view counter

Articles by Jane C. Elkin

Figuratively and literally, this show is Looney Tunes

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Colonial Players is forthright about Why Torture Is Wrong, and The People Who Love Them, the unconventional “arc” show offered to make the theater-in-the-round better rounded. Marketing Director Tim Sayles calls this “raucous and provocative” show an “ideologically pointed black comedy by America’s master absurdist playwright,” Christopher Durang. Well and good. A political commentary on post 9-11 paranoia could be hilarious — except I only laughed twice. Admittedly, I was in the minority.
    This show is Looney Tunes, both figuratively and literally, with soundtrack and soundbites lifted straight out of Warner Brothers’ classics. Imagine a society populated only by extremists. Now give them sophomoric quirks and non-sequitur dialogue, and throw in nauseating violence for good measure. This show is so warped that I’m breaking with tradition to give the spoiler: Reality lurks on the periphery until the final 10 minutes, when the action rewinds to construct an alternate course of how things should have unfolded were the principals not xenophobes on red alert.
    Felicity (Diane Samuelson) awakes to find herself married to a congenial stranger whom she suspects of slipping her a roofie at Hooters. Zamir (Pat Reynolds) is unemployed and has criminal connections, conservative Muslim ideals and an intolerant temper. Felicity’s parents are no help, as her mother, Luella (Jean Berard), who cultivates an image of clueless confusion, responds with platitudes from her encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway hits. Her ultra-conservative father, Leonard (Richard Fiske), who masquerades as a butterfly collector while analyzing top secret intelligence in the attic, has his naïve partner Hildegarde (Chaseedaw Giles) investigate Zamir.
    Misinterpreting Zamir’s conversation with a porn-producing minister, the Rev. Mike (Jason Vaughan), about a film called The Big Bang, Hildegarde has Leonard kidnap and torture Zamir. Assisting is Agent Looney Tunes (Ruben Vellekoop, also the narrator) who speaks only in cartoon quotations. Zamir’s false confessions of a terrorist plot trigger catastrophic consequences.
    The jokes are a jumble of societal barbs, from ballroom dancing at Hooters and falling panties with cheap Chinese elastic to Hanoi Jane and Freedom toast. Humor this forced requires a level of sincerity that only Vaughan achieves throughout, though Reynolds and Giles are entertaining.    Mostly, however, the dialogue feels awkward. Complicating matters, this show is technically complex, from its extensive light grid to its versatile stage dominated by a raised platform with trapdoors. Thus, the scene changes are tedious and sight lines limited.
    If your mind races like American Pharoah, if you enjoy sensory overload, if you find dismemberment entertaining, this show is for you.
    Two and a half hours with intermission. Contains violence, mature themes and adult language.


Director: Kristofer Kauff. Set designer: Terry Averill. Sound: Kaelynn Miller. Lights: Wes Bedsworth. Costumes: Sarah Wade.

ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm (and 7:30pm June 14) thru June 20: Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

Shakespeare, thy chauvinism doth wear thin

O, Shakespeare! Why didst thou write such a play? Why doth any company still perform it? Forsooth, it hath some enduring one-liners, despite being one of thine earliest works. Yea, thou wert the first to say Love is blind and I am but a fool. But really, thy chauvinism doth wear thin.
     How are we in the 21st century to believe that a strong woman, even in the Roaring Twenties, would pledge troth to a cheating would-be rapist? That the high-born and educated witnesses to his baseness would laugh it off as passing folly? T’would have been better set in a modern gang.
    Be that as it may, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company gives admirable lift to this cumbersome play.
     Valentine (Joel Ottenheimer) and Proteus (Patrick Truhler) are best friends from Verona who, with their servants Speed (Brian Keith MacDonald) and Launce (Matthew Alan Ward), visit the Duke of Milan (Brian Davis). Both woo his daughter Silvia (Laura Rocklyn), despite her father’s preference for Thurio (Brendan Edward Kennedy) and Proteus’ pledge to his hometown girl, Julia (Amy Pastoor). Suspecting Proteus’ vacillation, Julia disguises herself as his boy servant, forcing her to court Silvia on her betrothed’s behalf. When Silvia chooses Valentine, Proteus thwarts their elopement and causes his friend to be exiled. Silvia follows, is set upon by outlaws and rescued by Proteus, who tries to force himself on her. But Valentine saves the day, and all’s well that ends with a double wedding. Rrright.
     The best things about this show are MacDonald and Ward as the comic relief. MacDonald, a most watchable actor, is a master of nuance as Valentine’s wily valet, Speed. Ward is a physical dynamo as the ribald clown Launce, a cross between Dick Van Dyke and Jim Carrey. He also exercises absolute command of his costar, Crab the dog (Julie Ricketts), an adorable spaniel who disproves the conventional wisdom that animals don’t belong onstage. Also noteworthy is Kennedy for his stunning rendition of “Lady Be Good,” adapted to Shakespeare’s poetry in praise of Silvia. That man can sing to beat the band!
     The period costumes are a delight. The Jazz Age soundtrack features hits by the Gershwins, Fats Waller and Fred Fisher. Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s tiny black box theater is painted with a minimalist Art Deco mural and a blinding sunburst of pinlights suggesting a crowded speakeasy. The concept sounds good, but the action feels forced in this intimate space when fights break out or the whole company kicks up their heels to the Charleston.
     The Company’s mission — to produce bold, re-imagined, entertaining and accessible interpretations of classics — is admirable. Some projects, however, are more deserving than others. This lengthy comedy will appeal most to mature Shakespeare buffs.


