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Bravo for Second Acts

Pros and community, our theater companies go on with the show

Second acts abound in theater. So it’s a good thing for Chesapeake theater lovers that Lucinda Merry-Browne practices that art and thus is immune to novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous flawed dictum that There are no second acts in American life.
    With Lost in Yonkers, the curtain rises on a second — or third or fourth — act for Merry-Browne (Merry is her birth name, not a lingering high school affectation, in case you worried). The first production of Compass Rose Studio Theater is Merry-Browne’s latest second act, since the dissolution of her partnership with Janet Luby in Bay Theatre Company, which continues to flourish in the home the two women made for it on inner West Street in downtown Annapolis.
    Like Bay Theatre Company, Compass Rose Studio Theater is a professional company, meaning it hires and pays Actors Equity professionals. Providing that alternative to the all-volunteer community theater that flourishes throughout Chesapeake Country was the interest Merry-Browne and Luby shared. Now theater lovers have two resident professional companies to cheer, in addition to our community theater.
    For Merry-Brown, Bay Theatre Company was also a second act. After professional training as an actor, she’d earned an English degree and turned to teaching. Moving from D.C., she was recaptured by Annapolis’s lively theater community, returning to acting with Colonial Players.
    Compass Rose unites her two paths, for it is also a teaching company, educating and grooming the next generation of theater artists. Compass Rose brings theater to both of the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet schools in Anne Arundel County, Bates Middle School and Brooklyn Park Middle School. In addition, the new company also runs the theater education classes at Chesapeake Arts Center.
    In Lost in Yonkers, the new company takes its first steps on the path of making plays for entertainment, Merry-Browne cast two student actors in the title roles of the young Kurnitz brothers, New Yorkers condemned to living with their grandmother. Pros play the adult roles: Merry-Browne is the stern grandmother, with actors from D.C. and Delaware taking on the boys’ aunts and uncle.
    Playing through Nov. 20 at the Compass Rose’s new 50-seat theater at 1011 Bay Ridge Road in Eastport, it’s a “winning strategy for success,” according to reviewer Jane Elkin, who evaluates the company’s play-for-pay performance in this week’s paper.

Praise and Pans
    A good review is a great thing, for it means not only that a company has hit the target but also that it’s getting public recognition for the vast amount of hard and mostly invisible work that goes into putting a play before you.
    “I had the kids rehearsing six nights a week, just like pros, because that’s what it takes,” Merry-Browne told me.
    No matter how hard they work, it’s a certain truth that pans will come their way. I know that after almost 20 years of running reviews of dozens of productions of every theater company in Chesapeake Country. Theater people absolutely know that going on stage makes them targets for pans as well as praise, rotten tomatoes as well as encomiums.
    We ran one of those pelting reviews last week. This time it was the story that riled reviewer Davina Grace Hill. Not long ago, reviewer Jane Elkin panned a popular Bay Theatre Company production because she couldn’t abide the story.
    Other times, it’s the acting or the director’s concept or a shrill voice or inaudibility or irritating lighting.
    I’ve seen each one of those faults cited by Hill and Elkin, both of whom bring theatrical education, experience and sympathy to their work as Bay Weekly reviewers. With my own eyes, I’ve also seen a company that could do no wrong in one production do all wrong in another.
    We review to tell the truth, and to guide you in spending your time and money, but we sure hate running bad reviews. So much that we hope you’ll see each play for yourself.
    We hate pans because we newspaper makers understand keenly the hope and energy and effort that go into making a production. Theater people have an even harder lot than we do because each play makes them start anew.
    Panned or praised, pro or community, they get back on stage the next night to take the same chances all over again. Before that show has closed, they’re preparing to do it all over again six weeks or so down the line with a new show.
    So there are always second acts in Chesapeake Country theater, and for those acts I rise in applause.