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Articles by Jane C. Elkin

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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