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Articles by Michelle Steel

Encounters with wild neighbors

The creatures of Chesapeake Country are out in force. Since the last full moon on June 13, critters of every make and model have been hopping, waddling, crawling, slithering, walking, meandering and flying out of cover and into view.
    Since that moon, treetops flash with male fireflies signaling their mates. Closer to ground, females flash in their own code. Strange flying things come nearer still.
    Luna moths hang around my porch light in pairs, glowing in iridescent shades of green. Through a door left open after dark, a Pandora sphinx moth of many more shades of green visited editor Sandra Martin’s home, staying long enough to be photographed and drawn.
    A bunny sits alone in the yard and watches me with caution, then hops off to safety. Old Man Toad — who arrives every year in early summer — visits me in the evening on the patio and poolside. A family of geese swims in a neighborhood pond.
    At our Bay Weekly office, a lone praying mantis nymph the size of a thumb-pad, scales an enormous wall.
    These are safe entrances into the world we share. More often, encounters involve risk, usually for a wild thing not yet evolved to avoid human machines.
    Since the last full moon, I’ve seen four box turtles survive road crossings. The last one made me a hero as a school bus full of kids cheered as I carried the turtle out of the way of the oncoming bus and to safety.
    Eight ducklings haphazardly waddling without Momma Duck on Route 2 were scooted to safety on a nearby patch of grass by two human mommas.
    A wild turkey mother and chick scampered across a winding country road, then climbed an embankment to safety. Families of deer — three after moonset June 30 — looked left and right before crossing.
    But too often roadways mean death: deer, frogs, possums, raccoons, skunks, snakes, squirrels, turtles lie killed, often crushed, along our roadways.
    Drive carefully; we’re not alone here.
    Send us your sightings with photos: calendar@bayweekly.com.

Teen players give you hope in youth and humanity

An all-teen cast draws a fine line between the real and unreal in Twin Beach Players’ Harvey. We’ve known Elwood P. Dowd since 1944, when Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play opened on Broadway, but most notably in James Stewart’s 1950 movie incarnation.
    In all those years, nobody has ever seen Dowd’s best friend and constant companion, a six-foot-three-inch tall white rabbit named Harvey.
    Dowd describes Harvey as a pooka, a benign but mysterious creature from Celtic mythology who is especially found of social outcasts — like Dowd.
    The word comes up several times in the play, always with a mysterious air as if it’s too taboo to be spoken. Nobody else wants to think like Dowd, who is either a nut or a drunk.
    Or is he?
    Twin Beach Players give us glimpses of Harvey — a fedora hat with two holes poked out for rabbit ears, a door that mysteriously opens when Harvey is invisibly passing through, Dr. Chumley sideswiping by Harvey and Elwood’s conversations with his imaginary friend.
    As Dowd, 14-year-old Cameron Walker does such a believable job of talking to Harvey you’d think the oversized rabbit was in the room next to him.
    Dowd’s family doesn’t share his wide-eyed guilelessness. Prim sister Veta (Marina Beeson) is as much put out by his dinner invitations to people he’s just met as she is to his constant opening of doors for invisible lapine friends.
    And how will she ever find a husband for her daughter Myrtle Mae (Abby Petersen), with an uncle whom most of the town regards as a nutcase.
        Myrtle Mae and Veta join forces to have Dowd committed to a sanitarium run by Dr. Chumley (Jeffrey Thompson). Naturally, things do not go according to plan.
    Twin Beach Players keeps the set simple — a cushioned chair, a phone, a bookcase and a desk and chair. All three acts take place in either the library or Chumley’s Rest, the ­asylum.
    The only sound effects are a ringing telephone and the one-time sound of a large rabbit hopping across the stage.
    The elaborate costumes, made to order by Dawn Denison, suit an era of propriety.
    The teen actors playing grown-ups are mature in roles and dramatic skills. No one missed a beat — or a line.
    Veta is dramatic and loud, overbearing to her brother but not to her audience.
    Newcomer and first-time actor Danielle Heckart, who plays Judge Ophelia Gaffney, shows the audience that even a fourth-grader can pull it off.
    Asylum orderly Wilson (Matthew Konerth) adds humor with impromptu actions and one-liners. I couldn’t wait to see him pop back on stage and hear his next crack.
    Dr. Sanderson (Dean Stokes) and Nurse Kelly (Olivia McClung) are believable in their roles as medical professionals: He, the stoic psychiatrist with a secret crush on her and she, the obedient employee with an underlying twist of sarcasm.
    Camden Raines keeps her duel roles — Betty Chumley and Ethel Chauvenet — separate and ­successful.
    Cab driver E.J. Lofgren (Ethan Croll) is true to his role as a cabbie, complete with New York accent and toughness. Despite his short time on stage, he resolves the conflict with his worldly view of patients with mental illness.
    You leave this quirky comedy about human oddities and outcasts feeling pretty good about yourself and everybody else, including large rabbits.

