view counter

Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

Catch the second weekend of fun and frivolity

Time-travel nearly 350 years from the court of King Louis XIV of France to Twin Beach Players’ version of Molière’s 1668 comedy of manners, L’Avare. The Miser, as English has it, completes performer/director Jeff Larson’s production of a Moliere trilogy, including Tartuffe and the Imaginary Invalid, spanning 14 years of theatrical performances by Twin Beach Players. Through all, he’s teamed with company president Sid Curl.
    Colorful and convincing characters embroiled in a twisting plot make up The Miser’s world. In two acts, we witness what happens when Harpagon, the miser, obsessed with adding to his sizeable fortune, secrets away his wealth. To add to these riches, he plans marriages for his two children. Those around him, however, are equally determined to carry out their own plans.
    These are familiar characters. Comedic archetypes we recognize had their roots in Moliere, including the bumbling Inspector Clouseau character of Pink Panther fame, first imagined as the Miser’s Inspector ­Sansclou. The characters use slapstick, physical humor and clever banter to keep us entertained.
    As in Moliere’s time, some characters break through the imaginary fourth wall that separates the audience from the performers onstage to engage with us directly. The technique is visually interesting and involving as well as revelatory of a character’s private thoughts.
    Larson’s blocking uses stage space wisely, helping to focus our attention toward or away from imposing character action or dialogue, especially when multiple characters share the stage simultaneously.
    Overall, acting is solid with some outstanding performances, including Luke Woods’ commendable physical and verbal character choices as Harpagon.
    Annie Gorenflo’s Elise balances youth and experience. Aidan Davis adds strength to Valere with a pleasing and resonant vocal tone. Tom Weaver’s Cleante is sincere and believably love-struck, while Jenny Liese’s Marianne is bright and affable. Jim Weeks shows commanding physical agility and range as La Fleche.
    Jeanne Louise as Mâitress Jacqueline Ze Chef is animated and excitable; her French accent is believable and her movements charmingly gazelle-like. Stage veteran Helenmary Ball is delightful as marriage broker Madame Frosine, offering impeccable comic timing, hilarious facial expressions and rich vocal variety. Kevin McAndrews masterfully performs his roles of Maitre Simon and Inspector Sansclou, shaping subtle nuances between them. Curl entertains in his cameo as Senor Anselme, drawing comparisons to the chameleon-like talent of actor Tim Conway in physical appearance, comic ability and vocal diversity.
    The production staff skillfully executes their technical responsibilities, giving legitimacy to time and place. Music designer Robert Snider’s selection of pre-show, intermission and post-show music is consistent with the Baroque era. An able stage crew professionally and discreetly transforms the sparse set in Act I to a more fully furnished set in Act II. Costume design and makeup include period wigs, curls and costumes accented with bolder hues to enhance characterizations.

Two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission; light refreshments available for purchase.

Th-Sa 8pm, Su 3pm thru April 17 at the North Beach Boys and Girls Club, 9021 Dayton Ave. $15 w/discounts: 410-286-1890;

Spread the word about this haunted place of miraculous possibilities where the crippled are made whole, body and soul

