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Articles by Jane C. Elkin

Two hours of anarchic cacophony and classic pop guaranteed to prolong the craziness of your week

2nd Star Productions does a lot right in staging Funny Money by Britain’s master of farce Ray Cooney. The pace of the frenetic comedy never drags. Actors are superb and spot-on in accents. Director Fred Nelson uses the stage for maximum clarity in this Gordian knot of accidents and lies. Jane B. Wingard’s set and Linda Swann’s costumes feel right. The problem is, it’s a farce. Or maybe that’s just me.
    If your thirst for confusion borders on the masochistic, if you relish sexual innuendo, if you appreciate blubbering drunks and screaming matches, if you’re either hearing impaired or wish to be, then this is the show for you. Just don’t expect the Americanized Chevy Chase film version.
    How many one-dimensional characters and compromising situations does it take to make a British farce? The more the merrier.
    Decorous accountant Henry Perkins (Gene Valendo) accidentally swaps briefcases with a criminal. Finding himself a trillionaire, he plans to abscond with the money — only to be thwarted at every turn. Darling but boring wife, Jean (Mary Wakefield) crashes from teetotaler to drunk the moment he tells her to pack. Crooked Inspector Davenport (Michael N. Dunlop) observes Henry’s giddy trips to the pub loo where he counts the money, follows him home on suspicion of solicitation and is shuttled off to the dining room to ponder a lie while he awaits his bribe. Bill the Taxi Driver (Zak Zeeks) arrives early with the airport shuttle only to be repeatedly sent to the curb to ponder more lies while he awaits his fare.
    Plainspoken Detective Sgt. Slater (Robert Eversberg) reports from the morgue that Mr. Perkins was found murdered, clutching a briefcase containing papers and a cheese and chutney sandwich. Thus, a family member must identify the body, but not until Sgt. Slater is shuttled off to the kitchen to ponder more lies while he makes tea for the grieving widow. Dinner guests Vic and Betty (John Wakefield and Samantha Feikema) take sides in the Perkins’ domestic dispute, culminating in a wife-swapping plan; Betty longs to travel and Jean refuses to leave, but Vic is a good sport and even gets himself embroiled in the deception. And then there is Mr. Big (Ronald Araújo), a drug lord who keeps calling for his burfcrse until Bill the Taxi Driver blithely gives him the address.
    Where’s Sherlock Holmes when you need him? How could two detectives in adjoining rooms hear hysterics without suspecting something? How does every compromising situation involve a cabal under the covers on the couch, convincing detectives it’s all one big bedroom romp?
    Despite the script, performances are commendable. Valendo displays priceless calm and trance-like incredulity in the midst of chaos. Zeeks is audacious and sexy. Dunlop is believable as the cop-on-the-take. And Feikema sizzles in her quest for adventure.
    Funny Money is two hours of anarchic cacophony and classic pop that is guaranteed to prolong the craziness of your week and generate a few belly laughs to cheer the winter blues.

Playing thru Feb. 16. ThFSa 8pm & Su 3pm at Bowie Playhouse, Whitemarsh Park: $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Is the theft of your story a crime?

