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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

Another Classic-Lite premieres

Two summers ago, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company offered a new concept in dinner theater: Comedy in the Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, featuring modern adaptations of classics from the Enlightenment. Satires such as Molière’s Tartuffe and The Schemings of Scapin, performed by comely professionals with a flair for punny couplets, found audiences as hungry for bawdy barbs as they were for shrimp and grits. So when Artistic Director Sally Boyett commissioned Timothy Mooney, author of 17 Molière adaptations, to translate an Italian classic — Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters  — the public house was packed. Mooney flew in from Chicago for the champagne reception honoring this world premiere about love and revenge among bumbling aristocrats, saucy maids and a scheming servant.
    The servant in question, Truffaldino (Patrick Truhler), is an opportunist whose greed and incompetence engender romance between his two masters after two hours of swashbuckling confusion. It all starts when a Venetian merchant, Pantalone (Brian Keith MacDonald), arranges for his daughter Clarice (Megan Morse Jans) to marry Silvio (Michael Windsor), son of Doctor Lombardi (James Carpenter). Clarice’s previous betrothed, Federigo (Laura Rocklyn), was killed by Florindo (Carpenter), the lover of Federigo’s sister Beatrice (Rocklyn). Now Beatrice, disguised as her dead brother, has come to claim Federigo’s uncollected dowry. Yet unbeknownst to Beatrice, her lover Florindo arrives in Venice simultaneously. The servant Truffaldino contracts to serve them both even as his feeble brain is besotten with love for Clarice’s maidservant, Smeraldina (Amy Pastoor). Only the innkeeper, Brighella (Sue Struve), knows who’s who, and nobody knows fully what’s what in this comedy of errors where all’s well that ends well.
    Confused? I still am, but it really doesn’t matter. In the spirit of the Three Stooges, the entertainment lies in the delivery and the pratfalls. The dialogue is modern with such clever observations as defining patriarchy as a cockocracy. Witticisms are served up with a sauce of slapstick garnished with outrageous sound effects. A chorus of whistles, drums, gongs, castanets, horns and whipsticks accompany each gag, and no one utters the name of the mysteriously reincarnated Federigo without Ennio Morricone’s riff from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly echoing through the courtyard.
    The actors engage the audience by snatching props from their tables and deigning to sit with them on occasion, perhaps waiting in vain for a bite of the bread pudding or other menu offerings so highly praised in the script. Bawdy jokes, double entendres and physical gags are de rigueur, and Truhler as the servant is a buffoon par excellence.
    This costume comedy is a lowbrow introduction to a highbrow classic intended to entertain and enlighten the modern audience on the roots of revolutionary philosophy and letters. It runs two hours with two intermissions, and regular menu prices are in effect.


Director: Sally Boyett. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Stage Manager: Sara K. Smith.

Playing Tuesdays (rain date Wed.) thru Sept. 29, 7:30pm (come early for dinner and drinks): 1747 Pub Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, Annapolis; $25 w/advance discounts plus fare; rsvp: 410-415-3513; annapolisshakespeare.org.

 

