Review: [title of show] at Harford Community College

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission

I am one of those nine people. This is the only way you start a review about [title of show] while making an obscure reference to [title of show], which is Harford Community College Actor’s Guild’s latest offering, Directed by Lizzie Detar, Choreographed by Jessica Auguste, with Music Direction by Dominic LaFrancesca. [title of show] is definitely a unique experience that takes a different twist on the original musical. It is “a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.” There is something absurdist about the construct and yet the characters are real, compelling, and relatable. There are also a lot of really cool inside jokes and inside references for true theatre geeks laced throughout.

The intimate black box space is ideal for this show. You feel like you are there in the living room, hanging out and experiencing the creative process with these characters. By the end, you really feel as if they are old friends. For the most part, the decision to not use microphones also works with creating this mood; however, there are a few times when soloists are lost under the keyboard and a better sound balance could have been achieved. The most noticeable incidences are in “An Original Musical” (where Hunter should be powering above the music) and “A Way Back to Then” (in which it would nice to see the keyboard softer to match Heidi’s intimacy). Overall, especially when the cast members unite in the many harmonies of the score, the sound balance works well for the space.

What is so engaging and endearing about this production is the way that everything really feels spontaneous. Director Lizzie Detar and Choreographer Jessica Auguste have done an impressive job of creating staging and choreography that looks beautiful and is clearly carefully designed and yet also appears spontaneous and like it is being improvised in the moment. This script just wouldn’t work if anything came across too canned or too rehearsed or too much like “acting,” and Detar clearly recognizes that and keeps it at the forefront of her vision.

The actors have also clearly internalized this necessity. As a group, their reactions and interactions always feel genuine and spontaneous. The chemistry and the unity of the performers is also solid, as it is almost difficult to talk about each of them individually. The characters and the scenes are so interconnected, and none of them are ever pulling focus from the others. Still, each of them creates a unique and individual character.

Morgan Tacka gives a brilliant performance, even as she is playing an actress playing this character of herself who is self-admittedly not really much of an actress. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is; still Tacka makes all of those realities come to life at once in a well-developed and very real performance. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the always over-the-top Heidi, and yet Katie Pendergast makes her also very genuine without losing any of the pizzazz. These two women complement each other perfectly in these two contrasting roles.

The same is true of the very believable friendship and partnership between Hunter (Samuel Walton) and Jeff (Justin Strittmatter). Walton gives an incredibly endearing performance with subtle ease, while Strittmatter emotionally connects with the audience in a more playful manner. With Walton, genuine delivery garners laughter, and, for Strittmatter, it is impeccable timing. Together, their voices blend beautifully and their personalities mesh seamlessly.

Even with these four amazing performances, there are moments when it seems like Larry (Dominic LaFrancesca) might just steal the show with his fabulous one-liners delivered from behind the onstage keyboard. The stellar harmonies and vocal stylings of the cast throughout also show LaFrancesca’s excellent work as the Musical Director of this production.

[title of show] is a strong and cohesive production. The cast is dynamic and genuine. The concept is fun and funny and original. The space is perfect. The characters?/cast?/ both? ultimately decide that they would “rather be nine people’s favorite thing/Than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” With a production as wonderful as the current offering at HCC Actor’s Guild, it is more than worth deciding for yourself if you are also part of the nine.

This is what I thought of Harford Community College Actor’s Guild’s [title of show]… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

[title of show] will play through February 17 at Harford Community College, 401 Thomas Run Rd, Bel Air, MD 21015, Joppa Hall Black Box Theater. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Everything is Wonderful at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Different cultures have different ways of dealing with tragedy. Most will encourage looking to your faith to find a higher meaning than what we mere mortals can imagine. Some encourage forgiveness to those who have wronged you and, some go even further to encourage forgive and forget. How do you forgive and forget someone who has taken the lives of your loved ones, accident or not? Everyman Theatre’s latest production, Everything is Wonderful by Chelsea Marcantel, Directed by Noah Himmelstein, tries to answer this tough question as we see tragedy and loss through from the viewpoints of a family in crisis, a young man full of guilt, and a man who believes he’s near perfect because he’s practically been told so his whole life.

Bruce Randolph Nelson, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

In a nutshell, Everything is Wonderful concerns itself with an Amish family who lost two sons when a drunk driver smashed into their buggy, a daughter who doesn’t seem cut out for the Amish life, and a culture that forgives and forgets, but only on the surface. Ultimately, I gathered this piece is about following your own conscience to find forgiveness, regardless of what those around you may think or do.

Marcantel’s text is easy to follow and presents these complex problems in simple terms which is why I believe this script is so successful. The dialogue is natural and it flows as conversation between folks should. She has a good comprehension of the subject matter and creates a world into which we can step and be a part of the story making for an enjoyable evening of theatre.

L-R: Steve Polites, Bruce Randolph Nelson*, Tony Nam, Alex Spieth, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The story that Chelsea Marcantel weaves is flawless and Noah Himmelstein has given us simple, yet engaging presentation with the help Daniel Ettinger’s exquisite Set Design. Himmelstein and Ettinger use the space well and the action moves at a great pace working in tandem with a precise and effective Lighting Design by Cory Pattak that puts us in each appropriate location without a bunch of bells and whistles. Sometimes less is more and it is absolutely true for this production and both Ettinger and Pattak knock it out of the ballpark.

L-R: Alex Spieth, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Tony Nam, Deborah Hazlett, Hannah Kelly. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Himmelstein has a tight grasp on this material and his staging is immaculate. He keeps the audience interested in the story by using practically the entire theatre with the correct entrance and exit points while keeping a good flow without a lot of clunky scene changes, which is what I’ve come to love about theatre these days… not a lot of, if any, blackouts, unless they are absolutely appropriate. It’s the details that make this production so successful, as well. For instance, the slight accent of the Amish characters is so authentic, both Himmelstein and the performers are to be applauded for their efforts. Overall, Himmelstein hit the nail on the head with this and should be commended for his work.

Bruce Randolph Nelson, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The cast is simply amazing, and I mean every single one of them. Resident Company member Bruce Randolph Nelson portrays Jacob, the patriarch of the Amish family and, he completely embodies this character taking on all of his trials and troubles. He seems comfortable in this role and his performance is strong and confident making him a standout in this piece in both his authenticity with the role and his gentle handling of the character. Along with Nelson, another Resident Company member, Deborah Hazlett shines as Esther, the matriarch, and the mixed, bottled up emotions just spill out of her throughout this production. She has a deep understanding of this character and her portrayal of her, as a grieving, staunch mother is impeccable. Both Nelson and Hazlett, through their performances, bring home the message of forgiveness in their portrayals of these two characters, and not just surface forgiveness, but true and deep forgiveness, even in the hardest of situations.

