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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

Peter Pan’s fantastical origins — with crackling one-liners, slapstick staging, flatulence and actors in drag

“If you like your Peter Pan with crackling one-liners, slapstick staging, actors in drag and flatulence, then Peter and the Starcatcher is for you. The one-liners are no surprise, since the children’s book on which this 2012 Broadway Tony-winner was based was co-written by humor columnist Dave Barry. What is a surprise is that the broad humor of this production works well, even though the story is a prequel to the angst-filled Peter Pan we all know and grew up with. That’s a testament to the fine cast that 2nd Star Productions and director Mary Wakefield have assembled.
    The Broadway production featured adults playing the kids’ roles. 2nd Star has a dozen age-appropriate actors, with most playing many roles in this nicely paced and cleverly staged version. It’s all convolution and fun, providing a clever telling of how Peter Pan came to be, from the dark — quite literally — first act at sea to the bright second act on an island where the characters’ ties to Peter Pan unfold.
    As Molly, the intelligent and courageous 13-year-old girl set adrift in 1885 on the rickety ship Neverland, Kelsey Meiklejohn anchors the production with an authority that belies her age. She commands the stage with a physicality and vocal power that keep things moving apace. The well-traveled, precocious Molly is aboard with her nanny (a witty yet nicely underplayed Zach Roth). When she spots one of three nameless orphan boys sold to a seaman, we begin to see the future story take hold.
    As the boy soon to be named Peter, Michael Bannigan is also compelling, bringing us the angst of a young Peter whose mistreatment by grownups leads him to never want to … well, you know. Molly’s mother, Lady Aster, is a very effective Jeanne Louise. Steven Kirkpatrick gives us the wildly clumsy yet funny pirate Black Stache, the precursor to you-know-who in the future Pan story.
    The real stars here are the ensemble, who do everything the less-is-more script calls for, from holding up rope as a door to carrying two model boats that illustrate the pirate ships in the story, to wearing yellow dishwashing gloves to indicate birds. At one point we watch Molly fly, and while we can see the two cast members acting as a lever, we don’t care because it works. It’s all highly synchronized with nary a glitch to be seen, which in turn keeps the humor coming and the story moving.
    This is not a musical in the traditional sense of the word, but there are songs, and they are very nicely delivered. At one point the cast gives us just a glimpse of a beautiful choral number that leaves us wanting more. That’s where the intelligence of this show lies: It keeps moving.
    So, bring the kids? Sure, if they’re, say eight or nine or older. What kid doesn’t like Peter Pan — or a fart joke?


Costumes: Mary Wakefield. Set design: Jane Wingard. Music design: Patrick Hughes.
 
About 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission. Thru Feb. 24: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus Feb. 25 3pm, Bowie Playhouse, Whitemarsh Park, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Taking on the rise and fall of your political ideals

