A Few Good Men (And a Woman) Are Abound at Tidewater Players

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

A Few Good Men is definitely an understatement. The current Tidewater Players’ production, written by Aaron Sorkin and running at the Havre de Grace Opera House has many exceptionally good men and one exceptionally good woman. Under the masterful direction of Todd Starkey, this is a brilliant and compelling production that is not to be missed. Gorgeous staging and lighting combined with powerhouse performance after powerhouse performance, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Starkey makes the first of many excellent decisions with his set design and the corresponding staging. By creating different scenes in different portions of the stage, he is able to avoid complex set changes and create minimal time spent in blackout. This allows the action to flow and segue quickly. Starkey also intentionally blocks scene within in those sections to allow for varied and interested movement, even in smaller staging areas. The set and staging are enhanced beautifully by the gorgeous and artistic lighting design of Moises Estrada. Powerful use of red, white, and blue, a subtle flag background, and the shadows of prison bars are just a few of the transcendent ways in which the lights become an intricate part of the production. The perfectly designed look of the show is furthered by the precise costuming of Eva Grove.

Within those uniforms, there is a host of characters that are brought to life by a group of talented performers. The audience is first introduced to Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Lamar Leonard) and Pfc. Louden Downey (Jordan Baumiller). Leonard and Baumiller use their body language and posture to show the dedication of their characters to the Marine Corp from moment one. As the audience gets to know the two characters better, the two actors create characters that feel real. Leonard manages to let us see the heart of his character without ever losing the precision to duty that is so essential to Dawson. Downey plays a character that is incredibly naïve and is able to do this so realistically that performance doesn’t look forced or over-the-top.

The rest of the cast follows in their footsteps. Shining appearances are made by Tim Hartley (Capt. Isaac Whitaker) and Phil Hansel (Col. Julius Alexander Randolph). As Lt. Jack Ross, Aaron Dalton makes the opposing counsel warm and respectable. In a truly top-notch portrayal of duty turned sadistic, Leif McCurry stands out as Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick.

Of course, it is the defense team that compromises the protagonists of the piece, and all three create distinct, nuanced, and lovable characters. As Lt. j.g. Sam Weinberg, Jake Stuart masters deadpan comedy and projecting complex emotions with appropriate restraint. As Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway, Samantha Murray absolutely dazzles. She is so feisty and passionate and raw. She makes you want to stand up and cheer with her victories. At the center of it all, Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee is truly the heart of the piece. In the hands of charismatic Joe Weinhoffer, it is truly enjoyable to watch the character mature and acquire depth as he becomes a lawyer.

Good guys aside, though, it is Brian Ruff’s performance as Col. Nathan Jessep that has chins falling to the floor. With flawless rage and believable conviction, he brings a true egomaniacal monster to life. His performance alone would make the production worth seeing. However, in this particularly well-crafted production, Ruff’s performance is just the icing on the already masterful cake.

Everyone should find a way to see Tidewater Players’ A Few Good Men before it closes on Sunday.

This is what I thought of Tidewater Players’ production of A Few Good Men… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Few Good Men will play through September 29 at Tidewater Players at The Cultural Center at the Opera House121 N. Union Street, Havre de Grace, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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If You Miss Miss You Like Hell, You’re Missing Out

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission

In today’s political climate, immigration is a hot topic and there are two sides to the story whether we like one side or the other, they’re there. We get a look at one side of immigration and family in Baltimore Center Stage‘s latest offering, Miss You Like Hell with Book and Lyrics by Quiara Alegria Hudes & Music and Lyrics by Erin McKeown, with Direction by Rebecca Martinez, Music Direction by Tiffany Underwood-Holmes, and Choreography by Alex Perez. Sometimes we must be open minded and ask questions rather than make knee jerk reactions and assumptions.

Briefly, Miss You Like Hell concerns itself with Olivia, a smart, acidic teenager who agrees to drive across the country with her Latina mother, Beatriz. The two have been separated for several years and neither are sure where this trip will take them. They meet all sorts of characters along the way and seem to be slipping further away from each other, or closer together. It’s main story is about a complex mother-daughter relationship that is challenged by current immigration policy – one that may or may not send Beatriz back to her home country.

The Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes flows nicely and keeps the chronology of a few days with natural, unforced dialogue. The smooth timeline makes it easy to follow and the dialogue keeps the action engaging. Music by Erin McKeown is appealing and contemporary with good hooks that will have you humming as you leave the theater. Great arrangements and an apt ensemble enhances an already great score.  Lyrics by both Hudes and McKeown are good, in general, but are a bit too on the nose for my liking at times. Some of the lyrics could have been regular dialogue, but we would have missed out on the beautiful music McKeown has created, so, it’s a compromise, in a way. Overall, the entire piece, Book, Music, and Lyrics is constructed splendidly and is an important, polished, work that makes the audience think, and that can never be a bad thing in theatre.

Reid Thompson’s Set Design fits perfectly with this material. Simple and minimal, but effective use of space and ease of transition make this design successful and adds great value to the production, as a whole. Scaffolding and movable set pieces make up this set but still transport the audience to each location easily and seamlessly, not hindering any of the action, but working in tandem with it. Kudos to Thompson for a well-designed, modern set.

Choreography by Alex Perez is frenetic, but once you get used to the style, it begins to make more sense. This piece doesn’t strike me as a piece that needs heavy choreography, but Perez seems to be trying to make the best of it, to a fault. Simply put, there’s just too much going on at one time in certain parts of this production and the ensemble, doesn’t seem 100% comfortable with the choreography choices, but… as it goes in theatre, not everyone is a dancer. However, this isn’t to say Perez’s work was bad, because it wasn’t, maybe just misplaced. I’m wondering what a less choreographed production would look like – not void of choreography (it’s a musical for God’s sake), but maybe minimal choreography might be more beneficial.

Music Direction by Tiffany Underwood-Holmes is impeccable. Working with an already wonderful score, Underwood-Holmes has presented this material beautifully. She has a tight grasp on the modern style of this piece and has guided her musicians and ensemble confidently into superb performances and presentations of this score. The orchestra should be applauded as well, for their efforts in bringing this story to life through the music. The orchestra is consisted of: Daphne Benichou (Viola); Zack Branch (Basses); Frank Carrol (Drums/Percussion); Soojin Chang (Violin); Mary Ann Perkel (Cello); Diego Retana (Guitars); and Tiffany Underwood-Holmes (Conductor/Keyboards). Hats off to Underwood-Holmes for a job quite well done.