Tony Nam, Alex Spieth. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Two highlights in this production are Alex Spieth, who tackles the role of Miri, a former Amish girl and estranged daughter to Jacob and Esther, and Tony Nam, who takes on the role of Eric, the driver of the car that hit the buggy, taking the lives of Jacob and Esther’s sons. Both Spieth and Nam are able actors who have a good comprehension of their characters and portray them naturally in both delivery of the dialogue and in manner. Eric wants to get in and Miri has gotten out, and is fine with her choices and the conflict between these two characters is beautifully presented by Speith and Nam and both give strong, confident, and poignant performances.

Steve Polite and Hannah Kelly. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Rounding out the small ensemble, the adorable Hannah Kelly takes on the role of Ruth, the good daughter, who is content with her Amish life and wants to be a good person and is a good person, and the dashing Steve Polites, tackles the role of Abram, the tall, handsome, boy next door who seems to be the apple of the community’s eye, but has a secret dark side. Kelly undoubtedly knows her character inside and out and her portrayal is authentic, and, because of her portrayal, you can’t help but like this character from the get. She invokes a gentleness that’s believable and gives a tender performance that is required of this young girl. Polites has a strong command of the stage (it doesn’t hurt that he’s a little over 6’ in height, or so it seems) and his voice is smooth and booming, which works very nicely with this character. He takes this character and makes it his own, walking the line between the perfect son and the devil among us, making for an intriguing and exciting performance.

Final thought…  Everything is Wonderful at Everyman Theatre is a poignant, thoughtful piece that makes us look into our own selves and question what we would do in a certain situation. From Set Design to Costumes Design to performance, this production is not one you want to miss this season. There’s not one performer who can’t hold his or her own and the material is through provoking with dashes of humor that take the audience on a roller coaster of all the feels. It enlightens us about a culture that is seemingly veiled in plain sight and puts us all on a level playing field. If you don’t have your tickets already, get them now. I reiterate… you do not want to miss this one.

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

Everything is Wonderful will play through February 24 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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Review: Jerusalem at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 3 hours with two 10-minute intermissions

I’ve heard it said that a story about a day-in-the-life of someone doesn’t make for good theatre because, real life can actually be quite boring. Then, another school of thought is that day-in-the-life pieces are engaging because of the drama and emotion of real life.  Whichever side of the fence you’re on with day-in-the-life pieces, Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest offering, Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, Directed by Ann Turiano, gives us that glimpse into a day-in-the-life of an interesting character with interesting friends trying to get through a day of county fairs, alcohol and drug binges, and side-stepping the law.

Sitting Down from Left to Right: David Shoemaker as Ginger, Dylan McKenzi as Tanya, Kelly Hutchinson as Pea, Sean Coe as The Professor, Nate Krimmel as Lee, Terrance Flemming as Davey. Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

From what I could gather, briefly, Jerusalem takes place in Flint in one day, St. George’s Day, as well as the annual local county fair. Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a local drunk, addict, ne’er-do-well, and Pied Piper figure, knows his days are numbered on his land as the local officials want to evict him to make room for new development. His friends (some under-age) gather frequently throughout the day to relieve him of his supply of alcohol and drugs while his young son wants him to take him to the fair and a thug, the step-father of a missing girl, wants to give him a good thrashing. And… yeah… that’s about it. If anyone else has anything to add, please feel free to do so.

I’ll admit, this piece could be going over my head because I didn’t see or hear much of a plot, other than a stubborn dude, Rooster, played superbly by Ian Blackwell Rogers, saying “F**k You!” to the world and going about his business but Rogers plays him in a way that I was invested in him, much like his friends. A highlight of this piece is David Shoemaker, who takes on the role of Ginger, Rooster’s oldest mate who seems to understand him better than the others, and his natural delivery and take on the “sidekick,” true-friend character is phenomenal. Director Ann Turiano knocks it out of the ballpark with her staging and she keeps the piece moving smoothly throughout, and it’s easy to follow, but I think it’s the script that I can’t figure out.

The cast of Jerusalem. Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

Set Design by Christopher Flint and Scenic Art by Kim Speaks also seems to be a bit much for the space. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an outstanding design and the audience is transported to this trashy little plot of land in the English countryside, but it may have been too much for the intimacy of Fells Point Corner Theatre. Authentic, no denying, with a full trailer façade (which is impeccable), and turf covered stage with vines and trees strewn about, but the shit load of just about everything including an old commode, seems to draw more attention from the action than needed.

Ian Blackwell Rogers as Rooster. Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

Performance-wise, this is a large ensemble and, yes, some are more apt than others but, overall, the entire ensemble works well together to create this motley crew that follows this charismatic leader… almost sounds cultish, doesn’t it? The dialects were 50/50 and I lost a lot of dialogue because of it, but not enough that I still couldn’t follow the story. Most of the actors and actresses were apt enough to be believable British-folk, and honestly, depending on where you are in Great Britain, it’s kind of difficult to understand the different dialects anyway, so, kudos on authenticity. The character work is commendable such as Nate Krimel as Lee and Terrance Flemming as Davey, the young, party-boys, and Sean Coe as Professor and Michael Salconi as Wesley, the older friends of Rooster, who have been around and seen most, if not all.

Overall, the production value and performances were admirable and the show itself is entertaining. My frustrations with this piece probably root in my not getting what the show is about but, production-wise, Turiano and her cast and crew have put on a polished, thoughtful production that you should check out.

Final thought… Jerusalem, though entertaining with splendid performances, just isn’t my cup of tea. It seemed to be a good story of standing your ground and sticking it to the man, but there was a lot of stuff to get through to get to that message, (IF that’s the message, not to mention, it’s about a 3-hour journey (but with two intermissions to break it up, nicely). The set was immense for the intimate space, but I’m assuming the clutter is what they were going for, so, it works… in a way. Overall, it’s a well put-together production so I’m thinking it’s just the script I’m having second thoughts about but, Fells Point Corner Theatre always manages to put on a great show with fantastic production value so, I’d chalk it up to a success, with minor reservations, in the end.

This is what I thought of this production of Jerusalem.… what do you think?

From a different angle: The Bad Oracle or B.I.T.R. Sisters

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Jerusalem will play through February 3 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

Review: Fun Home at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

If you ask anyone about their family, it’s rare someone will come back with, “Oh, my family’s just your everyday, normal family.” If they do, they’re probably lying. Every family has its quirkiness. Sometimes it’s what makes us love them, other times it makes us hate them, but there’s no changing it and we learn to deal with it, or we don’t. It’s all up to us. When it comes to homosexuality, it can get tricky for some, depending on the family. Speaking from experience, it was a breeze for me, but I know there are others who have had a more difficult time. In Baltimore Center Stage’s latest production, Fun Home, with Music by Jeanine Tesori and Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron, we get a glimpse into one family’s story of a lesbian daughter and her closeted gay father with the background of a funeral home in an ordinary town in Pennsylvania. This production is Directed by Hana S. Sharif, with Music Direction by Evan Rees, and Choreography by Jaclyn Miller.

