Review: The Quickening at Fells Point Corner Theatre with The Collaborative Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

It’s late, you’re safely tucked away in bed… you hear a noise. Is the house settling? The cat looking for a treat? An uninvited critter in the kitchen?… or something more sinister? These are the types of things that can keep you up at night and a good ghost story can have the same effect. Fells Point Corner Theatre’s (in collaboration with The Collaborative Theatre Co.) latest offering, the World Premiere of The Quickening by Mark Scharf, Directed by Ann Turiano, gives us an original ghost story that, with a few jump-scares and cleverly placed effects, will not only raise your pulse and possibly keep you up at night, but also make you think about what happens when we close our eyes for the last time.

Amanda Spellman as Beth and David Shoemaker as Matt. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

As stated, The Quickening, is a good old-fashioned ghost story set in present day. The story revolves around Beth, a young pregnant woman in a new neighborhood in a new town who knows the new house she lives in is more than meets the eye. She befriends her neighbor, Philomena (better known as Phil), a logical thinker with an open mind. Matt, Beth’s husband is a Civil War reenactor (a confederate soldier, no less), who believes most of the trouble has to do with Beth’s “condition” and how it effects the way she thinks. Meanwhile, Rosemary, Beth’s mother has come to help prepare for the baby and reveals a family secret that explains some of the strange goings on at the new house. Along with this explanation and a little research by Phil, the real story of the home unfolds with frightening conclusions that makes us question life, death, and the afterlife, if one believes it so.

Cassandra Dutt’s Set Design is phenomenal and uses the space wisely. Her use of levels to present different rooms and locations is wise and her attention to detail is top-notch. The Fells Point Corner Theatre stage is an intimate space but, with such a natural, authentic design, Dutt has managed to bring us into the living space of this young family which makes the audience feel closer to the action, adding to the experience.

Technical aspects for a horror story or ghost story on stage can be tricky and teeter on the line of corny but, working in tandem with Set Design, I’d be amiss not to mention that the Lighting Design by Tabetha White and Sound Design by Devyn Deguzman which is absolutely stellar giving life to this story. White sets the scenes and changes moods with her sometimes subtle, sometimes drastic change in lighting to invoke both calmness and a frenzy with lighting effects. Deguzman, too, adds value to this production with the “bumps in the night” sounds and disembodied voices that go hand-in-hand with ghost stories and would fall flat without them. Both White and Deguzman are to be applauded for their work on this piece.

Ann Turiano, who is no stranger to the stage, on or off, takes the helm of this production and her Direction is exceptional. Bringing a brand new piece to the stage can be a daunting task, but Turiano seems to have taken it in stride with a clear-cut vision and great comprehension of the material. Her handling of this new work is impressive in both staging and overall concept. It’s a modern setting with an intricate story but Turiano has given us a polished, well-presented production that shows and tell the audience a story simply without the bells and whistles but with just the right amount of effects and concentrating more on character and dialogue. It’s also worth saying her casting is on point for this piece. Kudos to Turiano for a job well done.

Marianne Gazzola Angelella as Rosemary. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Award winning Baltimore playwright Mark Scharf has crafted a lovely story that is more about questioning faith, life, and death rather than a simple horror story. The scares are there and the creepiness factor is definitely apparent throughout, but his dialogue is well-thought out and well-researched. A few obligatory mentions of Baltimore seem a bit out of place, but there are only a few and do not hinder the production from moving forward. His in depth explanation of theories of physics and Catholic dogma are on point and actually teach a few things. The script did feel rushed at times – for instance, I would have preferred the realization and acceptance of what was going on in the house to be a little more gradual. It’s as if the characters simply accept the strange goings on with a few objects moving on their own and a strange little boy lurking about. However, that being said, I completely understand, for the sake of time, things need to be cut and the action still moved along smoothly and the story was told completely. Overall, this is an outstanding showing and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Scharf’s work in the future.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, we are treated to a strong, small ensemble who brings these characters to life with great authenticity and emotion making for beautiful performances all around. To begin, Mariane Gazzola Angelella takes on the role of Rosemary, the clairvoyant mother of Beth and Amanda Spellman tackles the multi-faceted role of Beth, the tortured and targeted occupant of the house.