Taking the reins of this production is Rebecca Martinez and her Direction of this piece is outstanding. The staging is well-thought out and polished, making for a solid presentation. She has a deep comprehension of the material and understands its importance in current thought and actions, and each scene is handled exquisitely. The character work is just as splendid and Martinez’s presentation is easy to follow, thought-provoking, and refined.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth noting that the entire ensemble working together makes this and magnificent production. Each, in his or her own way, help tell this story and each are needed. This is truly an ensemble piece and in the end, all have given 100% effort and taken their part in making this a superb production.

To name a few, Michael Mediros as Mo, a gay veteran, and Raphael Nash Thompson as Higgins, his long-time lover and companion are a sort of comedic relief, and boy, do they know their roles. Both actors have a tight grasp on their characters and the humor that is required of them. Mediros’ portrayal of Mo, a gruff Vietnam veteran with a heart of gold, is authentic and charming making him likable from the start. In the same vein, Thompson’s portrayal of Higgins, an equally gruff, old-timer with a big heart, is also believable and his stage presence is strong. Both are confident in their roles and their chemistry makes the experience all the more authentic and both Mediros and Thompson are to be applauded for their work.

Taking on the supporting, but important role of Pearl is Jaela Cheeks-Lomax and she is certainly a highlight of this production. Portraying an awkward, but confident and true-to-herself teen, Cheeks-Lomax embodies this character and makes it her own. Vocally, she’s a powerhouse and her rendition of her featured number, “Yellowstone,” a soulful, slow-jam style song is phenomenal. She’s got a strong voice that resonates throughout the theater and makes one stand up and take notice.

Ceasar F. Barajas takes on the charming role of Manuel, a gentlemen that Olivia and Beatriz happen to encounter on their journey who happens to sell tamales out of a cooler. Barajas makes this character absolutely likable and you feel for him instantly. He portrays the role with a delicacy and gentleness that pulls the audience in. He knows his character and the things he’s gone through and emotes that with every gesture and word. His vocal stylings are impressive, as well, especially his stylings of featured numbers, the reminiscing “Tamales” and the New Orlean’s inspired “The Dirtiest Dead.”

Stephanie Gomerez takes on the complex role of Olivia, the angsty teenager who hasn’t seen her mother in years but is thrown into cross-country road trip with her. Gomerez, too, is a highlight in this role. She seems to have a great understanding of this role and of an angsty teen. Her portrayal of this character is extraordinary and she becomes this character. Her mannerisms, gestures, and overall take on Olivia is thought out and polished and she is a joy to watch. Her vocal performance is stellar in this production with a beautiful, strong range, and her performances of her featured numbers like, “Sundays” and the titular and poignant “Miss You Like Hell” will give you all the feels.

Lastly (but not least), Lorraine Velez takes on the role of Beatriz, the loving, if not flawed mother of Olivia, who is trying to do the best she can with her circumstances and she is the standout in this production.. At first glance, you might think you recognize Lorraine Velez… I most certainly did. Being a huge fan of the television show Dexter, my eyebrow definitely raised my eyebrow, but… after a closer look at the program, I realized I wasn’t looking at the actress who played one of my favorite characters on one of my favorite television shows, but… I was looking at her twin sister and, I’ve got to say, I’m just as enthralled with Lorainne Velez as I was with her sister a few years back. Velez can certainly carry her own and she plays this role divinely and skillfully. From the moment she walks onto the stage, she becomes this woman and doesn’t falter once. She’s confident and comfortable in this role and has no hesitation in any part of her performance. Her delivery of the dialogue is natural and authentic and every move she makes just makes this character more believable. When it comes to vocals, Velez does not disappoint. Her performances of her featured numbers such as the opening “(Prayer) Lioness” is inspiring, “Over My Shoulder,” is thoughtful, and the fun, energetic “Dance With Me” will have you toe tapping at your seat. Beatriz is a tough character in the way that you don’t know if you like her or dislike her, but you seem to be rooting for her and Velez has this understanding and portrays her near perfectly.

Final thought…  Miss You Like Hell is a relevant, poignant, thoughtful story that fits right into current events of the country and it really gets you thinking. It doesn’t throw politics in your face, which I really liked, but it opens your mind to the human aspect of deportation and family dynamics. The script is well written and thought out with natural dialogue and the music is contemporary with tunes that have good hooks, even when the lyrics are a bit too on the nose. The production value is top notch and the performances are on point so, if you are still deciding on whether or not to see this production. Do it. Get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s Miss You Like Hell… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Miss You Like Hell will play through October 13 at Baltimore Center Stage700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or you can purchase them online.

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Magic is in Abundance at Matilda at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

Children’s Playhouse of Maryland always seems to be increasing the challenge of the pieces that they select for their young performers, and they always seem to be providing those performers with the exactly the right skills to meet the challenge. Once again, with Matilda, they have selected a difficult score with complicated characters. Presenting the full version, rather than a truncated Junior version, these young people mastered complex songs, scenes, harmonies, and even monologues. They truly show that “even though you’re little, you can do a lot,” and are blessed to work with an adult team of directors that believe just that. Director Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, Music Director Charlotte Evans, and Choreographer James Hunnicutt never shy away from giving the young performers intricate skills to learn and opportunities to shine.

Boyer Hunnicutt’s staging is incredibly strong. Even with a lot of moving pieces and people, she keeps scenes and transitions seamless. The pace is excellent, which is key for a long show. The lighting design of Ed Lake is also a real star of the show. He really uses color in intentional ways to reflect the mood and dynamics of the scene. The lighting is the perfect complement to the beautiful set design of Diane M. Smith. A representational background with set pieces to create changing locations brings the world to life without slowing down the flow. Simple set pieces also move easily in and out to aid in the swirling, magical feel of the movement.

Matilda’s magic is furthered by number after number of complex rhythms and harmonies, mastered by the cast under Evans’ direction. Each of those numbers is brought to life with interesting and varied choreography by Hunnicutt. He brings out precision and energy in each performer, and each song has unique qualities to make it more fun and exciting than the last number.

Of course, none of this would be anything without the amazing children performers, and they are quite amazing. The entire group works as a cohesive unit, and there is not one member of the ensemble that lacks excitement. Even in some the smaller, featured roles, children take their moment and shine. Sam Izzo as the Doctor has a beautiful voice that soars over the opening number. Pierce Elliott is funny and flashy as Rudolpho. Soren Lange’s Nigel is as cute as can be as he hides from certain punishment in Chokey. Bella Pollara (Amanda) and Evelyn Acerno (Alice) are alight with energy in the children’s scenes and dance numbers. Even in a talented group, they both stand out with that extra star quality.