(l-r) Jeffry Denman, Liam Hamilton, Michelle Dawson, Molly Lyons, Andrea Prestinario, and Jon Martens. Credit: Baltimore Center Stage

Briefly, Fun Home is based on an autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel concerning her complex relationship with her closeted father in the mid to late 70s in a small town in Pennsylvania. Through flashbacks, of childhood and college years, the present day 40-something Alison tells the story of her own coming out and coming to terms and of her own father’s coming to terms, as well as her own realization that her beginning was his end.

Scenic Design by Scott Bradley & Projection Design by Hana S. Kim is simple, but stellar. Bradley has managed to use a sparse stage and set pieces to represent various locations in the old Victorian house and their use of the trap doors to bring in different pieces such as a representation of an old car and living room is quite clever. It keeps the stage clean and the transitions smooth as not to hinder the action of the piece. The carefully selected projections and animations add great value to the piece and, running in tandem with the action and dialogue, adds variety to the setting and immerses the audience in each scene. Bradley and Kim are to be commended for their efforts.

Andrea Prestinario, Molly Lyons, and Jeffry Denman. Credit: Baltimore Center Stage

Karen Perry’s Costume Design manages to take the audience from the past to the present and back again, flawlessly. The 70s (much like every other decade) had a certain style and Perry has captured this look in a way that isn’t campy (except in one number, “Raincoat of Love” in which it is required – gold platforms and all) but authentic and it’s kind of a cross between modern and vintage which works beautifully for this piece. Her instincts are spot on and kudos to her for her design.

Though a production like Fun Home doesn’t require much choreography, Choreographer Jaclyn Miller has taken those bits that do require it right back to the era in which they take place. Reminiscent of The Brady Bunch or Partridge Family (though more of the former), or even the Jackson 5, Miller has created engaging and upbeat moves for the ensemble in numbers such as “Welcome to the Fun Home” and “Raincoat of Love” and the results are delightful. “Welcome to the Fun Home” consists of only children but they managed the choreography beautifully which tells me Miller knows her cast and fashions dances that will enhance their performances, and it does indeed. The fun, fluffy, bubble gum pop “Raincoat of Love” is no different and looks as if it were snatched off a music special of the 1970s. Again, there’s not much choreography to speak of, but what Miller has put on the stage is splendid and adds that extra “oomph” to an already engaging show.

(l-r) Molly Lyons, Andrea Prestinario, and Laura Darrell. Credit: Baltimore Center Stage

Evan Rees takes the reigns as Music Director and his work on this production is terrific. Musically Directing a Tony award winning piece is no small feat but Rees has stepped up to the challenge and has accomplished the goal. It doesn’t hurt that his cast is musically apt, and Rees has guided them to beautiful and emotional performances making for an very entertaining evening of theatre. Shout out to the exceptional orchestra of this production including Alex Aucoin (Percussion), Andy Axelrad (Reeds), Zack Branch (Basses), Amelia Giles (Violin/Viola), Gerry Kunkel (Guitars), MaryAnn Perkel (Cello), and Even Rees, himself, on Keyboards and serving as conductor.

Taking the helm of this production is Hana S. Sharif and her Direction makes it clear she has a hearty comprehension of this material and her presentation is impeccable. The pacing is upbeat when it needs to be and slows down when required but always engaging. Sharif understands telling a story in flashbacks and jumping back in forth in time and presents it in a way that is easy to follow making for smooth transitions and story-telling.

(l-r) Molly Lyons, John Martens, and Liam Hamilton. Credit: Baltimore Center Stage

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, the younger members of this ensemble consist of Jon Martens as John Bechdel and Liam Hamilton as Christian Bechdel and these young gentlemen are already setting themselves up for successful careers. Both boys portray their supporting characters with confidence and ease making them a joy to watch during their scenes and especially their fun performances in numbers like “Welcome to the Fun Home.” They hold their own throughout and give strong performances.

Two other supporting roles are taken on by Shannon Tyo as Joan and Justin Gregory Lopez as various characters. Tyo is clearly comfortable in her role as she delivers her dialogue naturally and she puts the audience at ease with her portrayal of this friendly, but straight forward character of Joan, the love interest of Alison. In the same vein of authentic portrayals, Lopez shines in his various roles, showing his ability to play different characters exiting and entering only moments apart. He’s believable in his portrayals and, vocally, Lopez is a powerhouse as he exhibits in his featured number, the nostalgic, upbeat “Raincoat of Love.” Kudos to both Tyo and Lopez for jobs very well done.

(l-r) Laura Darrell and Jeffry Denman. Credit: Baltimore Center Stage

Through flashbacks, Laura Darrell as Medium Alison and Molly Lyons as Small Alison give exquisite performances. Darrell, though looking a little older than the oldest Alison, gleams as the college aged Alison and completely embodies her role. Her rendition of the poignant and humorous “Changing My Major” is a memorable one and shows off her beautiful, strong vocals. She has a deep understanding of her character’s conflicts and portrays them effortlessly. Also, the young Lyons is brilliant as the youngest version of Alison and gives a confident performance well beyond her years. Vocally, Lyons stands her ground and belts out a near flawless “Ring of Keys” making for an impressive and charming performance, overall.

Molly Lyons. Credit: Baltimore Center Stage

A definite highlight of this production is Michelle Dawson as Helen Bechdel, the matriarch of the Bechdel family and a woman who is just trying to keep her family together, in spite of her husband. Dawson’s performance is superb as she emotes the emotion and strife this character is feeling throughout. Her gentleness with the character is in beautiful contrast of the obvious turmoil she is feeling inside. Her strong and confident performance of “Days and Days” in the second act is show-stopping and makes the audience take notice. Dawson is to be commended and applauded for her efforts in this role.

(l-r) Jeffry Denam, Molly Lyons, and Andrea Prestinario. Credit: Baltimore Center Stage

Standouts in this production are Jeffry Denman as Bruce Bechdel and Andrea Prestinario as Alison, the two pivotal characters around which this story revolves. This being the first time I’m experiencing Fun Home live, I’d done some light research before attending this performance, but I wanted everything to be fresh, so I limited my research. I had no idea how shady the character of Bruce Bechdel and it’s a little unnerving to know he’s based on a real person. That being said, Jeffry Denman is spot on in his portrayal of Bruce Bechdel. His authenticity in playing a man who is caught between two worlds is believable and, vocally, Denman is a wonder with a smooth timbre that resonates throughout the theatre. His performance of the emotional and heavy “Edges of the World” brings his character together and gives a better understanding of this person and his inner-conflict. In tandem with Dennam’s portrayal, Andrea Prestinario is an absolute joy to watch. Her portrayal of the present day Alison is so splendid, it’s easy to connect with this character instantly. She is confident and comfortable in this role, which puts the audience at ease, as well. Working as the narrator of this story, Prestinario skillfully walks us through each scene and her slight interactions within the scenes are subtle and she certainly makes this character the heart of the story. Vocally, she is a powerhouse as seen in her performance of  the tense but thoughtful “Telephone Wire.” Prestinario should be applauded for her work and I can’t wait to see more from this able actress.

