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The script is deader than the zombies

In a deserted strip club, teen Scouts Ben (Tye Sheridan: Dark Places) and Carter (Logan Miller: Take Me to the River) are slow to realize that the pole dancers are dead — make that undead.
    With zombies invading their hamlet, the boys make it their mission to save the hot senior girls. Along the way, they grope naked dead people, fight zombie housecats, stop for a few selfies and never much worry about the likelihood that everyone they know is dead and seeking their brains.
    Has Scout training prepared them to fight zombies? Can you watch this movie without severe mental anguish?
    Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is neither funny nor scary. Distilling every annoying piece of millennial culture, from electric dance music to selfies to painfully self-aware references, it is sure to make all viewers over 30 long for the good old days of Adam Sandler’s lazy yet coherent humor.
    With characters so vapid and unlikeable that we root for the zombies, it makes a good case for the extermination of the human race. Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) aims for the lowest common denominator. His jokes are dirty and overdone. Body humor is grotesque and uncomfortable. The one promising part — using Scouts training to fight zombies — is glossed over in 10 minutes.
    Lazy character work makes the leads not only predictable but also unenjoyable. We know Ben is the good guy because he gets shy around pretty girls. Carter is a horn dog, ogling and groping naked zombie women. It’s supposed to be the behavior of an irrepressible scamp, but sexual assault, even with zombies, is never funny.
    Even zombies will skip this movie.

Dismal Horror • R • 93 mins.

The Forest of Arden magically becomes Cumberland Gap in the 1930s with country music and dancing

The Annapolis Shakespeare Company bills As You Like It as a bluegrass take on the Bard, offering a neighborly snoot to audiences that perhaps see Shakespeare as too snooty. Less bluegrass than traditional Americana, though, it features costumes straight from The Waltons, lively contra dances and such familiar old-timey tunes as I’ll Fly Away and Down in the River to Pray. There are Shakespearean lyrics set to melodies. You’ll recognize The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, and a touch of Stephen Foster (Hard Times).
    The music is a pleasant diversion, but not all the performers are experienced singers because As You Like It is about the plot. Typical Shakespeare, this story relies on royal intrigue and comedic contrivance with villains and exiles, love at first sight, a fool, a love triangle, disguises and summary resolution with redemption.
    Brotherly rivalries are the catalyst for action as young Orlando (Jonathan Feuer) resents his older brother Oliver (James Carpenter) for denying his birthright. When Orlando beats court favorite Charles (Reed DeLisle) at wrestling, envious Oliver plots his destruction. Happily, Orlando’s servant Adam (Richard Pilcher) warns him, and they flee to the Forest of Arden, where deposed Duke Senior (Carpenter) has already taken refuge. Unhappily, flight means Orlando must leave behind the woman he fell in love with that very day, Rosalind (Teresa Spencer), Duke Senior’s daughter.
    Rosalind, as cousin and best friend of Celia (Renata Plecha), the daughter of wicked Duke Ferdinand (Pilcher), has been allowed to remain at court for Celia’s sake — until the duke has a sudden change of heart and exiles her. The girls flee to Arden, taking the court jester, Touchstone (Gary DuBreuil). Rosalind disguises herself as a man (Ganymede) and Celia as a shepherdess (Aliena).
    In the forest, they meet a lovesick shepherd, Silvius (DuBreuil) who pines for the disdainful shepherdess Phoebe (Plecha). Touchstone pursues the lovely goat-herd Audrey (Megan Morse Jans), and the girls encounter the hermit/philosopher Jacques (pronounced Jayquees) and lovesick Orlando, who is living with the good duke’s band and has papered the forest with love poems to Rosalind.
    Rosalind (as Ganymede) offers to instruct him in the art of love, even as the shepherdess Phoebe pursues him. Through Rosalind’s machinations and the divinely inspired reformation of the wicked brothers, everyone reunites and four weddings ensue: Rosalind and Orlando; Celia and Oliver; Phoebe and Silvius; Touchstone and Audrey.
    With most actors portraying three characters — some not named here — the story is beyond confusing at times. To wit, three women play four brides simultaneously with minimal wardrobe adjustments.
    There is also something odd about characters dressed as simple country folk addressing each other as Duke This and Sir That. Three performers, however, rise above these limitations. Philchern shines as a unique persona in four central roles and delivers a memorable All the World’s a Stage speech.
    Feuer has a unique talent for infusing venerable lines with modern interpretations, and he also plays a mean guitar. The chemistry between his Orlando and Rosalind’s Spencer is palpable even as she swings from ingénue to pants role and back again. Also notable is Jans’ splendid mezzo, evident in her solo Under the Greenwood Tree, a Shakespearian lyric.
    Another hallmark of this professional troupe is its ability to transcend set, performing on an empty stage with lighting suggestive of foliage against a simple forest backdrop decorated with picture frames and Orlando’s many love letters.
    Shakespeare lovers will appreciate this thoughtful new interpretation of a classic. But if you’re unfamiliar with the play, brush up on plot to have any hope of following. This is a fast-paced, sometimes humorous and sad, two and a half hours with ­intermission.