“I’m sure there is magic in everything,” says the invalid child Colin in The Secret Garden, “only we have not sense to get hold of it.”
    If you want to believe in magic again, see Colonial Players’ production of the children’s classic that has been delighting musical theater audiences for 25 years. With award-winning songs, clever staging and an animated cast, it delivers all the haunting magic of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Edwardian original and then some. Like a dream in black and white, this show blurs the line between this world and the next in spinning the tale of headstrong Mary Lennox (Madi Heinemann), orphaned in India and shipped home to her miserable Uncle Archibald’s (Justin T. Ritchie) English estate. It’s a haunted place of miraculous possibilities where the crippled are made whole, body and soul.
    Colonial’s tiny theater-in-the-round is perfect for the show’s musical narratives enhanced by sharp choreography and an imaginative set. Dance takes center stage as a plot device in the seamless prologue when a scarlet silk handkerchief passed among dancers illustrates the cholera epidemic that orphans Mary. One by one the victims fall, starting with her parents, Captain and Mrs. Lennox (Heather McMunigal and Kory Twit).
    Accompanying the dance is a sterling chorus of neighbors who provide back story and commentary on life at Misselthwaite Manor: Major Holmes (Cory Jones), Alice (Kaelynn Miller), Betsy/Mrs. Winthrop (Erin Branigan), Lt. Shaw (Kyle Gonzalez), Claire Holmes (Kaitlin Fish) and Lt. Wright (Greg Anderson).
    The manor is crawling with ghosts, primary among them Archibald’s wife, Lily (Lindsay Espinosa), who worries over him and their invalid son Colin (Reid Murphy), despite the ministrations of Archie’s jealous physician-brother Neville (Kevin Cleaver). But Mary has the company of a sympathetic maid, Martha (Ella Green), her young brother Dickon (Samuel Edward Ellis) and the gardener, Ben (Danny Brooks). With their help, she discovers Lily’s secret garden and brings its healing power to all the sick and restless.
    With just one piece of furniture, some tissue clouds and myriad special effects, this show conveys a better sense of time, place and action than more opulent productions I have seen. Innovative lighting evokes a full moon, thunderstorms, a skyline of minarets suggesting Mary’s homeland and a robin flitting overhead, symbolized by migrating red chaser lights. Three projectors broadcast films around the theater to simulate actions from the mundane act of opening the curtains to a bucolic train ride and the inner sanctum of the garden beyond its imposing walls.
    The costumes range from drab English earth tones to the tropical whites and lacy gowns of India’s ruling class, where only the turbaned Fakir (Aubrey Baden) and sari-clad Ayah (Fish) dazzle in color. Attention to detail is evident from the housekeeper’s (Cristina Shunk) magnificent key belt to the red trim incorporated into Mary’ dress as she warms to her surroundings.
    Among a cast of talented singers, Ritchie and Espinosa thrill in A Bit of Earth and How Could I Ever Know, and Green delights with her fine Yorkshire accent in A Fine White Horse. Cleaver’s duet with Ritchie (Lily’s Eyes) is unforgettable, and Ellis delights in Wick with a presence that feels metaphysical. Heinemann’s signature song, The Girl I Mean to Be, is charming but difficult to hear over the taped accompaniment — a dilemma common to the other children’s soli and the sole technical problem of this production.
    See this chestnut with someone you love, young or old, and bring a hanky.

By Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, based on the novel by Frances ­Hodgson Burnett. Director: Lois Evans. Musical Director: Wendy Baird. Choreographer: Carol Cohen. Stage Manager: Andy McLendon. Set: Laurie Nolan. Sound/Effects: Julien C. Jacques. Lights: Eric Lund. Costumes: Jean Carroll Christie. Dialect/Vocal Coach: Nancy Krebs. Musical Accompaniment by Right on Cue Services.

Runs two and a half hours: Thru May 8, Th-Sa at 8pm, Su at 2, Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis. $20 with discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373;

