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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Nice Work If You Can Get It, and You Can Get it at Cockpit in Court!

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

Chances are, somewhere in your life you’ve at least hear a George and Ira Gershwin tune, whether in a movie, a wedding, a gathering of some kind, or you may have even had a chance to experience an actual Gershwin show. Cockpit in Court’s latest offering, Nice Work if You Can Get It, with Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gerswhin, a Book by Joe DiPietro, and Inspired by Material by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, is a jukebox musical, of sorts, of songs by the Gershwin brothers and sets it in a cute, funny story of a bygone era. Under the charge of Director Eric J. Potter, Music Director Gerald Smith, and Choreographer Ilona Kessell, this is a production that takes you away for awhile and adds a little pizzazz to the everyday grind.

According to Broadway.com “Set in the 1920s, Nice Work If You Can Get It is the story of charming and wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter, who meets rough female bootlegger Billie Bendix the weekend of his wedding. Jimmy, who has been married three (or is it four?) times before, is preparing to marry Eileen Evergreen, a self-obsessed modern dancer. Thinking Jimmy and Eileen will be out of town, Billie and her gang hid cases of alcohol [in] the basement of Jimmy’s Long Island mansion. But when Jimmy, his wife-to-be, and her prohibitionist family show up at the mansion for the wedding, Billie and her cohorts pose as servants, causing hijinks galore.”

Lizzy Pease and J. Bradley Bowers. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Costume Design by Tracy Bird of Stage Garb, Inc. is on point with this production. Set in the decadence of the 1920s, Bird has hit the nail on the head with all of the fashions and her attention to detail. Her efforts transport the audience to this fashionable era with every gown and pinstriped suit that graces the stage and she is to be applauded and revered for her precise and well thought-out design.

Michael Raskinski’s Set Design, too, is beyond praise-worthy. With clever set pieces that fly in and out easily and quickly, the pacing is kept on point and the Art Deco style that Rasinski has chosen adds immense value to the production as a whole. The entire design from set pieces to the simple, but detailed proscenium façade, this design is top notch and Rasinski is to be commended for his well planned efforts.

A particular highlight of this production is, indeed, Choreography by Ilona Kessell. It is high-energy and engaging and this ensemble has the ability to pull it off. I am quite impressed with the precision in which Kessell’s fun and well-rehearsed choreography is executed. Kessell knows her cast and their abilities, which is probably the most important aspect of a Choreographer’s job, and her routines are filled with variety and traditional styles that keep the audience interested. Kudos to Kessell for this superb choreography.

Many, if not all of these Gershwin tunes are familiar to most, and Music Direction by Gerald Smith is splendid as this cast manages to breathe fresh life into each number. Harmonies are spot on and featured numbers emit the dynamics and emotions that the Gershwins intended. This production has also managed to round up a very impressive pit orchestra consisting of Tim Viets (Conductor), Michael DeVito (Keyboard 1), Michael Clark (Keyboard 2), Dieter Schodde (Percussion), Steve Haaser and Helen Schlaich (Reeds), Jay Ellis (Trombone), Tony Neenan and Ginger Turner (Trumpet), Matthew DeBeal (Violin), and Bob DeLisle (Bass).

The book for this piece is light and fluffy, and is, in a word, trite, but that’s to be expected with jukebox musicals, right? Maybe not, but this one is. Crazy For You, the other Gershwin musical, has a meatier book, and probably got dibs on most of the best George and Ira Gershwin songs, but this piece is not without it’s merits. The thing that helps this production Direction by Eric J. Potter and he really has a good grasp on this material. It’s an old-fashioned song-and-dance type show, happy ending and all that, but Potter has taken these songs and this book and weaved them into a well put-together, polished production with near perfect pacing and character work that is superb. Under his charge, the classic music is given a fresh coat of paint and it shines bright making for an entertaining, energetic evening of good theatre. Snaps to Potter for a job quite well done.

I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that this production of Nice Work If You Can Get It has an absolutely phenomenal Ensemble consisting of Mary Margaret McClurg, Olivia Aubele, Angela Boeren (Dance Captain), Sarah Jones, Emily Machovec, Rachel Verhaaren, J. Purnell Hargrove (Dance Captain), Ryan Christopher Holmes, Conner Kiss, Shane Lowry, and Josh Schoff. These folks dance and sing their way across this stage effortlessly, will grab you from the moment the curtain goes up, and bring you into the performance with them. Hands down, one of the best and able ensembles I’ve seen in community theatre in a good while. Kudos to all for their hard work and excellent abilities.

