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

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

Great Gothic Romance • R • 119 mins.

Here’s the one way to kill kudzu and bamboo

These very invasive species cannot be killed by spray during the summer months. They grow so rapidly that the week killers knock back only the top of the plants and not the roots.
    To kill the roots of perennial plants, the weed killer must translocate downward into the roots and rhizomes. For kudzu, you need only to kill the roots. For bamboo, you must kill both the roots and the rhizomes, the underground stems from which new bamboo canes appear.
    Only during the later part of October and early November does the food produced by the foliage of both these invasives translocate down into the roots and rhizomes. The combination of shortened daylight hours, warm days and cool nights sets the stage. In early fall, these plants build up a food supply in their roots so that they can generate strong growth the following spring when soils warm and daylight grows longer.
    Spray when foliage on the plants is abundant. Choose a bright sunny day when the soil is moist so that the foliage to be sprayed can absorb the weed killer.
    Follow the recommendations provided by the manufacturer for mixing glyphosate (Roundup) with water. To assure greater penetration, add one teaspoon of ammonium sulfate to each gallon of spray to be applied. Wear protective clothing and rubber boots to thoroughly wet the foliage. Use low pressure and a coarse spray to avoid drift. Cover nearby desirable plants with plastic sheeting. Repeat the spray treatment in seven to 10 days. 
    The kudzu vines will die back to the ground as usual, and if you do a thorough job of spraying, they will not be resuming growth next spring. The bamboo will show signs of dying in about one month following the second application. If you followed the directions, you should not observe any new growth of bamboo next spring, except perhaps at the outer edge of the planting. This can be a problem when there is not adequate bamboo foliage that can be sprayed. If this occurs, allow that bamboo to grow uninterrupted next summer and repeat the treatment that fall.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Twin Beach Players stages to scare

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

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

Moving rifts on the decline of jazz and a family

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

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

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

Prepare to be scared

What’s the scardest you’ve ever been?    
    Our bio-clocks tick in bodies built of ancient stuff, with primal alarms still set. Autumn’s fading light sets off those alarms big time. Three hours had drained from our days between the 15 hours of the Summer Solstice, June 21, and the 12 hours of the Autumnal Equinox on September 23. Soon after Halloween, the night of the spirits, our daylight hours have shrunk to 10, with worse to come. By the Winter Solstice, December 21, we have light for a mere nine hours.
    In so much darkness, the underworld rises into touching distance. Who knows what might rise out of all that darkness? We know in our dreams — and in our archetypes — and we fear.
    The living dead used to be the worst we could imagine — before B-movies brought them into the mainstream. Are zombies, vampires, ghouls and ghosts scarier than real life? That’s the question I posed to Bay Weekly writers this Halloween season.
    To chill and thrill our readers, I challenged, tell us your stories of sheer terror rising from real life. I bet you’ve hidden just such a story deep in the vaults of your chamber of repressed fright. Now’s the time to bring the reclusive little monster up into the light.
    Read on and prepare to be scared …
    For most of us love to be scared, at least a little, especially if we’re watching from at a safe distance as the sticky hands of dread take hold of somebody else’s neck.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

Dress warmly if you want to get in on the nighttime bite

Darkness had fallen. The scattered fishing boats had headed home with little success. I was alone on the water, and it was a good deal colder than a few minutes earlier, when the sun was shining its last.
    But I had dressed well. Zipping up the neck of my fleece turtleneck under a flannel-lined shirt and closing my foul weather coat around me, I settled down to wait.
    Arriving just as everyone else was leaving was a little chancy. If the fish had shown up earlier, the commotion of anglers hooking, battling and landing them would have driven them off. But I was counting on the school of rock’s delayed arrival. This area had been fished hard the last few days, and I was guessing the bass were finally getting a little weary of all the attention.
    About a half-hour after full dark, I began to cast. Working a half-ounce Rat-L-Trap-type bait over submerged structure, I started to search. Feeling the plug occasionally banging off of sunken rocks below gave me focus. I couldn’t allow the bait to get so deep that it would hang up, but caroming it off the scattered remains of old riprap was a strike trigger.
    Pausing the retrieve for just a second after the initial contact just might emulate a fleeing baitfish that had stunned itself in its panic to escape. Could any nearby striper resist such an easy meal?
    A quarter of an hour passed as I concentrated on casting and retrieving. Then at the pause, my lure hung up. Reflexively I set the hook but felt only the solid resistance of failure. Then came a healthy headshake, and my rod bent down as an unseen torpedo headed away and out toward the channel. The drag sang, and I relaxed.
    Patiently waiting out the fish’s powerful didoes for escape and holding the rod tip high to minimize line contact with the rocks below, I let the fish exhaust itself. Slipping my net into the water, I eventually guided the striper into its folds and lifted it on board. My first night fight of the season had been a success.

