color outside while simultaneously reminding us that we are captives to … what? The theatrical process? The director-actor dynamic? The degradation bestowed by a dominatrix?
    Eric Lund’s stark at one moment and ethereal the next; lighting and Ben Cornwell’s sound add to the mystique that carries us from present day into 1870 and back. Kaelynn Miller’s costumes for Vanda, meanwhile, might make even the most jaded of theatergoers feel just a touch voyeuristic … which is exactly what Vanda would want, of course.
    If all this sounds like you’re in for an evening of whips and chains, fear not. This is a finely crafted script, nominated for a Tony Award in 2012, brilliantly brought to life on Colonial’s in-the-round stage by director Jim Gallagher and his stellar cast. Gallagher’s deft directorial hand and the complete believability of Mocho and Nankervis carry us on a visual and emotional journey that has us questioning what we think we know about relationships, sex and power.


About 90 minutes with no intermission. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm (and 7:30pm Jan. 17) thru Jan. 23. Colonial Players Theatre, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373.
 
Director: Jim Gallagher. Producer: Jason Vaughn. Stage manager: Shirley Panek; Set designer: Ricardo Seijo. Lighting designer: Eric Lund. Sound Designer: Ben Cornwell. Costume Designer: Kaelynn Miller.