J. Bradley Bowers and Lynn Tallman. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Taking on the role of the seemingly bumbling, sensitive Chief Berry is Thomas “Toby” Hessenauer and he does quite well with the role, even if his accent or lack of accent is noticeable. Actually, I’m not sure if he was going for an accent or not, but one seems to be trying to peek out once in awhile, but I might be hearing things. Regardless, Hessenauer is a wonderful actor and understands this comical character and pulls him off nicely. Vocally, Hessenauer is not a powerhouse in this particular production, but he does hold his own and brings comedy into familiar numbers such as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” In the same boat is Lynn Tallman as Eileen Evergreen, the snooty, oblivious fiancé who needs to be put in her place. Evergreen has a good grasp on what her character is about and portrays her beautifully. Again, the attempted accent, if that’s what it can be called, may hinder her witty dialogue, at times, but overall, she gives an admirable performance. She certainly makes you take notice with her charming featured number “Delichious,” on which she gives a strong delivery.

Patrick Martyn and Jane E. Brown. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Taking on the more non-savory characters in this story are Patrick Martyn as Cookie McGee, Gary Dieter as Duke Mahoney, and Casey Lane as Jeannie Muldoon. First off, these folks couldn’t have been cast better. Martyn and Dieter completely embody their characters and I believed them from the moment they stepped onto the stage. Both play the somewhat bumbling criminals well, with impeccable comedic timing, and had me laughing out loud throughout their performances. Lane, too, as the gold-digging, deceived young woman, is natural in this role and makes this supporting character something to take notice of. Dieter is definitely the stronger vocalist, shining in his humorous featured number, “Blah, Blah, Blah,” and Lane does very well, also, in the reprise of the same song and in the adorable “Do It Again.” Martyn, though not as strong, vocally, does give heartfelt and confident in his featured “Fascinating Rhythm,” and “Looking for a Boy.”

Highlights in this production are, hands down, John Amato as Senator Max Evergreen, the staunch, uptight father of the fiancé, Jane E. Brown as Duchess Estonia Dulworth, the self-righteous anti-liquor crusader, and Joan Crooks as Millicent Winter, the strong, confident mother of the leading man. As with the rest of this cast, these folks were cast perfectly in their roles. Amato exudes the rigidness this straight-man character needs, but his comedic timing is superb, getting befuddled when needed and trying to take charge of the situation. His booming, smooth voice just adds to this character and his natural delivery is like butter. In tandem with Amato’s performance, Brown’s portrayal of Duchess Estonia Dulworth is absolutely and completely on point. She has embodied this character and has made it her own. Her strong stage presence and thoughtful, though seemingly effortless portrayal of this character is make her one to watch in this production. Not only does she have the staunchness down, her comedic timing is just as wonderful. Vocally, Brown is a powerhouse and one can help but notice her powerful technique and know-how in her featured number, “Demon Rum” (with impeccable and superb back up from the ensemble), and the side-splitting “Looking for a Boy.” In the like, Crooks, who only shows up toward the end of the piece, makes her short time on stage well worth it. She, too, embodies this character of Millicent and takes charge of the stage from the moment she steps onto it. This trio of which I call the “previous generation” of this story, is well-cast, and well performed and I can’t give enough kudos to Amato, Brown, and Crooks.

J. Bradley Bowers and Lizzy Pease. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Rounding out this praise-worthy ensemble are standouts Lizzy Pease as Billie Bendix and J. Bradley Bowers as Jimmy Winter. It’s easy to see both of these actors are disciplined and hard working as it shows in their portrayal of these young lovers that carry the show. Pease knows her character well and portrays her with just the right balance of roughness and tenderness. Again, the story is fluffy, but Pease makes the most of her character and glides through her performance naturally, with a distinct delivery and ease. She comfortable on stage and gives a strong showing. Vocally, she’s top notch with a voice that soars throughout the theatre, especially in her featured numbers, the poignant “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and the cutesy duet, “S’wonderful.” Overall, her performance is grade-A and should not be missed.