Perfect examples of taking featured roles and making them memorable by milking the comedic material for every ounce are Myles Taylor (Michael) and Bella Comotto (Lavender). Michael is not a man of many words, but Taylor’s facial expressions are the constant reminder that a picture is worth a million words. He creates a believable and loveable character while barely opening his mouth. It is a very impressive and nuanced performance from such a young performer. Comotto, on the other hand, shows the beauty of over-the-top and comedic delivery as the larger-than-life Lavender. Her exaggerated energy is just perfect in this role.

Speaking of exaggerated, two brilliant performances come at the hands of Dylan Morrison (Mr. Harry Wormwood) and Kathyrn Schudel (Mrs. Zinnia Wormwood). The Wormwoods are just about the worst people that you could ever meet, but it’s hard not to like them with these two in the roles. They both possess strong instincts about how to be funny without going too far over the top. In contrast to the Wormwoods, Miss Honey (Emily Signor) is kind and sweet and good. Signor has a beautiful soprano voice and a natural sweetness that really does justice to the role.

At the center of all of these crazy characters is Matilda (Maeve Acerno). In many respects, Matilda is the “straight man” of the piece which can make it difficult to play. She has to retain a calm, strength in the storms of exaggeration all around her. Acerno does just that. Her performance is grounded, and it brings real heart to the crazy tale. She radiates maturity and strength and is the perfect glue to hold it all together.

Despite not being the title character, it seems that the best material is reserved for Miss Agatha Trunchbull, and Ethan Holler’s performance never lets the audience forget that. Holler takes each and every word and squeezes every ounce of comedic evil out. His Trunchbull is deliberate and horrifying, just as she should be.

Matilda is a delightful story with nonstop laughter and fun. Everyone should get a chance to check out these young performers while they have the chance.

This is what I thought of Children’s Playhouse of Maryland’s production of Matilda.… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Matilda will play through September 29 at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland at CCBCEssex Campus, Administration Building. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Bright Half Life is Living Well at The Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Love is love. No matter who it happens to or how it happens, love is love, plain and simple. I’ve heard it said that there’s someone for everyone in this crazy world and you never know when and where you’ll find them. Sometimes it comes as quite a shock to those who do. Regardless, when that “one” is found, what does that do to us as individuals? The Strand Theatre’s latest offering, Bright Half Life by Tanya Barfield and Directed by K. Tony Korol-Evans gives us a glimpse into one love story that spans the years and asks us to think about our own relationships and what we’re willing to sacrifice and compromise for someone else.

In a nutshell, Bright Half Life concerns itself with Vicky and Erica, a couple who meet when they’re young, working for some corporation, Vicky a supervisor and Erica a temp. They move on from a professional relationship to a personal one and begin a forming a life together. Both seem to have different views of the world and of themselves. Vicky is stable, but her idea of a good time is spinning around a Ferris wheel and jumping out of planes while Erica is afraid of heights. When marriage, kids, and half a life together are thrown into the mix, where does that leave them?

Katherine Vary and Ayesis Clay. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Director K. Tony Korol-Evans took on double duty of Set Designer and this design fits the bill perfectly. Since the story is told in chunks that ping-pong through time, it needed to be simple and simple it was, not dull, but minimal and it worked nicely for this production. Locations and props were more insinuated rather than physical and it’s a wise choice considering how quickly the scenes change in time and space. A kitchen table and chairs, a few bar stools, a futon in the corner and a couple of wooden boxes is all that is needed to simply allude to where and when these characters are and it all flows together nicely.

Lighting Design by Robert Brooks and Sound Design by Brad J. Ranno work beautifully, in tandem, to set the mood for each scene for audience and we are transported transported to each location and time seamlessly. Neither design hinders the action going on onstage but enhances it sometimes subtly and sometimes in a flash making for a well put-together design from both. Kudos to Brooks and Ranno for their efforts.

Direction by K. Tony Korol-Evans is on point, especially with this type of text that bounces back and forth throughout the piece. She has a tight grasp on this material and the story that is being told. Her vision is clear and her staging is precise making for great pacing and audience engagement. It’s an intimate space, but she’s managed to use this intimacy in her staging. The character work is impeccable, as well, and her presentation of this material is entertaining and thoughtful.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, the two actors chosen to portray these characters, Katharine Vary as Erica and Ayesis Clay as Vicky, give polished, dedicated performances and each have their individual character and both play their parts splendidly. Unfortunately, the intimacy and connection between the two characters doesn’t seem to be 100% believable. Both work well together, but the chemistry is more friendly than romantic, which is tough on an actor, and I just wish it had been a bit more authentic. However, I reiterate… both actors play their parts quite well.

Vary is comfortable in her role as Erica and she plays her confidently and energetically. She understands the turmoil and conflict of her character and her portrayal is heart wrenching and delightful at the same time. Within the drama, her comedic timing is spot on as she knows the line of playing it straight enough to be funny. Kudos to Vary on a wonderful portrayal.

Likewise, Clay is phenomenal as Vicky and gives a standout performance. Her natural delivery and confident stage presence makes this character believable and likable. Clay understands her character and the compromises Vicky makes as she navigates through a tough relationship not only with her partner but with her family and Clay doesn’t miss a beat. Overall, her performance is strong, confident and she should be commended for her outstanding efforts.

Final thought… Bright Half Life is a quirky but poignant love story. It jumps around, but after a few minutes, you get the rhythm of the piece and it’s not so jarring. The story is well told and the ability of the writer to fit practically a lifetime (or half a lifetime) into 90 minutes is no small feat and quite impressive. The performances are top notch and the staging is spot on. The two actors have a tight grasp on the material and the Director seems to have a deep understanding of the material making for an entertaining, thoughtful evening of theatre that is not to be missed.

This is what I thought of The Strand Theatre’s production of Bright Half Life… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Bright Half Life will play through September 29 at The Strand Theatre, 5426 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-874-4917 or you can purchase them online.