Director: Sally Boyett. Choreography and music: Megan Morse Jans. Scenic designer: Mariana Fernandez. Fight choreographer: Casey Kaleba. Voice and dialect coach: Nancy Krebs. Lights: Adam Mendelson. Sound: Gregory Thomas Martin.
 
Playing thru Nov. 15 FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Studio 111, 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis, $40 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-415-3513; annapolisshakepeare.org.

If you don’t love this show, I will personally refund your money

What do you expect from an iconic musical winner of five Tonys, a Grammy and an Oscar? A show so revered it cemented the careers of Shirley Jones and Robert Preston, and launched little Ron Howard to stardom?
    At 2nd Star Productions, expect the perfect delight of screen and vinyl.
    The Music Man tells a story as old as human nature about opportunism and naiveté, exceptionalism and jealousy — with humor. It’s nostalgic and sweet without being sappy, it’s upbeat and colorful, and it’s delivered in spectacular song and dance. If you don’t love this show, I will personally refund your money.
    E. Lee Nicol strikes just the right chord as Professor Harold Hill, the Gilded Age flimflammer who revolutionizes a parochial town with his bogus vision for a boys’ band he knows he can’t deliver. Yes, Ya Got Trouble right here in River City. Even prim and lovely Marian the Librarian (Emily Mudd) can’t resist this dynamic, quick-witted huckster, especially when Hill helps her little brother, Winthrop (Andrew Sharpe), overcome debilitating shyness.
    Hill transforms the quarrelsome school board through rich barbershop harmony with, in order of height, Nathan Bowen’s anchoring bass and David Merrill’s soaring tenor bookending Brian Binney and Kevin Cleaver’s mid-range voices, parrying each of their inquiries into his qualifications with the suggestion of a song: Lida Rose or Goodnight Ladies, the last performed in duet with the gossiping Pickalittle Ladies (Allison Baudoin, Victoria Rose Brown, Rosalie Daelemans, Kirsti Dixon, Diane Schwartz) as they justify their unwavering scorn for Marian.
    This provincial town is full of unforgettable characters. You meet the self-important Mayor and Mrs. Shinn (Martin Hayes and Jeanne Louise) and their ditzy daughter Zaneeta (Abigail Wallen), who is secretly dating that wild kid Tommy Djilas (Daniel Starnes). There’s Marcellus Washburn (Brian Mellen), Hill’s former accomplice turned upright citizen; Marian’s plain-spoken mother, Mrs. Paroo (Carole Long) with the brogue; and teasing Amaryllis (Vanessa Daelemans) who is enamored of Winthrop. There’s even a salacious traveling salesman, whom Marian waylays in order to save Hill — Nicholas Mudd (Charlie Cowell) — played by Marian’s (Emily’s Mudd’s) real husband. As the credits attest, this is a family show both on and off-stage.
    Beautifully cast with winning leads, this production also features townsfolk of all ages and shapes. The ensemble is tight, from the percussive patter of peddlers on a train (Rock Island) to show-stoppers such as the Wells Fargo Wagon and Seventy-Six Trombones, complete with stunning dances featuring Andrew Gordon and Tabitha Thornhill. Even the pit orchestra outshines any that 2nd Star has assembled in years. There’s love (Till There Was You), patriotism (Columbia, Gem of the Ocean) and zaniness (Shipoopi). There are five, count ‘em, five meticulous sets and gorgeous period costumes in a bouquet of eye-popping colors. With clever staging, a train car appears to actually scroll past the town. Only the lighting seems off at times with low lights obscuring rather than showcasing the dancers.
    Harold Hill is a wise man. “Pile up enough tomorrows and you’ll have a pile of empty yesterdays,” he warns. Don’t let many tomorrows pass without catching this great show.