It’s always good to make an audience think. In The City of Conversation, Colonial Players makes us do just that with a story that is well told, emotional and often laugh-out-loud funny — as well as relevant, with its look at how politics can split families.
    Novelist and playwright Anthony Giardina’s script is set in the elegant Georgetown townhouse of Hester Ferris, a left-leaning socialite whose legendary dinner parties are modeled after those of real-life doyenne and former ambassador Perle Mesta. At her soirees, the upper crust from both political stripes discussed, debated and drank with passion but without rancor.
    We begin in 1979. Jimmy Carter is in the White House, but Ronald Reagan is rising. Next we come to the fight over Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination, finally to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
    Making his Colonial Players directing debut, Ruben Vellekoop, keeps the action moving through it all — and through Colonial’s theater in the round.
    As Ferris, Kathleen Ruttum anchors the production with authority yet vulnerability. She is a well-regarded woman who can feel her power and effectiveness, and the civility of debate, slipping. The liberal political world that once revolved around her dining room table is falling to neoconservatism. Finally partisanship supersedes civil conversation.
    As Ferris’s liberalism was once the sun around which political Washington revolved, Ruttum’s performance is the one around which the others revolve. Politics turns personal when her son Colin (Josh Mooney) introduces a fiancée (Rebecca Gift). The younger woman is ambitious, conservative and not afraid to challenge Hester’s status quo.
    Mooney is an excellent comic actor known for his superior performances in musical comedies at Annapolis Summer Garden Theater. It is good to see him acting with more depth. He does so successfully, in two roles. First he is Colin, whose politics aligns more closely with his fiancée’s than his mother’s. (When he said, “The President gets to choose his Supreme Court,” the audience laughed in recognition.) Later he plays Colin’s son Ethan, who returns with his boyfriend to visit his grandmother.
    Gift’s Anna, the fiancée, is suitably ambitious and cynical, belittling Hester’s once-lofty position as well as her ideas. Her repartee with Hester takes on the acidity that reflects the changing mores.
    A fine supporting cast is led by a droll Karen Kellner as Jean, Hester’s sister, who also runs the house. Paul Banville is Chandler, a liberal senator and Hester’s longtime partner. Jeff Sprague and Carlotta Capuano make the most of a brief appearance as a senator from Kentucky and his wife. David Foster plays Ethan’s friend Donald late in the play, and young Ian Brown nicely plays six-year-old Ethan (a role he splits with Henry MacDonald).
    Yes, it’s always good to make the audience think. But not so good to make us guess.
    Vellekoop uses empty picture frames to delineate Hester’s home. Nice and effective, until, during their exits throughout the production, the actors each remove a frame and take it offstage. The audience murmurs, wondering — guessing — what it all means and why Hester’s guests are stealing her paintings.
    A letter to reviewers — unseen by the audience and not explained in the program — explains something about the frames representing the masks that characters hide behind. The audience didn’t get it. One playgoer who asked an usher got a word with the stage ­manager. There is no need for this kind of device when a fine cast is telling a good story.
    The music, too, was off. Songs from the 1960s and ’70s seem out of place in a show that begins in 1979. If there is some meaning in the lyrics, it does not come across. The choice to interrupt, with an obscene rap song no less, the very tender final moment of the show, is again, questionable.
    Less is more. Let the moment speak for itself.
    Quibbles aside, The City of Conversation is an enjoyable experience. Funny, emotional and sparked with debate, it received a standing ovation the night I attended.


About two hours with one intermission. Stage manager: Atticus Cooper Boidy. Lighting: Alex Brady. Costumes: Carrie Brady. Set: Mary Butcher.

Thru Jan. 28: FSa 8pm, Su 2pm, plus 8pm Jan. 26, 108 East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Timeless ideals well told and beautifully sung

“Camelot, located nowhere in particular, can be anywhere,” wrote a scholar on Arthurian times. Fortunately for us it resides until January 22 in Annapolis at Compass Rose Theater.
    Director Lucinda Merry-Browne’s rousing revival takes a scaled-down approach to this Broadway blockbuster, proving that less is more. A cast of 10, a seven-foot grand piano grandly played and a spare set bring this passionate and humorous classic to life.
     The final collaboration of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Camelot is a timeless story. Its message of optimism and hope, despite betrayal, is as clear and needed in 2016 as it was on opening night in 1960. Personifying that message is the boyish King Arthur, determined to create a kingdom where “violence is not strength and compassion is not weakness.”
    This is a “musical” in every sense of the word, with Lerner’s beautiful lyrics carried by Loewe’s memorable melodies. Compass Rose focuses on those songs, with a cast of wonderful voices accompanied by that lone piano so expertly played by Sangah Purinton. The piano is on stage but hidden from the audience behind the set, giving us the perfect mix of music and voices in Compass Rose’s intimate space.
    Carl Pariso is a boyish but effective King Arthur whose initial banter with Merlyn (Tim Garner) is humorous but meaningful. Pariso’s take on “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight” is a very funny assumption —that he is all his subjects think about. It makes quite the juxtaposition to his “Finale Ultimo,” the title song, when Arthur tells Tom (a small yet animated role made quite compelling by Sarah Grace Clifton), a young knight, to share the story “that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”
    As Guenevere, Anna DeBlasio charms her way into Arthur’s heart with a coquettish love that gives way to a deeper passion for Lancelot and the betrayal that crumbles Camelot’s ideals. Deblasio’s beautiful soprano toys joyfully with “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” and soars with the lovely “I Loved You Once in Silence.” She and Pariso are endearing as a couple, but her performance is so honest and compelling that her betrayal of Arthur seems understandable rather than disappointing. As Lancelot, Joe Ventricelli equals Arthur’s early humor with the boastful “C’est Moi.” But his baritone pierces the hearts of all when he delivers one of the most lasting songs of this score, “If Ever I Would Leave You.”
    The supporting cast is impressive as well, with most playing several roles, including the aforementioned Garner as the diabolical Mordred, Joe Rossi playing Pellinore and an in-drag Morgan Le Fey. Special mention must be made of Jaecob Lynn, whose clear tenor reaches to the skies during “Guenevere,” when, quite operatically, the trial and rescue of the queen are narrated.
    Costumes are beautiful and appropriate, the lighting is subtle yet effective and the movement across the two-story stage is clever. But the highlights of this production are its simplicity: A good story, well told and very well sung that transcends time and space and fits beautifully on the Compass Rose stage.