In Dignity Players’ long list of morality plays, Collected Stories is the crowning achievement. When a writing student mines her teacher’s private life for material, artistic license crosses the line from inspiration to confiscation. So says acclaimed author Ruth Steiner (played by Carol Cohen) of the transgression of heretofore-beloved student Lisa Morrison (Sarah Wade). Lisa claims she did only what her mentor taught her.
    Seasoned director Lois Evans’ leadership of a tiny stellar cast through a rich Donald Margulies script could earn this show the kind of recognition Colonial Players enjoyed in 2013: a Ruby Griffith Award for Margulies’ Shipwrecked!
    In the provocative ethical drama at hand, the intellectual professor Steiner has everything and nothing. Having forsaken marriage and children for a succession of young writers she adopts as secretaries/interns, she enjoys literary celebrity, a Bohemian Greenwich Village apartment and bittersweet memories of an affair 40 years earlier with one of the 20th century’s greatest poets, the middle-aged alcoholic Delmore Schwartz. She doesn’t like to talk about that. “Talking takes away the need to write,” she says, though she never does this writing.
    Lisa is a sycophantic graduate student: a bulimic WASP from a broken home who dreams of living Ruth’s life. Four years under Ruth’s tutelage transform her into a literary success with a short story collection of thinly veiled autobiographical tales. Then she panics. She fears she needs a novel to cement her reputation, but a writer writes what she knows and she’s written it all. So she quietly co-opts Ruth’s unwritten love story, shattering the friendship with her surrogate mum.
    In a play where image tells half the story, Cohen and Wade, aided by Jeannie Christie’s costumes, are transformed in a stunning role reversal: Cohen from mature role model to has-been frump and Wade from babbling bumbler to young sophisticate. I cannot imagine any two local actresses who could play Ruth and Lisa better.
    The only disappointments in this production are technical. The many long scene changes break the mood as audience conversation crescendos and time stretches to smoking-break lengths. On opening night, there was also an issue with crackly static in the absence of other sound effects. Both issues, though, can and should be resolved with experience, and neither negates the power of these performances. As added incentive, Dignity hosts poet Merrill Leffler of Dryad Press in a post-show discussion of authorial inspiration and ethics following the January 26 matinee.
    If all writers are rummagers, whose stories are safe?
    Come decide for yourself.

Stage Manager: Pat Browning. Technician: Julien Jacques.
Thru Feb. 1. FSa 8pm; Su 3pm at Dignity Players Theatre at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-266-8044 x 127; www.dignityplayers.org.

Don’t miss this gem of the American stage

Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” A decade before coining that phrase, he showed us why in his 1929 debut novel Look Homeward Angel. This thinly veiled memoir of a tumultuous youth in his mother’s Dixieland Boardinghouse made him a pariah in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, and a literary star to the rest of the nation. The 1958 stage adaptation by Ketti Frings won every major prize for American drama that year, and it still rings true and relevant.
    Compass Rose Theater’s beautiful production stars a talented University of Maryland grad, Shane O’Loughlin, in the lead role of Eugene Gant. A bookish young man, he yearns for education and escape from his overbearing mother, Eliza (artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne), and his romantic but alcoholic father, W.O. Gant (Gary Goodson) Bret Jaspers costars as elder brother Ben, the cynical voice of experience who urges Eugene to flee. Who can blame them? Life with Eliza, the self-proclaimed “sharpest trader in town,” is no tea party. In a perpetual quest for cash, she puts the comfort of strangers above the needs of her own family, whom she manipulates into doing her bidding.
    Dapper Ben isn’t healthy enough to escape to World War I, as did his brother Luke (Chris Creane). So he helps in Father’s monument shop and passes the evenings at dingy Dixieland with a sympathetic older boarder  named Fatty (Janise Whelan). Big sister Helen (Kathryn Zoerb) and her husband Hugh (Dan Reno) are likewise caught in Eliza’s clutches as near servants. The other boarders are Uncle Will (Ed Klein); old Mrs. Clatt (Nancy Long); her son Jake (Eli Pendry); and a charming new arrival, Laura James (Lindsay Clemmons), who brings Eugene his first happiness and heartache. Dr. McGuire (Richard Fiske) is a frequent visitor to the home as well. Only the notorious Madame Elizabeth (Maura Claire Harford) never crosses the threshold, though she is on good terms with Father.
    From the melee, Eugene’s transformation from guileless gopher to mutineer is remarkable, culminating in a confrontation that will shake you to your weepy bones. Drawing equally on the strength of all the leads, this production gets four stars for credibility: from the sharp period fashions to the missing newels on the faded front porch to the manner of the family’s explosion with love and disdain. The only unbelievable part is Eliza and Father’s tantrum, which is too gentle on the set. I hope they go wild on closing night.

Director: Patrick Walsh. Set: Mary Goodson. Costumes: Linda Swann. Lights: Cecilia Durbin. 2.5 hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Playing thru Feb. 9. Th (except Jan. 30) FSa 8pm Sa Feb. 1 & 8 and Su 2pm at 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis. $35 w/discounts: 410-980-6662; www.compassrosetheater.org.