In the same vein, Bowers knocks it completely out of the ball park into the next town in his performance. Completely at ease in this character and a definite knowledge of the stage, his performance leaves me wanting more. He’s not simply going through the motions of the script, but becomes this person, Jimmy Winter, and his performance alone is worth the price of admission. His natural talent, strong stage presence, and confidence drives his performance and he’s a fun to watch. He’s what folks might call a triple-threat… he can act, he can sing, and boy he dance. Who could ask for anything more? (See what I did there?) Vocally, Bowers is phenomenal with a smooth, silky baritone, with a great range that makes listening to all his numbers a joy, especially his renditions of “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” “I’ve Got to Be There,” “I Do, Do, Do” (with absolutely perfect backup and harmony from the gentlemen in the ensemble), and the aforementioned duet, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” I’m looking forward to seeing more stage work from Mr. Bowers in the future.

Final thought… Nice Work if You Can Get It is a high-energy, old-fashioned song-and-dance kind of show that will have you tapping your toes, feeling nostalgic, and take you a allow you to escape for just a couple of hours, at least. Casting is spot on, Set Design is brilliant, Choreography is engaging, and the talent and abilities of the entire ensemble are top notch. The production is polished and fun for the entire family. Though, the story and script can be a bit trite and fluffy, it’s still a fun piece with good message. Whether your familiar with the work of the Gershwins or not, you’ll be thoroughly entertained and humming as you leave the theatre.

This is what I thought of Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s production of Nice Work if You Can Get It… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Nice Work if You Can Get It will run through August 4 at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, CCBC Essex, Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, F. Scott Black Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Emma, A Pop Musical pops into Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Classics are called classics for many reasons: great stories, great characters, and timeless conflicts, to name a few. However, as each year passes, the original stories slip farther away from us, but there are those who can take those classic stories and give them a modern twist that’s fun for today’s audiences. Jane Austen’s Emma was and has been a very successful novel through the ages and has been adapted for film and television, most notably, for me, is my favorite, the 1995 film, Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone, but there have been many stage adaptations, as well, and one of those adaptations, Emma, A Pop Musical with Book and Concept by Eric Price, is being offered by Artistic Synergy of Baltimore. This production is Directed by Jake Schwartz, with Music Direction by Darwin Ray and Choreography by Jillian Paige and Joan Firestein.

The Cast of Emma, A Pop Musical. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

Briefly, Emma, A Pop Musical is based on Jane Austen’s very successful novel, Emma, in which a young girl fancies herself a match-maker, and actually does okay, but is blind to her own feelings and relationships. Being a jukebox musical, the story is told through a slew of hits from bygone eras with a few current hits thrown in, for fun.

Noticeably, Costume Design by Margret Ward (NDP) is precise and consistent, adding a certain flair to this production and bringing it together, as a whole. Every character was costumed appropriately and, though this piece is set in a prestigious, private high school where there is a strict uniform code, each character is able to play with their wardrobe to make it more their own.

Choreography by Jillian Paige and Co-Choreographer Joan Firestein is energetic and engaging and the ensemble performs it well. Paige and Firestein seem to have brought out the best in their cast and that’s not a small feat by any stretch of the imagination. More importantly, the cast seems to have fun with this choreography, transferring that enthusiasm to the audience. Though much of the choreography is the entire cast (or whomever is on the stage) performing the same choreography through each song in lines, variety might be a bit lacking, but the energy and skill from both the able Choreographers and apt ensemble are absolutely apparent. Kudos to Paige and Firestein for their efforts.

Olivia Winter and the cast of Emma, A Pop Musical. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

A jukebox musical can be tricky to work with, especially with familiar songs and famous versions of those songs. However, Music Direction by Darwin Ray is impeccable. He has managed to introduce these bygone era songs to those in the audience (and cast) who may be to young to have experienced these tunes the first time around in a new and fresh way. He has a good grasp on the various styles (mostly pop… it’s in the title) and his knowledge shines through in the performances of this young ensemble. It’s worth noting the brilliant pit orchestra, as well, as they were superb in their performance as well. The pit orchestra included Lisa Learman (Keyboards), Wes Freeman (Trumpet), Tina James (Alto Sax), Darwin Ray (Conductor/Tenor/Clarinet), Harry Swartz (Trombone), Peter Weitzman (Guitar), Ethan Hart (Bass), and Chip Traub (Drums/Percussion). Kudos to Ray and all pit orchestra members for their excellent work.

