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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

You’ll see Shakespeare at its most involving and theater at its finest

In four years of existence, Annapolis Shakespeare Company has enriched the local theater scene not just by providing a venue that focuses on the classics, but also by doing so with productions that are engaging and accessible. The Company has achieved its goal of becoming a professional company. Now, Annapolis Shakespeare Company moves from the Bowie Playhouse to its own black box Studio 111 on Chinquapin Round Road in Annapolis. The space is smaller, but the standards remain high.
    Case in point: the current production of Macbeth, perhaps Shakespeare’s darkest and bloodiest work. Producing artistic director Sally Boyett and her team show us Shakespeare at its most involving and theater at its finest: imaginatively staged, crisply directed and solidly acted. Audience proximity to the action — the 50 or so seats surround the small stage floor on three sides — means you can literally feel the insanity of Macbeth (Brit Herring) and Lady Macbeth (Rebecca Swislow) as their ambition turns to murder and madness.
    Herring and Swislow are both excellent, giving their characters a fiery chemistry not just for each other but also for power. Herring’s mad exclamations to the audience and his delivery of several of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies (“tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” upon the death of his beloved), are in-your-face menacing. Swislow’s “out damned spot” to the blood on her hands as she sleepwalks evokes fear as well as a bit of pity for her.
    Michael Crowley’s Macduff, Kim Curtis’ Duncan and Brian Davis’ Banquo are standouts among the talented supporting cast of 10, each playing several roles. As the three witches who predict Macbeth’s rise and fall, Renata Plecha, Vanessa Bradchulis and Stephanie LaVardera are downright chilling. The three can be cartoonish in lesser hands, but this trio gives them a substance that convinces us they must be of the underworld.
    All of this is achieved with nary a set and few props. It’s acting that lights the passion of this production, acting that is supported by Nancy Krebs’ vocal coaching, the modern costumes of Maggie Cason, sound effects by Gregory Thomas Woolford Martin, believable fight choreography by Amy Pastoor and ethereal lighting by Steven Strawn and Preston Strawn. It all adds up to an experience that evokes the eeriest of eerie and the most evil of evil. That little black box theater sure felt like the early 1600s.

Playing thru Nov. 24: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm: Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Studio 111, Annapolis; $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

Cast, staging and pace threaten to leave you breathless

There is nothing like the rat-a-tat of briskly delivered dialogue to transport an audience to a different time and place, and Colonial Players is currently doing the job atop the broad shoulders of Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men.
    If you think having seen the movie is enough, think again. First time director Jeff Sprague has hit the trifecta with this production: a believable cast, intelligent staging and a vocal pace that sometimes threatens to leave you breathless. It’s a completely different, and much more involving, experience made intimate by Colonial’s in-the-round space.
    First, the cast. From the lowest of the enlisted to the bigger-than-life commanding officer, Sprague has assembled a company so believable that they make you feel everything about what it’s like to be stationed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, except perhaps the exhausting heat. Jamie Austin Jacobs is stellar as Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson, who along with his buddy Pfc. Louden Downey (Fred Fletcher-Jackson) is accused of murder after a “code red” — Marine lingo for a hazing of sorts — kills a fellow Marine who wasn’t measuring up. Every barked line evokes empathy for this dedicated warrior who was following orders, and the fraternal care he provides the less-aware Downey earns our sympathy. Dawson’s evolving admiration for Navy Lt. Daniel Kaffee, the smart-talking Harvard grad assigned to defend him, is well-crafted and a pleasure to witness.
    Kaffee’s fast-paced dialogue starts off with smart-assed one-liners the character uses to hide the fact that his propensity for plea-bargaining has kept him from seeing the inside of a courtroom. Paul Valleau (who will be replaced for the November 6, 7 and 8 shows by Jeff Mocho) admirably shows us a Kaffee whose passion for justice, and for his defendants, grows with each piece of evidence that they were ordered to perform the code red.
    Kaffee’s Navy legal team is rounded out by Erin Hill as Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway, who outranks Kaffee and initially resents his lack of interest, and Brandon Bentley as Lt. Sam Weinberg, the family man who believes the defendants picked on a weakling. Opposing them is Capt. Jack Ross, a savvy prosecutor played by Pat Reynolds. Throughout the production these four anchor the fast-paced drama with the occasional touch of comedy that is so mandatory to prevent the emotion on the stage from slipping into monotony.   
    Also outstanding are Ben Wolff as Jonathan Kendrick, the Bible-verse-spewing lieutenant who gives the order that leads to a fatal code red; and Bill Coffin as Matthew Markinson, the guilt-ridden captain whose unwillingness to stop the code red pushes him to a point of no return. Both Wolff and Coffin are so natural in these roles that you’d think they’d just stepped off the base and onto the stage.
     Of course, the bigger-than-life villain in the piece is Colonel Nathan Jessep, the commanding officer of Gitmo. After Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” became the catchphrase of the early 1990s, you’d be forgiven for thinking the same character might appear on the stage. He does not. He does not have to because David Thompson has made Jessep his own, a character almost manic with power, whose complete belief in the rightness of any decision he makes is shrouded in the myopic vision that protecting his country comes at any cost. Thompson’s verbal attack of Kaffee after he admits to having ordered the code red is downright scary — yet eerily effective in forcing us to understand his motivation. He is wrong, yes, but he is convinced he is right, and Thompson’s passionate portrayal makes us think twice.
    Now, the staging. This is a complex play with a lot going on, and pacing is critical. Sprague meets the challenge by avoiding the usual director trap of cutting the lights, throwing on some music and changing the scene. Every setting is already on the stage, and the characters simply move from one to the other as the lights fall and rise, or as a quartet of Marines marches on and off doing various running cadences. This makes the rat-a-tat of the action match the rat-a-tat of the dialogue, and the audience as a result is captivated.
    Speaking of that dialogue: It is real and it gets graphic. It is so believably delivered by every character that it’s hard to discern the least experienced from the veterans. That believability has the audience looking at each as a real person, not a character. Kudos to Sprague, whose own military background undoubtedly contributed to the realism on display here, and kudos to each of the young actors who have so invested themselves in their characters, no matter how small.

Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Assistant director: Theresa Riffle. Set and floor designr: Terry Averill. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Theresa Riffle. Costume coordinator: Beth Terranova.
Playing thru Nov. 8: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm: Colonial Players, Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Hearts beat in time with the building suspense

Twin Beach Players’ Halloween season production of the eternally terrifying Legend of Sleepy Hollow took seven months in the making — from spooky sound effects to thick fog and period costumes to uniformly spot-on acting.
    Eerie sound effects help transform a gymnasium into the town and forest of Sleepy Hollow, where I edged forward on my seat as suspense built to the hair-raising climax.
    Washington Irving gave us this story now embedded in American tradition, and he himself appears to tell it to us. As Irving, Kurt Kugel leads us through the play with his supernaturally quiet narration.
    The nervous, studious and awkward Ichabod Crain, played brilliantly by Justyn Christofel, comes as a new teacher to a town haunted by a Headless Horseman. My heart went out to Ichabod as he fell hopelessly in love with the town beauty, Katrina Van Tassell (Brianna Bennett) much to the dismay of her suitor, town brute Abraham “Brom” Van Brunt (Ethan Croll).
    Brom captures the role of the bad guy as he makes it his duty to teach the schoolmaster a lesson in humility and gathers the boys of Sleepy Hollow to scare Ichabod.
    Tales are told of the Headless Horseman’s rampage through the woods that Ichabod is willing to brave to attend a party at the home of the apple of his eye, who has herself invited him.
    When Ichabod cuts in on Brom to dance with Katrina, Brom plans revenge: confrontation with the Headless Horseman.
    Each character in the supporting cast of townspeople has distinct charms. There are gossips, troublemakers, clowns and bystanders who don’t know what to make of the new schoolmaster — nor he of them and their tales.
    Dawn Dennison’s costumes are perfect to period.
    The basic stage conveyed many settings, such as a handful of human trees with long, skin-hugging, black-gloved arms reaching to the sky and creeping thru Ichabod’s hair as if they were twigs in a haunted forest. Children played forest animals, with an opening dance number led by an adorable spirit (Koral Kent) who makes a huge impression, all without speaking a word. She wisps in and out in her pumpkin costume with the grace and poise of a ballerina. When she places a pumpkin into the hands of the Headless Horseman, she seems immune to terror.
    Don’t miss this spooktacular production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Playing to full-house crowds opening weekend, it’s sure to sell out as Halloween approaches and the barrier between worlds grows thin.


The original production of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was adapted for Twin Beach Players’ by resident playwright, Mark Scharf, who also penned last year’s production of Frankenstein. Pioneer Drama Service will publish both scripts.
 