Set to music, Oscar Wilde is twice as funny

It’s ironic that when Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in 1895, many critics loved its humor but were taken aback at its lightness, its refusal to take on heavy social or political issues of the time, as most dramas had done. The irony is that it’s exactly this drive to escape the heavy responsibilities of “position” that impel Jack Worthing to create an alter ego, Ernest, through whom Jack can live a life untethered by the demands of position.
    Even so, Wilde’s Earnest was quickly acclaimed one of his greatest works, and certainly his greatest comedy, one that moved the audience to laughter consistently and whose dialogue and characters rang so true that even today the plot seems as likely as life. Take this thespian froth, add music that stays true to the times and the story, and you end up with the hilarious hit that The Colonial Players of Annapolis is displaying on its in-the-round stage through May 16.
    Director Rick Wade — a long-time directing, acting and playwright veteran of Colonial Players (Wade wrote the book for the group’s version of A Christmas Carol, a three-decade Annapolis tradition) — knows just how to make the most of that stage. Along with set and floor designer Edd Miller and lighting designer Frank Florentine, Wade turns Colonial’s theater into a garden of comedy, with pastel flowers lining the walls behind the audience, a floor just as beautiful, lights constantly in motion and set pieces cleverly rearranged during quickly choreographed scene changes ranging from London flats to a country garden.
    Worthing, played by Eric Hufford, and his pal Algernon, played by Steven Baird, have a nice camaraderie on stage, giving the little digs that friends do. When Algernon, whose cousin Gwendolyn Jack is in love with, figures out Jack’s Ernest ruse, the plot takes off. It’s a plot that, because of Wilde’s intricacy with words and humor, requires direction that keeps the pace moving. In turn, the cast must have the talent to not only portray these characters brightly but also to reject the temptation to allow the pace to trip up a basic acting requirement: The audience must hear and understand you, especially in the round, when the actor is always facing away from at least one section of the audience. This cast gets the job done.
    From the impossible patter of “A Handbag Is Not a Proper Mother” to the round of “My Eternal Devotion,” some very nice voices are on display here. But never does the music take precedence over the comedy.
    This is a stellar cast. Erica Jureckson as Gwendolyn and Sarah Wade as Cecily, the young ward of Worthing, work very well together, especially when singing “My Very First Impression,” an irony about their ability to size up a man on first glance. Greg Jones as Lane, Worthing’s valet, is top-notch and in fine voice in “You Can’t Make Love,” with Sherri Millan’s servant girl Effie, about the many burdens of upper classdom that prevent their enjoying … ahem … life to its fullest. As Gwendolyn’s mother Lady Bracknell, Barbara Bartos is the picture of rigid elitism in that “handbag” song and throughout. And as Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble, Dianne and Duncan Hood get plenty of laughs but serve up a touching dose of mature puppy love as well as dance around their feelings for each other in “Metaphorically Speaking.”
    There are others, including several smaller characters who do double duty keeping the scene changes brisk, often getting their own tee-hees. The bottom line here is every audience’s top priority in a comedy: Keep things moving, and make us laugh. They do, and you will.


Playing thru May 16: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm: Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

AACC Students shine in this classic thriller of unexpected stardom and unrequited love

Since Opera AACC debuted 13 years ago, the company has been renowned for outstanding productions, and this year’s The Phantom of the Opera is no exception. The surprise difference, however, is a first ever all-student cast. Students studied a range of skills from vocal production to theater props and technology at Anne Arundel Community College. You’d have to drive to Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory to find a better student version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical: a classic thriller of unexpected stardom and unrequited love.
    This mammoth undertaking includes costumes and makeup worthy of La Scala; a versatile set featuring starry nights, rolling fog, a subterranean lake and a hand-beaded chandelier 100 hours in creation; a finely tuned and precise ensemble of 26 singers with a fine ballet troupe; and some of the most fabulous voices you’ll hear on an amateur stage.
    Laura Sparks shimmers as Christine, the chorus girl turned star. Jeffrey Walter as Raoul has a swoon-worthy voice and bearing. Emily Sergo’s diva, Carlotta, exhibits phenomenal coloratura and comedic timing. Character actors Kevin Cleaver and Leonard Gilbert as managers Andre and Firmin delight, as does Lucy Bobbin as Meg. As for the Phantom, Sophomore Gabe Taylor has a heart-breaking high tenor, though his low notes, so integral to this role, lack the command that age will bring.
    The greatest musical moments come in the octet Prima Donna, the Act II opening chorus Masquerade and Christine’s duet with Raoul, All I Ask of You. See it with the one you love and feel the tender frisson.
    Technically, this show is well directed and produced with few exceptions. Christine and the Phantom are a physical mismatch, as she towers over him. Body mics do a disservice to several cast members, providing excessive consonants at the expense of the musical line. Backstage activity is all too visible to opera goers seated in the wings of the auditorium. The clumsy handling of the chandelier detracts from the spectacle. Still, these are minor points in an otherwise must-see gem of contemporary musical theater.