Jake Schwartz, a first-time director, has taken the helm of this production and, overall, has done an admirable job. He seems to have a good understanding of the piece and presents it in an easy to follow, entertaining way. Scenic design isn’t much but when you have a minimal stage, you have to keep the audience interested in blocking and characters. Again, taking into account this is a first for Schwartz, his staging is a little bland with a lot of standing center stage and delivering dialogue, but it doesn’t hinder the production at all. He made some interesting casting choices, but all-in-all, everything works out for him. He may have a few things to learn here and there, but he’s set a strong foundation for greater things as long as he’s open to learning them.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, let it be known that this entire ensemble gives 100% effort and all seem to be having a blast on the stage, which, sometimes, can make or break a performance, but all of these performers are here to give the audience a legit theatre experience.

(back, l-r) Terrell Chambers, Lexie Merrifield, Katie Sacco. (front, l-r) Olivia Winter, Louisa Davis. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

Lexie Merrifield as Harriet, they younger lovelorn friend that Emma takes under her wing, and Kyle LaPosta as Phillip, the egotistical, self-centered possible match for Harriet. Merrifield is a good fit for this character and she seems to understand what her character is going through, but her delivery is stiff, at points. However, her vocal stylings are one point. She has a strong, clear chest voice that soars throughout the theatre, but doesn’t seem as confident when she gets into her higher register. That being said, she shines in her featured numbers such as “Be My Baby” and the familiar Whitney Houston tunes, “How Will I know?” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” LaPosta does a fine job portraying the narcissistic Phillip and gives a natural delivery of his dialogue making for a strong, confident performance.

Terrell Chambers and the cast of Emma, A Pop Musical. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

The former student turned pop star, Frankie, is tackled by Terrell Chambers and he gives a phenomenal vocal performance as in Pat Benatar’s high-energy “Heartbreaker” and Lisa Loeb’s poignant “Stay.” His character work is solid and he is at ease on stage, giving a praiseworthy performance, overall. In tandem, Katie Sa­cco takes on the role of Jane, the new girl who is rough around the edges. Sacco is wonderful in this role and portrays the differences her character has from the other students nicely. Vocally, she holds her own and gives assured performances in her featured numbers such as “Bad, Bad Crush,” the only original song in the production.

Louisa Davis as Emma. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

Taking on the title role of Emma is Louisa Davis and Olivia Winter tackles the gender-bending role of Jeff, the seemingly smartest kid in school who, somehow, manages to get a substitute teaching position while still a student. Taking on the title role is a lot of responsibility for a young actor, but Davis has taken it in stride and gives a lovely performance. Her delivery of the text is natural and she seems to be comfortable in the role. Vocally, she could be a little stronger, especially in her higher register when she goes into head voice, but she understands the songs and that is clear in numbers such as Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Sarah Bareilles’ “Brave.”

Winter can always be counted on to give a great performance and this is not different. Though she may have been slightly miscast, vocally, she knows the character of Jeff and makes it her own. She definitely knows her way around stage and is confident in her performance. In this particular production, Winter’s vocal abilities were not highlighted, unfortunately. Many of her featured vocal parts were a bit too low for her and, I say it’s unfortunate, because I have the advantage of having heard her in previous productions where she has knocked it out of the park, vocally. She’s usually a powerhouse, but in this production, the music just doesn’t seem to fit her phenomenal abilities. Having said that, Winter’s performance is splendid, overall. She does her homework and brings her A-game to all of her performances and I, for one, can’t wait to experience more of her performances as she grows as a performer.

(r-l) Katie Sacco, Maddies Saldana, Olivia Winter, Louisa Davis, and Lexie Merrifield with the cast of Emma, A Pop Musical. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

Rounding out the featured characters, the standout in this production is Maddies Saldaña as Miss Bates. This actress takes a supporting role, chews it up, and spits it out, making for a superb performance. From the moment she stepped onto the stage, I believed her. I believed her character and saw the effort and work she put into this role. She completely embodies this woman and is a joy to watch. Not only is her character on point, she is a vocal powerhouse. Her featured part is in songs such as Salt-n-Pepa and Des’ree mash-up “Whatta Man/You Gotta Be” and Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around” will leave you wanting more.  Her strong, pristine vocals fill up the theatre and her outstanding stylings seem effortless. She’s certainly one to watch in this production and I’m looking forward to seeing more performances from this actress in the future.