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Things Are Getting Wild at Greenbelt Arts Center with The Wild Party

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

It certainly was a different time, the 1920s. Before social media, before computers, before logging on, people had to find other ways of connecting and connect they did. People had planned parties and sometimes the connection was good, sometimes it was bad, but it was a personal connection. People talked face to face and sometimes even danced in a living room of a small one bedroom apartment. We get a little glimpse of this bygone era in Greenbelt Arts Center’s latest offering, The Wild Party (Book, Music, & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa) with Direction by Jeffery Lesniak, Music Direction by Elizabeth Alfort, and Choreography by Rikki Howie Lacewell.

The Ensemble of The Wild Party. Credit: Kris Northrup

In a nutshell, The Wild Party concerns itself with Queenie and Burrs, two volatile lovers who throw the party of parties in their Manhattan apartment. The guest list is diverse with many living on the fringes of society and Queenie takes a fancy to a newcomer, Mr. Black. Burrs’ jealousy is tested and his rage overcomes him and those around him. The booze is flowing, the music is hot, steamrolling us towards an intense conflict where guns are a-blazing, but… who’s been shot?

I must say, The Wild Party, though revered and loved by many, is really not my cup of tea. I don’t hate it per say, or even dislike it, but I certainly have to be in the mood for it. However, this particular production kept me engaged and entertained the entire time. It’s a heavy piece of theatre, raw, raunchy, and dark, but this production hit the nail on the head in its presentation. The actors know their characters and objectives and are able to take us through the story seamlessly making for an intensely entertaining evening of theatre.

Lindsey Litka. Credit: Kris Northrup

A Set Designer is not mentioned, but it’s worth saying whomever is responsible for this design knows this intimate space well and has managed to create a small apartment with suggestions of different rooms with simple furniture pieces and levels. It’s neutral and homey and is just right for this production. Kudos, whoever you are, on a splendid Set Design.

Costuming a period piece, and this is definitely a period piece, can be daunting, but Costume Design by Rikki Lacewell and Shemika Berry show no signs of an issue. Each character, especially the ladies, are dressed to the nines in 1920s fashions and each look is natural and authentic. Even the gentlemen, who can usually just find a nice suit and tie to wear has an air of the 1920s style and the entire plot works fabulously adding great value to the production. Kudos to Lacewell and Berry for jobs very well done.

Lindsey Litka and Brian Dauglash. Credit: Kris Northrup

Rikki Howie Lacewell takes on double duty as Costume Designer and Choreographer and, if I had any slight criticism, it would be in the choreography. Now, this isn’t the sole fault of Lacewell as the space is a floor level thrust with quite a few obstruction points, albeit small obstructions. This is quite a challenge for any production, and, I can imagine, quite challenging for any choreographer. With dance being such a large part of the culture of the 20s (we weren’t chained to our smart phones or TV, so we had to find something to do!) there are many high points in the choreography, but, most of it lays a little flat for me. A lot of unison group movement, pockets of dancing, but nothing really caught my attention. Now, that’s not to say there weren’t some great numbers. For example, “Raise the Roof” and “A Wild, Wild Party” are two numbers that stick out simply because of the energy and variety in the choreography so, overall, the movement is entertaining and Lacewell is to be commended for her work on this production.

Matty Montes and Lindsey Litka. Credit: Kris Northrup

Most of this music is of the time and jazz was king so, just like Choreography, music can be tricky. However, Music Direction by Elizabeth Alford is absolutely on point. She takes this score and presents it beautifully with this cast and orchestra completely nailing the style of this jazzy score. There’s not a lot of fluff in this score and Alford takes the reigns and keeps it in check. Alford should be applauded and commended for her work with this challenging piece.

A special shout out to the orchestra for their efforts as well! This orchestra consists of Elizabeth Alford (Piano/Conductor); David Booth, Phil Cannon, Stan Potter (Reeds); Earl Smith (Trumpet); Tyler Golsen (Guitar); Chip Racster (Bass); and Larissa Hannon (Drums). Job well done ladies and gentlemen!

Jessie Duggan and Judah Canizares. Credit: Kris Northrup

Continuing with the challenging material, Direction by Jeffery Lesniak is spot on and there’s no other way to state it. His vision is clear and his staging is brave, raw, and his instincts are honed for this piece. There is a disclaimer of partial nudity and other adult themes and, boy, they ain’t kidding! But I’m glad that Lesniak and Greenbelt Arts Center have not watered this piece down because I don’t think it would have worked as well. The Wild Party needs the girt and dirt. It needs the raunch and rage, and Lesniak has left it in to flourish. He has a tight grasp of this material and what it means and he keeps it chaotically controlled with his superb staging making for an absolutely wonderful piece of theatre. A special mention should be made Intimacy Consultant Stephanie Davis as she had her work cut out for her with this one. However, each intimate scene comes off without a hitch and is not forced but natural and in sync.

Moving to the performance aspect of this production, it’s worth saying this entire ensemble puts 100% effort into their work. It’s a nice sized cast and everyone is working in tandem and knows his or her character. Special nod to Judah Canizares and Jessie Duggan who portray odd coupled Eddie and Mae, as their characters, for the most part, break up the drama with a bit of comedy and they are charming in their featured number “Two of a Kind,” which they perform confidently and beautifully.

Melanie Kurstin. Credit: Kris Northrup

To mention a few featured performers, along side this stupendous ensemble we have Brian Dauglash who takes on the role of Black and Melanie Kurstin, who tackles the complex role of Kate. Both of these apt and able actors embody these characters and take them to the next level. Dauglash pulls off the suave, but caring Black in a way that you are rooting for him the entire time while you can’t help but feel pity and sorrow for Kate in the way Kurstin portrays her. Vocally, both of these performers are dynamos and make one stand up and take notice. Dauglash has a smooth baritone that resonates throughout the theatre and he shines is such featured numbers as “Poor Child,” “Of All the Luck,” and the poignant, “I’ll Be Here.” Likewise, Kurstin knocks it out of the park with her renditions of featured numbers like the upbeat, energized “Look At Me Now” and second act opener, “Life of the Party.” Dauglash and Kurstin know these characters well and have a deep understanding of their roles making them absolute highlights in this production.

Matty Montes. Credit: Kris Northrup

Rounding out this ensemble are standouts Matty Montes as Burrs and Lindsey Litka as Queenie. I can confidently say, it seems these two were born to play these parts.

Montes, who becomes this character, Burrs, uses just the right amount of sleaziness and rage to portray this troubled, unstable character. His intensity is instinctive and every movement is calculated but natural and, vocally, this man is a powerhouse with an impressive range. He effortlessly vocalized through his featured numbers such as “What is it About Her?” and “Let Me Drown.” He’s comfortable in this multifaceted role and this makes this character easier to swallow. His ability to bring high emotion to every song is impeccable and his consistency with his character makes for a strong, confident performance that is not to be missed.

