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With only one flounder in the cooler, it’s a good thing we could count on it for four fillets

Feeling the undulations of the sandy bottom telegraph up my graphite casting rod, I kept a cautious thumb on the reel spool. Our day drifting live bull minnows for summer flounder was starting slow. My son Harrison, his girlfriend Jerica and I had hoped to score enough fish for a family dinner. We hadn’t yet risen to the challenge.
    The fishing boats we had encountered had all given us the thumbs down when we inquired as to their luck, so we had redoubled our efforts. Jerica was particularly focused on hooking one. She had never caught a fish, nor even been fishing, and today she intended to rectify that void in her life.
    There is nothing on board luckier than a beginning angler, and a new woman angler is double lucky; it isn’t by accident luck is called a lady.
    I was ruminating on that thought when I saw Jerica’s rod dart down.
    She expertly lowered her rod (it’s always amazing when someone does something right the very first time) to allow the flounder to get the bait well back into its mouth. Then she raised the rod slowly and, when she felt resistance, pulled back hard. Fish on!

Floundering Again
    We have been going to a beach house in Bethany every summer for more than 30 years. In the earliest days I fished frequently, but that was during the time of the big trout, bluefish and flounder runs. Fishing slowed down after that, mostly from commercial overharvest, and so did my oceanside efforts. With my wife and me, three kids and many of their friends, the amount of gear got to be too much. It had been a long time since I fished the back bays of Ocean City.
    This year turned out to be different. The boys had grown and were coming down on their own, so my wife and I had to pack only for ourselves. Life had become simpler.
    I decided to fish again, particularly for flounder, for there are mighty few fish that can compare on the dinner plate. The flounder is also an interesting fish. A member of the flatfish family, it is born looking quite like every other fingerling with an eye on each side of its head and swimming upright. But soon it turns to swimming on its right side. That side of the fish becomes its bottom, and the right eye gradually migrates next to the left, now top, side of its head. Its new belly becomes stark white while the upper side takes on a mottled, dark green hue that the fish can modify at will to match the surrounding terrain.
    On our bait-fishing rods were flounder rigs composed of an in-line sinker, three feet of No. 20 fluorocarbon leader, a 4/0 Kahle flounder hook and brightly colored bucktail attractors. Then we lip-hooked a bull minnow on each rig, lowered it to the bottom and drifted on a smartly running tide.

Jerica’s Fish
    I didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who lost Jerica’s first fish, so I took great care in netting that flounder, especially since they can also swim backwards. Once safely on the deck, it measured well over the 16-inch minimum and went quickly into our cooler.
    A few minutes later Harrison and I hooked up with skates that had us both fooled for big flounder right up until they were at the net. We threw them back, then caught a few shorts. Then the brief bite died.
    Lucky thing a flounder has four fillets.

Let’s give the guy a little respect

Parenting is a job that leaves nobody satisfied. Children, like Freudians, lay the blame for all sorts of neuroses at their parents’ feet. Spouses bash one another for inherited faulty genes and difficult personalities. Parents censure with themselves, even — or maybe especially — those who’ve read a book or two on the developing human body, mind and emotions and whose kids give behavioral testimony to their parental units’ having done a pretty good job. Try to compliment one of those, and you’ll hear a litany of nitpicking should-haves.
    I, for one, have evolved to illumination on my hundred thousand mistakes and could advise my kids, surviving despite my errors, how to do better themselves — if only they’d listen. That’s probably my fault too, for not listening actively enough to them. Oh, if only I’d read Dr. Spock instead of believing his presence in the house was sufficiently therapeutic.
    Fathers and mothers both, gender be darned, we’re all in this job of parenting together. So we’re giving Dad his equal due, equal responsibility in Jane Elkin’s story The Poetry of Parenting, a job so tough that only poets have the words for it. In that spirit, the CalvART Gallery poetry reading where this story began featured two fathers — poets Michael Glaser and Jeffrey Coleman. Jane chose to add open-mike reader Rachel Anastasia Heinhorst, a mother. Herself a poet and parent, Jane included her perspective to balance genders but without altering the conclusion: It’s mostly guesswork, hunch and whim we follow as we lay out our children’s road to independence. At least that’s where we hope they’re headed.
    Quibbling aside, occasionally even a parent gets it right.
    How very right you’ll see in our paired first-person tributes to fathers on the celebratory occasion of Father’s Day. Diane Knaus, who writes of her father Marlow Hankey, is old enough to be the grandmother of 18-year-old Theodore H. Mattheiss III, who writes of his father Dave Mattheiss.
    Diane we’ve known forever, as far back as that old millennium when we were New Bay Times Weekly. It’s been ages, however, since she’s appeared in our pages.
    Mattheiss is a brand-new acquaintance, at Bay Weekly intensively for two weeks on the recommendation of his English teacher Amanda Newell (daughter of our contributing writer Diane Burt) to complete his senior internship and get to graduate from The Gunston School. A Stevensville lad, he’s off this fall to Washington College, where we hope that in four years he’ll win the Sophie Kerr prize, the largest undergraduate writing award in the nation. Reading his story, you’ll see we have some grounds for this hope. In the short term, we have a surer bet: that his father Dave — to whom this story comes as a surprise — will weep.
    Yes, both of these fathers have gotten it right. On at least one score.
    For we’re not going whole hog, let alone whole hippopotamus. Each writer applauds Dad on a single narrow achievement. Diane, who admits to “a curious relationship” with her father, credits him for teaching her by example and apprenticeship how to maintain an auto. Theodore’s sweetly worshipful story lauds his father for inspiring and teaching him to play — and care for — the guitar.
    Otherwise, for all we know, fathers Hankey and Mattheiss might have been duds. Like the rest of us parents.
    Still, they’ve done something right. Who knows? Maybe we all have, fathers like and mothers alike.
    Wait! Did I mean to say that about him? Sure, on Father’s Day, let’s give the guy a little respect.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