Final thought…  Fun Home deserved every accolade it received and continues to receive. Not only is the text well though-out and put together, the music is modern and catchy, but heartfelt. The production at Baltimore Center Stage is top notch with exquisite talent and should not be missed this season. There is not one weak link in this chain of performers and everything from Set Design to staging to Music Direction is on point. The story in Fun Home been around for ages and will probably continue on for ages and this particular presentation of a family in crisis, learning about each other, and how to deal with each other has everything – poignancy, humor, sadness, and hope. Get your tickets now, before it’s too late. Come on down to the Fun Home! You won’t regret it!

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

Fun Home will play through Feburary 24 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 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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Review: In the Closet at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Everyone copes with things differently and there’s really no “right” way to cope with any situation that may come your way. There are fighters, there are flighters, there are talkers, and those who shut down into themselves, but, again, there’s no right way to deal with things. When bad things happen in someone’s life, he or she must find his or her own way of coping. In Third Wall Productions‘ latest offering, In the Closet by Siegmund Fuchs, Directed by Emily Daubenmire, gives us an interesting take on a coping mechanism that may or may not be relatable to many but makes one think about how we all are individuals in dealing with crisis in our own lives.

In the Closet concerns itself with John, a young man who has just had relations with another man for the first time, an old man dealing with the illness of his husband, a middle-aged man dealing with getting older and a community with which he doesn’t relate anymore, and a 20-something man who is a victim of rape and told he must act straight on the stand in court, all in a metaphorical closet to which they’ve escaped because of these varied reasons. Throughout, the older men are working to get John to walk back out of the closet by discussing experiences each have been through, good and bad, as well as trying to explain what the closet is. Will they be able to get John out of the closet or will they all be stuck there forever, not being able to face the real world or themselves? In the Closet forces us to ask ourselves what would we tell our younger selves about our lives and what would we ask our older selves, if we had the chance?

Author Siegmund Fuchs has given us a well put-together script and tells an interesting story making for a pleasant evening of theatre. His dialogue is natural, for the most part, though there are a few bits where the wording probably looks better on paper than it sounds coming out of an actor but, overall, it’s a solid, thoughtful script. His characters are fleshed out well and their individuality and similarity are subtle but clear in the dialogue. Each character is going through his own turmoil that makes for a diverse and engaging script. Though Fuchs’ concept is clever, the “twist” is somewhat predictable but thought-provoking, and well though-out nonetheless.

One drawback for this production, unfortunately, is Set Design by Patrick Rudai and Jordan Hollett. To make a long story short… it is too much for this space. Yes, the setting is a closet, and yes, most closets are small, however, with the amount of items on this set, including set pieces and decorations, it was very cramped and the small ensemble seemed to have trouble navigating and maneuvering around each other during the scenes, which did distract, at times. It looks great, don’t get me wrong, the authenticity and detail are apparent which is a plus for Rudai and Hollett, but it hinders the action rather than helps it and, sometimes, less is more. Overall, it’s a good design, but could be scaled back.

Taking the helm of this production is Director Emily Daubenmire and, though, overall, the piece runs smoothly, staging is a bit erratic. The set isn’t helping matters when it comes to the staging, but during certain points, the pacing of this piece comes to a near halt. Daubenmire seems to have a good grasp on this material and text but the execution is haphazard. For example, there are a few scenes in which one actor must complete a simple task but the dialogue doesn’t begin until the task is complete making for elongated moments of awkward silence that could be eliminated with simple transitioning techniques. This is not to say the entire production is messy, it’s a very well put-together production and it’s my assumption that the set has a big hand in the problems in staging, but, as the Director, Daubenmire should be watching more carefully to make sure these problems are smoothed out before opening.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, H. Ray Lawson takes on the role of Man #1 (the old man) and Mike Zellhofer tackles the role of Man #2 (the middle-aged man). Lawson has a good comprehension of his character, who is the wisest of the quartet, but he does have problem with his lines, leaving long moments of silence where you can see the cogs turning to remember lines. His delivery is a bit stiff but his effort is top-notch. However, beyond these troubles, the character’s sincerity and caring shines through naturally and Lawson obviously feels deeply about this character and his portrayal us poignant and authenticity is apparent.

Zellhofer, as Man #2, has a strong grasp of his character and he has a strong presence making for an admirable performance. Though sounding a bit scripted in delivery, he still manages to bring an authenticity to the role that makes the character heartwarming and charming. His character has a sorted past, as they all do, but Zellhofer really understands the trials of his character and expresses it well. In one intense scene toward the end of Act I, Zellhofer shines in both character and delivery and makes for a shining moment in the production.

Rounding out this small ensemble are Stephen Foreman, who takes on the role of Man #3 (the young man) and Angel Duque portrays John (and even younger man). Foreman gives a commendable performance as the young man who has come to terms with his homosexuality but has endured a horrible incident that has forced him back into the closet, for the time being. Foreman has a clear grasp on his character and portrays him in a way that shows his understanding. His delivery is natural and he seems comfortable in the character making for a well-rounded and believable performance.

A highlight of the production is Angel Duque and his performance is solid with an obvious comprehension of his role. He seems to embody this character of John and portrays him with defined emotions and a sense of uncertainty that is required. His delivery is smooth, and his presence is robust, making for an enjoyable and engaging performance, overall.

Final thought…  In the Closet is an interesting take on a very personal experience that is individual to all. The production certainly has its flaws but is still a good story with a good script and, with each performance, I’m certain the wrinkles will be ironed out. Staging and some delivery of the text might need work, but the dialogue is thoughtful and weaves a multi-generational story that cleverly concerns only one person. It makes us think hard on whether or not we can forgive our past trespasses and look toward an uncertain future. In this day and age of learning to be yourself and having to have a thick skin, this is an important story that needs to be told and seen.

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of In the Closet… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

In the Closet will play through January 27 at Function Coworking Community, 4709 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: Thank You, Dad at Rapid Lemon Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

On November 18, 1978, tragedy struck in a little stretch of land in Guyana, in South America, where some 900 people lost their lives because of on crazed man. News hit hard in the United States because most of these folks were lost, disenchanted Americans, including a United States Senator. Some of you might know this story and the story of Jonestown, led by the Reverend Jim Jones and the final act of revolutionary suicide that occurred over four decades ago and Rapid Lemon Prouctions‘ latest offering, Thank You, Dad by Aladrian C. Wetzel and Directed by Donna Ibale, gives us insight into the man behind the tragedy, Jim Jones. Through Three acts, we learn of his beginnings, his ministry with The People’s Temple, and then ultimate insanity that took the lives of the people who followed him.