About two-and-a-half hours with one intermission.

Music director: Anita O’Connor. Costume design: Renee Vergauwen, Katie Boothroyd, Beth Terranova, Elizabeth Holt and Mary Ruth Cowgill. Light design: Jason Lynch. Choreographer: Tim Garner.

Thru Jan. 22 FSa 8pm; SaSu 2pm; Th Jan. 19 7pm, Compass Rose Theater, Westgate Circle, Annapolis, $38 w/discounts, rsvp: www.compassrosetheater.org.

Our best family night at the theater — ever

Anight at the theater — or anywhere, for that matter — is always an adventure when you have children in tow. A few weeks ago, our family of four attended a musical production in Baltimore that left me wondering if I had made a big mistake thinking my sons would enjoy the theater.
    Dad slept through the whole thing, the younger said there was too much singing, and the elder commented all the way through, despite my insistent hushing.
    So when we were invited to see Twin Beach Players’ holiday production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in North Beach, I was hesitant.
    Turns out I had no reason to worry. This was a performance crafted especially for the younger set.
    The boys began way more interested in the snack selection than the production to come. But once we were seated in our second row spots (they thought being so close to the stage was super-cool), their eyes were glued to the action.
    That revolves around a typical small-town Protestant church recreation of the nativity, complete with baby angels, shepherds in bathrobes and Mary and Joseph at the manger. This particular church, however, gets shaken to its core by the arrival of the Herdman children, a group of juvenile delinquents who terrorize and bully everyone they meet.
    The boys noted that it was “very meta. A Christmas play about a Christmas play.”
    They enjoyed watching the kid actors running around the stage during a faux fire in a type of Freleng Door Gag.
     “It was pretty nice,” says Jonah, the 12-year-old. “My favorite part was all the Herdmans — those are the naughty kids — discussing how they are going to change the church’s Christmas pageant. I can’t believe what they wanted the Wise Men to bring to the baby Jesus.”
    The entire cast did a delightful job bringing this hilarious story to life.
    I totally related to the stressed-out mom, Mrs. Bradley, played by Terri McKinstry, who is stretched thin trying to wrangle this production into something just short of organized chaos. Then I remembered … I was Mrs. Bradley! During my high school years, I portrayed this very woman in our own church performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I wore my mom’s corduroy jumper in that role. McKinstry was much more believable in the role.
    Elle VanBuskirk, playing the lead role of Beth Bradley, was composed, engaging and quite professional. It wasn’t till the show was almost over (a speedy two hours with one intermission) that we realized that the remarkable actress portraying the manipulative and cunning Imogene Herdman was VanBuskirk’s sister Emma. These two actresses were standout performers; we expect to see them in lead roles in many future shows.
    Son Jordan, eight, had his own favorite. “The girl who plays Gladys (Melly Byram) stole the show,” he says.
    He gave the production a hearty thumbs-up, his favorite ranking system.
    “I give it 4.8 stars,” he said. “I think people of all ages should see it, but it was very funny and especially good for children. And they should call it Revenge at Bethlehem, like the Herdmans suggested.”
    Jordan was also happy that there was very little singing … until the end, when he glared at me as the cast sang Christmas carols. I had promised him it was not a musical.
    “I gave it 4.5 stars,” Jonah said. “It was a little slow in parts but it was pretty good overall. It made me feel like I should look at people a bit differently in the future. We shouldn’t judge kids who act bad or are messy.”
    Thanks, Twin Beach Players, for opening his eyes — and for showing me that there is plenty of room in the theater for kids.