Director: Douglas Brandt Byerly. Music director and conductor: Blair Skinner. Set: Sean J. Urbantke. Sound: Christopher L. Ballengee. Lights: Michael D. Klima. Makeup and wigs: Kristin Clippard. Choreography: Kristi Schaffner.

Playing thru April 25: Th 7:30pm; FSa 8pm: Kauffman Theater at the Pascal Center, AACC, Arnold; $25 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-777-2457.

Don’t miss this Twin Beach Players' show, for you’re sure to walk out smiling

In a typical visit to a theater, you experience a play from your sensory point of view, including watching it unfold through plot twists and turns while listening to witty dialogue spoken by richly portrayed characters. In Twin Beach Players’ Noises Off, you get that and more as you bear witness to Noises On, a play within a play revealed from the point of view of actors preparing and starring in a comical sex farce.
    Before Noises Off has finished, you will feel exhausted, not unlike the actors, having watched seemingly countless pratfalls, observed multiple character and prop entrances and exits, heard numerous opening and closing of doors, many double entendres, reappearing sardines and other props, character-appropriate and colorful costumes — and a monstrous two-level set spun around twice by stage crew.
    Confused? Let me explain.
    Directed by Players’ president Sid Curl, English playwright Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is the story of six actors, one stage manager, one stage technician and director who rehearse and perform their play, Noises On. A standout ensemble cast and complicated physical and technical cues make Noises Off a theatrical ­triumph.
    The moment you make your way to your seat in the auditorium of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maryland and see before you a two-level English country home constructed of tall painted flats, working wood stairs and numerous doors, combined with colorful prop pieces and thoughtful background music, you appreciate the transformative effort involved in this challenging undertaking.
    A combination of new and veteran performers, the strong cast reacts well to each other through deliberate character choices, effective and credible vocal variety and exceptional comic pacing and timing. Sherry Curl-Hall’s Dotty Otley is animated and energetic. Keith Mervine plays Lloyd Dallas, a convincing and experienced director. Ethan Croll’s Gary Lejeune is equally impressive with deliberate gesturing and authoritative demeanor.  Brooke Ashton as Kate Harrison creates a vain starlet threatening to quit the show whenever things don’t go her way.
    Luke Woods’ Frederick Fellowes is a believable, mature actor who respectfully questions his director. Didi Olney masters Poppy Norton-Taylor’s job as a fretful stage manager. Amy Prieto adds maturity to Belinda Blair, an eternal optimist. Kevin McCoy sparkles as obedient stage technician Tim Algood. Jeff Larsen amuses as Selsdon Mowbray, an unreliable actor with a drinking problem.
    Opening night had a few technical problems including long intermissions to turn the stage set, but they were not surprising, as the cast and crew had just one week to rehearse with the entire set in place.
    Don’t miss this show, for you’re sure to walk out smiling.


Playing thru April 26: Th-Sa: 8pm; Su 2pm: Boys & Girls Club, North Beach; $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-286-1890 twinbeachplayers.com.