Playing thru Nov. 2: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm; plus 9pm Oct. 31 at North Beach Boys and Girls Club; $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Song and dance liven up the first book of the Bible

Family legacies of love, anger and rebellion define Shakespeare, fairy tales, soap operas and the oldest story of them all, The Book of Genesis, recounted in 2nd Star Productions’ Children of Eden with exquisite beauty. This is a show the whole family will love by Stephen Schwartz, creator of Broadway legends Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. Heart breaking and humorous, it recounts Genesis in songs ranging from lyrical ballads to pulsing dances, Gospel and even soft shoe.
    In Eden, Father (Chris Overly) creates the heavens with a spectacle of lights in “Let There Be.” Next come Adam (E. Lee Nicol) and Eve (Caelyn Sommerville) in the doting “Father’s Day.” Eve’s “Spark of Creation” is glorious, as is the Father’s “Grateful Children.” Revel in “The Naming” of a delightful menagerie. Hear the sibilant snake (Robbie Dinsmore, Dakarai Brown, Tara Hebert, Erin Lorenz and Malarie Novotny) seduce Eve in five-part harmonies in “In Pursuit of Excellence.” Cry with Adam when he is torn from Father in “A World Without You,” Follow the couple’s discordant “Expulsion to the Wasteland,” where they express redemptive joy in parenting Cain (Creed Jackson) and Abel (Andrew Sharpe) in “Close to Home.”
    See history repeat itself when adult Cain (Austin Dare) blames his parents for their plight “Lost In the Wilderness” and disobeys his father, striking out for pagan lands. Mourn when Abel (Daniel Starnes) catches the blows intended for his father and Cain’s descendants are forever marked by his sin. By the Act I finale, your heart will break with Eve’s in her twilight song, “Children of Eden,” a glorious farewell to her countless descendants.
     Act II opens with a spectacular African-inspired song fused with Asian-inspired dance in “Generations of Adam.” The first act’s earth-toned rags are replaced by an array of colorful stripes and silks as we meet Noah (Nicol) and Father making preparations for the flood. Noah is to bring Mama Noah (Sommerville), his sons Ham (Dinsmore) and Shem (Brown), their wives Aphra (Erica Jureckson) and Aysha (Geneva Croteau), his youngest son, Japheth (Starnes) and his chosen bride, any girl who does not bear the mark of Cain.
    Of course, Japheth chooses the forbidden Yonah (Alexandra Baca), whom he persuades to stow away in their romantic duet “In Whatever Time We Have.”
    The carousel-inspired orchestral “Return of the Animals” enchants with its parade of 11 species, from anteaters with flicking tongues to towering giraffes and elephants. Then comes the starving time, Yonah’s discovery and Noah’s agonizing decision: “The Hardest Part of Love.” In Schwartz’ retelling, the severe God of the Old Testament softens as Noah releases all his children to different corners of the world, and Mama Noah leads the ensemble in the rousing Gospel anthem “Ain’t It Good?”
    Opening night of this charming spectacle would have been divine except for one colossal problem: Father, aka God Almighty, had laryngitis. As Overly’s impressive stage credits don’t include miracles, 2nd Star was short sighted to have no understudy for this pivotal role. Nicol and Sommerville, however, are vocally stunning, if a bit mismatched; she’s fresh as a spring rainbow and he’s ripe as Indian summer.
    The vocal ensemble and orchestra sound better than ever, with shining performances and a powerful chorus of storytellers led by soloists Alexandra Baca, Shannon Benil, Cheryl Campo, Kimberly Hopkins, Mary Wakefield and Chad Wheeler.
    The set is a simple stepped landscape backdrop, draped with flora, with ark and flood superimposed. Special effects including thunder and lightning are impressive. Costumes reflect civilization’s advances, though Adam’s AppWorld tattoo begs for justification.
     “The hardest part of love is letting go,” warns Schwartz, and this is true of his musical as well. I plan to return when God is feeling more like himself, and I suggest you do, too.


With Nathan Bowen, Wendell Holland, Charlize Lefler, Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, Samantha Roberts, Gene Valendo, Maia Vong, A.J. Williams and several adorable kids. Director and choreographer: Vincent Musgrave. Set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann, Carrie Dare and Beth Starnes. Musical director: Joe Biddle. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde.
Playing thru Oct. 25: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm at Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

There’s a window of time when things must happen. If we let that window close, it’s gone and we don’t get it back.