When you’ve found a Chesapeake beach, you’ve found a treasure

From shells to polished pebbles to driftwood to fossils, Bay beaches aren’t just for sunbathing and fishing.
    To dip into Bay waters in Anne Arundel County, start at 786-acre Sandy Point State Park. As well as the big beach (with lifeguards at prime hours) and great views, including Sandy Point Shoal Light House, there’s room to picnic, play, fish or crab and launch a boat. No camping — except June 27-28 for the Great American Campout. No dogs in summer. 6am-sunset; $4 to $7 per person: 410-974-2149; www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/sandypoint.asp.
    At the other extreme in Rose Haven is Anne Arundel’s smallest public beach, a stretch of Bay beauty on the corner of Albany and Walnut avenues. At the park, created under the county’s Open Space Program, you can sit on the beach, get into the water, launch your kayak or walk your dog. Parking, like the beach, is small. 877-620-8367.
    Other small beaches have very limited access because of open hours and parking (see aacounty.org/recparks/parks/community). Mayo Beach, for example, is open only one day a month, which happens to be Sunday, June 21, for a Watersports Fun Fest. See 8 Days a Week.
    In Calvert County, the North Beach boardwalk separates the Bay from Bay Avenue. Boardwalk is free for all, dogs as well as people. Beach and fishing pier are more restricted: people only with fees for out-of-towners, a high $15 a day. Kayaks, paddleboards, umbrellas and chairs rented. Season passes and Calvert resident discounts. 301-855-6681; ci.north-beach.md.us.
    Chesapeake Beach’s Bayfront Park offers a small beach, big boardwalk and Calvert Cliffs, so it’s a good place to hunt sharks teeth. Bring your dog — as long as you bring waste disposal bags. Free to townies; $7 to county residents; $16 for others. 6am-dusk: 410-257-2230; chesapeake-beach.md.us.
    At Breezy Point you’ll find a half-mile of sandy beach plus swimming in a netted area to reduce the risk of those pesky sea nettles, a 300-foot fishing and crabbing pier — plus picnicking, fishing and camping by tent and RV. 8am-8pm. Rt. 261. Beach admission: SaSu $10; M-F $6; season passes available: 410-535-0259; co.cal.md.us/residents/parks/getinvolved.
    Flag Ponds Nature Park has a fine beach, fishing pier, good fossiling, great Bay views, nature trails and picnicking, all with easy access for handicapped drivers. Leashed dogs welcome. SaSu 9am-8pm; M-F 9am-6pm; $6; season pass $20: 410-586-1477; calvertparks.org.
    It’s a 1.8 mile hike to the fossil-laden beach at Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby, but you can bring your dog for company. Don’t walk on or beneath the cliffs — they’re unstable but offer good fossiling. Also nature trails and picnicking. 301-743-7613; dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/calvertcliffs.asp.
    At Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary’s County you’ll find long sandy shores and great Bay views plus tall pines, fishing and picnicking areas, campsites and cabins, Civil War historic sites with powerful history and Point Lookout Lighthouse. Dogs allowed in some areas. dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/pointlookout.asp.
    Beaches belong to all of us up to median high tide line, so they’re yours to enter by water. Wherever you find it and however you arrive, treat your treasure with loving care. Leave no litter behind.