2.5 hours with intermission. With Renata Plecha (Lucetta), and James Carpenter (Elgamour). Director and choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lights: Adam Mendelson. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Musical arranger: Gregory Thomas Martin. Scenic artist: Mariana Fernandez. Fight choreographer: Amy Pastoor.

Playing thru June 28: FSa plus Th June 25 8pm; Su 3pm: 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis; $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; annapolisshakespeare.org.

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.

 

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.

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.

Song and dance liven up the first book of the Bible

Family legacies of love, anger and rebellion define Shakespeare, fairy tales, soap operas and the oldest story of them all, The Book of Genesis, recounted in 2nd Star Productions’ Children of Eden with exquisite beauty. This is a show the whole family will love by Stephen Schwartz, creator of Broadway legends Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. Heart breaking and humorous, it recounts Genesis in songs ranging from lyrical ballads to pulsing dances, Gospel and even soft shoe.
    In Eden, Father (Chris Overly) creates the heavens with a spectacle of lights in “Let There Be.” Next come Adam (E. Lee Nicol) and Eve (Caelyn Sommerville) in the doting “Father’s Day.” Eve’s “Spark of Creation” is glorious, as is the Father’s “Grateful Children.” Revel in “The Naming” of a delightful menagerie. Hear the sibilant snake (Robbie Dinsmore, Dakarai Brown, Tara Hebert, Erin Lorenz and Malarie Novotny) seduce Eve in five-part harmonies in “In Pursuit of Excellence.” Cry with Adam when he is torn from Father in “A World Without You,” Follow the couple’s discordant “Expulsion to the Wasteland,” where they express redemptive joy in parenting Cain (Creed Jackson) and Abel (Andrew Sharpe) in “Close to Home.”
    See history repeat itself when adult Cain (Austin Dare) blames his parents for their plight “Lost In the Wilderness” and disobeys his father, striking out for pagan lands. Mourn when Abel (Daniel Starnes) catches the blows intended for his father and Cain’s descendants are forever marked by his sin. By the Act I finale, your heart will break with Eve’s in her twilight song, “Children of Eden,” a glorious farewell to her countless descendants.
     Act II opens with a spectacular African-inspired song fused with Asian-inspired dance in “Generations of Adam.” The first act’s earth-toned rags are replaced by an array of colorful stripes and silks as we meet Noah (Nicol) and Father making preparations for the flood. Noah is to bring Mama Noah (Sommerville), his sons Ham (Dinsmore) and Shem (Brown), their wives Aphra (Erica Jureckson) and Aysha (Geneva Croteau), his youngest son, Japheth (Starnes) and his chosen bride, any girl who does not bear the mark of Cain.
    Of course, Japheth chooses the forbidden Yonah (Alexandra Baca), whom he persuades to stow away in their romantic duet “In Whatever Time We Have.”
    The carousel-inspired orchestral “Return of the Animals” enchants with its parade of 11 species, from anteaters with flicking tongues to towering giraffes and elephants. Then comes the starving time, Yonah’s discovery and Noah’s agonizing decision: “The Hardest Part of Love.” In Schwartz’ retelling, the severe God of the Old Testament softens as Noah releases all his children to different corners of the world, and Mama Noah leads the ensemble in the rousing Gospel anthem “Ain’t It Good?”
    Opening night of this charming spectacle would have been divine except for one colossal problem: Father, aka God Almighty, had laryngitis. As Overly’s impressive stage credits don’t include miracles, 2nd Star was short sighted to have no understudy for this pivotal role. Nicol and Sommerville, however, are vocally stunning, if a bit mismatched; she’s fresh as a spring rainbow and he’s ripe as Indian summer.
    The vocal ensemble and orchestra sound better than ever, with shining performances and a powerful chorus of storytellers led by soloists Alexandra Baca, Shannon Benil, Cheryl Campo, Kimberly Hopkins, Mary Wakefield and Chad Wheeler.
    The set is a simple stepped landscape backdrop, draped with flora, with ark and flood superimposed. Special effects including thunder and lightning are impressive. Costumes reflect civilization’s advances, though Adam’s AppWorld tattoo begs for justification.
     “The hardest part of love is letting go,” warns Schwartz, and this is true of his musical as well. I plan to return when God is feeling more like himself, and I suggest you do, too.