Fasten your seatbelts as we blast off for Colonial Players’ 66th season with Rocket Man, Steven Dietz’s 1998 serious comedy about the road not taken.
    Act I counts down like a comedy sketch with a disturbing undercurrent.    Act II is a space shuttle with frequent stops between grim reality and a fifth dimension of beautiful and bittersweet extremes where life runs backward and youth presages the end of possibilities.
    In this surreal postcard from another dimension, you’ll meet Donny (Ben Carr), a landscape architect in the midst of a midlife crisis; his ex-wife Rita (Laura E. Gayvert); their resentful teen Trisha (Paige Miller); Donny’s best friend Buck (Timothy Sayles), a widower with a Noah complex; and Donny’s unacknowledged soul-mate Louise (Shirley Panek), a former co-worker turned divinity student.
    Donny thinks that in another world it could have all turned out differently. To make the most of his remaining time, he has quit his job and jettisoned his worldly possessions to dedicate himself to studying the stars through his attic skylight. He is strangely calm for a man on the brink.
    Given a second chance at life, Rita thinks we’d all make the same mistakes in new and interesting ways. She rants about Donny’s self-centered forgetfulness, while Trisha rants about finding her possessions strewn across the lawn for strangers to take.
    Who is right, Donny or Rita?
    Does he travel to another world, another time or a dream? Does our personality destine us to repeat history?
    The playwright isn’t saying, but everyone has a theory, the cast included. That’s why all are so invested in their roles.
    Carr doesn’t so much act the character of Donny as inhabit him, his face a palette of moods and thoughts that transcend words.
    As Donny’s friend, Sayles is sweet comic relief with perfect timing and a quirky manner to foil the sad insanity that surrounds him. He is miscast only in that his full head of hair lends absurdity to his bald jokes.
    As the insomniac sage Louise, Panek appreciates her character’s inability to transcend the careful detachment she cultivates.
    As daughter Trisha, Miller melds maternalism with emotional distance.        As ex-wife Rita, Gayvert demonstrates an unexpected girlishness in her reunion with Donny, though before that change of personality in Act II, it’s hard to understand why Donny might miss her.
    In life “we demand the illusion of involvement,” Donny says, and that’s what the technical aspect of this show provides. With a set deliberately barren and depressing, designers achieve stunning moods with a soundtrack of space-inspired hits from Donny’s youth and a light grid that debuts with this show. When Donny blasts off into the heavens to the title tune, bathed in a visual wash of dancing galactic blue pinpoints, the gasping audience is also transported.
    In this trip to the road not taken, we are encouraged to “travel further, dig deeper, live more and sing life.” If you can handle ambiguity, you’ll love the play. If not, bring a philosophical friend to help resolve questions.


Director: Scott Nichols. Set designer: Edd Miller. Sound: Kaelynn Miller. Lights: Terry Averill. Costumes: Hannah Sturm. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Music designer: Jim Reiter.

Playing thru Sept. 27: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm (plus 7:30 Sept. 14) at Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Theater al fresco at Reynolds Tavern, where the humor is bawdy, the medicine primitive and the fun timeless

     Annapolis Shakespeare Company keeps the comedy in the courtyard coming. After a successful run with Molière’s The Schemings of Scapin, now on tap outdoors at Reynolds Tavern is a lively and very funny Imaginary Invalid. Molière’s final play was written by the tuberculosis-wracked playwright/actor to star himself and reflect his disdain for the medical mores. He indeed played the lead to great acclaim before succumbing to his malady soon after the curtain went down on a show for King Louis XIV.
    Adapted by Tim Mooney and directed by Kristen Clippard, Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Imaginary Invalid is three riveting acts of fast-paced fun, with a stellar cast reveling in every rhyming couplet. But don’t let the three acts worry you about a long night ahead; the 7:30pm start gets you out just a bit after 9pm.
    The imaginary invalid is Argan (Kim Curtis), a well-to-do hypochondriac who wants to marry his daughter Angelique (Ashlyn Thompson) off to a soon-to-be-doctor (Zachary Roberts), son of Diafoirus (John Stange), already a doctor, so one will always be around. Meanwhile, his second wife Beline (Amber Gibson) wants both her stepdaughters, Angelique and Louison (Roberts again), put into a nunnery so she can claim Argan’s riches when he dies. But Angelique is in love with the handsome, romantic and oh so dim Cleante (Keegan Cassady). Argan’s maidservant Toinette (Briana Manente) has no qualms about setting Argan straight on why a forced marriage is a bad idea, as does his brother Beralde (Stange again), who also is getting a little fed up with the whole ­hypochondria thing.
    Got all that? Thanks to a cast of actors who know how to deliver lines with their bodies as well as their voices, the action is easy to follow. Which brings up a personal nitpick: How many times have you gone to the theater and missed lines because the actors weren’t speaking up? Nine times out of 10 it’s not the volume that’s the problem, it’s the diction. Other local theaters would do well to emulate Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s focus on enunciation because nary a line was lost, even in this outside setting. Speak the speech, I pray thee.
    The other thing that often gets between the actor and the audience’s ability to follow what’s happening is the blocking — the placement and movement of the actors — a challenge especially in a round setting such as the Reynolds courtyard. Again, director Clippard’s focus on the details pays off. Despite the small space, the action does not feel limited or cramped, and no back is turned to any of us for more than a few seconds.
    In the less-is-more category, this is all done with a single chair and one chair-side table with a few apothecary bottles. That’s because the top-notch acting and efficient use of space eliminate the need for anything more than the very clever costumes. So, reserve a Tuesday evening and watch some very talented actors pull you away from Annapolis 2014 and into 1600s’ France, where the humor is bawdy, the medicine primitive and the fun timeless.