Lindsey Litka. Credit: Kris Northrup

Watching Litka’s performance is worth the price of admission. She delves deep to get to the nitty-gritty of this character, and it pays off in her portrayal. From the moment she walks onto the stage, she is Queenie and her character is consistent throughout. She comfortable with this part and though the role requires a cracked moral code, Litka seems to bring out the innocence and delicacy of this hard woman. She gives a brave, no nonsense performance that makes her a standout. Vocally, Litka gives a solid, powerful showing with a stunning voice that fills the theatre. Her stylings of high energy “Raise the Roof,” the somber, “Maybe I Like it This Way,” and the heartbreaking “How Did It Come to This” show her range and ability to not only sing, but act out a song that makes for a smashing performance overall.

Final thought…  The Wild Party at Greenbelt Arts Center is not a show you want to miss this season. For a show that I have to be in the mood for, this production has changed my  tune. I was able to see nuances I missed before and I appreciate it even more than I did in the past and that’s what impressed me so much. The staging is on point, the vocals are superb, and the story is thought provoking. I admit, I’m all about the song-and-dance, fluffy, happy-ending shows and this show doesn’t have much of that, BUT… it is engaging and intense which and I’m glad for the experience. Get your tickets now. Seriously.

This is what I thought of Greenbelt Arts Center’s The Wild Party… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Wild Party will play through September 15 at Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, Maryland. For tickets, call the box office at 301-441-8770 or you can purchase them online.

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Proof at Everyman Theatre Proves They’re on Their A-Game

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Mental illness and care seems to be in the forefront these days, as well it should be. For too many years, we’ve turned a blind eye to mental illness and it hasn’t done us or those who suffer any favors. It’s all around us and sometimes it’s a little too close for comfort especially when it’s a family member and even more so when it’s a parent. Everyman Theatre touches on these topics and more in their 2019-2020 season opener, Proof by David Auburn, Directed by Paige Hernandez.

(l-r) Bruce Randolph Nelson, Jeremy Keith Hunter, Katie Kleiger, and Megan Anderson. Credit: DJ Corey Photography

In short, Proof concerns itself with Robert, an unstable but famous mathematician, his daughters Catherine, who has cared for him for years, Claire, a well put-together adult living her own life, and Hal, a former student turned professor. After Robert’s death, Catherine has to deal with her capricious emotions, her estranged and level-headed sister, and the blossoming affections of Hal. All this on top of 103 notebooks her father left behind in which Hal hopes to find valuable work. During this long weekend, Catherine has to figure out what or how much of her father’s mental instability or genius she has inherited.

It’s an important piece in the way it portrays a family in distress because of mental illness and the uncertainty it brings to surviving members of the family and the questions it raises. It also highlights the tendency to think women are not as apt in fields such as science and math that is still, unfortunately, prevalent thought in today’s modern society. However, it also helps to begin to answer not all, but a few questions such as inheritance or propensity of mental illness and how women are actually quite apt with unlimited ability in the world of math and science. Though almost 20 years old, this play is still as relevant and though-provoking as when it was first written.

Jeremy Keith Hunter, Katie Kleiger, and Bruce Randolph Nelson. Credit: DJ Corey Photography

Set Design by Daniel Ettinger has done it again and it’s not big surprise. His design is both modern and practical but transports the audience to whichever location he chooses. The stage is no longer a stage, but the back porch of an old Chicago home that needs a little TLC but is livable and homey. The aged furniture adds to the feel and overall notion of what Ettinger was going for and this design is top-notch.

At the helm of this production is Director Paige Hernandez, who happens to be an Everyman Resident Company member, as well. It’s clear Hernandez has a deep comprehension of this material and has presented it in an easy to follow and authentic manner. The characters are fleshed out and polished and the staging is natural and smooth, making for a near flawless production. It’s clear Hernandez knows her way around the stage as well as in guiding a successful production. Her vision is clear and makes for a successful and strong production. Kudos to Hernandez for her efforts.

Bruce Randolph Nelson. Credit: DJ Corey Photography

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s worth saying this small quartet of actors are perfectly cast for their roles. They each have a tight grasp on their characters and work quite well with and off of each other making for a solid ensemble to tell this poignant story.

Resident Company Member Bruce Randolph Nelson tackles the role of the unstable genius, Robert. Nelson takes this role and completely makes it his own with every subtle move and facial reaction making for a natural, real portrayal of a troubled man. His delivery of this dialogue is effortless and he portrays this character as someone you feel comfortable with, regardless of the situation. Robert is both fatherly and child-like and Nelson’s portrayal is nothing short of impeccable as he tackles this tough, emotional role.

Katie Kleiger, Megan Anderson. Credit: DJ Corey Photography

Another Resident Company Member, Megan Anderson as Claire, the older, stable sister knocks it out of the park with her portrayal. She’s what I would think of as any overly helpful, condescending older sister would be. For a bit of trivia, Anderson actually tackled the role of Catherine a few years back, so, she has a good grasp on how Claire should be reacting to Catherine and it shows. Her character work is splendid and she gives a strong, confident performance overall.

Katie Kleiger, Jeremy Keith Hunter. Credit: DJ Corey Photography

Jeremy Keith Hunter takes on the role of Hal, the former student who is searching through 103 notebooks to find something of value from his former teacher. Hunter fits nicely into this role and plays it authentically with just the right amount of comedy and poignancy. His comedic timing is on point as is his ability to switch into more dramatic material seamlessly. He understands this character and his place in this piece and plays it to the hilt.

Katie Kleiger as Catherine is a standout in her portrayal. A new Resident Company Member, she comfortable in this role giving a strong, confident performance and a polished portrayal. Her grasp of the character is apparent and her delivery is natural and smooth making for a solid performance. The chemistry between her and the rest of the ensemble is authentic and makes for a tight presentation of this characters relationships with the other characters. Overall, Kleiger becomes this character and portrays her uncertainties, conflicts, happiness, and crisis beautifully and delicately that makes for a praiseworthy performance.

Final thought…  Proof at Everyman Theatre is a poignant, thoughtful look at a family relationship and dynamic and how it is effected by mental illness. It also touches on the misogyny that still exists in the sciences and scientific fields but handles both mental illness and the misogyny delicately and powerfully. The Set Design is superb, the staging is near flawless, and the small ensemble is perfectly cast with an abundance of chemistry that adds an authenticity to the entire production. This is quite the opener for Everyman Theatre and I, for one, can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds. Get your tickets now as you don’t want to miss this well put-together, polished production.