Bold choices — for these homesteaders and Bowie Community Theatre

Since the mid-1960s, Bowie Community Theatre’s bread and butter has been mysteries, comedies and classics. Still, it has never shied away from taking on lesser-known material with depth and message. It has found such a gem in Pearl Cleage’s 1995 production Flyin’ West. This is a beautifully written piece that brings to life the oft-ignored story of how former slaves in 1898 moved west — Kansas, in this case — toward a life of self-dependence.
    A small story with a big impact, Flyin’ West demands actors who can plow the depths of their characters’ pasts to bring us dual realities. On the one hand, that’s what they lived as slaves. On the other, it’s the hope they feel as they simultaneously work to make their town of Nicodemus an enduring success and ward off speculators who see dollar signs across the acres.    
    Director Estelle Miller has assembled a cast that makes us feel the warmth and love they have for each other, their determination to create a town that will prosper and the indignities of having darker skin at a time when whites had no legal barrier preventing them from committing all sorts of abuse.
    More specifically, this is a story of four very strong African American women, with a cast doing justice to each. It all takes place at the home of Sophie Washington and Fannie Dove, 30-something homesteaders who have opened their home to Leah, their 70-something neighbor whom they do not want to be alone during the oncoming winter.
    As Leah, Sandra Cox True gives us the past: several very touching monologues about what it was like being a female slave who had another slave forced on her to bring healthy male children to the plantation. Her story about that first time, at age 13 — and subsequent stories about the babies being taken away — are heartbreakingly real. Yet True also gives us some wonderfully funny and dry responses in her back-and-forth with the other characters … including the story of how she learned to bake an especially tart apple pie.
    As Fannie, Lolita Marie gives us the present. She bickers with Sophie, flirts with neighbor Wil Parish and seems to have aspirations of ensuring that the hardscrabble homesteader’s life doesn’t preclude having some of the finer things; she made sure their fine china went with them from Memphis to Nicodemus. Marie’s Fannie is gentle and perceptive.
    As Sophie, Kecia Campbell gives us a taste of the future as the strong-willed visionary whose singular purpose in life is to leave behind the past and forge ahead by doing all she can to ensure that Nicodemus remains in the hands of her people. She plans the layout of the town just as she plans her own future, and Campbell’s characterization is spot on. She has no intention of playing second fiddle to anyone, whether a slave overseer or the male-dominated society she faces.
    Brawnlyn Blueitt plays younger sister Minnie with appropriate innocence and tentativeness, growing stronger as she and her baby survive the abuses of her husband. Hard to believe this is Blueitt’s stage debut.
    Neighbor Wil is the good guy neighbor who would do anything to help the women, especially Fannie. Darius McCall is quite appealing; his Wil is a touch dimmer than the others, but his loyalty and strength manifest when the time comes for him to be the protector.
    Frank is Minnie’s husband. A mulatto born of a white man and a slave mother, Ben Harris walks a bit of an acting tightrope as Frank. The character as written threatens to fall into cliché: frustrated self-hating drunk gambler who hits his wife and wants to sell their land. But Cleage doesn’t quite allow Frank to cross that line, and Harris’s performance, while potent, is subtle enough to make us believe Frank’s self-loathing and explosiveness.
    It all takes place on a beautifully realized set of a see-through house by set designer Dan Lavagan, lit nicely by Bowie Playhouse veteran pro Garrett Hyde. The pace on opening night was occasionally tentative, both with the actors’ lines and long scene changes, all of which are sure to tighten up as the run progresses.
    One can hope: the show started at 8pm. Act I ran 1.5 hours, and it all ended about 10:50. Nearly three hours is long even for a musical, much less a straight play. But that’s a minor caveat considering the importance of this story.
    This brilliant script brought to life by riveting performances adds another chapter to how the West was won.


Playing thru April 25: FSa 8pm; 2pm Sa April 18 and Su April 19: Bowie Community Theatre, White Marsh Park, Bowie; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 301-805-0219;  bctheatre.com.

Intimate setting, top-notch acting, taut direction and high production values bring this classic to life