Grunge, hip-hop and Gen Y angst color this whimsical romance where mortals meet magic

The Annapolis Shakespeare Company has shaken up the Bard to magical effect with a 1990s’ setting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is da bomb! Grunge, hip hop and Gen Y angst color this whimsical story of romance, mischief and enchantment in Fairyland, where mortals meet magic and are none the wiser for it.
    Guest director Kristin Clippard, formerly of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, has created a magical forest cloaked in fog and sparkling with frost under a pregnant moon. The walls are like birch bark strewn with carnations under a canopy of red, white and orange umbrellas backlit with twinkling lights. As the umbrella covers us in all types of weather, she explains, love can cover all our woes. And there is plenty of woe to go around.
    It should be a happy time; Duke Theseus (Stephen Horst) is marrying Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Laurent Turchin). Guests have come from far and wide for the nuptials. There is Egeus (Nick Pinto) and his daughter Hermia (Amanda Forstrom), her friend Helena (Ashlyn Thompson) and Hermia’s two suitors: her beloved Lysander (Joel DeCandio) and preppy nerd Demetrius (Ben Lauer), who spurned Helena to pursue Hermia — this at her father’s behest.
    Lysander and Hermia are emo soul mates destined for turbulence in the parallel universe of Fairyland. Queen Titania (Turchin) has turned frosty toward King Oberon (Horst). Thus the king dispatches his meddling assistant Puck (DePinto) to enchant Titania with a love-at-first-sight potion. Embarrassment is the point, as the queen is expected to fall in love with a creature of the forest. She does: Bottom (France Vince) is a mortal endowed by Puck with a donkey’s head and tail. Watching this odd love unfold are the queen’s attendants: First Fairy (Valeka Holt), Peaseblossom (Gray West), Mustardseed (Samantha Nelson), Cobweb (Nicole Mullins-Teasley) and Moth (Miranda Savage).
    Meanwhile, the same potion causes both Lysander and Demetrius to pursue Helena, leaving Hermia in forlorn confusion.  
    Bottom is a member of an amateur theatrical troupe of tradesmen come to perform the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe for the royal wedding. This childish play-within-a-play features Piper Quince (Holt), Francis Flute (West), Tina Snout (Nelson), Snug (Mullins-Teasley) and Robin Starvling (Savage). With West in drag as Thisbe, it makes a hilarious finale to madcap shenanigans in the forest.
    This show is rife with potential for confusion both of Shakespeare’s making and this production’s double and triple casting. Yet it’s easy to follow, swinging with ease from extremes of tenderness to slapstick. Diction and gestures, so important to a modern understanding of Shakespeare, are crisp and clear. It’s energetic and creative with dancers of all shapes and ages doing cartwheels and back flips, and Puck literally climbing the walls.
    Music figures large with ’90s hits such as “Kiss Me” and the theme from Titanic alongside the traditional “Holly and the Ivy.” Fairy costumes are mostly neon and shredded denim, a grunge look that is vivid, if not magical, with odd makeup that is likewise jarring. Is that the Mario Brothers I see among the tradesmen’s denims and flannels? Whatever. It’s a hoot.
    There are no weak performers among this cast.
    DePinto shines for his remarkable versatility not only acting but also singing and playing guitar in a delightful duet with Holt, a fine dancer and singer. Horst brings a welcome vulnerability to both his royal roles, and Turchin her trademark frostiness. Forstrom and DeCandio exude a passionate infatuation that contrasts well to Thompson and Lauer’s more comic roles. Vince’s donkey is a perfectly lovable ass. And Nelson as a brick wall that raps Shakespearean couplets milks a gallon of laughs from a pint of dialogue.
    This Dream is two and a half hours of escapist frivolity that will win converts to Shakespeare. Alas, the senior set is likely to miss the cultural references that make this production unique.

Direction and Set: Kristin Clippard. Choreography and Lights: Sally Boyett. Costumes: Kristin Clippard and Maggie Cason. With Audrey Bertaux as Standby.
Playing thru Dec. 22, Th-F 8pm; Sa 2 and 8pm; Su 3pm at the Bowie Playhouse, White Marh Park. $24 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

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