Life, love and inspiration from a humble hiding place

The miracle of Anne’s work is that no matter our background, it feels like she is talking directly to us. Indeed. Those are the words of Steve Tobin, the director of Compass Rose’s beautifully constructed production of The Diary of Anne Frank. In the playbill’s director’s note, he goes on to say, “The triumph of her story is that more than 70 years later we are still telling it, and still being inspired to be better members of the human race.” The wit and wisdom generated by a young teenager stuck for two years in the crowded upper rooms of her father’s workplace in Amsterdam as the Nazis surrounded city blocks to ferret out Jews still resonate today because Anne’s energy love for life and intelligence are timeless. But it was, of course, the extraordinary circumstances that make her diary, and its recovery, close to a miracle. At Compass Rose, Tobin and his cast and crew completely commit themselves to the universal truths of this story, and the result is an emotional, suspenseful and sometimes funny tale of life, love and inspiration. Mia Goodman is young, but her acting credentials are impressive even for an adult: Ford’s Theatre, Arena Stage and Signature Theater, to name a few. Goodman pours every ounce of that impressive pedigree into her portrayal of Anne. She’s a typical young teen, but with a depth of understanding of her situation that manifests itself not so much in fear as in optimism. When Hanukkah threatens to slip by uncelebrated but with a prayer, Anne comes to the rescue with a special homemade gift for each of her compatriots. In this scene and others, Goodman gives us an Anne whose buoyancy and love cannot be contained by her circumstances. When she writes in her diary she talks directly to the audience, and Goodman’s depth as an actress, combined with her youth, make us believe she is indeed talking directly to each of us. Goodman’s performance is, in a word, captivating. Her supporting cast achieves the same standard. As Mr. Frank, Steve Lebens is wise, understanding and brave in a very impressive performance. Alicia Sweeney gives us a Mrs. Frank who displays an inherent love and generosity that cracks when one of the other adults is caught stealing food. Jenny Donovan does a fine job as Anne’s sister Margot. As Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, the guests whom the Franks generously offered hiding, Bryant Centofanti and Jill Kyle-Keith are suitably contentious. Their son Peter is very nicely played by Eli Pendry, who subtly allows Peter’s teenaged nervousness and awkwardness to wane as his friendship with Anne grows. Edd Miller is impressive as Mr. Dussel, the latecomer whose demanding crankiness melts into an acceptance of his situation and a love for the family who have taken him in. And Rachael Murray is effective as Miep, everyone’s connection to the outside world. Helping transport us into a cramped 1940s hiding place are the multi-level set by Tobin, appropriate costumes by Beth Terranova, props by Joann and Mike Gidos and lighting by Alex Brady that is so emotionally effective it almost acts as another character. Anne Frank’s words on the page are inspiring. In the hands of these outstanding performers, they, and we, are transformed. We understand how, despite her circumstances, she could write: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

About two hours with one intermission.

Thru April 17. Th 7pm; F 8pm; Sa 8pm (and 2pm April 9 & 16); Su 2pm, Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis, $38 w/ discounts:; 410-980-6662.

Colonial Players presents a laugh-filled farce with Boeing, Boeing

French playwright Marc ­Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing made a successful takeoff overseas in 1962, playing for seven years in London. But on Broadway three years later, it stalled after 23 performances. A movie version with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis was widely ignored. But a 2008 Broadway revival was a hit, and that version has landed at Colonial Players in Annapolis.
    Bernard (Brandon Bentley), an American living near Orly Airport in Paris, is juggling three fiancées, each an air hostess: Gloria (Debra Kidwell), the American; Gabriella (Sarah Wade), the Italian; and Gretchen (Rebecca Gift) the German. Making meticulous use of airline timetables and the complicity of his French housekeeper Berthe (Cece Mcgee-Newbrough), Bernard has managed smooth flying for his ruse.
    Along for the bumpy ride comes Bernard’s old pal Robert (Colin Hood), a nervous naïf from Wisconsin who can’t believe his friend’s luck in keeping “one up, one down and one pending.” Robert finds himself more than a witness when the planes get faster and weather sets in. That’s when the wit hits the fanjet, and the laughs start to soar.
    As Bernard, Bentley knows how to deliver a punch line and lands several. But by overdoing his physicality, he seems to be trying too hard for a cool, calm lothario. His later breakdown as things … well, break down … is more believable, so perhaps he’ll get comfortable with his sexy baritone and good looks and settle into the role more comfortably as the run progresses.
    As Robert, Hood uses his comic chops to perfection, taking his jittery body and voice right to the edge of credulity and then stepping back just enough so that we not only believe him but also share a certain empathy. He lands a nice transition from nervous pal to would-be lothario.
    As Berthe the housekeeper, Mcgee-Newbrough walks a similar comedic tightrope, balancing physical comedy and character without falling into caricature. Her lines are funny. but what she does with those lines is even funnier. Her almost silent but quite physical reaction when she first discovers that two of the fiancées have somehow infiltrated the flat at the same time is 15 seconds of comic angst that alone are worth the price of admission.
    As the stewardesses, Kidwell, Gift and Wade shine. Wearing brilliantly colored stewardess costumes by designer Christina McAlpine, each maintains a credible accent and her own brand of clichéd character — but it’s in the clichés that the comedy works.
    Gretchen is the dominating German whose voice and body are whip smart and just as stinging. Gift maintains the dominatrix attitude with aplomb; a long early scene with Robert flies by as she and Hood circle and collide hilariously. Wade’s cooing Italian and Kidwell’s Betty Boop-like cosmo girl each commands her own entertaining niche, while still being brilliant at the ensemble work that the play demands.
    Director Scott Nichols, who also chose the fun 1960s soundtrack, keeps the timing tight. Even on opening night there was nary a blip.
    So fasten your seat belts, put your tray tables up and fly on over to Colonial for a laugh-filled flight to farce.

ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm & 7:30 thru March 12. 108 East St., Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; Two and a half hours with intermission.

Stage manager Dave Carter; Set designer Alan Zemla; Lighting designer Eric Lund.

Compass Rose shows why ­Tennessee Williams deserves his reputation

Reportedly Tennessee Williams’s favorite of his plays — which is saying something — and what many consider his best — which is also saying something when you consider his prolific output — Cat on a Hot Tin Roof premiered on Broadway in 1955 and won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for drama.
    Williams’s proclivity for tearing the facades off the American dream, particularly those of southern Americans whose culture used to seem so different from the rest of the country, still resonates today. At its core is the very use and meaning of the word mendacity: the inability of so many families to be honest with themselves and each other.
    The famous 1958 movie classic starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor is a diluted version of this powerful and at times jarring drama.
    At Compass Rose Theater, director Lucinda Merry-Browne has assembled the cast of strong actors the play demands. They immerse themselves in the mendacious undercurrents of Williams’s work while inviting the audience to understand the motivations that have led into each abyss of dishonesty. They do what is most critical in Williams’s familial works: relate to each other and keep the pace moving.
    These are icons of American drama. Big Daddy, the rich landowner, is protected by his family’s lies from the truth about his mortality. Brick, his youngest son, douses with alcohol the flames of a forbidden love. Maggie the Cat, Brick’s frustrated wife, escaped poverty to marry into a family rich only in material goods.
    Each is depicted here by solid actors who understand what their lines mean and how they relate to those of the other characters. It’s an accomplishment that can be subtle. Led by Browne and assistant director Steve Tobin, these talented actors bring to this well-known story realism that lends it freshness and an edge that cuts to the bone.
    As Brick and Maggie, Jacques Mitchell and Katrina Clark open with a long scene of exposition that reveals their depth of despair. Mitchell gives us a Brick who seems a touch laid back at first, as he figuratively shuts down in the face of Maggie’s pleading, cajoling and lecturing. But when he uncoils in anger or frustration or honesty, Mitchell’s Brick is bared, earning our sympathy and scaring us a little.
    Clark’s Maggie is in love with her husband yet can sink her claws into his psyche with the twist of a word or a memory. We are so sucked in that it’s a shock when they are suddenly interrupted by other characters.
    As Big Daddy, Gary Goodson’s physical command of the stage is matched by his vocal command, with modulations that can be funny or threatening. When Big Daddy and Brick have the protracted, emotional and probing conversation in which Brick, of all people, finally tells his father the truth, two fine actors allow themselves to be carried away by some of Williams’s finest writing.
    Hillary Mazer as Big Mama is as bombastic as the husband who loathes her. Chris Dwyer as Cooper, Brick’s older brother, and Samantha Merrick, his wife, do a fine job as a couple whose love is driven by mendacity.
    See it and be reminded of why Tennessee Williams is one of the best American playwrights ever to put to paper the pen of profundity.