For this classic, less is more.
     The Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, uses a script nicely streamlined and adapted to the stage by Jon Jory, whose versions of other classics like Pride and Prejudice the company has presented over its brief history. As impressive as the script’s fidelity to the novel is Annapolis Shakespeare’s confidence in its ability to tell a complex story with nary a set piece other than a few chairs and a trunk.
    After spending time at the Bowie Playhouse, Annapolis Shakespeare moved into its Chinquapin Round Road facility just a couple of years ago, and began doing its plays there even more recently. By using a less-is-more philosophy — and knowing that solid talent and direction are quite a bit more important to good storytelling than extensive sets and facilities — producing artistic director Sally Boyett nicely adapts to the company’s small, 70-seat space.
    In the case of Sense and Sensibility, Boyett gives us the classic story of two young sisters. Elinor is filled with sense and prudence, a level-head. Marianne is filled with sensibility — emotion, romance — and always speaks her mind. Though written in the late 1700s, Austen’s work remains loved, read and performed because she captured ideas and feelings that are essentially timeless.
    This story of love, laughter and heartache is brought to us by a cast of actors led by Laura Rocklyn as Marianne Dashwood and Rebecca Swislow as Elinor Dashwood. Rocklyn’s Marianne is a charmer, attracting us via her refusal to hold her tongue as well as the humor of what she says when she does speak. Rocklyn and Swislow work very well together; this is a pair that you can believe are sisters.
    They and their widowed mother, played nicely by Sue Struve, are forced to move into a small cottage after their half-brother (the elegant Brian Keith MacDonald) and his wife, played to the hilt of vanity by Renata Plecha, decide that they prefer to take the family estate and force the trio out.
    Evicted, they settle in a small cottage in Devonshire, near the home of her cousin John Middleton and his wife, who welcome the three openly, soon introducing them to local society. As Middleton, Richard Pilcher is gregarious and warm, quite the opposite of what they had experienced before being forced out.
    But Sense and Sensibility is not so much about society connections as it is about the two girls and the suitors who come calling: Edward Ferrars (Patrick Truhler), whose engagement to another is kept secret but who becomes attracted to Elinor; John Willoughby (James Carpenter), a charmer but a cheater whose engagement to Marianne is presumed by many but never official; and Colonel Brandon (Joel Ottenheimer), a tall, good guy who takes on the charge of the daughter of a woman he loved but was not allowed by family to marry, and who falls in love with Marianne.
    All three give us tightly drawn and distinctive characters, each bringing their unique backgrounds to bear on the present, and each revealing to us the chemistry that has formed their affections for the sisters.
    As always with Annapolis Shakespeare, costumes are expansive but true to the period, lighting of the small space is imaginative and evocative and Boyett’s choreography of scene changes keeps things moving apace, with each scene blending into the next clearly yet with nary a visual or verbal gap.
    In other words, less is more: an intimate setting, top-notch acting, taut direction and high production values are more than enough to bring this classic to life.


Production stage manager: Sara K. Smith. Lighting design: Colin Dieck. Costumes: Kat McKerrow. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs

Playing thru May 3: FSa 8pm (and 2pm, Sa April 4); Su 3pm: Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Studio 111, 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis; $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