Lance Bankerd as Jim Jones. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Hands down, author Aladrian C. Wetzel has crafted an intelligent, thoughtful piece of theatre. It’s apparent she has done her research and has gathered together three important phases of Jim Jones’ life to present in this work. As one who has always been macabrely fascinated by this tragedy, I’ve spent hours online watching videos and films about Jim Jones and Jonestown, and Wetzel has hit the nail on the head in her presentation. The script is well put-together and engaging and it offers facts with an artistic license that doesn’t hinder the information. Jim Jones is a complicated man, obviously, but Wetzel has managed to tell his story, through his point of view, while showing the madness that was just under the surface that some people saw directly, while others saw only a savior. The dialogue is easy to follow and helps us understand Jones as a regular man, a self-proclaimed prophet, and madman. Whether you’re familiar with this sad story or not, you will walk away learning a little more about this complex man and the massacre of Jonestown. Wetzel is to be commended and applauded for her work and efforts.

Lance Bankerd as Jim Jones. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Set and Property Design by Max Garner and Projection Design by Chris Uehlinger blend perfectly into this production and add great value as a whole. Set pieces and digital images and video are chosen wisely and help move the story along as we take this journey with Jones. The full back wall projections and simple setting do not take away from the storytelling of this piece and give just enough to put the audience in the scene to better understand what they are watching. The Baltimore Theatre Project is such a great venue and the perfect space for this production that was used wisely by Garner and Uehlinger.

Lance Bankerd as Jim Jones. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Director Donna Ibale (with Justin Johnson, Chara Bauer, and Lee Conderacci) do a splendid job realizing their visions on the stage. Ibale has wisely chosen to use a blank stage with simple set pieces that does not get in the way of the telling of the story, but adds to it. Ibale seems to have a good grasp on who this tragic person was and the history leading up to his ultimate dastardly deed. The only drawback is the recorded voices filling in as followers and such as they sound too rigid and scripted to be folks talking from the heart or giving spontaneous responses. However, the text that is spoken does move the story along and gives Jones something with which the actor portraying Jones can work. Each act is presented as a sermon, of sorts, and we are forced to pay attention, making the experience all the more immersive. Simple sets, simple staging, but fantastic storytelling. Kudos to Ibale and company for their efforts.

Lance Bankerd as Jim Jones. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Taking on a character in a one-man show is daunting and taking on the persona of a real person can be downright trying but Lance Bankerd, a veteran of Baltimore theatre, as the The Reverend Him Jones shows no signs of difficulty whatsoever. Bankerd effortlessly embodies the role of Jim Jones and, just like the man himself, keeps the audience enthralled. He completely transforms himself to create this character, inside and out. From the younger monkey selling Jones until the whacked-out Jones giving the death speech, he doesn’t falter once and keeps his performance consistent. It’s easy to see he has a magnificent comprehension of the character, the story, and the text and his delivery is natural and engaging. Hands down, it’s a tour-de-force for Bankerd and this is not a performance to be missed.

Final thought…  Thank You, Dad from Rapid Lemon Production is a fresh look at a story that has fascinated us for over four decades. It’s such a poignant story about lost, disenfranchised souls and the man who led them to death. How could this not be great fodder for a stage play? Wetzel takes all the facts and weaves a brilliant script, wisely keeping it simple as a one-man show. Ibale and company’s Direction and Bankerd’s performance are top-notch and the production, as a whole, is to be commended. You seriously do not want to miss this kick off production of the new Rapid Lemon Productions season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Rapid Lemon Productions‘ production of Thank You, Dad… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Thank You, Dad will play through January 20 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: The Importance of Being Earnest at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 40 minutes with two intermissions

Oscar Wilde is probably one of the most prolific and controversial authors of his day and, in some instances, today, but there’s no denying his talent as his works are still being produced today, worldwide. He certainly had a knack for comedy as well as a sharp wit that subtly poked fun at the class system of his time but in such a way that it was nothing but charming. Everyman Theatre treats us to one of his more popular works, The Importance of Being Earnest, Directed by Joseph W. Ritsch, and they’ve masterfully presented this piece in a way that, I assume, Wilde would have been proud and tickled pink.

L-R: Paige Hernandez, Danny Gavigan, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Carl Schurr, Katie Kleiger, Jaysen Wright, Helen Hedman, Wil Love. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

Ina nutshell, The Importance of Being Earnest deals with a young man, Jack, who has invented a man named Earnest,to live a secret, care-free life in town while handling serious responsibilities at home, in the country. Because of a forgotten cigarette case, he is forced to confess this farce to his dear friend, Algernon, another aloof young man who makes it a point to avoid any type of social situation. Two women, Gwendolen and Cecily, are in love with Earnest while the two young men are in love with them. Throw in a cranky, snobbish old Aunt Augusta (Lady Bracknell) into the mix and you’ve got great fodder for a comedy.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to Set Design, Everyman Theatre never disappoints and Daniel Ettinger has not broken this streak. With Three Acts, Ettinger’s innovative design has taken us from a bachelor’s living room, to an English country garden, to the study of a grand English manor and he hits the nail on the head with every location. The genius is the simple presentation of specific locations that is consistent throughout in color and style. Kudos to Ettinger for a job well done.

L-R: Katie Kleiger, Paige Hernandez. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

Adding to the appropriate late Victorian age setting, Costume Design by David Burdick is inspiring and eye-catching in this production. He has an impeccable eye for detail and every actor was individual in their wardrobe because of that detail. For example, there is a distinct differentiation in fashion between the elder generation from which Aunt Augusta hails and the younger generation of Gwendolyn and Cecily and though the difference is subtle, it’s enough to be just noticeable enough which is brilliant. Another splendid job from David Burdick.

L-R: Katie Kleiger, Jaysen Wright. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

Joseph W. Ritsch takes the helm of this production and it’s crystal clear he has a deep comprehension of this material and text and his vision presents it easily to a 21st century audience. His staging is energized and the pacing is on point for a three act piece. More importantly, Ritsch’s grasp on the sharp wit and comedy of Oscar Wilde shines through in every moment of this production. Casting is splendid and he masterfully guides this ensemble to present a humorous, tongue-in-cheek, but true look at the upper class of Victorian England. Ritsch is to be commended and applauded for his telling of this wonderful production.

As for the performance aspect of this production, this entire, small ensemble give full effort and work well together, respectfully bringing to life Wilde’s text seemingly effortlessly. In supporting by important roles are Wil Love as Rev. Canon Chasuble and Helen Hedman as Miss Prism. Love is lovable as the jovial Chasuble and portrays him appropriately as a well-meaning gentleman who wants to help though he seems oblivious to the farce around him. He’s confident in the role and gives a very good showing. Almost as a counterpart to Love’s Chasuble, Helen Hedman pulls of the role of Miss Prism, the stuffy, older governess, beautifully. For playing such a straight-forward, stringent character, her comedic timing is spot on and she has a good grasp on her character and the conflict between her current piety and checkered pass. Both of these actors fit nicely in their characters and give strong performances.

L-R: Bruce Randolph Nelson, Helen Hedman. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

A highlight in this production is Carl Schurr in the dual roles of Lane and Merriman,the hapless servants of the other well-to-do characters of this piece. Schurr gives an exquisite performance in this supporting role and makes a mark on this production. His comedic timing is near-perfect, especially as the older, feeble Merriman with slight but hilarious physical comedy that will have you laughing in the aisles. He’s certainly one to watch and he gives a believable, funny, and strong performance.