Th 7pm, FSa 8pm, SaSu 2pm thru Feb 28. 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis, $38 w/discounts:

Stage manager, Michelle Wood; Lighting designer, Ethan Vail; ­Costume designer, Cameron Ashbaugh; Props, Mike & Joann Gidos.

2nd Star Productions updates this classic with color-blind casting

Legendary acting gave The Philadelphia Story its fame. Philip Barry’s so-so comedic drama about high society marriage and divorce in the 1930s is synonymous with Katherine Hepburn, who debuted the show on Broadway and starred on screen opposite Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. That’s a hard legacy to live up to.
     Renowned for outstanding musicals, 2nd Star Productions tries to update this classic with color-blind casting. But this time the troupe aims higher than it can reach.
    The action covers a pivotal 24 hours in the life of golden girl Tracy Lord (Erica Miller), a privileged ice princess who finds her heart as she searches her soul to choose between three dissimilar men. The occasion is her impending wedding to establishment tycoon George Kittredge (Akili Brown). The society event summons attention from poet-cum-reporter Mike Connor (Erik Hatcher) and impish ex-husband, Dexter Haven (Joshua Hampton). George adores her as a goddess, Mike appreciates her surprising innocence and Dexter acknowledges both qualities — plus his culpability in souring their love.
     Subplots center on Tracy’s family: literary brother Sandy (Alex Hyder), meddling little sister Dinah (Miranda Newheart), philandering father Seth (Brian Binney) and long-suffering mother Margaret (Rosalie Daelemans), for whose sake they welcome the press in hopes of averting a public scandal. Uncle Willie (Gene Valendo) lends comic relief as resident philosopher and lecherous geezer smitten as he is with press photographer Liz Imbrie (Nina Y. Marti), who is in love with Mike. There is also the requisite black butler (Wendell Holland) and two domestics, May (Mary Retort-George) and Elsie (Lily George).
     This production stumbles on relevance and credibility. As the central characters bumble through a haze of champagne and sexist humor toward an incendiary misunderstanding, a relevant question is posed.
    “What place does a woman like Tracy have in the world today?”
    In our era of Kardashian socialites, that 80-year-old line describes an anachronism.
    Confounding credibility is the directorial concept of Tracy’s interracial engagement to George. For these characters, such a union would have been unthinkable. That scenario was the impetus for a different Hepburn blockbuster — Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — 40 years later.
     Stepping in for another director, Christopher Overly, who starred as Father in 2nd Star’s musical Children of Eden, inherited a challenge. The principals deliver their own brand of Hepburn’s fiery ice, Grant’s suavity and Stewart’s guileless charm, but they cannot live up to the expectation set by that charmed trio. Despite yet another award-worthy set from company founder Jane B. Wingard, this show feels immature and, at two and a half hours with two intermissions, long.

FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, thru Feb. 20. Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts:

Stage manager, Joanne D. Wilson; Costumes, Linda Swann; Lights & sound, Garrett R. Hyde