With Kaitlin Fish, Paula Farina, Maureen Mitchell, Erica Miller, Julian Ball, Madison Pyles, Aubrey Baden III, Eric Meadows, Genevieve Ethridge, Isabelle Gholl, Michael Mathes, Tyler White, Erin Culfogienis, Nicole Hoyt, Creedence H. Jackson, Snowdenn A. Jackson, Bay Moore and Aaliyah Schultz.

 

By Meredith Willson. Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Elizabeth Starnes and Jeane Binney. Musical director: Joe Biddle. Choreography: Andrew Gordon. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde.
 
Playing thru Nov. 14. FrSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Sa Nov 14 at 3pm, Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park Dr., $22 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-757-5700.

There’s a great spy story in the middle of this bloated epic

James Donovan (Saving Mr. Banks) knows how to strike a deal. The insurance lawyer is used to haggling for his clients. Though his expertise is litigation and payouts, Donovan is asked to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance: Wolf Hall), an accused spy.
    The Cold War colors the case, and soon Donovan is the second most hated man in America, right after Abel. People threaten him in public, shoot at his home and terrify his family. The CIA tails him, pressuring him to break attorney-client privilege. On the other hand, Donovan’s dogged defense of his client grants him some cache with the Soviet Union.
    The USSR reaches out with a deal: trading a captured U.S. pilot for Abel. The CIA thinks it’s a great deal but can’t be involved in brokering it. They ask Donovan to travel to Berlin, where the U.S.S.R. has just finished constructing its wall, and engineer the trade.
    In Berlin, Donovan is on his own once he crosses the wall. He navigates international politics uncertainly, never sure whom he’s speaking with or what he has the authority to bargain with. He is unnerved by the violence around as he tries to stick to the deal: One spy for one pilot.
    Simple, right?
    Not quite. It seems the German Democratic Republic, eager to impress the Soviets and gain status as a world power, captured an American student who had the misfortune of being on the wrong side of the city the day the Berlin Wall was constructed. He’s not a spy, but the East Germans are holding him and demanding an audience with the CIA. Donovan wants to save the kid, but the CIA is interested only in the soldier.
    There is a fantastic thriller somewhere in the middle of Bridge of Spies, but you’ll have to slog through 50 minutes of a boring, heavy-handed setup to get to it. Director Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) is an icon, but his latest effort is a bloated, rambling mess.
    The American action is a Frank Capra-esque tale of a lone man fighting the just fight. Hanks sleepwalks through his Jimmy Stewart knockoff, while around him everyone snarls about communists and the A-bomb. The bright point is Rylance, who gives Abel interesting pathos.
    In Berlin, the movie wakes up. Scenes are tighter, with higher energy; the cinematography plays off of long shadows and harsh lines; Hanks comes alive as he negotiates with dangerous men. It’s Spielberg at his best, meticulously weaving tension and theme into each scene. It’s a shame, then, when the film returns to America for an unnecessary, lifeless coda.
    If you’re interested in a moody spy thriller with gorgeous cinematography, Bridge of Spies should have you enthralled. Arrive about 30 minutes late and dawdle at the concession stand.