Director: Annie Gorenflo. Producer: Matthew Konerth. Light and set design: Sid Curl. Sound: Michael Happell. Prop master: Camden Raines. Music: Bob Snider. Costumes: Dawn Denison. Youth Troupe directors: Rob and Valerie Heckart.

Playing thru June 29: FSa 7pm; Su 2pm at North Beach Boys and Girls Club. $5; rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.
 

Find best friends for bargain prices at Anne Arundel County SPCA

With small sighs of relief, volunteers and workers celebrated a bit more room in the inn.
    Filled to the brim with more than 50 adoptable dogs and 150 adoptable cats, the Anne Arundel County SPCA held two adoption events to make room for more needy animals.
    The shelter houses, cares for and feeds up to 4,000 animals a year while seeking to find them homes.
    Four-year-old beagle mix John Wall, who’d been homeless since December, was one of 14 Lonely Hearts dogs adopted. Four, including John, have moved in with their new families. Ten more applications are in the approval queue.
    So far, 9 Lives for $9 has found homes for 16 adult cats. Here’s hoping the third time is a charm for Franco Magic, adopted again this week after eviction from two earlier homes. He’s been waiting since August.
    The shelter had “a big influx of foot traffic the whole weekend,” says Rita Melvin, development and programs manager. One guinea pig was also adopted.
    Many more animals are waiting.
    There’s still time to take advantage of the 9 Lives for $9 cat adoption special, which runs through Tuesday, June 22.
    “We have so many great cats waiting for homes,” Melvin says.
    All prospective adoptees are up to date on their vaccines, flea protected, spayed or neutered and microchipped. Cats are tested for feline leukemia and FIV. Dogs are tested and protected for heartworms.
    To see the feline bargains and home-seeking animals of other species, visit the SPCA at 1815 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis: 410-268-4388; www.aacspca.org.

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.

Help stomp out Emerald Ash Borers and Hemlock Wooly Adelgids

You don’t want to know the hemlock wooly adelgid. The invader — no bigger than a period — is terrorizing towering trees, both hemlock and spruce.
    These pests threaten to wipe out eastern hemlock forests, a loss that could be as dreadful as the loss of American chestnuts. The bug is loose in half the evergreen’s geographic range, 11 eastern states from Georgia to Massachusetts.
    The fight is on, with two Maryland agencies injecting insecticide into thousands of hemlock trees and soil on public lands across the state. The wooly adelgid, which leaves telltale white, woolly wax spots on young hemlock twigs, is at its worst in our western counties.
    The pencil-tip adelgid joins the ranks of Maryland public tree enemies. The emerald ash borer, here a decade, gets special attention May 18-24, days designated by Gov. Martin O’Malley as Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week.
    The iridescent beetle that can fit on a penny has been eating its way through Maryland’s ash trees — and ash in many states east of the Mississippi. To stop its decade-long advance, Maryland foresters have set up a movable quarantine barrier with sentry traps hung in trees throughout susceptible areas.
    The ash tree is a popular city tree as well as an important woodland tree in the Chesapeake watershed and a mainstay of the timber industry. Ash contributes wood for furniture, flooring, bowling alleys, church pews, guitars and baseball bats.
    Losses from the ash borer could exceed $227.5 million in the Baltimore metro area alone.
    What can you do to help?
    In all counties west of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River it’s against the law to transport firewood because ash borers could have infiltrated the wood. So far, the Eastern Shore is uninvaded. If you have ash trees, look alert. Ash borer infestation shows up in eaten leaves, diminished tree canopy and shoots or sprouts emerging below dead portions of trunk. Woodpeckers are drawn to the trees to feed on the borers. Beneath the bark, D-shaped exit holes tell you the borer was there.

Can two old geezers find a future past resentment?

For Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, Twin Beach Players reunites the biggest comedy team in Vaudeville for a nostalgic performance of their once-famous Doctor sketch.
    Willie Clark (Jeff Larsen) and Al Lewis (Tom Wines) were the act to catch for 43 years. But 11 years ago, Al walked out, leaving Willie to hold the bag of gags.
    Now, in their golden years, CBS asks them to reunite in a show that pays reverence to the great comic stars through the years. It’s a second chance in a lifetime, but resentment — and tension — get in the way. Clark’s nephew and agent (Tom Weaver) has to figure out a way to get the two geezers to bury the hatchet and pull off the television show.
    Mayhem ensues when Clark ­nearly dies trying. His heart attack keeps the double-trouble duo out of the television show.
    Fate has another plan for them: living together in relative peace and performing their acts in a retired actors’ home.
    Opening night brought not only the old boys but also new comfort to the theater’s small venue at North Beach Boys and Girls Club. Thanks to Twin Beach master carpenter Justyn Christofel, the audience looks down on the action from moveable-bleachers.
    But play-goers didn’t fill the bleachers or help keep the Sunshine Boys’ uptempo.
    Highlights — like the Doctor sketch rehearsal for a CBS television show and the scene where the boys threaten each other with dagger and cane — bring comic relief to a play slow to take off in Act 1. Act 2 regains momentum as the old boys regain their old timing.