With Nathan Bowen, Wendell Holland, Charlize Lefler, Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, Samantha Roberts, Gene Valendo, Maia Vong, A.J. Williams and several adorable kids. Director and choreographer: Vincent Musgrave. Set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann, Carrie Dare and Beth Starnes. Musical director: Joe Biddle. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde.
Playing thru Oct. 25: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm at Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

There’s a window of time when things must happen. If we let that window close, it’s gone and we don’t get it back.

Fasten your seatbelts as we blast off for Colonial Players’ 66th season with Rocket Man, Steven Dietz’s 1998 serious comedy about the road not taken.
    Act I counts down like a comedy sketch with a disturbing undercurrent.    Act II is a space shuttle with frequent stops between grim reality and a fifth dimension of beautiful and bittersweet extremes where life runs backward and youth presages the end of possibilities.
    In this surreal postcard from another dimension, you’ll meet Donny (Ben Carr), a landscape architect in the midst of a midlife crisis; his ex-wife Rita (Laura E. Gayvert); their resentful teen Trisha (Paige Miller); Donny’s best friend Buck (Timothy Sayles), a widower with a Noah complex; and Donny’s unacknowledged soul-mate Louise (Shirley Panek), a former co-worker turned divinity student.
    Donny thinks that in another world it could have all turned out differently. To make the most of his remaining time, he has quit his job and jettisoned his worldly possessions to dedicate himself to studying the stars through his attic skylight. He is strangely calm for a man on the brink.
    Given a second chance at life, Rita thinks we’d all make the same mistakes in new and interesting ways. She rants about Donny’s self-centered forgetfulness, while Trisha rants about finding her possessions strewn across the lawn for strangers to take.
    Who is right, Donny or Rita?
    Does he travel to another world, another time or a dream? Does our personality destine us to repeat history?
    The playwright isn’t saying, but everyone has a theory, the cast included. That’s why all are so invested in their roles.
    Carr doesn’t so much act the character of Donny as inhabit him, his face a palette of moods and thoughts that transcend words.
    As Donny’s friend, Sayles is sweet comic relief with perfect timing and a quirky manner to foil the sad insanity that surrounds him. He is miscast only in that his full head of hair lends absurdity to his bald jokes.
    As the insomniac sage Louise, Panek appreciates her character’s inability to transcend the careful detachment she cultivates.
    As daughter Trisha, Miller melds maternalism with emotional distance.        As ex-wife Rita, Gayvert demonstrates an unexpected girlishness in her reunion with Donny, though before that change of personality in Act II, it’s hard to understand why Donny might miss her.
    In life “we demand the illusion of involvement,” Donny says, and that’s what the technical aspect of this show provides. With a set deliberately barren and depressing, designers achieve stunning moods with a soundtrack of space-inspired hits from Donny’s youth and a light grid that debuts with this show. When Donny blasts off into the heavens to the title tune, bathed in a visual wash of dancing galactic blue pinpoints, the gasping audience is also transported.
    In this trip to the road not taken, we are encouraged to “travel further, dig deeper, live more and sing life.” If you can handle ambiguity, you’ll love the play. If not, bring a philosophical friend to help resolve questions.