Fri. Dec. 2 & Sat. Dec. 3 7pm; Sun. Dec. 4, 3pm, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $15 w/discounts, rsvp: ­www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Midshipmen take on Shakespeare on youth, war and relations between the sexes

Megan Geigner, the new director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s midshipman theater group The Masqueraders, grabbed the helm with deft touch and a focused vision, staging a delightfully energetic version of Shakespeare’s popular comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. She chose the play because it’s about young people, more specifically young people coming home from war, and about gender relations.
    Instead of the Bard’s Messina, Geigner has cleverly changed the setting to New Mexico just at the end of World War I. Changing Shakespeare’s setting can come off as artsy and presumptuous, but in this case it works well. The very nice southwestern-themed set by Andrew Cohen frames a production that, without changing Shakespeare’s meaning, opens up ample opportunities, most especially for some hilarious constables turned cowpokes.
    The Bard’s story of love, mistaken identities, gender conflict and status moves at rapid pace with crisp characterizations. Hero, the daughter of a nobleman, is in love with Claudio, a well-respected young nobleman. Her cousin Beatrice is in love with the sharp-tongued Benedick, whose witty and insulting repartee can’t disguise his love for her as well. Their back-and-forth banter, and Beatrice’s independence, wit and intensity make her perhaps the first suffragette ever to be included in a Shakespeare play, perfect again for this setting.
    As Hero and Beatrice, Clara Navarro and Julia Kalshoven brilliantly play two tough, strong-willed women. As Beatrice’s beloved Benedick, Jonathan Mendez adds nice comedic touches and confused patter to the befuddled character. Nick Hajek convinces us of Claudio’s willingness to sacrifice love for ego when faced with hearsay about his betrothed’s unfaithfulness. The chemistry between each couple is made nicely palpable by the actors.
    The real laughable foolishness comes with Shakespeare’s comic characters, the constables. Evan Wray is a hilarious Dogberry, the Master Constable whose smug self-satisfaction in most productions is replaced here by a frenetic, animated cowpoke in charge of a sad-sack cast of watchmen. Wray stops moving only long enough for his constantly falling cowboy hat to be replaced by a deputy. His performance as he instructs his charges how to do their jobs— sleeping on duty is fine, and never touch a criminal lest you become defiled by association — is a tumblin’ tumbleweed of  fun.
    The rest of the 17-person cast provides solid support and keeps the comedy flowing and the story unfolding apace, though in a few places more volume and projection would help the audience follow along. Lights by Jake Potter, Tony Wolfe and David Ogden nicely highlight the actors, set and moods, and Jacy’s Barbers’ costumes — especially the beautiful off-white period dresses of the ladies — work very well.
    The Nothing in Shakespeare’s title is the subject of debate: Some believe it refers not to the emptiness ascribed to it in the modern vernacular, but to the word noting, which in Shakespeare’s time was pronounced nothing but was a verb meaning to gossip, to spread rumors and to overhear. If this was Shakespeare’s intent, it makes sense because his play was not about nothing, it was about … well, something. And the USNA Masqueraders’ production is quite something.