This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s Proof… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Proof will play through October 6 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

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A New Theatre (Showcase on Main) Gives Us Songs for a New World

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time Aprrox. 1 hour and 20 minutes with one intermission

Showcase on Main is a new venue in Elkton, and Songs for a New World was the inaugural production in their new space. Veteran director S. Lee Lewis takes this opportunity to spotlight the strengths that his new company will be bringing to the community. Although there were a few hiccups in the current production, some due to the issues of moving into a new space and getting started, this was a solid first production that hinted at the possibilities of greatness to come.

Songs for a New World is an interesting piece, in that is a series of songs that are loosely connected around a theme, and there is no clear plot line that connects them to each other. This creates some issues with just the material itself, as it can be hard to connect to characters and moments when they are constantly changing. Additionally, some of the songs simply lend themselves to performance better than others. Some of the numbers really do tell a standalone story and give the performer something to work with or connect to, whereas other songs are unclear or seemingly incomplete in what they are trying to convey. Lewis tried to provide some clarity in the pairing of the songs with multimedia images. In some cases, this did help to provide and drive the narrative in the song; although, in other cases, it just heightened the confusion.

The production was performed more as a staged reading/concert version, as the performers were working with sheet music in front of them on stands. There were times when the performers were able to make the stands disappear with their interpretation of or connection to the piece; however, there were other times in which they were obviously reading the music and made it feel more like watching a rehearsal than a polished performance piece. Additionally, the sound balance seemed underprepared at places, but this was definitely one of the items that was a result of the newness of the space.

Issues aside, the five performers that were bringing these songs to life all demonstrated impressive vocal talents and all had at least one song or moment where they truly connected with one of the songs and really brought a character and story to life. For Tori Healy, that moment was “Surabaya-Santa.” The clever lyrics allowed her to put her comedic timing to work, and she had the audience laughing out loud. Malcolm S. Richardson had several songs that allowed him to show off his impressive range. Richardson also had an infectious smile that was endearing and allowed him to win over the hearts of the audience. He often had the audience bopping along in his upbeat numbers like “King of the World.” Brendan Sheehan definitely struggled the most with making eye contact with the audience, and several good songs/stories were lost with him focused on the music stand. However, when he finally looked up and out and felt what he was singing in “I’d Give It All for You,” it was truly magical. Kristin Sheehan really gets to show her strengths and tell a story best in “I’m Not Afraid of Anything.”

With a lot of strong moments and numbers, though, the one number that really transcends it all is Christy Wyatt singing “Stars and the Moon.” The well-crafted piece really allows her to tell a story that is both humorous and touching and to create a character. Wyatt takes that opportunity in the material and maximizes everything that it has to offer. She brings the story and a distinct character to life in those few minutes.

Overall, the strength of the cast really shows that, once a few bugs are worked out, Showcase on Main will be a place to go and see strong vocals, performances, and storytelling.

This is what I thought of Showcase on Main’s Songs for a New World… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Songs for a New World ended on September 8 at Showcase on Main, 112 W. Main Street, Elkton, Maryland.

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Everything is Nearly Perfect with Perfect Arrangement at Fells Point Corner Theater

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

Picture it, 1950; Washington, D.C. The war is over, the U.S. has come out of it victoriously, and Korea is just a thought. Nuclear families are popping up all over, with their white picket fences, and everything just seems to be right and polite. It was a simpler time… or was it? If you didn’t fit the norm, was it so simple? Could you make it simple? These are the questions touched on by Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest production, and the first of their 2019-2020 season, Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne, Directed by Patrick Gorirossi. It’s a funny, sad, uplifting, and poignant roller coaster about how you never really know what happens behind closed doors.

(l-r) Ari Eckley, Shamire Casselle, Holly Gibbs, and Nate Krimmel. Credit: Shaelyn Jae Photography

According to Samuel French, “It’s 1950, and new colors are being added to the Red Scare. Two U.S. State Department employees, Bob and Norman, have been tasked with identifying sexual deviants within their ranks. There’s just one problem: Both Bob and Norma are gay, and have married each other’s partners as a carefully constructed cover. Inspired by the true story of the earliest stirring of the American gay rights movement, madcap classic sitcom-style laughs give way to provocative drama as two ‘All-American’ couples are forced to stare down the closet door.”

From the start, I had a feeling this production was going to yield good things because Set Design by Bruce Kapplin is top notch. This design completely transports the audience back to 1950 Georgetown in Washington D.C. and Kapplin’s attention to detail is second to none. From the mid-century-style furniture to the fireplace and mantel on the back wall, and subtle colors, this set is a character all on its own and Kapplin deserves a hefty round of applause for his outstanding efforts.

Costume Design by Heather Johnston impeccable. As we’re nicely into the 21st century, any 1950s piece can be considered a “period piece” and those can be tricky to costume. However, Johnston has done it and managed to put these actors in the time period without skipping a beat. Her choices for each character made them individuals and believable. From formal wear to every day duds, Johnston has pulled off a brilliant design and deserves all the kudos.

Patrick Gorirossi takes the reigns of this production and it is well in hand. Aside from a few “too hokey” bits dealing with advertising that go a little over the top (thought it may have been written this way), this is a tight, well put-together production. Gorirossi knows this material and has a deep comprehension of the text and this is clear in his staging and character work from his ensemble. A truly phenomenal production from a truly skillful director.

(l-r) Ebony N. Jackson, Gabe Fremuth, David Forrer, HOlly Gibbs, Nate Krimmel, and Ari Eckley. Credit: Shaelyn Jae Photography

I’ve got to begin the next part of this review, concerning performances, by stating every single one of these performers held their own in this ensemble piece. Their chemistry was exquisite and they seemed to know their characters quite well making for great performances all around.

David Forrer as Theodore Sunderson and Ebony N. Jackson as Kitty Sunderson, are the seemingly elder characters; he’s the boss and she’s the bosses wife. Forrer and Jackson have these characters down pat. They are both totally believable in these roles and grasp the slight naiveté of folks who may have come of age in a different, earlier time. Forrer plays Theodore with a tough nosed man’s man and boss, but with a compassionate underbelly that does shine through making his character likeable and unlikeable at the same time. He’s confident in this role and has a great presence. Jackson is an absolute highlight in this production as Kitty. She performs the 1950s housewife (albeit rich housewife) flawlessly and knows how to get around the stage. Her comedic timing is on point and she’s certainly one to watch in this particular production.