Final thought…Emma, A Pop Musical at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is a fun, modern take on a classic to which most will be able to relate. The past song hits will having you feeling nostalgic but also discovering new meanings within the story. If you’re familiar with the story of Jane Austen’s Emma or not, you’ll be thoroughly entertained by this watered-down yet thoughtful take on the material. The song choices are spot on and the performances from this young cast are quite admirable. If you’re looking for a break from all the hustle that summer can bring (even though we should be relaxing), take a trip down to Artistic Synergy of Baltimore for a pleasant, entertaining night of theatre that will have you toe-tapping and dancing in your seat.

This is what I thought of Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s production of Emma, A Pop Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Emma, A Pop Musical will play through August 11 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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Local Artists Shine in 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

10-minute play festivals are popping up all over the place these days. It’s become a little easier for authors to present their work to the public in both short form and feature length, but Baltimore just seems to have a knack for such things. Fells Point Corner Theatre has been presenting their 10x10x10 for a few years now, and have not disappointed. They choose relevant, entertaining pieces to produce and always acquire a superb cast of 10 actors to perform them. With no specific theme, they still manage to gather a group of plays together that fit nicely with each other and present the talents of the author, director, and performers.

Starting off the evening we have Harmony, Fix My Life, written and Directed by Christen Cromwell, with Grace O’Keefe as Kamryn, Shamire Casselle as Harmony, and Rob Vary as Simon. This was a fun way to start this 10-minute play presentation and Cromwell has written a light-hearted but serious piece about the responsibilities of men and women and newborns in today’s world. Rob Vary, though a bit subdued and scripted, pulls off the role of the young father nicely and seems to understand the message his character is trying to send. O’Keefe gives a natural performances as the young, tired mother, but the highlight of this piece is Shamire Casselle who shines as fairy godmother. Her high-energy and natural delivery of the dialogue keep the piece engaging and entertaining making for a great showing all around.

(l-r) Dana Woodson and Jenn Alexander. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Next, There is No More Left of Me After This by Jen Diamond, Directed by Betse Lyons with Karen Shantz as tina and Jenn Skarzynski as Kat is a surreal piece about coming to terms with death and whatever fate has in store for you. It’s a downer, but well written and Lyons’ staging is simple with great character work. Shantz and Skarzynski tackle these two tough roles naturally and confidently tell the short story superbly. Diamond has crafted a relaxing, but thoughtful piece that leaves the audience thinking.

Shamire Casselle and Jared Michael Swain. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Easily, one of my top choices of the evening, Reasons for Separation by Isaiah Harvey, Directed by Christen Cromwell, with Shamire Casselle as Shay and Jared Michael Swain as Marc, is a fast-paced, well-crafted piece that smacks you in the face with no apologies. It’s a current, relative story of divorce and what people go through during it, with real characters that Casselle and Swaine seem to embody and bring to life effortlessly. They have great chemistry and it helps the material immensely.

Things We Talk About at 4:00 in the Morning by Erica Smith, Directed by Betse Lyons with Jenn Alexander as Spencer and Dana Woodson as Terry is an interesting and entertaining piece about a young couple dealing with an illness in on of the young women. The twist is quite interesting and Smith almost had me fooled, until I remembered the time in which we live and what’s big in popular culture these days. Alexander and Woodson have great chemistry and portray these characters with feeling and high emotion. Lyons’ staging is simple, but effective and makes for an all around good showing.

(l-r) Christian O’Neill, Karen Shantz, and Tom Piccin. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Ending out the first act, we are presented with UH: A Brief Musical by Utkarsh Rajawat, Directed by Donna Ibale with Tom Piccin as Demon, Christian O’Neill as Angel, and Karen Shantz as Person which, I have to say, is not on my list of favorites. However, Piccin, O’Neill, and Shantz give stellar performances and Ibale’s staging is on point, the script is lackluster. The concept isn’t exactly new and the script seems like a rush job. It’s unfortunate because I enjoyed previous work by Rajawat at the 10x10x10 (read that review here) but this piece just doesn’t seem up to par with the previous work. Great performances and staging save this piece and the performers and Director should be applauded for their efforts.