Tribute strikes a chord

Think of the music of Johnny Cash, and many hearts respond to his evocations of love, faith, family, tragedy and redemption. Think of Johnny Cash himself, and we remember a fallible and gifted man who wrestled throughout most of his 71 years to overcome powerful personal demons. There’s not one without the other. Music and man are intertwined, as they are in Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Annapolis Infinity Theatre Company’s first and latest mainstage production this season, interpreted by a stellar five-member cast of multi-talented professional actors/musicians from Broadway and beyond.
    The 2006 original Broadway production on which this show is based was short-lived and unsuccessful. The one Infinity presents was conceived by William Meade and adapted from its disappointing predecessor by Richard Maltby Jr. and Jason Edwards. No small feat, Infinity’s production transports us in time to a by-gone era in deep south Arkansas, recollects Cash’s inaugural appearance at The Grand ‘Ole Opry and highlights the legendary romance between Cash and June Carter.
    Brief character narratives, reminiscent songs and well-synchronized scene transitions converge to create a rich, theatrical experience. We are charmed as the actors morph into different roles, singing and playing instruments in a range from acoustic and electric guitars, cello and trumpet to banjo, fiddle, juice harp, washboard, tambourine and harmonica — among others.
    The inventive, rustic set surrounding a circular, edge-lit platform enables smooth maneuvering while enhancing the production’s historical context. Lighting choices combined with character-appropriate costuming contribute to the relaxed, authentic atmosphere.
    Under the guidance and vision of stage and musical director Amy Jones and staff, an energetic, charismatic and masterful production has emerged. Katie Barton, Lori Eure, Silas Moores and Spiff Wiegand shine while playing characters in Cash’s life. Ben Hope’s portrayal of Johnny Cash is tender yet strong. A sole drummer sits discreetly up-stage adding a balanced, percussive rhythm to most of the 30 songs.
    Favorites like “Hey Porter,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Ring of Fire,” “Jackson” and “I Walk the Line” are bookended by others including “Big River,” “Flesh and Blood,” “Man in Black,” “If I Were a Carpenter” and “A Boy Named Sue.”
    Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash is a winner. All of the elements come together seemingly effortlessly to deliver an entertaining, soulful and spirited musical tribute.


Th 2pm and 7pm; F June 26 and Sa 8pm; Su 2pm thru June 28: Children’s Theatre of Annapolis. $20-$36; rsvp: 877-501-8499; infinitytheatrecompany.com.

The sun follows its own clock

As darkness falls, first Venus then Jupiter pop into view in the wake of the setting sun. Venus blazes at magnitude –4.4, exponentially brighter than Jupiter at magnitude –2, which still outshines any star. The two planets are inching closer on their way to an end-of-month rendezvous. This week the gap between the two shrinks to 10 degrees — close enough to obscure both with your fist held at arm’s length.
    Keep an eye on Venus this weekend. It is near the center of the dim Y-shaped constellation Cancer, which in itself is not that interesting, boasting no star brighter than 3.5 magnitude. In fact, were it not placed on the ecliptic, the path of the sun, moon and planets as they circle overhead, Cancer would be a minor constellation, certainly not a denizen of the zodiac or even an astrological sign. Cancer’s claim to fame is no star but what appears as a faint, fuzzy patch of light to the unaided eye, M44, the Beehive Cluster.
    Viewed with binoculars, however, the Beehive comes to life with dozens of stars, and with a telescope it swarms with hundreds of stars. Friday and Saturday Venus is less than one degree from the Beehive in the western sky at nightfall and visible for at least an hour after sunset.
    Friday marks our earliest sunrise of the year, almost 10 days before the solstice. The discrepancy is the result of several factors, but in short, our clocks keep different time than the sun. While the clock measures a day with the passing of each 24 hours, a solar day is measured from the time of one high noon to the next. Hereabouts on the 12th, that is 24 hours and 15 seconds. Prior to the solstice this temporal slack is made up for at dawn, while after solstice the difference is at sunset. So while the summer solstice is June 21, our earliest sunrise is always some 10 days before, and the latest sunset another 10 days after solstice. In winter, the same phenomenon is at play, only reversed, and more pronounced, with nearly two weeks between earliest sunset and solstice and solstice and latest sunrise.