65 Years of Broadway! deserves its !

Long synonymous with musical theater excellence, 2nd Star Productions had a brilliant 2013-14 season with Children of Eden nominated for a WATCH Award as Outstanding Musical and Hello Dolly winning a Helen Hayes Award for All-Around Production Excellence.
    Now the company is celebrating with a star-studded musical revue.
    65 Years of Broadway! The Best Musicals, Abridged is a lively retrospective featuring all the Best Musical Tony Award-winning shows since 1949. The first — Kiss Me, Kate  — happens to be 2nd Star’s next show.
    The cabaret is compiled by Nathan Bowen, a WATCH nominee for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for his role in Hello Dolly. In it he conveys both his passion for this genre and his comic appreciation of its excesses.
    Many tastes will find satisfaction here with 12 actors on a very small stage, performing under Bowen’s whimsical direction. You will thrill one minute to Phantom of the Opera and chuckle the next at the sight of the men’s chorus pirouetting and groveling on bended knee in All I Ask of You. The zealous young missionaries in Hello from The Book of Mormon will have you praying for breath from all the laughter. Then you get to sing along in the perennial favorites The Sound of Music, Cabaret, and Seasons of Love from Rent.
    With 65 songs in total, the entire cast gets to shine. E. Lee Nicol, star of Children of Eden, will break your heart in Not My Father’s Son (Kinky Boots) and I Am What I Am (La Cage aux Folles), then take you to Shangri La in Stranger in Paradise (Kismet).
    Pam Shilling — nominated for a WATCH award for Outstanding Feature Actress in Hello Dolly! — is exquisite in Send in the Clowns (A Little Night Music), Memory (Cats) and Bye Bye Blackbird (Fosse).
    Bowen, ever the comedian, gets to Put On a Happy Face (Bye Bye Birdie) and reunite with Dolly costar Daniel Starnes in Muddy Water (Big River) and in trio with Nicol for The Egg (1776). Starnes also shines in soli written for a young man of his age: Miracle of Miracles (Fiddler On the Roof) and All That’s Known (Spring Awakening).
    Cheryl Campo is empowering in Nothing (A Chorus Line), Shadowland (The Lion King) and As If We Never Said Goodbye (Sunset Boulevard).
    Emily Mudd shows off her vocal and acting range in Think of Me (Phantom of the Opera) and Buenos Aires (Evita).
    Michael Mathes, with his falsetto channeling of Frankie Valley, is so spot-on that when the male chorus spins into Sherry (Jersey Boys), you will swear it’s the recording.
    Young Sophia Riazi-Sekowski will touch you in Maybe (Annie). Geneva Croteau gets you dancing in I Can Hear the Bells (Hairspray). Cheramie Jackson gets into the groove in They Can’t Take That Away From Me (Crazy for You), Josh Hampton in What Do You Do (Avenue Q) and Alexandra Baca in Breathe (In the Heights). There’s even a stirring ensemble acappella rendition of Gold from Once.
    All the big composers you remember are represented here: Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Hammerstein, Bernstein, Hamlisch, Herman, Webber, Sondheim, and 35 others you may have forgotten or never knew about. There are also pop names that might surprise you such as Roger Miller, Elton John and Cyndi Lauper.
    This collection will not only get your toes tapping and your heart thumping but also pique your desire to check out Broadway’s more recent hits.
    Two hours (plus intermission) of pleasure for all ages.


Sixty-Five Years of Broadway! The Best Musicals, Abridged: Directed and Produced by Nathan Bowen. Musical director and accompanist: Laura Brady.

Playing March 13 & 14: The Shop, Cape St. Claire, Annapolis. $20: 410-757-5700; ­www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Listen up to tease plot from prattle

Colonial Players bills the World War II drama Watch On the Rhine as the first in their American Standard series, “presented for the nostalgia of older audiences or introduction to younger patrons.” As winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play in 1941, this play would seem a good choice. It has star appeal: The hit film featured Bette Davis and Paul Lukas, who won an Oscar for Best Actor. It is historically compelling: A call to arms for a pre-war America grown complacent in the face of global discord. It smacks of scandal: Dramatist Lillian Hellman was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee because of her membership in the Communist Party.
    Yet for all its relevance and fine execution, this two-and-a-half-hour golden oldie feels moldy.
    Commenting on social conventions among the Roosevelt era’s upper middle-class, the play revels in trite gossip and quotidian trivia. It opens with irascible Fanny Farrelly (CeCe McGee-Newbrough), the widowed matriarch of a suburban D.C. mansion, preparing for the arrival of her daughter Sara (Theresa Riffle), whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years, along with Sara’s German husband, Kurt Muller (John Coe), and their children Joshua (Eli Pendry), Babette (Katie McMorrow) and Bodo (Andrew Sharpe).
    By way of preparation, Fanny barks orders to her butler, Joseph (Daniel M. Lopez II) and her live-in housekeeper, Anise (Mary MacLeod). She badgers her bachelor son David (Benjamin Wolff) about every aspect of his life that falls short of the standard set by his late father. She discusses with her houseguests, Count Teck de Brancovis of Romania (Timothy Sayles) and his young wife Marthe (Shannon Benil) such pressing issues as the weather, menus, jewelry and the social aspects of ambassadorial life. When she finally meets her son-in-law and grandchildren for the first time, it is with left-handed compliments and outright insults veiled as teasing. One understands why Sara stayed away for two decades.
    For one mind-numbing hour, we learn little more than the fact that the Mullers are impoverished and itinerant because of Kurt’s anti-Fascist work … that the Count and Countess are equally but secretly penniless … that Marthe is unhappy in her marriage … and that David is perhaps interested in her.
    The goldplate on their civility ­tarnishes when Teck rifles Kurt’s luggage for clues to his mysterious background. Teck, as it turns out, is an opportunistic aristocratic who know that Kurt is wanted for political crimes against the Nazi party. Being a gentleman, however, he offers to forget he ever saw Kurt in exchange for $10,000 hush money. Feeling that he must return home to save the lives of three colleagues, Kurt takes the blackmail into his own lawless hands and bids a tearful goodbye to his family. Fanny is left to cope with the realization that her world is no longer the safe cocoon she supposed it to be.
    Despite the play’s slow start, when the action finally comes, it explodes like a grenade. Meanwhile, the cast works hard to push their characters beyond their stodgy trappings. McGee-Newbrough brings a mix of condescension and compassion to her dowager widow. Sayles makes a suave and ominous villain. Wolff is the perfect put-upon eldest child, and Benil evokes our compassion as the embittered child bride. MacLeod is so comfortable as the long-time maid that she feels like ­family. As for the more sympathetic Mullers, Coe and Riffle blend a feeling of genuine affection with an air of mystery, while the children are models of comportment and cosmopolitan ­sophistication.
    The exquisite set features period antiques and a console radio that croons big-band swing. The costumes are sumptuous with gowns in moiré, chiffon and lace, and the men wear silk smoking jackets as they puff on their fruity pipes. The nostalgic trappings are so nice that they almost make one yearn for that simpler, more elegant time. Almost.
    In an era of sound bites where life is cheap both at home and abroad, this show may try your patience rather than keep you engaged. There are, however, exceptions: History buffs, amateur sociologists and enthusiasts of black-and-white cinematic classics will find this morality tale interesting.