Two and a half hours long with one intermission. Final performances Friday Nov. 18 and Saturday Nov. 19 at 8, Sunday Nov. 20 at 2, $13, rsvp: ­https://navyperforms.showare.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=35

Like a horrific accident, it makes you cringe even as you brake to see it better

When outrage-stage author Edward Albee passed away in September, the theater world mourned with a collective gasp, as if his death from old age were just another violent trick designed to snap us out of complacency. The triple Pulitzer prize-winner aimed to make audiences so uncomfortable they would “run out of the theater — but come back to see the play again.” He succeeded most notably with his first full-length production, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Pulitzer committee chose to grant no prize in 1963 rather than award it to Albee.
    Virginia Woolf, wrapping up its run at Colonial Players this weekend, is a ­surreal stress-fest about a middle-aged couple of psychological sado-masochists at a quaint New England college who entangle a pair of unsuspecting newlyweds in their calamitous sport. The ensuing mental warfare and infidelity, stemming from ancient domestic skirmishes, is booby-trapped with antagonistic gibes, outrageous lies, professional sniping and personal sabotage. Like a horrific accident, it makes you cringe even as you brake to see it better.
    It all starts one Sunday morning at two o’clock when Martha (Debbie Barber-Eaton), the college president’s feisty daughter, informs her weary husband George (Joe Mariano), a history professor, that she has invited the new faculty couple, Nick (Ron Giddings) and Honey (Sarah Wade), over for a post-party nightcap. George balks, but Martha rules, drunkenly and teetering with schizophrenic fervor between love and hate. The feeling is mutual, and George, less a victim than he appears, ultimately proves more acerbic and dangerous than even Martha could imagine, increasingly so as night lifts to morning amid broken and empty liquor bottles.
    As campus royalty, Barber-Eaton is a superb braying siren with a magical hold on her subjects and surprising frailty that she drowns in gin. Mariano delights as the only man who can tolerate her, percolating with ironic menace like sunrise coffee laced with arsenic. Giddings is every inch the uptight opportunist with Ivy League breeding and athletic bearing. Wade is adorably vulnerable as his naïve wifey. So impressive is this foursome that they just may sweep this year’s WATCH awards for acting.
    The only catch in casting, which would not be a big deal save for significant references in the script, is the unfortunate fact that the slim-hipped and therefore implicitly weaker of the two women plays Martha rather than Honey.
    The set is homey and collegiate with costumes richly detailed and period appropriate. Sound and lighting effects are few and unnecessary, as the characters provide all the pyrotechnics. It’s quite remarkable to watch these people drink, an average of six stiff drinks each in the three and a half hours it takes for the action to unwind. Yes, you read that right: for by the time the sun rises, presumably at 5:30, the audience has endured this emotional roller-coaster in real time, and that is most unfortunate.
    The script bills this as a three-hour production, already longer than most, yet Director Craig Allen Mummey chooses to draw out the dialog for dramatic effect at the expense of audience comfort. That trade-off many resented on the weeknight I resented.
    Still, this is theater at its best. Come fresh, without the kids.


Director: Craig Allen Mummey. Stage managers: Bernadette Arvidson and Kevin Brennan. Set designer: Barbara Colburn. Sound: Ben Cornwell. Lights: Alex Brady. Costumes: Carrie Brady.

Playing thru Nov. 12, Th-Sa 8pm, Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis, $20 with discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

This comic opera sparkles like sunshine on the sea with all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago

You may have never heard of Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, but you’ve certainly heard of Gilbert and Sullivan. The two had a run of comic opera hits in England whose popularity propelled them across the pond to America, where that popularity was magnified. Because Gilbert’s father was a naval surgeon, life on the seas and the politics of power were often themes of the librettist. That’s certainly the case with H.M.S. Pinafore, the light yet acerbic jab at patrician politics and love that 2nd Star Productions in Bowie has brought to seafaring life.
    Gilbert’s propensity for detail took him to the seaside of Portsmouth to measure and record every detail of a real ship so that his sets would be as realistic when the play opened in 1878. His could have been no more lifelike than 2nd Star’s. Director Jane Wingard has designed a nearly life-size two-level ship so real it makes us feel we’re bobbing along the waves with the crew. The detail is impressive, down to other ships far off in the background.
    The gorgeous set anchors (ha, see what I did th… oh never mind) a production that is brisk as a sea breeze. Josephine (Emily Mudd), the captain’s daughter, is in love with Ralph Rackstraw (James Huchla), a lowly deckhand. But she is expected to marry The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter (Paul Koch), First Lord of the Admiralty. Porter’s lack of actual seafaring experience is revealed in his admonitions that each order be accompanied by a friendly “If you please.” So does his insistence that class hierarchy has no place on a ship, as all are equal. Which of course leads Josephine and Ralph to believe it’s clear sailing ahead (uh-oh, I did it ag… never mind) for their love.
    As Josephine, Emily Mudd is as bright as the North Star. One second she is perfectly and hilariously melodramatic and camp; the next she is regaling us with the beautiful and haunting ‘Sorry the Lot Who Loves Too Well.’ It’s as professional a performance as you’ll see on any stage. Her vocal chemistry with Huchla’s soaring tenor is thrilling, especially when the two square off on ‘Refrain, Audacious Tar,’ as she pretends to play hard to get when he professes his love.
    Huchla in fact leads a male chorus whose harmonies brilliantly permeate the show’s group numbers but are especially in evidence on the a capella sailors’ boast ‘A British Tar.’ 
    As Porter, Koch is quite funny, and his musical explanation of how he rose to his position through sheer ineptitude, ‘When I Was a Lad,’ is a comic delight as well — if only we could hear all of it. In giving his refined fop a constricted manner, Koch, at least on opening night, allows that manner to impede the rat-a-tat of so many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s staccato lyrics, thus forcing the audience to strain to understand what’s being sung. I hope he can crank the volume a bit; his performance is too good to miss. 
    Brian Binney brings a pleasant baritone to the role of Captain Corcoran, and to the captain’s reluctant flirtation with Pam Shilling’s beautifully sung Little Buttercup, the dockside vendor who harbors (there I go …) a deep secret. As the humpbacked, twisted-legged, one-eyed Dick Deadeye, Nicholas Mudd is so in character that the deformed leg maintains its twistedness even during the dances.
    Music director Joe Biddle understands that lyrics are key in a comic opera, so he ensures that his very good orchestra plays a less-is-more supporting role. There’s even a nice glossary of nautical and other terms in the playbill to help us track the language of the day.
    2nd Star’s H.M.S. Pinafore sparkles like sunshine on the sea. It’s a funny and very well-sung comic opera that gives us all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago.


About two hours, including intermission. Choreographer: Christine Asero. Costumer: Hillary Glass, Lighting/sound designer: Garrett Hyde.

Thru Nov. 19: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus 3pm Nov. 19, 2nd Star Productions, Bowie Playhouse, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Twin Beach Players’ talented ensemble delivers a Vaudevillian ­circus of musical theater

“Musical comedies aren’t written, they are rewritten,” declares Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
    Just so, writers Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart of movie and television fame readapted a collection of Greek-themed works already adapted by the Roman playwright Plautus around the turn of the second century, B.C.
    Something familiar, Sondheim writes in the show’s best-known song, “A Comedy Tonight.” But also Something peculiar, Something for everyone, A comedy tonight.
    Those catchy opening lyrics foreshadow what to expect as Twin Beach Players’ talented ensemble delivers a Vaudevillian circus of musical theater.
    The action takes place within and surrounding the neighboring houses of Erronius, Senex and Lycus. A scheming plot swiftly develops — only to unravel when a slave negotiating for his freedom agrees to play matchmaker to his youthful master smitten with a beautiful but unintelligent courtesan in the nearby Lycus house of ill repute. The antics that follow involve multiple cases of mistaken identity, athletic physical comedy, sight gags and jokes that echo beyond social class.
    The mature themes of this show are not appropriate for children.
    The first time the Players have brought a musical to the stage, it is a formidable undertaking. Actors play their parts through clever songs and dance as well as humorous dialogue. Taped musical accompaniment adequately fills the space at the Players’ Boys & Girls Club location, but at times it overpowers the performers’ singing. A chorus line adds a kick.
    Sid Curl, director and lighting designer, has assembled a cast of familiar and new actors who create unique characters while working together to deliver an enjoyable evening of theater. Reacting well to each other, all possess an effective balance of comic and musical timing. 
    Angela Sunstone (Prologus/Pseudolus) offers insight and intensity, serving in dual roles as storyteller to introduce the show and as slave. Andrew Brinegar, Annie Gorenflo and Tyler Vaughn (The Proteans) exhibit distinct identities while smoothly transitioning through multiple roles as a cohesive group. Rick Thompson (Prologus/Senex) plays lecherous Senex with effective comic physicality. Lindsay Haas (Domina) provides character-appropriate rigidity in her interactions. John Carter (Hero), whose singing is strong and full of emotion, is convincing as the love-smitten son to Senex and Domina. Aidan Davis (Hysterium) adds vocal variations to the role of Senex’s slave.
    Jeanne Louise fluidly commands the stage with a sparkling and energetic persona as Marcus Lucus. Arianne Dalton (Tintinabula), Brittney Collins (Panacea), Mikayla Ann Ford and Aaliyah Roach (The Geminae), Hayley Miller (Vibrata), and Jenny Liese (Gymnasia) shine as courtesans, each displaying sex appeal through character-appropriate, seductive dance movements.
    Katie Evans (Philia) is hysterical as Hero’s love interest, projecting a soprano singing voice that is strong and polished. Phil Cosman (Erronius) plays the nearly blind old man very convincingly, bringing comic talent to every scene he enters. Kevin McAndrews creates a dominating presence as Captain (Miles Gloriosus), with a booming spoken and singing voice that packs a powerful punch.
    Among the production staff helping to mount this ambitious production, Dawn Denison’s costume choices — including togas, flowing robes and military uniforms — add realism to the Roman time period, while chorographer Sherry Dennison gives the actors imaginative work to perform. Wendy Crawford’s set by Robert Snider and Katie Evans’ musical direction help transport us to another time and place.