Behind a great man, a woman more qualified

CIA top agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law: Black Sea) is handsome, smooth and comes out on top in a fight. Fine’s secret isn’t training or a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. Behind Fine’s success is CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy: Mike and Molly).
    Cooper who gathers intel, memorizes building plans to lead Fine in and out, warns him when bad guys approach. Though qualified as a field agent, Cooper is content to be the voice in Fine’s ear, eschewing credit to support the man she secretly loves. Fine barely notices, treating her like Siri, a neat toy that can answer all his questions.
    An intelligence leak leads to Fine’s death at the hands of crime boss Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne: Annie), who has uncovered the identities of all the top CIA operatives. Reeling from Fine’s death, Cooper volunteers to track Rayna and the portable nuke she’s marketing. The CIA is desperate enough for an operative Rayna’s people won’t recognize to overlook her 10 years out of the field.
    Cooper is issued a cover identity, a gun and a mission.
    A mashup of James Bond and Inspector Clouseau, Spy is a hilarious comedy buoyed by smart writing, enthusiastic performances and snappy action. Writer/director Paul Feig (The Heat) crafts a comedy that empowers, a rarity in blockbuster filmmaking. Spy has plenty of obscene humor, sight gags, physical comedy and witty dialog, but the director’s feminism sets it apart. Feig is interested in how often women allow themselves to be overlooked. In Spy, all of the women are capable, funny and smart; they just don’t know it until they’re tested.
    In the real world, too, McCarthy has long needed a film worthy of her talents. Usually her weight is the punchline. Forced to fall over, act like an oddball or hit on men who react with revulsion, she has spent much of her career as a side show. In Spy, she’s allowed to be a person, not a shtick. Her Cooper is a smart, funny woman who discovers that she’s a natural in the field.
    McCarthy carries the film and has a great supporting cast backing her up. As the ruthless, snobby Rayna, Byrne is delightfully snarky. She spars admirably with McCarthy and manages to make Rayna somewhat likeable in spite of her evil ways. The real surprise of Spy, however, is action hero Jason Statham as rogue spy Rick Ford. Usually a snarling, serious presence, Statham proves himself to be a comedic talent by lampooning his man-of-action image. He spews ridiculous tough-guy talk and takes pratfalls like a champ. His chemistry with McCarthy crackles as he competes with her to take down the criminals.
    A few jokes and sequences fall flat, as Feig has a tendency to push a joke a bit too far. But the laughs greatly outweigh the groans in this rare R-rated comedy that’s both smart and funny. Buy a ticket to see Melissa McCarthy show the James Bond wannabes what a real spy looks like.

Great Comedy • R • 120 mins.