Reconsider what you think you know about relationships, sex and power

“Colonial Players might just want to bring playwright David Ives on as a resident artist. Last year, Ives’ witty version of the 17th century French farce The Liar won the company the coveted Ruby Griffith Award from the British Embassy for best all-around production by a Washington-area community theater. Now, Venus in Fur — Ives’ take on a stage version of Venus in Furs, the 1870 novel by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch — is equally entertaining and a perfect fit for Colonial’s intimate theater-in-the-round.
    Yes, Sacher-Masoch is the man who, unwittingly, gave us the term masochism, and as this play within a play progresses, it’s not easy for us as an audience to discern the difference between masochism and sadism. And that’s the way Ives intends it.
    Venus in Fur starts with thunder and lightning that portends the battle of the sexes we’re about to see, as playwright/director Thomas Novacek, cranky and spent after a day auditioning actresses without any classical training or “a particle of brain in their skulls,” is lamenting his plight on the phone with his fiancée. In walks young Vanda Jordan, profane, brash, beautiful and all wrong for the part. But she convinces Thomas to read her for the role, acting the male part himself, and we are off on a trip that is sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, but always riveting.
    Is it a coincidence that her name, Vanda, is the same as the character’s (well, she admits, her name is Wanda but her parents always called her Vanda)? Is it just solid preparation that she comes with a big bag seemingly with a closetful of costumes, both his and hers, that are perfect for the roles? Is it coincidence that, after telling Thomas she quickly scanned the script’s pages on the train ride over, she actually has it memorized?
    As Thomas and Vanda, Jeff Mocho and Natalie Nankervis are a fine match. He is the slightly nerdy, khaki-clad writer trying to bring to life a book he finds as deep and full of meaning as the cultists who read it in 1879. She is the firestorm that rips through his smugness by calling the book soft-core porn.
    Both actors do a fine job moving quickly from their characters into the characters in Thomas’s play, with Nankervis especially effective switching off present-day Vanda’s excitable vocal staccato and sliding right into what can best be called a seducing dominatrix — with her subject more than willing to be the submissive. Both are able to give us a laugh-out-loud line (and there are plenty) one minute, while the next draw us into the emotions and motivations of the modern and 1870 characters they are portraying. It’s truly fine acting.  
    Set designer Ricardo Seijo has turned Colonial’s stage into a very realistic yet generic New York rehearsal hall, complete with fluorescent lights and fire sprinkler pipes along the ceiling and a brick wall along one side with realistic sealed windows that hint at the color outside while simultaneously reminding us that we are captives to … what? The theatrical process? The director-actor dynamic? The degradation bestowed by a dominatrix?
    Eric Lund’s stark at one moment and ethereal the next; lighting and Ben Cornwell’s sound add to the mystique that carries us from present day into 1870 and back. Kaelynn Miller’s costumes for Vanda, meanwhile, might make even the most jaded of theatergoers feel just a touch voyeuristic … which is exactly what Vanda would want, of course.
    If all this sounds like you’re in for an evening of whips and chains, fear not. This is a finely crafted script, nominated for a Tony Award in 2012, brilliantly brought to life on Colonial’s in-the-round stage by director Jim Gallagher and his stellar cast. Gallagher’s deft directorial hand and the complete believability of Mocho and Nankervis carry us on a visual and emotional journey that has us questioning what we think we know about relationships, sex and power.

About 90 minutes with no intermission. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm (and 7:30pm Jan. 17) thru Jan. 23. Colonial Players Theatre, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373.
Director: Jim Gallagher. Producer: Jason Vaughn. Stage manager: Shirley Panek; Set designer: Ricardo Seijo. Lighting designer: Eric Lund. Sound Designer: Ben Cornwell. Costume Designer: Kaelynn Miller.

The characters we know and love reimagined to renew your spirits

After penning A Christmas Carol in six weeks, Charles Dickens explained himself: “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”
    Over 172 years later, a mixed cast of children and adult actors from Twin Beach Players is keeping their spirits into his Ghost of an idea.
    Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future — these and all the characters we’ve come to know and love are reimagined at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maryland in North Beach.
    After startling, supernatural visits by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the collective spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Ebeneezer Scrooge transforms. The stingy curmudgeon choking joy out of life reawakens on Christmas Day to generous and compassionate sensibilities.
    Company president Sid Curl, directing, has united cast and crew in an admirable production. Impressive lighting and simple blocking allow actors to easily move about the two-level painted set. Youthful chorus members sing familiar holiday carols throughout the show, positioned onstage in front of stage techs that rotate set flats behind them. Character-appropriate period costumes and make-up help to instill a credible antiquated element to the performance.
    A. Gorenflo’s Scrooge is richly physical. Rick Thompson’s lamenting Jacob Marley is grim and imposing. The three Ghosts convey individuality: Eden Bradshaw’s portrayal of Christmas Past is fairy-like and newcomer Andrew Macyko’s Christmas Future is silent and unsettling. Katie Evans’ Christmas Present is especially strong and believable.
    Cameron Walker’s Bob Cratchit and his family convey a sweet innocence, while E.J. Roach’s Fred Holloway refuses to be tainted by his uncle Scrooge’s ill ­temperament.
    Other artistic and technical components, including a boldly choreographed dance sequence, combined to illustrate the timeless lessons of Dickens’ work.
    Step into this little theater at the beach to enjoy the charming experience of a Christmas classic in a 19th century English town. Step out with renewed spirits.