Another strong performance comes from Shamire Casselle, who is a standout as Barbara Grant, the antagonist turned friend. This character is out of the ordinary for the time and she really doesn’t seem to care about what others think or say about her and is willing to fight for what she believes, even if it goes against the grain. Casselle is extraordinary in this roll and gives a strong and impressive showing.  She knows her character and has a good grasp on what this woman is trying to accomplish making for a praise-worth performance all around.

Moving to the central characters of this piece, we have Nate Krimmel as Jim Baxter, Holly Gibbs as Norma Baxter, Gabe Fremuth as Bob Martindale, and Ari Eckley as Millie Martindale. These four performers are near-perfectly cast and play well off of and with each other making for an authentic portrayal of their complicated relationships.

Nate Krimmel as Jim Baxter does well with his character, but there are times I feel he’s trying a bit too hard for the laugh. He gives off more of a childish behavior throughout that is, frankly, somewhat annoying but… he makes up for this with his heart-felt performance towards the end of Act 2. His character seems to become deeper, in a way, and Krimmel’s portrayal  shows his understanding of this character and this character’s place in the story.

Ari Eckly, who takes on the role of Millie Martindale, gives a confident performance but, at times, seems uneasy with the comedy. Thier dramatic performance is remarkable and they have a good grasp on the material and this character, but the comedy is not the strongest. However, that’s not to say their performance isn’t up to par, because it most certainly is. Their portrayal is believable, as is their portrayal of the secret relationship their character has with Holly Gibbs’ character, Norma. The chemistry between these two make for an authentic relationship.

Speaking of Holly Gibbs, she knocks it out of the park and is a standout in the role of Norma. She takes this role and makes it her own with a deep understanding of the turmoil within this character. Norma is the first to vocalize how fed up she is with the “arrangement” and wants to live her life in a way she sees fit and Gibbs’ mannerisms and delivery are on point to make this clear. She is comfortable on the stage with a strong presence, giving way to an impeccable performance.

Another standout is Gabe Fremuth in the role of Bob Martindale, the more level-headed, if not staunch member of this unfortunate quartet. His uptight take on this character is just what it needs and his portrayal of a conflicted man, wanting to protect what he has as well as uphold his beliefs (which seem to clash) is incredible. His chemistry with Nate Krimmel as Jim, his secret lover, is good and he plays off of and with Eckly and especially Gibbs, quite nicely. The conflict in his character of wanting to keep the world and the U.S.A. moral but living a life that is thought of, at the time, to be amoral, and Fremuth’s portrayal of that conflict is what makes this performance so poignant as well as infuriating. Kudos to Fremuth for his efforts and work.

Final thought… Perfect Arrangment, is right up my alley when it comes to shows. It’s a drama heavy show but throws in an abundance of comedy to balance it out and the balance in this script is spot on. The cast is top notch and have great chemistry and the staging and Set Design bring it all together got make for a phenomenal production. It’s an important story that needs to be told and it’s still quite relevant in 2019. This is not a show you want to miss and Fells Point Corner Theatre has hit the ground running and set the bar high with this production. Get your tickets now. You won’t be sorry.

This is what I thought of this production of Perfect Arrangment at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

Perfect Arrangement will play through September 22 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

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The Ladies Decide to Be or Not to Be in Women Playing Hamlet at In Your Face Productions

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 1 hour and  50 minutes with one intermission

To be or not to be….Hamlet? This is the question that Jessica, played by Cassandra Garcia, struggles with during In Your Face Productions‘ production of Women Playing Hamlet, by William Missouri Downs, Directed by Jack Taylor. The script shows her delving into whether or not she should or could play that iconic role. Along her quest, she raises greater questions about the meaning of the source material of Hamlet, as well as what it means to be an actor, to be a woman, and to be a person. There are many deep issues raised about whether those things are the same or different for a man or a woman and how they have or have not changed from Shakespearean times to the 21st Century. Ultimately, it all comes together to a satisfying conclusion. Even better, there is tons of laughter and absurdity along the journey.

With only four actresses doing all the talking and three of them taking on multiple roles, this production was a very ambitious selection for a young company with a young director and a young cast. Just as the script itself attacks head-on concerns that Jessica is too young to play Hamlet, so does In Your Face Productions in showing the ability with which they can tackle difficult work. Although there is some room for growth, this is an overall solid and admirable handling of an incredibly heady and witty script that requires the performers to command the stage.

With simple lighting, well-designed PowerPoint slides creating a multimedia performance, and minimal-style set pieces, Director Jack Taylor sets a stage that is apropos for the script, which, in one of its many breaks of the fourth wall, explains that the actors will be using “verbal scene painting” to really set the locations of the various scenes. Taylor also does good work in staging the show. Characters move about the stage with intrinsic purpose without every making the monologues and small scenes seem stagnant. He takes a small stage and makes it seem like a much larger world. He also assembled a cast of four strong young women to bring the words to life.

At the helm is Garcia. Large portions of the show, starting with the first several minutes, are just monologues by Garcia. She keeps them interesting and varied. Garcia has excellent comedic timing and facial expressions. She has a real presence and energy on stage. It would be nice to see her relax into the role a little more. At times, nervous energy seems to keep her from connecting more realistically with some of the serious notes in the script. This works really well as Jessica struggles to find her authentic self, but it would have been nice to see a greater contrast towards the end. However, for such a young actress, she shows impressive potential.

The rest of the cast of characters are all played by a troupe of three actresses, who, in a Shakespearean reversal, play the male roles with mustaches. A few mustache mishaps aside, very simple and effective costume pieces transform the actress into a variety of different characters.  Actress 1 is Holly Blondheim. She is both a professor and Jessica’s acting coach. Blondheim has a commanding presence on stage and a good knack for making the over-dramatic seems natural. While it would have been nice to see a greater distinction between the two roles, she really shines as Gwen, the has-been acting coach. Throughout the show, she allows the characters to have layers stripped away to see the real person underneath the bravado.