Director: Scott Nichols. Set designer: Edd Miller. Sound: Kaelynn Miller. Lights: Terry Averill. Costumes: Hannah Sturm. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Music designer: Jim Reiter.

Playing thru Sept. 27: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm (plus 7:30 Sept. 14) at Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of an eerie desert isle where a band of royal castaways is marooned in style. No, it’s not a new sitcom or reality show. It’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a supernatural classic of haunting beauty playing for the next two weekends at the Bowie Playhouse. It’s also the Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s last production in that space before moving to new space on Chinquapin Round Road in the fall.
    The story begins before the action with Prospero (Brian Keith MacDonald), the deposed Duke of Milan, living in exile for 12 years with his teenage daughter Miranda (Jenny Donovan). All that time he has been plotting his retribution. Toward that end, he has become a powerful sorcerer by studying books provided for him by his confederate Gonzalo (Joe Palka), who spirited the father and daughter to safety along with basic comforts like a vast library complete with ornate shelving and a leather armchair. In Prospero’s service are a vile semi-human, Caliban (Alex Zavistovich), rightful heir to the island and son of a now-deceased witch, and three sprites: Ariel (Raven Bonniwell), Ceres (Emily Samuelson) and Juno (Micaela Mannix). All help Prospero exact his revenge on his traitorous brother, Antonio (Grant Cloyd). Thus the eponymous tempest, a supernatural storm conjured by Ariel, which is so ferocious you would swear you were caught in a real microburst if only the theater sprinklers were employed.
    The villainous Duke Antonio is shipwrecked along with his co-conspirator Sebastian (Elliott Kashner) and a royal entourage including King Alonso (Brian McDermott), Prince Ferdinand (David Mavricos), Prospero’s old friend Gonzalo, the jester Trinculo (Charlie Retzlaff), the drunken steward Stephano (Kiernan McGowan) and the noblewoman Adrian (Amie Cazel).
    Prince Ferdinand, separated from his shipmates, is delivered to Prospero and Miranda by Ariel so the youngsters may fall in love and marry, as is Miranda’s birthright. What follows is a series of trials involving frustrated lovers, treasonous assassins who play upon Caliban’s resentment, comical inebriates and generally clueless witnesses to supernatural intervention in the natural order of things. Finally, Prospero is returned to power, Ariel is freed from his service and Caliban is presumably left in peace at his master’s imminent departure.
    As with many of Shakespeare’s works, the plot can be overwhelming, so don’t try to follow it too closely. Just bear in mind that this play is more about witchcraft than story, and enjoy the ride.
    This production is technically a more impressive show than Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s typical fare. The simple set features a sheer curtain of oceanic scrim enhanced by dramatic special effects such as strobes, thunder and wind that either comes from a machine or supreme acting. A disorienting sonic décor of shifting chordal suspensions composed for this show by Gregg Martin keeps the magic alive throughout. The sprites cavort in bodysuits of a rich aquatic palette, while the aristocrats glory in resplendent crimson and gold.
    Major performers behind the mystery are Bonniwell and her sprites, Samuelson and Mannix, who gambol and tease and seethe and flit around the auditorium in a dreamy suspension between sea and sky from the moment the doors open until closing curtain, their every move a nuanced ballet. Zavistovich’s man-monster, with his dreadlocks, crazed eyes and rabid smile, menaces and cowers in extremes of animalistic power and vanquished powerlessness. Yet he is an eloquent beast. MacDonald commands the stage as if it truly were his home, and Retzlaff’s physical comedy makes him the king of fools.
    This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss, but you can’t watch it from your porch. Get your tickets now, before they vanish.

Director: Jay D. Brock. Scenic designer: Andrew Cohen. Choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lighting designer: Catharine Girardi. Costume designer: Maggie Cason. Composer/sound designer: Gregg Martin.
Playing thru Aug 17, F at 8pm; Sa at 2pm & 8pm; Su at 3pm at Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $30 with discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

Plenty of solid hits light up nine innings

     Colonial Players’ One-Act Play Festival has been a biyearly summer event since 1999. This year’s installment, THIS AND THAT, presents nine plays across two slates, THIS and THAT, running on alternating dates. The Festival is an occasion for novice directors, production staff and actors to produce known and unknown works under the tutelage of seasoned mentors. Thus, such talents as Rick Wade, past Colonial  Players president and author of the company’s classic A Christmas Carol, appear alongside theater newbies or actors who are cutting their directorial teeth.
    This year’s directors, in the order their shows are listed, include Dave Carter, Timothy Sayles, Rebecca Feibel, Robin Schwartz, Cseni Szabo, Scott Nichols, Dave Walter, Mark T. Allen and Lelia TahaBurt. Their stories range from comedy to tragedy, yet a theme in all but one is that things are not as they seem.