Director: Terry Averill. Set designer: David Pindell. Sound: Sarah Wade. Lights: Matthew Shogren. Costumes: Bonnie Persinger. Fight choreographer: Mark Allen.

Playing thru Mar. 21: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm (and 7:30pm Mar. 8): Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, 108 East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

You’ll get feeling as well as fun in this play on why actors do what they do

The quality that 2nd Star Productions brings to its big musical productions is exemplified not only by sold out houses but also by recognition among its peers. 2nd Star last month received 21 nominations from the Washington Area Theater Community Honors, a local collaborative of amateur theaters that judge each other’s shows and present awards in March. Only one of those nominations is for a non-musical, A Soldier’s Story. The majority were for the highly acclaimed Hello Dolly and Children of Eden. 2nd Star’s range is illustrated by its nonmusicals, as evidenced by that dramatic A Soldier’s Story, and more recently the intense and well-acted 12 Angry Men. Now, on the other end of that spectrum, comes the comedy farce I Hate Hamlet. The plot: Andy Rally (Zak Zeeks), a young, successful TV actor, comes to New York from Los Angeles after his hit show has been canceled. He rents a large, gothic apartment from real estate agent Felicia (Nicole Mullins). The apartment was once occupied by famed actor, womanizer and drunk John Barrymore (Fred Nelson). Andy isn’t too high on his agent Lillian’s (Carole Long) offer for him to play Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park production. He’s even less enthralled with his girlfriend Deidre’s (Malarie Novotny) determination to stay chaste until they are married. He’s tempted by his Hollywood buddy Gary’s (Daniel Douek) offer of millions to give up the New York theater life and do a TV pilot. Where to turn for guidance? And for a damned good sword fight? Barrymore himself, of course. As the ghost of Barrymore, not exactly alive but still very much kicking as he haunts his old digs, Fred Nelson stalks the stage with the intimidation of a star so macho that even his black tights strain against the testosterone. From his fluid physicality to his well-modulated voice, Nelson brings us a Barrymore who, for all his weaknesses in life, demonstrates a genuine passion for the stage and a compassion for those charged with playing the character many consider Shakespeare’s most difficult role. As Barrymore cajoles and convinces Andy to take on Hamlet, he also comes to grips with lost love in the form of Lillian, with whom he had a fling back in the day. A highlight of this show is the tender and funny scene between the two as they dance, quietly, in the dark and come close to rekindling that youthful lust. Long and Nelson are two fine actors. Their ability to take a fast-paced farce on a brief detour of affection is a fine lesson in the less is more school of thespianship. That’s a school that Zeeks as Andy seemed to graduate from as the second act rolled around. His first act of too-punched punch lines and overwrought volume eased into a more nuanced second act that offered a much clearer window into his character. Perhaps it was opening-night excitement, and as the run progresses the talented Zeeks will ease more comfortably into the role and reject the temptation to force things. He’s got the character right; he just needs to share Andy with the audience rather than hit us over the head with him. Director John Wakefield keeps the pace moving at a good clip, though he could have reined in some unnecessary mugging. Nowhere in the script — though it’s been a long time since I’ve read it — do I recall a strange accent indicated for the character of Gary. Douek is funny in the role and has wonderful stage presence, but too many of his lines are lost as the audience strains to understand this unidentifiable dialect. As always, Jane Wingard’s set design is a winner. Along with Garrett Hyde’s lighting, it invites us to settle in for an evening at Barrymore’s. Mary Wakefield’s costuming of Barrymore is spot on, though the bunny slippers on city girl Deidre were a cheap-laugh-seeking misstep. Quibbles aside, I Hate Hamlet is a funny, fast-paced and at times warm look at why actors do what they do. Thanks to Nelson’s mastery of the stage and his keen sense of when to envelop the audience and his cast mates in broad theatricality and when to simply tell a story, we’re treated to a farce that has feeling. Playing thru Feb. 22: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm (and 8pm Feb. 19): Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