Costume coordinator: Maggie Cason. Stage manager: Sara K. Smith. Assistant stage management intern: Shannon McGovern.

Playing thru October 7 Tu at 7:30pm at Reynolds Tavern. 7 Church Circle, Annapolis. $20 w/advance discounts:
410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

Always look on the bright si-ide of life …
 

     There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who get Monty Python, and those who don’t. The dividing chasm is willingness to accept silliness. Python’s humor is physical (Google Silly Walk), yet it has an underlying winking, silly intelligence that the don’t-gets … well, don’t get.
    Fortunately for Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, the opening night audience for Monty Python’s Spamalot was filled mostly with gets. Based largely on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail — but borrowing from plenty of other Python hits — the Mike Nichols-directed Spamalot premiered on Broadway in 2005 and won three Tonys, including Best Musical. Some of the humor that is directly aimed at a Broadway audience full of Python fanatics fell a little flat in Annapolis (case in point: the Mel Brooks-ish “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway … if you don’t have any Jews”). Some noticeable opening night tentativeness between orchestra and chorus will tighten up over the five-week run. But this is already a delightful production creatively directed by Jeffrey Lesniak and highlighted by stellar individual performances.
    Even if you haven’t seen the movie (and by all means, do, it’s timeless!), you’re in for a silly good time.
    As some Broadway musicals use a thin plot to string together strong songs, Spamalot uses its thin plot — Arthur and his knights searching for the Holy Grail — to string together classic Python comedy bits and a few songs. The songs are meant as much to skewer Broadway musicals as to push along said plot. Python founder and writer Eric Idle wrote the lyrics and book. A parody of Arthurian times, Spamalot revolves around King Arthur (a droll Ruben Vellekoop) and his knights of the “very round” table. The knights are the stars of this show.
    Each plays several roles with comic timing and delivery — not to mention the various speaking and singing voices — all spot on. Standing out in the voice department is David Merrill, whose Sir (Dennis) Galahad gets things moving with a hilarious diatribe about the woes of the working class. He then joins the Lady of the Lake (Alice Goldberg) for a satirical yet lyrical jab at formulaic Broadway called “The Song That Goes Like This.” Merrill’s tenor is a treat. Later he shines as the famed Black Knight, insisting “it’s just a flesh wound” after losing his limbs to his challenger. He reappears as Prince Herbert’s overbearing father, getting into a hilarious back and forth with two guards who can’t quite grasp the concept of “stay here.”
    The other knights — Sir Robin (Fred Fletcher-Jackson), Sir Lancelot (Joshua Mooney) and Sir Bedevere (DJ Wojciehowski) — each contribute several comedic turns. Notable is Mooney as the French Taunter (“I fart in your general direction!”), the Knight of Ni and, of course, Lancelot, whose sexuality is confirmed for him by the singers of “His Name Is Lancelot’ (“he likes to dance a lot; he wears tight pants a lot”). Other standouts: a very funny Steven Baird as Patsy, the king’s dedicated coconut-clopping sound effects toadie; and Austin Heemstra, who narrates things as the historian and gets his own laughs as Not Dead Fred, the Minstrel and Prince Herbert.
    In addition to the very effective duet with Merrill on “The Song That Goes Like This,” Goldberg’s Lady of the Lake takes another shot at Broadway tunes when she returns to the stage in “The Diva’s Lament” (“whatever happened to my part? It was exciting at the start …”).
    Perhaps the most famous Python song of them all, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” opens Act II (and returns very effectively after the curtain call) exclaiming “When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle.” Originally sung in Life of Brian by a chorus of the crucified, it works, very well, here.
    Also working very well is the multi-level castle set by Dan Lavanga and the wide variety of colorful costumes by Linda Swann. Only God and Eric Idle (one and the same in this show) know what was going on behind the scenes during those quick changes.
    Don’t think that because Spamalot runs through August 31 you can just gallop on over and secure a seat. Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has a hit in this one, so the Holy Grail around Annapolis this month may be securing two tickets, not one chalice.