Taking on the roles of the lovey young ladies of interest in this piece are Paige Hernandez as Cecily Cardew and Katie Kleiger as Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax. Both actresses perform these roles eloquently and confidently and are a pleasure to watch. Hernandez emotes the youth and vivaciousness of a caged young woman coming of age and delivers the dialogue with ease and authenticity while Kleiger is comfortable in role as the upper-class, free-spirited young woman with a domineering mother and performs her character with grace and confidence as is required. The chemistry between Hernandez and Kleiger is splendid as they transition their roles within minutes from strangers to rivals to friends and because of their understanding of their characters, it makes for brilliant performances from both.

Danny Gavigan. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

As for the scheming, dandy young gentlemen, Danny Gavigan takes on the role of Algernon Moncrieff, a self-proclaimed bachelor who shies away from social gatherings, and Jaysen Wright tackles the role of John Worthing, a gentle man with a double identity, one of who is the infamous Earnest. Gavigan gives a stellar performance as Algernon Moncrieff and seems to embody Oscar Wilde himself (or how I think Oscar Wilde would have behaved, anyway) and his delivery of the dialogue is impeccable. Smooth and almost swarmy, he portrays the role with just the correct recipe of charm with a dash of obnoxiousness that is absolutely appropriate for this character. Wright also plays his character,John Worthing, to the hilt and emotes charm and likability. Both Gavigan and Wright tackle these roles seemingly effortlessly with personality and charisma making for strong, confident performances from both.

Bruce Randolph Nelson. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

The hands-down standout of this production is Bruce Randolph Nelson as Lady Bracknell. I’ve mentioned in a recent review that, for some reason, when it comes to theatre (especially older pieces) audiences seem to eat up anything with a man in drag and this production seems to be no different. The trick is, and what makes Nelson’s performance so commendable is the fact that, though he is playing for laughs – it’s a comedy, after all – he’s still taking the part seriously.He’s not playing a man pretending to be a woman, but he’s playing a woman and it’s the gravity he puts into the role that makes it hilarious. Not to mention, Nelson is a genius when it comes to comedic timing, expressions, and reactions and you will regret missing him in this role. He’s comfortable in the role and pulls it off with grace, dignity, and confidence. He’s a riot and had me laughing well after the house lights came on.

Final thought…  The Importance of Being Earnest at Everyman Theatre is a fast-paced, well put-together production that is side-splittingly funny and you don’t want to miss it. Oscar Wilde really knew how to turn a phrase and this ensemble knows how to deliver them. From the glorious Set Design to the impeccable Costume Design, to the masterful wit of Wilde, one can’t help but be amazed and amused by this production. Don’t let the fact that this piece is over 100 years old (premiering in 1895), because the story and the comedy are timeless and it still tickles audiences today. If you see anything this season,make sure you make it out to this one!

Thisis what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s The Importance of Being Earnest… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Importance of Being Earnest will play through December 30 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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Review: A Wonder in My Soul at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Title

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

Baltimore and its people, through the years, have had their ups and downs but we always seem to bounce back no matter what. Neighborhoods come and go, some prosper,some try to hang on to a bygone era, and in every case, it’s the people who make the neighborhood what it is. Sometimes, It only takes a few pillars to keep a neighborhood going, even when it’s falling down around them, but it’s a tough fight, especially in Baltimore City. In Baltimore Center Stage’s latest production, A Wonder in My Soul by Marcus Gardley, Directed by Daniel Bryant, is one of those stories that take us back and forth between the past and present and tell a story of old friendships, family, and a resilient spirit that keeps us going, even in the darkest of times.

Briefly, A Wonder in My Soul concerns itself with two old friends, Swann Park Sinclair and Gwynn Oak Falls, who have a beauty salon they have operated since the early 60s in Baltimore City. As oflate, the neighborhood has gone downhill and has become a “bad” neighborhood and developers are buying up properties left and right to gentrify the area with coffee shop chains and supermarkets. One of the only shops left in the neighborhood is this beauty salon because of the respect these two ladies have earned over the years and the history it holds. Gwynn Oak Falls’ son, Andrew,has borrowed money from the two ladies to start a non-profit organization for inner-city children but is now under suspicion of embezzlement and the money is gone, leaving the two ladies in dire straits and months behind in rent on the space. A loving, but estranged relationship between Gwynn Oak Falls and her daughter,Cherry Hill, a Baltimore City police officer, don’t make matters much better. Through all this strife, the shop endures and welcomes regular customers like First Lady Cedonia Mosher of the local Baptist church and her new assistant, theyoung, hard-working, and pregnant Pen Lucy proving that with enough love, spirit,and strong faith we can endure. Marcus Gardley has crafted a well-written,deep-feeling story to which we can all relate in our own, individual way.

Scenic Design by Wilson Chin is impeccable as we are transported into an old salon that has been around for decades. The presentation of strong African-American female figures through the ages stirs up a certain pride and nostalgia that sets the mood for the piece. I found myself starting a little game with myself to see how many faces I could name… and I didn’t do too shabby! The authenticity of Chin’s design with salon stations and a sofa/coffee table pair for a waiting area, makes it all the more real, familiar, and immersive.

Working in tandem with Wilson Chin’s Scenic Design is Lighting Design by Kathy A.Perkins, Sound Design by Mikhail Fiksel, and Projection Design by Alex Basco Koch. Subtly is the key to Light and Sound Design and Perkins and Fiksel have accomplished it commendably. Small changes in light here and there to represent times of day as well as to divert the audience’s attention to important dialogue are spot on and appropriate. The sounds of the city are placed perfectly as well, including weather, which can be tricky to represent on stage without it looking and sounding generic, but this design is superb.

The Projection Design by Alex Basco Koch is absolutely superb and adds great value to the production. The high definition projections aren’t just decoration,either. They help move the story along and relate to the situation or dialogue making for a brilliant technical aspect to an already beautifully designed production.

David Burdick gives us a stellar Costume Design that flip-flops between the decades, matching every decade with great detail and flair. The present day attire is on point and the fashions of the past are spot on making for a brilliant design. A magnificent Hair and Wig Design by Cherelle D. Guyton also add to this production, with each character having his or her own style and individuality adding to the realism and character each actor is portraying. Kudos to both Burdick and Guyton for jobs well done.

Taking the Music Direction reigns of this production is Jaret Landon and under Landon’s direction (along with some impressive original music and arrangements) the musical aspect of this piece shines through and makes its mark on the audience. Using old spirituals, both upbeat and slow tunes, Landon has weaved together a wonderful program that helps move the story along without hindering the action. The arrangements are spot on for these talented actors and actresses and will have you toe-tapping and getting all the feels when the cast really gets going, musically.