Starting off Act II we have I Saw This is Paducah by Rich Espey, Directed by Matthew Shea, with Jenn Skarzynski as Barb and Jenn Alexander as Alice, and Rob Vary as Announcer is in the list of my favorites of the evening. It’s an immersive piece about two friends who are regular theatre goers, especially of the short works festivals, such as 10x10x10. Shea’s staging is spot on including the audience but not getting in our faces, which is a perfect blend. Espy seems to be poking fun at more conservative, old fashioned views of the world, but he does so subtly and not facetiously. Skarzyski hits the nail on the head in her portrayal of Barb, the narrow-minded, dominant, outspoken patron who wants everyone to abide by the rules and Alexander performs her character, Alice, with just enough meekness to feel sorry for her, but also enough chutzpah that you know she can take care of herself. All around, it’s a great piece with a good production value. Kudos to all.

Dana Woodson. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Mira by Tatiana Nya Ford, Directed by Donna Ibale with Dana Woodson as Woman and Jared Michael Swain as Man is a poignant and thoughtful piece about a woman in a coma who is to reconcile her reality with her fantasy. It’s a 10-minute, fast-paced monologue that seems to be stream-of-consciousness and Woodson chews it up and spits it out marvelously. She has a good handle on the material and presents it confidently, making for a great showing. Ibale’s staging is simple, but effective and puts the audience in the mind of this woman. In Swain’s short stage time, he emotes the emotions of his character, the son of the woman in the coma, and brings the entire piece home. Kudos to all inovled.

Beer Bottle Bug by David J. Hills, Directed by Matthew Shea, with Karen Shantz as Carrie and Christian O’Neill as Ty is a fanciful, humorous piece about a woman who thinks she has certain supernatural powers and it’s delightful. Not one of my favorites, but certainly entertaining. Hills creates a world where the impossible seems possible and leaves the audience wondering, which any good book should do. Shantz and O’Neill portray their modern characters effortlessly and have a great chemistry adding to the production value. Shea’s staging is appropriate and easy to follow making it a well-rounded piece to be included in this production.

Grace O’Keefe and Tom Piccin. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

The Home for Retired Canadian Girlfriends by John Bavaso, Directed by Steve Goldklang, with Tom Piccin as Rupert and Grace O’Keefe as Tiffany is probably one of my favorites of the evening. Bavaso creates an imaginary world where imaginary girlfriends go when they are no longer needed. It’s relatable, current, and relevant with a solid script and concept. His dialogue is easy to follow and natural. Goldklang stages it simply but keeps it engaging all at the same time, which is no small feat for a short piece. Piccin and O’Keefe shine in their roles and bring out the comedy and tragedy of these characters and this piece as a whole.  Their effective and praise-worthy performances drive this play along with their natural delivery of the dialogue and spot on comedic timing. A major kudos to all involved in this piece.

Knock Knock by Rich Pauli, Directed by Steve Goldklang, with Christian O’Neill as Dave and Jenn Alexander as Francesca was a curious choice to end this production, but I can understand the reasoning. It concerns itself with the last man on earth and his Amazon Echo. Reminiscent of Stanly Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Amazon Echo takes the place of H.A.L., even stating “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that,” at one point. It’s well performed, Goldklang’s staging is superb, and Pauli’s script is current and well-written, but the concept has been done over and over again. It’s hard to freshen up an old concept such as “the last man on earth” but Pauli does his best and the piece is entertaining. O’Neill brings a certain urgency and panic to the character that is required and makes for a terrific showing and overall good presentation of the piece.

Final thought… 10x10x10, is a quirky menagerie of very original and fun 10-minute plays that keep the audience engaged and even thinking, at times, some are better than others, but all of them have heart. The performers are grasp the concepts of these short pieces nicely and the directors seems to have good comprehension of the material making for an enjoyable, entertaining, and even thought provoking evening. Kudos to the authors for putting themselves and their work out there and I’m very interested to see more of their work in the future.

This is what I thought of this production of 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

10x10x10 will play through June 16 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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Step Back in Time with Queens Girl in the World & Queens Girl in Africa at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Both productions approx. 2 hours with one intermission

I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era. The early 1960s fascinates me, from politics, to styles, to music… all of it! I grew up with a very nostalgic mother, so, I’m actually quite familiar with all of it and I love it! Shows like Everyman Theatre’s latest offering, Queens Girl in the World and Queens Girl in Africa, in repertory, by Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Directed by Paige Hernandez, always takes me back, even though I didn’t live it, but know enough about it to relate. Whether you experienced the era first hand or just learned about it from your elders, these shows will transport you right back to a time when things seemed simpler, but a mess of things was bubbling just under the surface.