A farce to be reckoned with

The Liar adapted by David Ives
is a farce guaranteed to brighten lives.
Iambic pentameter is the way
This hilarity comes to modern day.

Written long ago by Pierre Corneille
Steve Tobin directs this quite funny play.
There’s a fine cast of players, they all shine.
And costumes and sets that all bring to mind
1600s’ France, where our play we find.

Fred Fletcher-Jackson’s the liar of note
The guy whose adventures are merely gloat.
Jackson’s Dorante is very uncouth
he just cannot seem to tell us the truth.
He meets two women, Lucrece and Clarice,
But the names get mixed, and the plot’s unleashed.
Meanwhile his father’s betrothed him away,
To one of the two? Well, I shall not say.

Geronte is the father, played by Marc Rehr
A doting dad, who thinks his son’s quite fair.
Rehr’s character shines, he takes us along
as Geronte wonders what’s right and what’s wrong.

Rebecca Ellis and Natasha Joyce
Give Lucrece and Clarice wonderful voice.
Their solid acting and stage presence make
Their way with a punchline easy to take.

Jeff Sprague as Cliton, servant of Dorante  
keeps the pace moving as fast as you want.
Sarah Wade’s twins, Isabelle and Sabine
Are two odd sisters, one flirty, one mean.

Seth Clute’s Alcippe, Ethan Goldberg’s Phileste,
Each get their own laughs with vivacious zest.

The silent Mike Winnick and Nicole Musho
Both play such intricate parts in this show.
They keep the set changes moving along
and get a few deserved laughs of their own.

As led by Tobin this cast is stellar
So good they can get laughs from a crueller.

Iambic pentameter’s not my thing
and it’s clear that my lines, they just don’t sing.
But if you want to laugh, let me just say
Colonial Players has the right play.

The Liar’s a romp, and it moves apace,
Tobin makes creative use of the space.
So hie yourself down to East Street, and fun.
For great entertainment, this is the one.


Director: Steve Tobin. Assistant director: Dave Carter. Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Costumer: Linda Swann. Set designer: Krisztina Vanyi. Lead carpenter: Dick Whaley. Lighting designer: Alex Brady.
About 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission. Playing thru Feb. 7: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm (and 7:30pm Jan. 25) at Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.