THIS, playing July 25 and 27
     Jerry Casagrande’s Among Shrubs and Ivy, which debuted in 2011 at Silver Spring Stage, follows John (Robert Eversberg) through a decade of vacations at a seaside campground owned by crusty Korean War vet Frank (Martin Hayes). With few but powerful words, they bond over their shared love of the property, their families and the value of continuity in a changing world. With Laurel Kenney, Gregory Anderson and Chloe Kubit.
    Me and My Shadow is a riotous look at duplicity when two classmates reunite with inner voices in-tow, speaking unspeakable thoughts. Playwright Rich Orloff’s forthright comedy follows an insecure writer, Susanne (Bernadette Arvidson), and her Super Ego, Susie (Rosalie Daelemans), to a luncheon with Susanne’s successful publisher friend Jacqueline (Kathryn Huston), and her Id, Jacquie (Peggy Friedman). Even the waitress, Andrea (Laurel Kenney), is funny as Andi (Kubit) expresses her candid thoughts about her customers.
    Sure Thing by David Ives is a take on the dating game reminiscent of Groundhog Day. Bill (Brandon Bentley) and Betty (Sarah Smith) grapple with pick-up lines and small talk, rejecting each other’s overtures with a game show buzzer until they stumble on the right formula for starting a relationship.
    James H. Wise’s comedy Mugger in the Park, voted an Audience Favorite at last year’s Watermelon One-Act Festival in Leonardtown, continues to delight with Kathryn Huston’s portrayal of Selma, the stereotypical little old lady who is stuck up by a thug (Jason Vaughan). Selma prevails with her retinue of complaints, kvetching and clever one-upsmanship. Martin Hayes and Robert Eversberg play Selma’s husband and a second thug.
    In Tough Cookies, by Brett Hursey, a date fizzles when the waiter (Jason Vaughan) can’t supply an entitled jerk, Chaz (Brandon Bentley), with a fortune cookie worthy of its name, while his date, Roxanne (Kenney), racks up paper compliments and blessings.

THAT, playing July 24 and 26
     Queen of the Northern Monkeys, by Jason Vaughan, presents a snippet of life from the 1957 Roman holiday of Danish Baroness Karen Blixen (Carol Cohen), aka Isak Dineson, who wrote the memoir Out of Africa. This lovely episode of her life, exploring her friendship with American literary titan Eugene Walter (Kevin Wallace) and her secretary Clara (Erica Jureckson), feels more like an excerpt from a larger work than a complete work in itself.
    Jeff Stolzer’s award-winning satire Emergency Room pokes fun at the broken healthcare system, pitting a patient (Kim Ethridge) against a corrupt hospital where the doctor and billing clerk (both played by Erica Jureckson) and security guard (Richard Atha-Nicholls) conspire to keep her captive. The exaggerated premise would be funnier if not for the frustration and sick humor.
    Rick Wade’s Foxgloves is a smart intrigue that takes place at an airport bar where widower Dennis (Danny Brooks) and his traveling companion Jerry (Atha-Nicholls) discover how much they have in common. Bernadette Arvidson plays the sympathetic waitress.
    Alien Love Triangle, by Katherine Glover, is a hilarious sci-fi thriller starring Richard Atha-Nicholls and Erica Jureckson as two astronauts studying life and finding love with K’Sh, an amoeba-like creature with three heads (Kubit, Sam Morton and Brooke Penne). 
    Some productions are more polished than others, but each slate offers at least a couple solid wins. It’s summer fun for sultry nights with a seed of surprise.


This and That: One Act Play Festival. Stage Manager: Ernie Morton. Sound: Brittany Rankin and Richard Atha-Nicholls. Lights: Eric Gasior and Shirley Panek. Costumes: Hannah Sturm and Kaelynn Miller. Set: Lyana Morton and Edd Miller.

Playing thru July 27, Th thru Sa at 8pm and Su at 2 at Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis. $10 per slate or $15 for both; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.