Fair Thriller • PG-13 • 141 mins.

Guillermo del Toro’s moody gem is a love letter to Gothic literature

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska: Madame Bovary) isn’t some silly girl with dreams of romance. The only daughter of a rich businessman, Edith wants to be a writer.
    Then European aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston: High-Rise), reduces her to one of her heroines. She swoons over his romantic speeches. She sighs gazing into his eyes. She trembles at his touch. Sure, his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain: The Martian) is a little odd. Yes, Thomas is broke, with only a title and a manor to his name. But Edith is too busy falling to look down.
    When her father is killed, Edith marries Thomas and abandons her life in America. Decrepit Allerdale Hall, Sharpe’s manor house, is hard to fit into her rosy picture.
    Black-boned skeletons with wisps of flesh lurk in the bathroom, seep through the floors and give chase. Edith isn’t afraid. The ghosts, like those in her stories, must be trying to communicate with her. She worries more about the Sharpe siblings, who seem to attract ghoulish behavior.
    A tribute to Gothic literature and films, Crimson Peak is bloody, overwrought and absolutely perfect. Writer/director Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim) noted that he made the movie with “bookish teenage girls” in mind. As a former bookish teenage girl, I can tell you that he’s hit the mark. An astounding tribute to the Gothic genre, Crimson Peak pulls threads and themes from famous works such as Jane Eyre and Rebecca.
    As always in del Toro films, the real star is the cinematography. Here, he creates a house that seems to be seething.
    Playing second fiddle to the house is an impressive cast. Chastain brings manic energy to the role that makes Lucille utterly horrifying even when she’s doing something benign. As Edith, Wasikowska is a plucky heroine who relies on her smarts and bravery for salvation. Hiddleston is more an object of desire than actual character, but when called upon to deliver a romantic speech ala Mr. Rochester, he sells it admirably.
    More romantic ghost story than horror movie, Crimson Peak combines the melodrama of Bronte with the gorgeously rendered gore of classic Italian movie stylist Mario Bava. It is the perfect piece of genre filmmaking.

Great Gothic Romance • R • 119 mins.

Twin Beach Players stages to scare

Twin Beach Players is making a habit of scary world premieres. This Halloween, it’s H.G. Wells’ unsettling science fiction novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, adapted by playwright-in-residence Mark Scharf. Last year Scharf adapted The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to Twin Beach Players’ time and place; in 2013, he gave us Frankenstein.
     “I try to keep it simple,” Scharf said, “having an appreciation for the resources Twin Beach Players provide. It tickles me that a small community theater can successfully take the kind of risks that Twin Beach Players have, incorporating original music to an original adaptation with costumes and special effects make-up. Performing this way, you’re playing to win, and people will come to support you.”
    In this spooky production directed by Players’ president Sid Curl, Scharf made his mission “to capture H.G. Wells’ vision of what it means to be human and in pain.”
    The set is minimalist in black. In the background a cycle of original futuristic-sounding tribal music mixes with jungle sounds, tickling the imagination about what the Frankensteinian doctor might be up to on this island.
    To eerie effect, the 17-member cast of adult and young actors plays both human and hybrid creatures. Among the humans, Ethan Croll conveys shipwrecked Edward Prendick’s unexpected plight with pensive and intense demeanor. Jim Weeks transforms Montgomery from rescuer to conspirator. Rick Thompson capably projects a scheming and sinister Dr. Moreau.
    Among the hybrids, Melly Byram plays Moreau’s servant; Angela Denny, a Dog-Creature; Angela Knepp, the indeterminate Sayer of the Law, Brianna Bennett, an Ape-Creature; Jenny Liese, a Puma Woman; Alayna Stewart, a Leopard-Creature; Mickey Cashman, a Hyena-Swine-Man; Laura Waybright, a Fox-Bear-Witch; Olivia Phillips, a Satyr; and M.J. Rastakhiz, a Wolf-Bear-Man. They wear Skip Smith’s transformative special effects make-up and make effective physical and vocal character choices.
    I suspect that over a few performances they’ll master their pacing, which on opening night tended to ­be sluggish.