Music director: Steve Przybyiski. Choreographer: Rikki Howie Lacewell. Stage manager: John Nunemaker. Lighting designer: Matt Tillett. Sound designer: Dan Caughran. About 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission.

Playing thru Aug. 31: Th-Su 8:30pm at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212;
www.summergarden.com.

This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of an eerie desert isle where a band of royal castaways is marooned in style. No, it’s not a new sitcom or reality show. It’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a supernatural classic of haunting beauty playing for the next two weekends at the Bowie Playhouse. It’s also the Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s last production in that space before moving to new space on Chinquapin Round Road in the fall.
    The story begins before the action with Prospero (Brian Keith MacDonald), the deposed Duke of Milan, living in exile for 12 years with his teenage daughter Miranda (Jenny Donovan). All that time he has been plotting his retribution. Toward that end, he has become a powerful sorcerer by studying books provided for him by his confederate Gonzalo (Joe Palka), who spirited the father and daughter to safety along with basic comforts like a vast library complete with ornate shelving and a leather armchair. In Prospero’s service are a vile semi-human, Caliban (Alex Zavistovich), rightful heir to the island and son of a now-deceased witch, and three sprites: Ariel (Raven Bonniwell), Ceres (Emily Samuelson) and Juno (Micaela Mannix). All help Prospero exact his revenge on his traitorous brother, Antonio (Grant Cloyd). Thus the eponymous tempest, a supernatural storm conjured by Ariel, which is so ferocious you would swear you were caught in a real microburst if only the theater sprinklers were employed.
    The villainous Duke Antonio is shipwrecked along with his co-conspirator Sebastian (Elliott Kashner) and a royal entourage including King Alonso (Brian McDermott), Prince Ferdinand (David Mavricos), Prospero’s old friend Gonzalo, the jester Trinculo (Charlie Retzlaff), the drunken steward Stephano (Kiernan McGowan) and the noblewoman Adrian (Amie Cazel).
    Prince Ferdinand, separated from his shipmates, is delivered to Prospero and Miranda by Ariel so the youngsters may fall in love and marry, as is Miranda’s birthright. What follows is a series of trials involving frustrated lovers, treasonous assassins who play upon Caliban’s resentment, comical inebriates and generally clueless witnesses to supernatural intervention in the natural order of things. Finally, Prospero is returned to power, Ariel is freed from his service and Caliban is presumably left in peace at his master’s imminent departure.
    As with many of Shakespeare’s works, the plot can be overwhelming, so don’t try to follow it too closely. Just bear in mind that this play is more about witchcraft than story, and enjoy the ride.
    This production is technically a more impressive show than Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s typical fare. The simple set features a sheer curtain of oceanic scrim enhanced by dramatic special effects such as strobes, thunder and wind that either comes from a machine or supreme acting. A disorienting sonic décor of shifting chordal suspensions composed for this show by Gregg Martin keeps the magic alive throughout. The sprites cavort in bodysuits of a rich aquatic palette, while the aristocrats glory in resplendent crimson and gold.
    Major performers behind the mystery are Bonniwell and her sprites, Samuelson and Mannix, who gambol and tease and seethe and flit around the auditorium in a dreamy suspension between sea and sky from the moment the doors open until closing curtain, their every move a nuanced ballet. Zavistovich’s man-monster, with his dreadlocks, crazed eyes and rabid smile, menaces and cowers in extremes of animalistic power and vanquished powerlessness. Yet he is an eloquent beast. MacDonald commands the stage as if it truly were his home, and Retzlaff’s physical comedy makes him the king of fools.
    This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss, but you can’t watch it from your porch. Get your tickets now, before they vanish.