Wondering how we’ll fare as leadership changes at DNR

A pre-visit look at Bay Weekly’s Facebook post of a toothy snakehead had my visiting family afraid to go in the water.
    No need to worry, I assured them. We’re reporting snakeheads in ponds, creeks, streams and rivers, not in the Chesapeake proper. On the other hand, visitors at the next-door Smiths waded with a pod of cownose rays. Then ensued a conversation about whether the first recorded encounter with a stingray was the fault of the stinger or of the stung, Captain John Smith.
    The Bay and its tributaries are full of life in many forms. Get out into it and a crab could grab your toes. A water snake could swim alongside you. An eel could slither against your leg. Fingerling fish could nibble at your toes. An osprey could soar down to hook a fish with its talons, or a tern could make its vertical dive to spear a fish with its bill. Underwater grasses could tangle round you.
    All these life forms — minus the invasive snakeheads and some would say the oyster-eating native rays — are proof of the Bay’s vitality. No species is thriving in historic abundance, but for many there is reason for hope.
    With a score of 64, rockfish earned the highest of a dozen measures of water quality on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2014 biennial State of the Bay Report. Oysters scored only eight, but they rose two points from 2012.
    Both of those species had fallen to historic lows before Maryland Department of Natural Resources broke with convention — and made a lot of people mad — to bring them back. Rockfish, the Bay’s signature sports fish and a significant commercial harvest, became a forbidden catch from 1985 to 1990. The moratorium worked, and now catches are carefully monitored not only in the Bay but also throughout the fish’s migratory route into the ocean and up and down the coasts.
    Nowadays it’s oysters rocking the boat. There’s no moratorium on oystering, a fishery almost entirely commercial. But DNR is pushing a bigger change, from the deep-rooted tradition of wild harvesting to oyster farming. Getting from here to there — a healthy oyster population for a healthy Bay — has meant new restrictions, including closing many harvest grounds in favor of sanctuaries. Reviving a commercial catch has meant creating aquaculture as a largely new industry, much like planting a wine industry in Maryland soil.
    Adding premium value to Maryland seafood — which used to be everybody’s for the gathering — is part of the plan, with brand-name Maryland oysters sought by high-end joints and picky consumers. Marketing Maryland fish — even snakehead — as delicacies with terrior has been part of the plan, with know-your-Bay campaigns reaching out to taste-making chefs.
    Many people have a hand in big shifts like these, but the orders come from policy makers. Under Gov. Bob Ehrlich, alien oysters were on a fast track to replace languishing Maryland natives. Gov. Martin O’Malley put natives back up front. Sen. Barbara Mikulski fought for the Bay in the U.S. Senate, and President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Protection in 2009.
    The weight of carrying out those decisions falls on regulators in DNR. As secretary, Torrey Brown gave us the rockfish moratorium. Oyster revitalization came from Secretary John Griffin and his fisheries director Tom O’Connell. Griffin left the department to assist O’Malley.
    Gov. Larry Hogan chose a new secretary, Mark Belton, but otherwise left DNR in place for six months. Now he’s letting go the old for his own people, as he has every right to do. O’Connell and three other policy leaders are now out. Seafood marketer Steve Vilnit has chosen to leave.
    In their time, they’ve made a difference in our Bay. Now it’s time to look hopefully but critically at what the future brings.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

What’s good and bad for what

Never use colored mulches near annuals, shallow-rooted trees and shrubs or herbaceous perennials. These mulches are made using raw wood that serve as a source of food for microorganisms once it comes in contact with the ground. Microorganisms are better able to absorb nutrients in wood than are the roots of plants. As a result of the competition, plants — including weeds — starve and die. 
    Use colored mulches only around well-established deep-rooted trees and shrubs, for making pathways, sitting areas and playgrounds.
    Use hardwood bark mulches with caution.
    Unlike pine mulches, hardwood bark mulches contain up to 60 percent cellulose, which means they will decompose and rob nutrients from plants. They will also raise the pH of soils, making them less acidic. Repeated applications of hardwood bark can also result in the accumulation of manganese. When this occurs, the roots of the plants lose their ability to absorb iron and plant growth declines. Over the years I have seen numerous instances where the manganese and pH levels in the soil were so high that the only solution was total replacement of the soil.
    As you shop for pine bark mulch, be aware that not all bark mulches contain 100 percent bark. Some are made by blending one part pine bark and two parts wood chips. These blends are kept moist and turned periodically until the entire mass turns brown like bark.
    The truth is revealed if a piece of its wood reveals a yellow to light-brown center when broken. Once applied, fake bark mulches are more easily identified: After they have weathered a few weeks, the tannin-treated raw wood begins to lose its dark brown color.
    If that’s what you’ve got, the brown-colored raw wood will feed microorganisms, not plants.
    I was once called to investigate problems resulting from a mulch sale sponsored by a grocery chain. A large trailer load of double-shredded hardwood bark mulch had been trucked in and sold at cost. Buyers were immediately returning the mulch, complaining that it was killing their plants instantly.  Inspecting the load of mulch remaining in the trailer, I found it contained wood alcohol. I proved the presence of alcohol by cutting open a bag and throwing in a lighted match. The mulch immediately caught on fire. The mulch had been bagged while it was composting under anaerobic conditions, resulting in the formation of wood alcohol.
    Marble chips should not be used around plants that require acid soils. Marble chips are essentially chunks of limestone rich in calcium oxide, which will result in making the soil less acidic and eventually alkaline. That will be the death of acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, andromeda, skimmia and Japanese hollies.
    Marble chips are safe around alkaline-preferring plants such as junipers, yews, pines, spruce and cherry laurel.
    Avoid using bluestone. I have seen numerous cases where plants have been killed after bluestone mulching. Like marble chips, bluestone contains high levels of calcium oxide. It may also contain metal contaminants, including nickel. The symptoms often go undetected for several years, by which time the damage is irreversible.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

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.