Daniel Bryant takes the helm of this production and his Direction shows he has a tight grasp on this material and text. His staging is stellar and keeps the audience engaged while telling this poignant story. Though Gardley’s witty but thoughtful script gives the actors everything they need, Bryant still knows how to balance the humor and the poignancy exquisitely. Bryant should be applauded and commended for his work on this production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, Stanley Andrew Jackson III takes on the supporting role of Andrew Hill, aspiring non-profit head and son of Gwynn Oak Falls. Jackson knows this character and, though he has less stage time than the other characters, he plays him to the hilt. He seems to understand the anguish and conflict in this character and plays him with even balance and not over the top. Jackson makes the most of his stage time and his steady portrayal is admirable.

Two of the actors in his piece take on double duty and Kalilah Black as PenLucy/Young Gwynn and Anastacia McCleskey as Cherry Hill/Young Swann pull of the roles superbly. Both Black and McCleskey have a great comprehension of the characters they are portraying and as the younger Gwynn and Swann, their chemistry is undeniable and work well with and off of each other adding to the depth of these characters. As Pen Lucy, Black is absolutely believable as a modern, single mother trying to make ends meet with a good head on her shoulders and McCleskey gives a heartfelt portrayal of Cherry Hill, Gwynn’s older, police officer daughter showing the hurt and loyalty this character has for her mother. It’s worth mentioning that, vocally, McCleskey is a powerhouse and blows it out of the water with her rendition of a heartbreaking ballad in Act II. The ability to play two characters back to back (with some breakneck costume changes, it seems) is impressive and both actresses give strong,confident performances that are joy to watch.

Leading the troupe are Wandachristine as Gwynn Oak Falls and Harriett D. Foy as Swann Park Sinclair and both of these ladies are highlights of this production. Both of these actresses give intense, humorous, and earnest performances that make these characters the heart of the story. Wandachristine is convincing as an aging, but sassy and self-reliant Gwynn Oak Falls and gives an impressive showing, especially her spoken-word monologue at the top of Act II that she delivers flawlessly. Working alongside of Wandachristine, Harriett D. Foy is a driving force as Swann Park Sinclair with an impeccable delivery of the text and a tight grasp of what her character is all about. From her quick and witty one-liners to her portrayal of the regret this character harbors, Foy gives an excellent and strong showing that is a pleasure to experience. The connection these actresses make with the audience is amazing and makes every spectator feel at home, as if they were sitting in that little salon with these ladies and that,my friends, makes for great theatre. These are two performances you don’t want to miss.

Last but certainly not lease, we have another actress in a supporting role but AlexisJ. Roston as First Lady Cedonia Mosher is the standout in this production of A Wonder in My Soul. Roston hits the ground running as First Lady Cedonia. The first time we see this character, she enters the salon singing and turns it into a mini revival with “Jesus Is My Friend”, equipped with her own tambourine and all. Roston has a lot of quick one-liners in her dialogue, but her character is my favorite because of the transition we see in her throughout the piece – a transition that Roston handles delicately and ably. First Lady Sinclair is a class above the rest,financially anyway, but she keeps coming back to the salon in the “bad” part oftown because she has a connection with these ladies and vice versa. From domineering to endearing, Roston pulls off her role immaculately and effortlessly. Vocally, Alexis J. Roston is another powerhouse and diverse vocalist who wails out the old-timey spirituals, as well as 60s hits, and modern grooves all in one night. I’m looking forward to seeing future performances from this actress.

Final thought…  A Wonder in My Soul at Baltimore Center Stage is a heartfelt,hometown story that incorporates good old fashioned gospel music, a well-written script, and thoughtful performances that resonate with you long after you leave the theatre. A lot of theatre can speak to you, but there’s something about this piece that touches your soul, as the title suggests.There’s nothing supernatural, per say, and no big bells and whistles, but the story itself, about family, long friendships, and living life the best way you know how is one that will stick with you and make you think. All aspects of this production including Set Design, Costumes, Lighting and Sound Design, and staging make for a splendid experience you do not want to miss this season and you’ll want to get your tickets as soon as you can.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s A Wonder in My Soul… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Wonder in My Soul will play through December 23 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700North Calvert Street,Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: The Santaland Diaries at Milburn Stone Theatre

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 1 hr 50 minutes with one intermission

When you think of Christmas shows, you think of family-friendly fare and a rose-colored view of the world in which everything and everyone represents the best possible side of humanity. The beautiful set upon the Milburn Stone Theatre stage may have led the audience to expect more of the same: lit Christmas trees, red velvet chairs, and the dressings of Christmas cheer.

However, from the very first warning from Artistic Director that The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris contains “4-, 8-, and even 12-letter words” that may offend the sensibilities of some audience members, there is no doubt that this will be a different kind of December evening at a theater. Luckily, it also proved to be a thoroughly entertaining evening of comedy and Christmas from a different lens.

The evening actually began with a reading of “the greatest Christmas story ever told” A Die Hard Christmas by Brandon Gorin. Gorin was charming and hysterical with his well-placed facial expressions and reactions during the reading of this unconventional Christmas classic. Gorin was followed by a display of improvisational comedy by the troupe “Improv on Rye.”

The main event of the event, however, was The Santaland Diaries. This is a stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ essays about his time working as an elf in Macy’s department store. The Santaland Diaries is a one-man show in which “Crumpet” recounts many observations about people and life behind the scenes of quite possibly the most famous Santa location.

What do you do with a one-man show when that one man is sick and cannot perform? This is quite literally the dilemma that Milburn Stone Theatre was faced with on opening night this past weekend. For them, the answer was to ply the audience with free wine and have the Artistic Director perform a reading of the show. Even without the wine, this proved to be a good decision, as Artistic Director (and now Crumpet) Andrew John Mitchell was easily able to keep the audience entertained.

Understandable nerves and newness aside that lead to some moments of rushing, it was often easy to forget that Mitchell was reading from the script on music stands in front of him. Mitchell was believable. It was easy to imagine that he had experienced these moments himself. Especially when he felt comfortable enough with the lines and the scene to look up more and slow down in his delivery, there were many genuine laugh-out-loud moments created by his down-to-earth delivery of Sedaris’ acerbic observations of the other elves and the Santas and the parents. Without the aid of other actors, Mitchell was able to make a host of characters come to life and keep the audience entertained (and occasionally shocked) throughout. He also brought this warm humanity and a sense of connection to this self-proclaimed “not nice guy” who maybe did discover just a little bit of Christmas spirit and cheer from his time with Santa.

Milburn Stone definitely delighted the audience with this production and were able to do so even despite a setback that others may have seen an insurmountable. Despite a different take on holiday productions, there may have been a miracle at work at Milburn Stone after all.

This is what I thought of Stantaland Diaries at Milburn Stone Theatre… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Santaland Diaries played Deccember 7, 8, and 9 at Milburn Stone Theatre, Cecil College, One Seahawk Drive, North East, MD.