Director: Jay D. Brock. Scenic designer: Andrew Cohen. Choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lighting designer: Catharine Girardi. Costume designer: Maggie Cason. Composer/sound designer: Gregg Martin.
Playing thru Aug 17, F at 8pm; Sa at 2pm & 8pm; Su at 3pm at Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $30 with discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

Plenty of solid hits light up nine innings

     Colonial Players’ One-Act Play Festival has been a biyearly summer event since 1999. This year’s installment, THIS AND THAT, presents nine plays across two slates, THIS and THAT, running on alternating dates. The Festival is an occasion for novice directors, production staff and actors to produce known and unknown works under the tutelage of seasoned mentors. Thus, such talents as Rick Wade, past Colonial  Players president and author of the company’s classic A Christmas Carol, appear alongside theater newbies or actors who are cutting their directorial teeth.
    This year’s directors, in the order their shows are listed, include Dave Carter, Timothy Sayles, Rebecca Feibel, Robin Schwartz, Cseni Szabo, Scott Nichols, Dave Walter, Mark T. Allen and Lelia TahaBurt. Their stories range from comedy to tragedy, yet a theme in all but one is that things are not as they seem.

THIS, playing July 25 and 27
     Jerry Casagrande’s Among Shrubs and Ivy, which debuted in 2011 at Silver Spring Stage, follows John (Robert Eversberg) through a decade of vacations at a seaside campground owned by crusty Korean War vet Frank (Martin Hayes). With few but powerful words, they bond over their shared love of the property, their families and the value of continuity in a changing world. With Laurel Kenney, Gregory Anderson and Chloe Kubit.
    Me and My Shadow is a riotous look at duplicity when two classmates reunite with inner voices in-tow, speaking unspeakable thoughts. Playwright Rich Orloff’s forthright comedy follows an insecure writer, Susanne (Bernadette Arvidson), and her Super Ego, Susie (Rosalie Daelemans), to a luncheon with Susanne’s successful publisher friend Jacqueline (Kathryn Huston), and her Id, Jacquie (Peggy Friedman). Even the waitress, Andrea (Laurel Kenney), is funny as Andi (Kubit) expresses her candid thoughts about her customers.
    Sure Thing by David Ives is a take on the dating game reminiscent of Groundhog Day. Bill (Brandon Bentley) and Betty (Sarah Smith) grapple with pick-up lines and small talk, rejecting each other’s overtures with a game show buzzer until they stumble on the right formula for starting a relationship.
    James H. Wise’s comedy Mugger in the Park, voted an Audience Favorite at last year’s Watermelon One-Act Festival in Leonardtown, continues to delight with Kathryn Huston’s portrayal of Selma, the stereotypical little old lady who is stuck up by a thug (Jason Vaughan). Selma prevails with her retinue of complaints, kvetching and clever one-upsmanship. Martin Hayes and Robert Eversberg play Selma’s husband and a second thug.
    In Tough Cookies, by Brett Hursey, a date fizzles when the waiter (Jason Vaughan) can’t supply an entitled jerk, Chaz (Brandon Bentley), with a fortune cookie worthy of its name, while his date, Roxanne (Kenney), racks up paper compliments and blessings.

THAT, playing July 24 and 26
     Queen of the Northern Monkeys, by Jason Vaughan, presents a snippet of life from the 1957 Roman holiday of Danish Baroness Karen Blixen (Carol Cohen), aka Isak Dineson, who wrote the memoir Out of Africa. This lovely episode of her life, exploring her friendship with American literary titan Eugene Walter (Kevin Wallace) and her secretary Clara (Erica Jureckson), feels more like an excerpt from a larger work than a complete work in itself.
    Jeff Stolzer’s award-winning satire Emergency Room pokes fun at the broken healthcare system, pitting a patient (Kim Ethridge) against a corrupt hospital where the doctor and billing clerk (both played by Erica Jureckson) and security guard (Richard Atha-Nicholls) conspire to keep her captive. The exaggerated premise would be funnier if not for the frustration and sick humor.
    Rick Wade’s Foxgloves is a smart intrigue that takes place at an airport bar where widower Dennis (Danny Brooks) and his traveling companion Jerry (Atha-Nicholls) discover how much they have in common. Bernadette Arvidson plays the sympathetic waitress.
    Alien Love Triangle, by Katherine Glover, is a hilarious sci-fi thriller starring Richard Atha-Nicholls and Erica Jureckson as two astronauts studying life and finding love with K’Sh, an amoeba-like creature with three heads (Kubit, Sam Morton and Brooke Penne). 
    Some productions are more polished than others, but each slate offers at least a couple solid wins. It’s summer fun for sultry nights with a seed of surprise.