Debbie Bennett as Philomena (Phil). Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Angelella is perfectly suited for her role as Rosemary, a good ol’ Bawlmer girl, who desperately wants to help her daughter through a tough time. Angelella even produced a good Baltimore accent but those born and raised can easily pick up that it is not a natural accent, but… it’s a hard accent to crack so, all in all, she does a superb job. Her character work is notable, as well, and she seems to have a good grasp on Rosemary, keep the character consistent throughout exuding the emotion of a parent of a child who is hurting in one way or another. Along the same lines, Spellman is excellent as the Beth and plays her to the hilt. Her chemistry with her cast mates adds a realness and natural air to her performance and she, too, has a good comprehension of this character and trials. Though she sounded a bit scripted, at times, overall, she gives a strong, confident performance that is a joy to watch.

A highlight of this production is David Shoemaker as Matt Wells, the doting, logical husband of Beth (and completely outnumbered male). Shoemaker is no stranger to the stage and his natural abilities shine through in his gestures delivery of his dialogue, adding an absolute authenticity to the character. It’s clear he understands his character and his performance helps the audience understand him, as well. He is certainly one to watch in this production.

Last, but certainly not least, Debbie Bennett takes on the role of Philomena (Phil), the kindly neighbor who befriends and helps the family even though her logical side is conflicting with her faithful side and she is the standout in this particular production. This character is the most complex of all the characters because of this conflict and Bennett presents it superbly. Her delivery and portrayal of the character is sincere which adds to her performance. This character seems to be the bridge between the supernatural and the natural in this piece, putting a lot of responsibility on Bennet, but she carries it well and does not falter. I’m looking forward to seeing more performances from this actress.

Final thought… The Quickening at Fells Point Corner Theatre is a scary (or horror) story that is presented in a very well put-together, well thought-out production. The script flows nicely, though at time seems a bit rushed, but overall, is a good story filled with intelligent, natural dialogue and diligent research. Be forewarned, there are a couple of jump scares but the effects are absolutely brilliant. The performances are admirable and the technical aspect is outstanding. Creating characters and bringing a piece to life for the first time can be difficult, but this team has done it beautifully. The entire cast, crew, and playwright are to be commended for their efforts and this is not a production you want miss this season.

This is what I thought of Fells Point Corner Theatre and The Collaborative Theatre Co.’s production of The Quickening… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Quickening will play through July 1 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD. For more information log on to, or purchase tickets online.

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Review: Heathers: The Musical at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Get crucial, already! Not to put a limit on an audience, but if you are a child of the 80s and even 90s (though you may be older or younger), you are probably familiar with Heathers, the iconic dark comedy 1989 film starring ever-emo Wynonna Ryder and Christian Slater. If you are not familiar with this film stop whatever you are doing (after you read this article) and find this film somewhere! It needs to be on someone’s list of “movies to see before you die”! In the meantime, the current offering from our friends at Red Branch Theatre Company is Heathers: The Musical, Directed by Amelia Acosta Powell, with Music Direction by John C. Henderson, Choreography by Brandon Glass, Set Design by Cliff Hannon, Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin, and Costume Design by Cierra Coan. If you’re looking for some nostalgia and want to be transported back to that radically awesome year of 1989, Red Branch Theatre Company is the place to be for the next couple of weekends!

(l-r) Megan Bunn as Heather Duke, Tiara Whaley as Heather Chandler, Geocel Batista as Heather McNamara - "Candy Store" Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

(l-r) Megan Bunn as Heather Duke, Tiara Whaley as Heather Chandler, Geocel Batista as Heather McNamara – “Candy Store” Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Anyone who’s been to high school knows them they go by different names and have different styles but every school has a group of Heathers – The most popular, powerful kids in school that every loves, hates, or loves to hate. On the surface their lives are perfect, their clothes are perfect, their hair is perfect, and their time in high school is perfect… but is it? Heathers: The Musical takes musical, funny, dark a peek into high school popularity, being an outcast, self-confidence or lack of, and just being a teenager trying to navigate through all of it and, in this case, there’s a body count!
Walking into Red Branch, I could tell the audience was energized and excited as a buzz of excitement filled the air and there were even a few dedicated patrons who dressed the parts in the Heathers colors of red, yellow, and green. I was quite impressed with the intimate theatre that seats about 120 folks, give or take a patron, and the simple, yet very appropriate set by Cliff Hannon. The very blue unit set is simple, yet complex as there are no permanent set pieces cluttering the stage but the various levels work nicely with the action that goes on in the production. Various and clever entrances and exits on both sides of the stage keep the movement very fluid and interesting with characters popping in and out all over the stage. Hannon manages to create an exciting unit set without filling his stage up with too many distractions and still be very pleasing to the eye. As any of the Heathers would say, “It’s very!”
To complement the set design, Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin does an outstanding job creating the perfect tone, adding value to the performance with just the right amount of color, brightness, and darkness. As this piece is a dark comedy, lighting is very important and can make or break each scene but Joslin’s light design is well thought-out and manages to set the proper mood for each scene and moves the action along pleasantly.
Taylor Witt as Kurt Kelly and Tendo Nsubuga as Ram Sweeney lead the ensemble in "Big Fun" Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Taylor Witt as Kurt Kelly and Tendo Nsubuga as Ram Sweeney lead the ensemble in “Big Fun” Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