Thru Nov. 1. FSa 8pm (except 9pm on Oct. 31); Su 3pm. Trick-or-treat show Th Oct. 29 7pm: pay as you may; free popcorn nightly for costumed playgoers, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maryland, 9021 Dayton Ave., North Beach. $15 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-286-1890, ­twinbeachplayers.com.

Moving rifts on the decline of jazz and a family

“Jazz is life.” So says Jim Reiter, director of Colonial Players’ Side Man, billed as an elegy for a lost love and a lost world. Both jazz and life, he explains, are propulsive, rhythmic and sometimes distorted improvisations where we all riff on the expectations set before us.
    Unfortunately, musicians can’t riff on life as easily as they can on a tune, which is the point of this autobiographical tragicomedy by Warren Leight (producer of TV’s Law and Order). Winner of the 1999 Tony Award winner for Best Play, this show about the decline of jazz and its effect on Leight’s dysfunctional family is a shot of heartbreak, heavy on nostalgia, with a chaser of resentment.
    Clifford Glimmer (Jason Vellon) is the glue holding this show — and his family — together, narrating 30 years of recollections as a voyeur on his past. The sensitive white sheep of the family, he seems too sensible to be the offspring of Gene and Terry. For as he puts it, “the rocks in her head fit the holes in his.”
    Gene (Timothy Sayles) is a brilliant but unambitious trumpeter destined for obscurity as a sideman to the greats. Playing backup to the likes of Dizzy and Sinatra, he improvises life by eking out weekend gigs to supplement his welfare checks. He means well but is more devoted to his art and fellow artists than to his family.
    Terry (Mary McLeod) is the long-suffering wife to “that rat-bastard.” A naïve divorcée trapped in a neglected marriage, she finds comfort and tragic transformation in the bottle as Gene devotes himself to his music and his pals.
    Al (Richard Koster) is a Romeo trumpeter. Ziggy (Richard Estberg) is a trumpeter with a repertoire of bad jokes and a speech impediment. Jonesy (Ben Carr) is a trombonist with a uniquely philosophic outlook and a calamitous heroin addiction. Because every band needs a groupie, there is Patsy (Ali Vellon), the vixen waitress and serial seductress.
    As characters and as actors, they are a compelling bunch. Jason Vellon and McLeod are tearjerkers, sharing some of the tenderest moments when she is at her most hysterical.
    Likewise, Carr knows just how to coax the most pathos from his pitiful junkie without crossing the line to disdain. Sayles’ character is maddeningly oblivious to just how maddening he can be. Koster and Estberg are attentive to the details that convey musicianship, such as blasting a few notes on an instrument or listening with keen appreciation to an extended musical passage shared with the audience. Ali Vellon shows impressive range, swinging from seductress with the band to mother figure opposite her real life husband, Jason.
    Most of the cast, however, is skewed older than is convincing for a play that spans three decades.
    My main quibble is with the playwright for dispensing with two major plot points effortlessly. The resulting denouement feels a bit like the end of a windup toy’s run.
    The design team deserves kudos for the split set — half living room and half lounge — that is just shabby and smoky and greasy enough to feel real and raw with authentic touches like metal TV trays. Simulated television broadcasts with pulsing spotlights to illuminate the small screen evoke a familiar hominess.
    If you love jazz, you will love this play. If you don’t love jazz, you will still find this a moving and meaningful show, if a bit long in places.
    Adult language, drug references and mature themes. Two hours with intermission.

Director: Jim Reiter. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Set designer: Carol Youmans. Sound: Sarah Wade and Reiter (music). Lights: Eric Lund. Costumes: Fran Marchand and Paige Myers.

Thru Oct. 31. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, plus 7:30pm Su Oct. 25, Colonial Players, 108 East. St., Annapolis, $20 ­w/discounts, rsvp: thecolonialplayers.org.