This and That: One Act Play Festival. Stage Manager: Ernie Morton. Sound: Brittany Rankin and Richard Atha-Nicholls. Lights: Eric Gasior and Shirley Panek. Costumes: Hannah Sturm and Kaelynn Miller. Set: Lyana Morton and Edd Miller.

Playing thru July 27, Th thru Sa at 8pm and Su at 2 at Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis. $10 per slate or $15 for both; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.
 

The formula for the chemistry of commitment

     I Do! I Do! has been done over and over in community theaters, repertory theaters, dinner theaters and church basements since it closed on Broadway in 1968. One reason is that its two-person cast and simple single set of a four-poster bed make it far easier and less expensive to mount than the typical big-cast-and-chorus musical, thus very attractive to those looking to bring in an audience at relatively little cost.
    That’s not the only reason. The material was lightweight even for the 1960s, and the score produced only one recognizable hit. Yet both bring so much humor and empathy that anyone who is, has been or will be married can identify with Agnes and Michael Snow. It is their union the show follows for some 50 years from the honeymoon night all the way through to the sale of the house they lived in, loved in, argued in, raised kids in and sang to each other in for all those decades. It was written to begin in 1895 and end in 1945.
    Infinity’s production, tightly directed by Tina Marie Casamento and starring Daniella Dalli and Craig Laurie, takes a more modern setting, starting in the late 1950s and ending in the current day. The story is timeless enough that the change is barely noticeable.
    On Broadway, I Do! I Do! was a hit because the personalities and chemistry of stars Mary Martin and Robert Preston raised the level of the material. Infinity’s production is likely to be very popular for the same reason. Both Dalli and Laurie have personality plus, and their vocal chemistry elevates a score that was never one of Broadway’s more popular. Together, they turn the show’s hit, “My Cup Runneth Over,” a pop smash for big-baritone-voiced Ed Ames, into a more real-life paean to growing old together.
    The chemistry between Dalli and Laurie doesn’t stop with their vocals. As wide-eyed young love dims with the passing of the years — and the giggling embarrassment of the honeymoon night gives way to the inevitable vocal sparring of two people wondering years later whether they are where and with whom they want to be — both of these New York actors display an empathy for their characters and each other that remains strong throughout the rises and falls of a long marriage. That arc — from love to frustration to anger to cheating to loneliness and back — is one we’ve all seen on stage and film time and time again. Still, these actors know how to deliver a vocal quip and a physical take in ways that make it all seem fresh. Through it all, they never lose sight of the depth of feeling that must anchor each of these moments, just as it anchors the ups and downs of any long-term relationship.
    Dalli takes Agnes through the decades with a charming and knowing subtlety, gradually aging in body and blooming in attitude but never varying from the personality that makes her the anchor of this production. Her beautiful, rich soprano is the perfect vehicle to carry the emotional ups and downs of Agnes’ songs.
    Laurie is more of a character actor than a leading man à la Robert Preston, so we get a Michael who is a bit broader than one might expect. Laurie pulls it off because of that chemistry with Dalli, because he connects with the audience in a way many actors can’t and because, through it all, he never loses touch with that aforementioned depth.
    Music director David Libby keeps it simple, with pianist Paul Campbell playing a single keyboard in accompaniment because, frankly, that’s all two people singing a nice, relatively simple score really need. A single live keyboard played well is almost always more emotionally satisfying and effective than a recorded and digitized orchestra.
    That simple set with the four-poster bed? Turns out it’s not so simple. Being a professional theater company, Infinity knows how to get the most out of a set, and does so with this one. What appears to be just a big headboard, for example, turns into everything from the altar of a church to a quilt of lights mimicking Agnes’ and Michael’s raised voices in the same ritual married couples everywhere have engaged in since time began: talking past each other from opposite sides of the house.
    It is this, and so much more of ourselves, our parents and our married friends, that we recognize in I Do! I Do! The play is a salute to the institution of marriage, and Infinity carries on the tradition delightfully.


Scenic designer Paul Tate DePoo III; Sound designer Wes Shippee; Stage manager Geoffrey Weiss; Costume designer Tristan Raines; Lighting designer Jimmy Lawlor.

About 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission. Runs through August 3: Thursdays at 2pm and 7pm; Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm; added performances on Wednesday, July 23 at 7pm and Friday, August 1 at 8pm. Advance tickets $35, $40 at the door (seniors $34/$29): call 877-501-8499 or visit www.infinitytheatrecompany.com