Thru Oct. 30: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Twin Beach Players, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Meet the World’s Most Admired Woman in her formative years

When Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962, the widow of the 26th President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was called by the New York Times The World’s Most Admired Woman. The longest-serving first lady, she was also the tallest until Michelle Obama, at 5'11", met her mark. At a time when political wives were expected to be seen and not heard, she was an outspoken humanitarian, feminist, unionist and champion of racial reform. In an election year focused on another famously civic-minded first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt: Her Secret Journey, is a dynamic opener for Compass Rose Studio Theater’s sixth season.
    Based on a 1979 novel author Rhoda Lerman referred to as a fictional autobiography of Eleanor’s life from 1918 to 1922, this one-woman-show debuted in 1998 with Jean Stapleton. Composed of memories sparked by a phone call from President Truman asking her to speak at the newly formed United Nations, the script covers Eleanor’s formative years at home and in Paris during her husband’s tenure as assistant secretary of the Navy. An instructive and intimate peek at her privileged and turbulent life after the war to end all wars, this production is animated with great sensitivity by local favorites Sue Struve and director Rick Wade. Introspective and poetic, it examines her transition from naïveté to insight as she struggles with both worldview and marriage fraying at the seams.
    Here we see a dutiful woman manipulated by a domineering mother-in-law, a depressed wife betrayed by her unfaithful husband, a blushing mother of six as object of a GI’s flirtation, a sympathetic observer of desperate working women, war widows and soldiers haunted by PTSD.
    Now we see her engaged in political dialogue with the greatest minds of her time: Uncle Teddy Roosevelt, General Blackjack Pershing, Dorothy Strait and historian Henry Adams (of that other old presidential dynasty), who likens her to lead that turns to silver under pressure.
    We also meet Bernard Baruch (Woodrow Wilson’s confidante) who sends her roses and whom her husband refers to as a Hebrew and NOKD — not of our kind, dear. Quotes such as this, sprinkled throughout, convey the surprising notion that Franklin was not only an anti-Semite but also a ­chauvinistic jerk.
    Altogether we have a modern take on a pedigreed woman of a different time, as seen through the filter of a century’s progress and skewed to lionize her.
    For all that this monologue addressed, there is much that it does not: namely FDR’s 1921 polio affliction and Eleanor’s subsequent role as guardian of his vital image — and her conjectured bisexuality (which was addressed in a different drama following the publication of her personal letters in the year this play debuted.)
    Struve commands the stage, navigating a dozen speech patterns and physical postures as she segues through a parade of characters. Slender as the young Eleanor and dressed in a burgundy floral silk dress, Struve nevertheless conveys the matriarchal solidity of the elder’s patrician speech patterns and aristocratic mannerisms. Yet when she inhabits Teddy Roosevelt, you can see and hear his sportsman’s swagger.
    The set is simple: four pieces representing different times and locations, a phone and photo of Franklin and a slide show of personalities and headlines projected above the stage. Indeed, there is no place for Struve to hide, but she does not have to. These 70 minutes (without intermission) feels like a fascinating 50.
    I recommend this show to feminists, history buffs and social optimists of all stripes. This encore production, which debuted last summer at Compass Rose’s Play Festival, appears for a limited engagement only through October 9.