A character study of a despot who knew more about marketing than writing code

Some men are born great. Some men achieve greatness. Some have to reboot several times before they get there. That was the case with Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender: Slow West), the sometimes CEO of Apple Computer. Covering Jobs’ life at three crucial product launches, this biopic focuses on the obsession, cruelty and fanaticism that drove him from CEO to outcast — and back again.
    In 1984, Jobs is debuting Macintosh. The computer has been his baby from the start, and he is demanding and demeaning to the team scrambling to ensure it works at the launch. He snarls at marketing executive Joanna (Kate Winslet: Insurgent), threatens harried engineer Andy (Michael Stuhlbarg: Pawn Sacrifice) and ignores co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen: The Interview).
    In 1988, Jobs has been ousted from Apple and is about to launch his new venture, NeXT.
    In 1998, Jobs is back at Apple, earning credit for saving the company from insolvency. As he prepares to launch the iMac, he is once again visited by Sculley, Wozniak and Andy.
    In each launch, Jobs encounters his daughter Lisa, who he refuses to acknowledge as his child. The girl longs to make a connection, but Jobs keeps her at arm’s length with comments as casually cruel as those he casts on his subordinates.
    Engrossing, funny and heartbreaking, this film crafts a character study of a despot who knew more about marketing than writing code. Jobs isn’t likeable, but he does seem realistic. It’s refreshing to see a film treat its subject as a human being instead of a saint.
    Director Danny Boyle (Trance) plays subtly with his medium to enhance the film, with each of the three sequences shot on a different film stock: 16mm film, 35mm film and digital film. It’s a brilliant choice that gives an almost subconscious cue that the story and time are shifting.
    Fassbender sinks his teeth into the role of genius jerk. His Jobs is just funny enough and just smart enough to get away with his behavior. He shows visceral distaste for human interaction he can’t control. When Lisa throws her arms around him, Jobs goes rigid, hands poised to reciprocate, but steadfastly refusing.
    Still, much like the computers Jobs loves, the film has flaws. The script by Aaron Sorkin (The Newsroom) is crisp and full of great dialog, but the redemptive ending feels unearned and disconnected.
    Whether you wait with bated breath for the latest Apple product or roll your eyes every time you pass a crowded Apple store, Steve Jobs is a fascinating character study of the man who changed the way we interact with computers.

Good Drama • R • 122 mins.