Aidan Davis as Eddie; Staci Most as Vaudeville Nurse; Samantha Wadsworth as Nurse. Director and production designer: Sid Curl. Assistant director and stage manager: Donna Bennett. Costume designer: Dawn Denison. Music designer: Bob Snider. Setting and make-up designer: Wendy Cranford. Lighting tech assistant: Katherine Willham. Lighting and sound board operator: Camden Raines. Audience design: Richard Keefe Jr. Promotions and advertising: Viv Petersen and Philomena Gorenflo. House management: Lynda Collins and Viv Petersen.
Playing FSa 8pm; Su 3pm thru April 13 at North Beach Boys and Girls Club, North Beach. $12 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Everybody gets into the spirit

Mayhem meets knee-slapping ­comedy when the Herdmans collide head-on with the Christmas story.
    Barbara Robinson’s Christmas alternative — it’s no Christmas Carol — is a good choice for Twin Beach Players: Both have to do with a small town where everybody has a part to play in making Christmas.
    The fictional small town’s kids have grown weary of wearing bed sheets to play the same role and speak the same lines year after year in the annual church pageant. Boredom yields to horror when the Herdmans come to town.
    The dirty half-dozen Herdman kids bully their way into the cast and hijack the pageant. With no idea what’s going on — they don’t even know the Christmas story — they make up a script as they go along.
    As we watch, the pageant turns into a huge, hysterical mess.
    Forty-six of the town of North Beach’s real-life children, from preschoolers to teens, are inspired, whether as angels, shepherds or Herdmans — who’ve stolen the key parts of Mary, Joseph, Herod and the Wise Men.
    In this community of theater, parents leave the audience to take the stage alongside their kids. Ten adults stay on-stage, enjoying their roles as avidly as the kids do.
    The audience is enchanted, moved from tears to side-splitting laughter in no longer than it takes to blink.
    The theater — normally a Boys and Girls Club gym — is decorated for the holidays. The young cast’s singing of classic carols — including “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Away in a Manger,” “We Three Kings” and “Silent Night” — open our hearts. Recorded Christmas music continues during the short intermission.

Playing F & Sa 7pm, Su 3pm thru Dec. 15 at the North Beach Boys and Girls Club. $12 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

No need to put out the welcome mat

The mouse stood high in ancient Greece, where the god Apollo took the creature as one of his namesakes, Apollo Smintheus. White mice were kept under the altars in temples to that incarnation.
    Most of us can better relate to the Indo-Aryan Sanskrit tradition wherein musuka means thief or robber.
    Sanskrit may not be familiar to you, but the burglary antics of the common house mouse probably are, especially this time of year.
    Freezing temperatures, like our recent dip into the low teens, send these furry rodents scurrying inside to the warmth of our homes and offices.
    If you have mice, you’re not alone. Each winter, mice and other rodents invade an estimated 21 million homes in the U.S. Mice visit between October and February, looking for food, water and shelter from the cold. Mice build their homes in our homes, near food sources, like our pantries and cupboards.
    Prolific and voracious, they eat more than growing teenagers and breed faster than rabbits. They eat up to 20 times per day and breed year-round, starting at about two months old.
    With a gestation of less than three weeks, a litter of eight to 14 pups and an average of five to 10 litters a year, a single female mouse will give birth to about 120 babies each year.
    That’s a lot of mice. Let two in, and many more will follow.
    Like little Houdinis, mice can squeeze through openings as small as a dime. A small crack or gap on the exterior of your home is an open door — and invitation — for mice.
    Prevent mice from gaining access into your home by sealing any openings on the exterior (such as where utility pipes enter) with a silicone caulk. You can also fill gaps and holes inside your home with steel wool.
    Keeping cats as pets helps, too. Since I rescued my two kitties three years ago, I haven’t seen a single mouse inside.
    Mice are cute and cuddly to some folks who may even keep them as pets, but they can transmit a disease called salmonellosis, a bacterial food poisoning that occurs when food is contaminated with infected mice feces.
    That’s just the beginning. Mice can carry as many as 200 human pathogens.
    No wonder Apollo Smintheus was a god of disease.

Two past winners illustrate the magic of make-believe

     Make a play! Bay Weekly challenged two aspiring young playwrights to show us how the Twin Beach Players Kids Playwriting Festival lights the fire of creativity.
    Holmes and Watson Make the Best Summer Ever is the result.
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Creativity comes out to play in Twin Beach Players’ Kids
Playwriting Festival

     For stage-smitten elementary-, middle- and high-schoolers, winning a spot in Twin Beach Players Kids Playwriting Festival means they’ve made it to the All-Star Game. The nine-year-old competition — open to all school-age children in Maryland — gives kids their moment to shine with an added bonus: $100 for top six winning plays.
    But it’s love, not money, that sparks these playwrights.
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