Director: Rick Wade. Stage manager and costumer: Beth Terranova. Lights: Frank Florentine. Sound: Kit Boidy and Ruth Cowgill.
 
Playing thru Oct. 9, FSa8pm, Su 2pm, Compass Rose Theater Company, 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis. $38 with discounts, rsvp: www.compassrosetheater.org.

Comedy, tragedy and undercurrents of love … just like every family

“You have to soar to fill your soul, but your family is what keeps you grounded,” writes first-time director Dave Carter in the playbill for The Cripple of Inishmaan. That’s the point of Colonial Players’ season opener, a well-crafted comic piece that dips into the reality of sadness and cruelty without turning maudlin.
    Martin McDonagh’s play debuted in 1996 in London and off Broadway in 1998. The wisp of a plot focuses on an American coming to Inishmore, near the island of Inishmaan, to make a film about the locals, who are abuzz.
    Bright performances abound in this dark comedy.
    Teenaged orphan Billy Claven (Jack Leitess), known as Cripple Billy, decides that his fate — and his escape from the cruelties of the island — lies in Hollywood, so he shoves off to join the movies. His two aunts (Mary MacLeod and Carol Cohen) worry about their charge, who spends much too much time reading books and staring at cows. Friend Bartley McCormick (Drew Sharpe) tries his best to understand, and Bartley’s egg-flinging, rough-edged sister Helen (Natasha Joyce) tries to be as cruel as possible.
    Babbybobby Bennett (Scott Nichols), the rough-hewn widower facing his own demons, manages the transit off the island. Tying things all together is the theatrical town gossip Johnnypateenmike (Edd Miller), whose thirst for attention is fed by his ability to barter news for goods. Lisa KB Rath as Johnny’s elderly sot of a mother and Danny Brooks as Doctor McSharry also shine in smaller supporting roles.
    The star of this production is not one particular character over another, but rather the vast undercurrents of love that ebb and flow through each and among them all together. Thence rises the heartfelt laughter, saving what could have been too dark a comedy. Cripple Billy’s friends and neighbors are his family, and Cripple Billy takes as good as he gets when it comes to understanding and coping with his disability. The directness with which his condition is treated gives us some very lovely, often laugh-out-loud, comic moments. From the aunts’ hand-wringing angst over Billy’s lack of prospects and Helen’s addiction to cursing and kissing, to Bartley’s denseness and Johnnypateenmike’s hilariously childlike need to be first to tell, this cast makes McDonagh’s characters come to life brightly, hilariously and sincerely.  
    It’s not a perfect show, to be sure. In several scenes the pacing needs to be picked up (opening night was two hours and 40 minutes, a bit long for a two-act non-musical). Several scenes are awkwardly staged so that too much of the audience in the round is blocked from the action. In a few spots, the actors’ volume must be turned up.
    On a more positive note, director Carter and his actors take care to ensure the Irish accents are of the less-is-more variety, consistent enough that we know we’re in the Aran Islands, but not so overdone that we lose what’s being said.
    What’s being said is beautiful, funny and often heart-wrenching. The Cripple of Inishmaan rides an undercurrent of love that draws us in, gives us good, hearty laughs and soars into our hearts.


Playing thru Oct. 1: Th-Sa8pm, Su 2pm, plus Sept. 18 7:30pm, Colonial Players Theatre, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373.

Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Costume designer: Christina McAlpine. Set designer: Terry Averill. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Michelle Bruno. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.