Nighttime Primer
    One of the difficulties in fall fishing, especially in shallow water, is that the sweet spots become well known almost at once. It is first-light and last-light action, so the window for success is usually little more than an hour or so on either end. If a few boats gather, it can be even shorter.
    The evening bite usually dies as darkness falls. Wait about a half-hour longer, and the feed often starts again. Fishing after dark is usually not as frenetic as at sunset, but it can be very productive and the fish can get substantially larger.
    I use a Rat-L-Trap-type bait as a searching tool because I can cast it farther and cover more water. As it’s a noisemaker, it tends to draw the fish from farther away.
    If the bite slows after the first few fish on the Trap, I’ll then go to a swimming crank bait such as a Yozuri Crystal Minnow, a Bomber Long A or a jointed Rebel. If that’s not successful, I will change again to a BKD or a Bass Assassin and work it deep and slow. One of them usually does the trick.
    The only cautions about this type of angling are that you should never fish an area or run a water route you haven’t gotten to know in daylight. Always wear some kind of life jacket, have a good waterproof radio or phone and let someone know where you are fishing and what time you‘ll be back. Dress warmly and bring a lot of lures. The rocks below, as well as the stripers, are famous for eating them up in the dark.

Young-of-the year index way up

Fish are jumping on Chesapeake Bay. The thousands too small to take home are good news for the future of rockfishing. In this year’s survey, juvenile striped bass approximately doubled the long-term average, 11.9. This year’s index found an average of 24.2 juvenile fish per sample. That’s the eighth highest on record, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which has conducted and analyzed samples since 1954.
    From that good news, you can extrapolate a couple of cheering messages. First, the big rockfish that returned from the ocean to the Bay this spring spawned successfully. Second, according to DNR Secretary Mark Belton, “striped bass are a very resilient species when given favorable environmental conditions for reproduction and survival.”
    Third, rockfishing should be good a few years hence.
    This year’s sampling collected more than 70,000 fish of 50 different species, including 3,194 young-of-year striped bass in 132 sweeps of a 100-foot beach seine at 22 sites along the Choptank, Potomac and Nanticoke rivers and the Upper Bay. Biologists visit each site monthly from July through September to collect samples.
    American shad, white perch and herring reproduction was also strong.

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

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

Good Drama • R • 122 mins.

The bulbs grow fat when the days grow short

I have a favorite treat in June: going into the garden and lifting out a big bulb of elephant garlic for roasting. Eat a few crackers smeared with fresh roasted elephant garlic and you will think you’ve died and gone to heaven. If you wish to enjoy that heavenly food, now is the time for planting.  
    Garlic thrives in full sun in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. To prepare for planting, spread a layer of compost about an inch thick over the garden soil, add a dusting of agricultural limestone over the compost and spade or rototil to a depth of at least six inches.
    To grow large bulbs of elephant garlic, space the cloves at six-inch intervals in rows six inches apart. Using a dibble or a narrow trowel, dig holes three to four inches deep with at least one inch of soil over the top of each clove. Plant the cloves with the blunt side down and the pointed side up.
    In about three to four weeks, young, yellow-green leaves will emerge from the soil. Keep the garlic plot free of weeds. Do not apply any herbicides.  
    If your interest is in growing standard-sized garlic — Italian, German red or greater white, for example — prepare the soil as described above but space the cloves four inches apart in the row with rows six inches apart.
    Garlic is a short-day plant, forming its bulb during less than 12 hours of daylight. If you were to plant garlic cloves in the spring, the plants would only produce leaves and no bulbs.
    With mid-October planting, leaves should be four to six inches tall by mid to late November.
    Just before the ground freezes, spread a two-inch thick layer of compost over the soil and water into place. The compost will serve as a mulch, and next spring it will supply the nutrients the garlic plants will need to grow large bulbs. The nutrients contained in the compost will leach out of the compost with each watering.
    Garlic is a rather coarse feeder, meaning that its limited root system depends on a readily available supply of nutrients.  
    If the foliage develops a yellow-green color in mid May, this is an indication that the plants lack nitrogen. Apply one-fourth to one-half teaspoon of calcium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, urea or bloodmeal per plant over the mulch and water it in. A healthy green color should return in a week or two.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

As You Like It plays simultaneously

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

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

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