FSa 7pm, Su 3pm thru Dec. 13, Boys and Girls Club, 9021 Dayton Ave., North Beach, $15 w/discounts, rsvp:

A funny, heartwarming holiday present from a local theater company that has been making Annapolis grateful for 67 years

Morning’s at Seven could be dated or boring, this 1930s’ play written about a quartet of aging sisters in Middle America. Instead, Annapolis veteran Rick Wade’s deft direction combines with a timeless script by playwright Paul Osborn and some of this area’s most experienced actors to make us laugh while tugging at our heartstrings.
    The family is sure to remind you of your own, especially at this time of year. Cora and Thor (Lois Evans and Mike Dunlop) live next to her sister Ida (Carol Cohen) and Ida’s husband Carl (Duncan Hood). Aaronetta (Dianne Hood) the old maid, lives with Cora and Thor. Esther (Sharie Valerio) and her husband David (Greg Anderson) live nearby. Homer (Paul Valleau), Ida and Carl’s son, has been engaged to Myrtle (Sherri Millan) for seven years but hasn’t yet introduced her to the family.
    It’s a cast whose experience and commitment to their roles create interplay and chemistry that reminds us consistently of what it’s like to laugh with family members one minute and hate them the next. Love never fades, but it does go into hiding.
    The love among these sisters is palpable, and their frustrations are tangible. Evans’ Cora is the leader of the pack, her maturity and big sisterly attitude enduring even when her little sisters are in their late 60s and early 70s. Cohen’s Ida is a nerve-wracked wife trying to figure out why Carl keeps having “spells.” Duncan Hood gives us a Carl whose spells are manifested in his entire comedic body; yet his comedic mastery never gets in the way of the empathy we feel with a man of age who doubts where he’s been and where he ought to be going. Similarly, Dianne Hood gives us an Aaronetta who wonders what she’s missed by remaining single — while harboring a secret that might explain why she made the choice so many years ago.
    As the edgy 40-something who has been engaged for years but can’t seem to pull the trigger, Paul Valleau makes Homer a combination of Ida and Carl, physically funny without crossing into caricature. Valleau’s work here is splendid and matched by Millan’s nicely underplayed Myrtle.
    Anderson’s David, who hates it when his wife Esther visits her sisters, does a nice job as the rigid in-law who looks down on the rest of the family. We’ve all experienced those, right?
    The heart of this play is the four sisters; Valerio, Evans, Cohen and Hood work so well together that it’s easy to believe they’re related. These talented actresses convey the pathos and commitment needed to make us care as much as if we were sitting at Osborn’s premiere. I can’t get too much into the plot because it wraps up with a few nice surprises; suffice it to say that Morning’s at Seven is written and performed timelessly.
    One quibble: When a play set in 1930s middle America focuses on sisters in their late 60s and early to mid 70s, it’s a distraction to see three of the four with auburn-dyed hair. Fact is, in the 1930s getting one’s hair dyed was a long, painful and expensive process, typically undertaken by younger women who were often looked down upon for doing it … except for the platinum-haired movie stars who literally bleached their hair. At least a hint of gray would have been more real in a cast of older women playing older women.
    But as I say, that’s a quibble. It doesn’t take away from the acting, from the relationships we are privileged to witness and the overall feeling that Morning’s at Seven gives us, especially during this time of year when family is the focus.
    Top-notch acting and direction, a beautiful backyard set complete with tree limbs hanging from the ceiling, sharp lighting and a nice musical score all combine to make Morning’s at Seven a funny, heartwarming treat. It’s a nice holiday present from a local theater company that has been making Annapolis grateful for 67 years.