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Review: Charley’s Aunt at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

No matter which era, what the situation is, or who it is, it seems that in entertainment, a stereotypical cis male in drag brings down the house in laughter. Why? I couldn’t tell you. Real drag or female impersonation is an art and I know folks who earn a good living doing it and take pride in what they do, and I love it (I may have *ahem* even dabbled in the art form myself sometime ago), but when you throw the cheap, just-for-laughs drag into a script, it adds tons to the comedic value. Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest offering, Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas, Directed by Kristen Cooley, takes us back to a time when a man could get away with posing as a woman by simply putting on a dowdy dress… and that’s all it took. However, when you need the services of an absent aunt… you take what you can get.

Kellie Podsednick as Kitty Verdun and Jon Meeker as Jack Chesney. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Briefly, Charley’s Aunt was written in 1892 and was a smash hit in London, running for 4 years with 1,466 performances which was almost unheard of for productions of the day. The farce concentrates on Lord Fancort Babberley (or Babs, as he’s affectionately known), and his two friends Jack and Charley, who convince him to help them woo two young ladies by posing as Charley’s rich aunt, who was intended to be a chaperone but has changed her arrival date. Other problems and situations include, but are not limited to, the real aunt’s arrival and the attempted seduction of an elderly gold-digger toward the fake aunt, and a plea to give consent for two pairs of young lovers to marry. Got all that? If not, it’s a simple search on Google!

Set Design by Moe Conn is splendid and inovative as he turns the intimate FPCT stage into three locations, including interiors and exteriors. Moving walls and simple set pieces transform easily and smoothly and easily distinguishes each location perfectly. Not only mechanics, but choices of the aforementioned set pieces and colors are authentic and present the time very nicely. Kudos to Conn for a job well done.

Kristen Cooley and Barbara Madison Hauck put together a Costume Design that is on point for this production. Period pieces are always challenging, but Cooley and Madison have taken the challenge head on and have presented an authentic and fitting design that adds great value to the production. From the men in their materials of heavy materials (or at least look like it) to the elaborate gowns of the ladies, every costume is appropriate and makes each character look as though they stepped right out of the late 1800s, England.

Kristen Cooley also takes on the Direction of this piece and it’s easy to see she has a tight grasp on the text and really knows the material. Presenting such a dated piece to a modern audience is tricky, no doubt, but Cooley manages it beautifully. Her understanding of comedy and farce are apparent and her staging in this intimate space works well. She should be commended for her work on this piece.

Alice Gibson as Amy Spettigue and Kellie Podsednick as Kitty Verdun. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, two players in supporting roles are Peter Wilkes, who takes on the role of Brassett, the poor butler of Jack Chesney and Jennifer Skarzinski who tackles the role of Ela Delahay, a young fatherless girl who has been taken under the wing of Donna Lucia. Though supporting characters, both Brassett and Ela Delahay have important purposes and keep the story moving along. Wilkes does well portraying Brassett as a loyal employee to a young, brash Jack Chesney who can only roll his eyes, have a drink, and go about his day as his employer gets himself deeper into trouble at every turn. Skarzinski has a good grasp of her character, a naïve, young girl who has a big heart and she portrays her nicely but she looks out of place in the role. She gives a great showing and has great chemistry with her cast mates, but this flaw seems to take away from the authenticity of the character. Overall, however, she has a strong presence and natural delivery making for a delightful, if not completely believable, performance.

Michael Panzarrotto portrays Colonel Sir Francis Chesney, the elder Chesney and though he makes the character likable, he plays this role a bit over the top, but in a way that it seems he’s trying to hard which takes away from the comedy. He’s confident and works well with his fellow cast mates, so, in general, he gives a decent performance and gets the character’s point across nicely. As a sort of cohort to his character, Maribeth Vogel takes on the role of Donna Lucia, Charley’s real aunt who has arrived in a kind of disguise. Vogel is splendid in this role. Her delivery of the material is natural and she seems to have a good comprehension of her character she is portraying. Her presence and confidence allow her to give a strong showing in this piece that is a joy to watch.

Jon Meeker plays Jack Chesney, a scheming, but charming young gentleman and Brandon Richards takes on the role of Charles Wykeham, a lovesick young man who hesitantly goes along with Jack’s plans, after only a little persuading. Richards knows his character and is comfortable with him but his performance falls a little flat. The urgency that is required for this role seems a bit forced and takes away from the quickness needed for this piece. His character is nervous most of the time but he portrays more of a frightened, whiny young man rather than a nervous one. He does, however, work quite well with and off of Meeker, who is the stronger performer of the two, and Richards gets the comedy of the piece, giving an overall respectable performance. Jon Meeker, a fine performance and emotes just the right amount of urgency and worry as required for this character. His movements jand delivery are genuine and he has a strong, confident presence on stage that makes for a commendable performance.

Alice Gibson as Amy Spettigue and Kellie Podsednik as Kitty Verdun are very well cast and play their parts to the hilt. Gibson is cute and flighty as the young Amy and comfortably plays her as if she stepped right out of the time in which this piece takes place. Podsednik as the more mature Kitty is elegant and poised as the character should be. She has tight chemistry with all of her cast mates and gives a strong, assured performance that is one to watch in this production.

David Shoemaker as Lord Fancourt Babberley.

The definite standouts in this production are David Shoemaker as Lord Fancourt Babberley and Tom Wyatt as Stephen Spettigue. Shoemaker, who I’ve seen perform in more dramatic pieces, has near perfect comedic timing and understands the comedic nuances of this piece and presents them beautifully. As the aforementioned man-in-drag character, he doesn’t play this character over the top but takes it serious enough to get the humor across and he will have you laughing as he keeps a straight face throughout. In delivery and authenticity, Shoemaker is top notch and gives an impeccably funny and memorable performance. In the same vein, Tom Wyatt as Stephen Spettigue, the hard-nosed and serious uncle/guardian of the young girls will have you rolling in the isles. Wyatt takes this role and knocks it out of the park. Being almost a supporting character, Wyatt steals the show in many of his scenes with a flamboyancy that is ridiculously funny but he plays this flamboyance in a way that it is not forced making it all the more humorous. From his immaculate delivery to his gestures and facial expressions, he gives a flawless performance that is not to be missed. It’s worth noting that both Shoemaker and Wyatt work extremely well together on this piece and their chemistry and their comprehension of the comedy shine through. Kudos to both David Shoemaker and Tom Wyatt for jobs very well done.

Final thought… Comedy, when done right, is timeless and Charley’s Aunt is a fast-paced, humorous romp and farce of mistaken identity in a bygone era that’s still side-splitting funny in today’s age. Some individual performances are better than others, but this ensemble, as a whole, is a hard-working, well-oiled machine with great chemistry and a prodigious comprehension of the material. The production is polished with a creative Set Design and challenging Costume Design that is on point. Don’t let the fact that it’s a period piece deter you because this is not a production to be missed.

This is what I thought of this production of Charley’s Aunt.… what do you think?

 Charley’s Aunt will play through December 23 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.