I can only imagine that costuming a period 1980s piece can be a challenge and quite fun at the same time and Costume Design by Cierra Coan is absolutely spot on and very well thought-out! Her challenge was the fact that the style of this piece was late 80s with the early 90s sneaking in but the colorful, tucked in long sleeve shirts on the guys to the women blazers that are more shoulder pads than anything else take the audience back to a 1989 high school hallway and it is glorious. Coan gives each actor his or her own “look” and, since one of the themes of this piece is “fitting in” giving the piece authenticity and nostalgia adding great production value.
I was hesitant when, a few years back, I’d heard that one of my favorite films was being made into a musical. I’d listened to a few tunes from this piece but I couldn’t imagine my Heathers (and Veronica) singing and dancing their way through their days in the halls of Westerburg High. However, Music Director John C. Henderson had them doing just that… with gusto! Many individual voices in this production are phenomenal but as a cast they are hands down awesome! The harmonies are on point, the diction is superb, the balance is just right, and the power from the ensemble numbers feels like a cast full of Ethel Mermans onstage! The vocal abilities of this cast as a whole is worth the ticket price alone! Kudos to Henderson’s ability to pull this cast together, vocally, for a brilliant performance.
Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer and Hasani Allen as J.D. - "Our Love is God" Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer and Hasani Allen as J.D. – “Our Love is God” Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Along with song, you’ve got to have dance and it’s just another aspect of this production that was a joy to watch. Choreographer Brandon Glass’s choreography was absolutely entertaining to watch and was appropriate for the space. His stylish and complex dances made the cast look great and it looks as though the cast is having a blast performing the choreography, which is always good when the audience can see the joy in the faces of the cast. The dancing was tight and precise and each number was a pleasure to watch.
Director Amelia Acosta Powell is to be commended for her work with Heathers: The Musical. Her casting choices are magnificent and it’s great to see the diversity of the cast and how it works so very well for this piece. She uses her space very wisely with fluid and purposeful blocking, using the entire theatre with entrances and exits from the side and back of the theatre as well as the entrances and exits onstage. She seems to have understood the 1989 film and its themes of teenaged angst, the need to belong, self-confidence, and coming-of-age and transferred it beautifully to the stage in this production. Her minimal use of props and portable set pieces worked nicely, keeping the stage free of clutter but still helping tell the story. Her directing choices were near perfect and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Ms. Powell.
Hands down, the highlight of this production is the entire cast. It’d be difficult to pick out one individual performer to single out because the entire ensemble is phenomenal. Each group number such as “Beautiful,” “Big Fun,” and “Shine a Light” spotlighted the talent in this cast and how well they all worked together as a whole. I found myself excited for the next group number after one was over. Definite props to the Director, Music Director, and Choreographer for molding this cast into a cohesive unit that entertained and look like they are giving 100% to every aspect of this production.
The titular roles of the very different Heathers are played exquisitely by Tiara Whaley (Heather Chandler, the Queen Bee of Westerburg), Geocel Batista (Heather MacNamara, the follower but arguably the nicest of the Heathers), and Megan Bunn (Heather Duke, the possible 2nd in command and waiting for her chance to take over). These young ladies take these characters and hit the ground running, making them their own. They’re body language, tone, and look bring the Heathers to life brilliantly and they are an absolute joy to watch individually and as a trio.
Tiara Whaley, as Heather Chandler takes no prisoners and oozes the popularity that everyone envied in high school. Her numbers such as “Candy Store” and “Very” are energized and, though she seems to reach for her high notes, at times, are powerhouse performances.
Geocel Batista, as Heather MacNamara, is a delight to watch throughout the production as she doesn’t lose character once. The joy in her face is apparent throughout each number and her understanding of the character and how she would react to situations is clear, such as the poignancy that comes through in her solo “Lifeboat,” and she is an asset to any number she is in with her vocal and dance abilities.
Megan Bunn as the ever faithful yet cunning character of Heather Duke has the most prevalent change in the show and she pulls it off flawlessly. That change is precise and clear but seamless. She too is a powerhouse and rounds out the trio of Heathers brilliantly.
Vivian Cook as Veronic Sawyer (foreground) "Beautiful" Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Vivian Cook as Veronic Sawyer (foreground) “Beautiful” Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Veronica, the hesitant, yet thankful “geek” who managed to become a part of the Heathers is played by Vivian Cook and she tackles this role without a flaw or hesitation. From the moment she steps on stage in the opening number “Beautiful” she commands the stage and is very comfortable taking the reins of this production. Her character is spot on with the familiar film rendition but she also makes it her own bringing a refreshing look to Veronica. Cook is an accomplished vocalist and the numbers in which she takes the lead makes one stand up and take notice. Her comfort on stage is apparent especially with the very risqué and PG-13 (at least) number “Dead Girl Walking” which is captivating. Cook carries this production, with the help of the brilliant ensemble, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her in the future.
(l-r) Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer, Hasani Allen as J.D. - "Freeze Your Brain" Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