Taking on considerably more roles is Actress 2: Morgan Tacka. She is a rival actress, a priest, a delivery person, a soap star, and an adolescent tech whiz. Morgan possess a very warm, likable quality on stage. The distinction between her characters is subtle yet effective. She makes grounded characters out of absurdist moments that serve as balance to the other, more dramatic performances. Even with these other strong performances, it is Actress 3 (Olivia Bowley) that consistently steals the scene. Bowley is an absolute master of accents, characterizations, and comedic delivery. She is a Shakespearean expert, Jessica’s mother, a psychologist, a bartender, a brain dead soap star, and a grave digger. Each character has his/her own unique voice and mannerisms. She shows exceptional craft in taking on the different personas and breathing them life.

In Your Face Productions definitely proves that young directors and young actors have the ability to push themselves while tackling difficult materials. This production is a strong demonstration of the collective group taking on this challenge with bravado. As the audience watches Jessica grow as an actress and a young woman as she faces the challenge of playing Hamlet, so too they see these young performers bloom through the process.

This is what I thought of In Your Face Productions’ production of Women Playing Hamlet… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Women Playing Hamlet will play through August 17 at In Your Face Productions, at Presbury United Methodist Church 806 Edgewood Rd Edgewood, MD 21040. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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War is Hell in Crusade at Rapid Lemon Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Flynn Harne (Mitch), Emma Hawthorn (Galen), Noah Silas (Hector). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

What would happen if policy and thought tipped one way or another in a country divided? We’re seeing more and more of this each day in real life America, but what would happen if it went to extremes? This question is explored in Rapid Lemon Productions’ latest offering, Crusade by Bruce Bonafede, Directed by Timoth David Copney. It’s a story of division and how humans, soldier or civilian, act in times of war and unrest.

Briefly, Crusade concerns itself with a country at war, civil war, really where the Christians have taken over government and have outlawed every other religion and anything they consider to be hedonistic. A small band of soldiers find themselves in a tucked away cabin lived in by a former professor of genetics who just wants to be left alone. The rag-tag group is then joined by a Christian prisoner and all of their morals and beliefs are tested in one way or another as each tries to find their way out of a desperate situation.

Emma Hawthorn (Galen), Flynn Harne (Mitch), Stephen Kime (Kershaw), Noah Silas (Hector), Lola Reign (Britt). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Lights and sound have major roles in this production and Lighting Design by Brad J. Ranno and Sound Design by Max Garner are spot on. Each subtle change of light sets the mood for each scene and adds value to the production, as a whole, while Garner’s impeccable Sound Design adds to the story and does not hinder it in any way. The designs blend perfectly into the staging and keeps the production engaging making for fantastic work from both Ranno and Garner.

Flynn Harne (Mitch). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

In tandem with the Light and Sound Design, Set Design by Sebastian Sears fits this production perfectly. It’s simple with no bells and whistles. Sears transports the audience into this little run down cabin in the woods and his set piece choices integrate flawlessly with the story with old furniture, dark colors, and simple pieces. I love the space at Baltimore Theatre Project but I can see how it might be tricky to create sets upon, but it didn’t hinder Sears and he should be applauded for his efforts.

Direction by Timoth David Copney is absolutel superb. It’s tough material, but Copney has a definite understanding of it and presents it beautifully. His staging is near flawless and he keeps the action moving and engaging for the audience. It’s clear he has a tight grasp on these characters as his guidance helps each actor make their characters personable and believable. Pacing is on point and Copney’s knowledge of the stage is clear. Kudos to Copney for a job quite well done.

Emma Hawthorn (Galen). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth mentioning that all six ensemble members bring their A-game to this production and all give strong, confident performances of this heavy material. Eric Boelsche as Josh, the communications man in this small group, is believable and natural in this role and the delivery of his monologue is touching and true. Flynn Harne as Mitch, the leader of this troop, has a great command of the stage and his presence is bold.

Flynn Harne (Mitch) Noah Silas (Hector). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Emma Hawthorn takes on the role of Galen, the civilian and former professor of genetics who is working on a scientific history of the world, and Stephen Kime tackles the role of Kershaw, the Christian soldier captured by one of the soldiers. Hawthorn is stupendous in this role. She takes it and makes it her own with all the emotion and mannerisms that are required. She works well with her cast mates and makes the character someone with whom one can empathize. Kime, who actually replaced the original actor late in production, knocks it out of the ball park. I would have thought he was with the production from the beginning, so, he was certainly a lucky find! Kime is consistent with his stoicism and is unshaken in his character. He is a highlight in this production with his strong presence and focused performance.

Lola Reign (Britt). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Rounding out the cast are standouts Lola Reign as Britt and Noah Silas as Hector, both weary soldiers in this small troop. Silas couldn’t have been better cast in his role, maybe it’s because of his great stage presence, but his was the most believable as a soldier and he certainly has the rugged look. But beyond that, his character and his character’s conflict is heart wrenching and he portrays it beautifully. He’s certainly one to watch in his characters climactic scene and his emotion is absolutely authentic. In the same vein, Reign is spot on as a young woman full of rage. Her delivery of the heavy dialogue oozes anger and wrought. Kudos to both Reign and Silas for outstanding performances and I hope to experience more performances in the future.

Eric Boelsche (Josh) and Noah Silas (Hector). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Final thought…  Crusade from Rapid Lemon Production was a Baltimore Playwrights Festival submission and is a heavy production that makes you think about faith, loyalty, and what you would do if you were caught in between. I, personally, was not offended by any of the content, but I can see where certain folks might be. I’m speaking on the portrayal and interpretations of the Christians and though only one is actually seen in the flesh, they are spoken of throughout the piece. Christians are made out to be Nazi-like figures who are blinded by their faith and, though, some are, many, in my experiences, are not. Then, again the portrayals of the soldiers aren’t any more flattering, making them out to be killers who have a grudge against anyone with faith, because of their own, personal reasons (some good, actually, in my opinion). Don’t get me wrong, the writing is stellar, if not (seemingly) a tad one-sided, but makes up for itself in the climax. The production value is superb in its simplicity and the performances are top notch. If you’re familiar with the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldier,” this piece gives it an entirely new meaning. Get your tickets because you’ll want to see this production.

Note: There is a content advisory stating “Crusade is a fictional story, but on whose themes are increasingly real to us today. It’s a violent story. Its characters deal with mental and physical torture, rape, mass murder, and other horrible things that happen in war. Our production addresses all of these; and specifically, employs very realistic-looking but nonfunctional prop weapons and a variety of lighting and sound effects which may be disturbing to some in our audience.”

This is what I thought of Rapid Lemon Productions’ production of Crusade… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Crusade will play through August 18 at Rapid Lemon Productions, Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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