Dawn Ursula. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Queens Girl in the World and Queens Girl in Africa is a multi-chapter memoir, of sorts, from Caleen Sinnette Jennings and both concern themselves with young Jacqueline Marie Butler, from Queens, New York, as she tells her story from her childhood to young adulthood. Through impressions of the people in her life, we watch her come of age both in America and Africa as she emotes the humor and poignancy of being a Queens girl in the world and in Africa.

Overall, both of these pieces are very, very well written and thought-out. It’s a refreshing, one woman piece that gives a glimpse into a the life of a young African-American girl who grew up in a practically all-white social circle, and her balancing between whites and blacks in the early 1960s. It’s original, engaging, and authentic with superb performances and staging.

Erika Rose. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Paige Hathway’s Set Design is minimal, but absolutely gorgeous. With a simple stoop and front door for Queens Girl in the World and practically blank stage with a simple chair, for the most part, for Queens Girl in Africa, it forces the audience to fill in the blanks, but that’s what makes this production so engaging. Hathaway has managed to transport us to early 60s Queens, New York and Nigeria with a simple design and she is to be applauded and commended for her efforts.

Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler and Sound Design by David Lamont Wilson is subtle but effective. Schertler’s design sets the mood for each “scene” seamlessly and follows the action as Jaqueline changes topics and explains her days and nights. Wilson’s Sound Design works in tandem with the production with well-chosen effects and music of the time. Though minimal, both of these designs do their jobs in moving the action forward and not hindering it and taking focus away, making for excellent Lighting and Sound Design.

Dawn Ursula. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Paige Hernandez, a resident company member, takes the reigns of this production and it’s clear she has a great comprehension of this material. Staging a one-person show can actually be challenging, but Hernandez has knocked it out of the park with this production. Her vision is clear and her character work is apparent working with these actresses to create this character from childhood into adulthood. She keeps the character engaging (with the help of the actresses, of course), and the seamless transition between actresses is impeccable and impressive. What I like is that she keeps it simple and lets the actresses do their thing without a bunch of bells and whistles. This brings the raw talent out of the actress and makes for a stellar production. Hats off and kudos to Hernandez for a job quite well done.

Dawn Ursula takes on the role of Jacqueline Marie Butler in Queens Girl in the World and she has this character down pat. She’s comfortable playing the childhood to teen Jaqueline and manages the impressions of all the other characters with ease. A large part of this piece is the impressions this character does when discussing the people in her life and Ursula does this seamlessly. She understands this character (and the ages she’s portraying), and makes this role her own. Overall, she gives a strong, confident, and commendable performance.

Tackling the role of Jacqueline in Queens Girl in Africa is the apt and able Ericka Rose and she is phenomenal in her portrayal. The first thing I noticed and loved about this actress is her smooth but resonating stage voice. I was engaged the moment she started speaking and stayed engaged through to the end. She, too, effortlessly performed the impressions of others in Jacqueline’s life with ease, embodying all of the characters discussed in this piece. She tackles Jacqueline’s later years and matches Ursula’s portrayal near perfectly, while adding her own twist and making the role hers, which is no small feat. She holds the entire piece on her shoulders and doesn’t falter once giving a strong and praiseworthy performance.

Erika Rose. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Both of these actresses, Dawn Ursula and Erika Rose, emote both the humor and poignancy this character and material calls for and it’s easy they can feel this character deeply, making for extraordinary performances from both.

Final thought…  Queens Girl in the World & Queens Girl in Africa at Everyman Theatre is a coming of age story that is original and immersive using nostalgia, pathos, humor, and everything in between to tell a simple story of a girl growing up. Real life may be boring, but when it’s put into a script and performed well, as both of these productions provide, it can be a wondrous experience and that’s what these shows are. Ursula and Rose perform this character well and it’s easy to see their understanding of this character and how they can relate to her, making it easy for an audience to relate. I’m looking forward to seeing the next installment next season, but until then, you don’t want to miss these productions running in repertory. Get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s Queens Girl in the World & Queens Girl in Africa… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Queens Girl in the World & Queens Girl in Africa will play in repertory through June 23 at Everyman Theatre315 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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