(l-r) Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer, Hasani Allen as J.D. – “Freeze Your Brain” Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Side by side with Cook is Hasani Allen, who plays JD, the twisted, Jesse James-esque, brooding teenaged love interest of Veronica, plays the role confidently and intensely with a pronounced command of the stage and he’s hard not to watch when he’s on. Like Vivian Cook, he too plays his character very similar to the Christian Slater version of JD, but with his own flair that brings a freshness to the role that’s fun to watch. He is passion is crystal clear in his portrayal of his extreme character and adds depth to already flawless performance. His vocal numbers such as “Prom or Hell” and “Meant to be Yours” has him reaching for the higher notes, but his intensity in his performance certainly makes up for one or two missed notes. Overall, his performance is superb.
Tendo Nsubuga, Tiara Whaley, and Taylor Witt (left cluster), Amy Williamson as Martha and Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Tendo Nsubuga, Tiara Whaley, and Taylor Witt (left cluster), Amy Williamson as Martha and Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Amy Williamson, as the ultimate outcast Martha Dunstock (a.k.a. Martha Dumptruck) gives an emotional, heartfelt performance in her number “Kindergarten Boyfriend”, as she reminisces of times past when everyone were friends. Taylor Witt as Kurt and Tendo Nsubuga as Ram, the bumbling, uber-jock football players bring a perfect comedic timing to their characters and a male teenage honesty with their fun and unashamed number “Blue.”
Rounding out a couple of the featured adult characters are Amanda Spellman, who plays Ms. Fleming, the hippie teacher hailing from Berkley and Wil Lewis, III, who takes on the role of Ram’s Dad. Spellman is hilarious as the whispy seemingly flaky teacher trying to bring everyone together to share their feelings and she shines taking the lead in the ensemble number “Shine a Light”. As one of the few adult characters in this piece, Spellman is a standout. Wil Lewis, III, too is a highlight as one of the adult characters as Ram’s Dad, explaining how he loves his son no matter what in the uplifting, funny “My Dead Gay Son.”
Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer and Hasani Allen as J.D. "Our Love is God" Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer and Hasani Allen as J.D. “Our Love is God” Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Final thought… Heathers: The Musical is a fun well-produced show with a dedicated and talented ensemble. If you are familiar with the original film, you will not be disappointed and if you are not familiar with it, you will be delighted to learn about what the kids at Westerburg High School are up to. The music is upbeat and fresh and the message of acceptance and the consequences for intolerance is timeless. You don’t want to miss this production of Heathers: The Musical!
This is what I thought of this production of Heathers: The Musical.… what do you think?

Heathers:The Musical will play through August 27, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm, and select Saturdays at 2pm at Drama Learning Center, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD 21045. For tickets, call 410-997-9352 or purchase them online.