As You Like It plays simultaneously

In tribute to the master of macabre, Annapolis Shakespeare Company kicked off its 2015-2016 season on Edgar Allan Poe’s death day with the world premiere of Gregory Thomas Martin’s play in his honor. Descending the back steps to the 1747 cellar pub in historic Reynolds Tavern in Annapolis, you feel as though you indeed have entered a bygone era. The room you are shortly ushered to is small and dimly lit.
    In part it’s the exposed brick walls, wooden beams and brick inlaid floor. Simple sconces light the dark room. There is an open fireplace and five high tables and chairs for the audience. Two candles sit atop each table.
    Crumpled sheets of paper have fallen to the floor under another high table and chair by the bar. While you eat, Poe, played by Broadway actor Brian Keith MacDonald, pulls back a red curtain and slips into the small room. He sits alone at the table by the bar, dressed in black but for a white shirt, mumbling, looking through notes and writing at a simple wooden writing desk.
    A barkeep, played by Renata Plecha, is dressed simply in brown, her hair tied back in a bun. She tidies up the bar, then lights the second candle on each table.
    These two resident company actors share the stage with you, the audience. Over the next hour, you hear many famous Poe works — including Annabel Lee, Lenore and The Raven — joined together to give a glimpse into Poe’s fragile state of mind and heart during his final days.
    McDonald evokes varying intensities of exultation and angst as Poe. Preparing for the role, he not only learned the script but also researched what Poe’s contemporaries said about him. Sharing the stage with Plecha also helped. “She provides a wonderful contrast,” he told me, “helping pull Poe in and out of his mental realities.”
    Plecha transitions easily through her roles as Barkeep, Eliza and Poe’s Muse. Of her roles she says: “Eliza, Poe’s love, appears to Poe through flashbacks of events in Poe’s life, representing hope and love. The Muse inspires a lot of Poe’s writings, which turned darker after Eliza dies.”
    Research into Poe and his Eliza (Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe) supports her characterization, as well. “All is happening in Poe’s mind,” she told me, “and the space is so intimate that every moment has to be believable.”
    Deliberate movements and vocal variety add depth to both McDonald’s and Plecha’s characters.
    Sally Boyett, producing artistic director of the Annapolis Shakespeare Company and director of Poe, commissioned the play and collaborated with the native playwright in support of the company’s mission to create new works, making them and classics accessible to all audiences.
    Poe “seemed like a good fit for the fall season, the Reynolds Tavern and Poe’s ties to this area,” Boyett said. She adds that this show is a “cerebral production that puts Poe’s own words in a new context.”
    In keeping with its mission, the Company will provide a variety of offerings this season including two Shakespeare plays and five classics that are, Boyett says, “adaptations through a modern lens.”
    Poe plays on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Included in the single ticket price of $75 is a three-course prix fixe meal, gratuity, soda and iced tea and a seat near the actors. A cash bar, coffee and tea are additional. Two half-hour acts are separated by a 10-minute intermission.
    Meanwhile, the company’s second offering, William Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, opens this weekend.
    As You Like It is Boyett’s modern adaptation set in 1930s’ Appalachia. It includes classically trained actors doubling in roles, bluegrass music, vocalists and much more.
    While simultaneously performing in Poe, Plecha will portray the roles of Celia and Phoebe in As You Like It, which she calls “a play on how love manifests itself in different forms.”


Poe: thru Nov. 25 TuW 6:30 dinner, 7pm show, 1747 Pub at Reynolds Tavern, Annapolis. $75; rsvp: 410-415-3513; info@annapolisshakespeare.org.

As You Like It:  Oct.17-Nov. 15 FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, also 2pm Sa Nov. 7 & 14, Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Studio 111, 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis. $25-$55: 410-415-3513; annapolisshakespeare.org.

Necessity is the mother of interstellar invention in this great film

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon: Interstellar) wakes up alone on Mars.
    In a raging sand storm, Watney’s Aries III team abandoned the Red Planet, leaving behind what they assume is his lifeless body.
    He comes to alone but with a wire jutting out of his abdomen and suit and through his bio-monitor. He struggles back to the expedition’s temporary housing unit, and, in bloody initial scenes, operates on himself.
    Resolve and quick action solve his immediate problem. Longer term, the shelter has oxygen and food, which he can ration to last for a few hundred sols.
    Yet he’s stranded on a planet where nothing grows, with dwindling water and oxygen. His line to NASA was demolished in the storm, and even if he could contact mission control, help is nearly four years away.
    To survive until then, Watney gets creative. As a botanist, he can science out out how to grow food on a barren planet. But can he figure out a way to get home? Or is he doomed to die a Martian?
    Thrilling and often funny, The Martian is science fiction at its best. It is, in essence, a Robinson Crusoe tale set in space.
    Director Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings) weaves Watney’s story of survival with the story of the NASA engineers who realize he is alive and are desperately trying to save him. It’s a testament to Scott’s sense of timing and storytelling that he’s able to make jet propulsion nerds and NASA suits as interesting as a man trapped on Mars.
    Scott has assembled an impressive supporting cast, featuring Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain and Michael Peña, but the film unquestionably belongs to Damon.
    Though Scott and Damon create a strong sci-fi adventure, The Martian isn’t perfect. Some supporting characters, especially the astronauts played by Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan, are thinly drawn and barely justify their share of two hours and 20 minutes of screen time.
    Long, layered and utterly engrossing, The Martian is a sci-fi film for people who don’t particularly like sci-fi.

Great Sci-Fi • PG-13 • 141 mins.