Two and a half hours with intermission. Thru Dec. 13. ThFSa 8pm, Su Nov. 29 2pm & 7:30pm, Su Dec. 13 2pm, Colonial Players Theater, Annapolis, $20 w/ discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373.
Producer:  Tom Stuckey. Stage manager: Andy McLendon. Set design: David Pindell. Floor design: Carol Youmans; Lighting design: Frank Florentine. Sound design: Theresa Riffle. Costume design: Dianne Smith.


Captivating, with fine singing, ­excellent choreography, ballet-­quality dancing and a pianist who never misses a beat

With Brigadoon, Compass Rose Theatre brings a fantastical Scottish paradise to life in the highlands of Annapolis. It’s right here amongst the braes. I don’t know what a brae is, but I can tell you this:
    Bagpipes set the mood, so we’re in Scotland. Two young Americans, Tommy (Mike McLean) and Jeff (Lansing O’Leary), appear on the minimalist set, looking down on what we take to be a valley. They’re lost in the highlands. They hear faint music, and through the mist they spot a village. They decide to pay a visit, hoping to get directions to their inn.
    Entering the village, the men find themselves in Brigadoon, a place with a lot of young, pretty women and a few Tartan-clad men of the McClaren clan. A festive atmosphere prevails as the village prepares for a wedding.
    The Yankee newcomers join in the village revelry, dancing and cavorting with the lasses in the freest of manner. Natural human chemistry comes into play, and (as often happens) our two worthies are caught up in what may become budding romances. Meg (Megan Tatum), a lissome maid, is attracted to Jeff and persuades him to come away with her for a wee chat. Tommy and Fiona (Katherine Riddle) stroll off for serious conversations. Their relationship deepens, though Tommy has a fiancée back in New York.
    With fine singing voices, excellent choreography and ballet-quality dancing, backed up by a pianist who never once misses a beat, this play is captivating. We soon lay aside the simple romantic storyline and are caught up in the spirit.
    In a wee discussion, town schoolmaster Mr. Lundie (Greg Jones Ellis) allows the visitors a peek at an old Bible in which certain entries have been inscribed. Coincidences come to light. We learn why the denizens are so worry-free. There are, however, complications. Tommy and Jeff learn that the village appears for only one day every hundred years. This circumstance is the result of an old spell. The downside is that if anyone leaves the village, the spell (the denizens call it The Miracle) will be broken.
    “Why do people have to lose things in order to find them?” Jeff and Tommy lament as they debate the merits of staying in Brigadoon and living happily ever after, versus returning to the real world and its tribulations. It comes down to a crunch: our two Yanks have to make major ­decisions.
    However, the play speaks to the power of pure love, making anything possible.
    They return to America.
    Tommy ends his relationship with his erstwhile NY fiancée and, pining for Fiona, returns to the place where Brigadoon used to be. As expected, there’s nothing there, but lo! … You’ll have to see the play.
    My nominations for standout performances, I lay at the feet (literally) of the lasses who do most of the dancing: Katherine Riddle, Megan Tatum, Megan Schwartz, Ryann Lillis and Elizabeth Spilsbury. The willowy Megan Tatum does an especially good turn on the dance floor. She also shines in her two acting roles.
    In the singing category, kudos go to all and especially the fine tenor Max McLean in the role of Tommy the bridegroom.
    All of the actors made their roles live, but occasionally the dialogue was overridden by the music. However, it’s a small stage, and the piano work was superb.
    This play is well acted, well sung and well danced. You can’t beat that combination.

Brigadoon: Book and lyrics by Alan J. Lerner; music by Frederick Loewe. Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Choreographer: Emily Frank. Stage manager: Mary Ruth Cowell. Pianist: Eric Clark. Costumes: Renee Vergauen. Thru Dec. 20. Th 7pm, F 8pm, Sa 2pm & 8pm, Su 2pm, Compass Rose Theater, 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis, $38 w/discounts, rsvp:; 410-980-5857.