Review: King of the Yees at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

The Generation Gap is really a thing. If you don’t think so, think about the disagreements you’ve had with your parents or grandparents. Things change – it’s inevitable. However, though we don’t have to agree with our elders, we have to understand their ways and how they did things to really know them. Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, King of the Yees, by Lauren Yee, Directed by Desdemona Chiang gives us a glimpse into the relationship of an Asian-American father-daughter duo and their attempt to understand each other and it’s a must see this season.

King of the Yees concerns itself with Lauren Yee, a young-ish playwright who is using her father’s hall to rehearse her newest piece that happens to be about her father, Larry Yee, who has been an important figure in the Yee Family Association, a strictly male-only organization. This association seems to be outdated and somewhat obsolete but has been around for over a hundred years, forming soon after the California Gold Rush. Larry Yee goes missing and Lauren must navigate through San Francisco’s Chinatown and immerse herself in a world with which she is familiar and unfamiliar all at the same time. Through both hilarious and heartbreaking scenes, Lauren learns about her heritage and the true meaning of being a Yee.

Carey Wong’s Scenic Design is intelligently minimal, and he uses the space of the thrust stage wisely. Wong uses a base of Chinese hanging lamps and the important double red doors suspended in the air with simple set pieces representing various locations. The seamless transitions help move the action along and help tell this story without hindering it with clunky scene changes.

Lighting Design by Jessica Trundy and Sound Design by Brendan Patrick Hogan and Alex Hawthorn work in tandem to add a certain energy to the production. Trundy’s superb design incorporates isolated lighting as well as moving light at appropriate times that set the mood for each scene and assist in presenting this story. Working with Trundy’s design, Hogan and Hawthorn’s Sound Design is wonderful, using both traditional Chinese compositions as well as modern dance music that keeps the audience on their toes. The designs work hand in hand to create a world that moves this production along beautifully and helps rather than hinders the presentation of this story.

Costume Design by Christine Tschirgi is well thought-out and authentic. With so many different characters played by a small ensemble, Tschirgi, chooses both simple and elaborate representations to get the point across. Modern day attire as well as traditional Chinese styles are used in a beautiful blend of past and present and each actor is transformed not only in character but in look and it helps the audience in following along with the story.

Desdemona Chiang takes the helm of this production and she has an absolute and clear understanding of this material. Her staging is flawless and the transitions are seamless making for a smooth, easy to follow production. She has a solid grasp on these varied characters and presents them in a humorous way with an underlying truth that could be seen as exaggerated and maybe even a tad offensive, but it’s totally not. Speaking from experience, I’ve encountered every one of these characters in my family and lifetime. These are real representations of different people in different Asian-American generations and Chiang hits the nail on the head with each and every one of them. Her deep comprehension of the story and the characters make for a funny but very true presentation and she should be applauded for her interpretation and work on this piece.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, Khanh Doan takes on the role of Lauren Yee, the woman caught in between generations, cultures, and traditions. Doan gives a strong, authentic performance as a woman on the brink of the past and the future. He comprehension of this character is quite apparent, and she plays her to the hilt. Pretty much the straight man amongst the comedy, Doan holds her own and is comfortable and confident in this role. With the help of the real Lauren Yee’s brilliant writing, Doan is delivers the dialogue effortlessly and brings you into the story of the Yees.

Every actor on the stage does their part with great effort to tell this story and most of this small, 5-actor cast take on multiple roles and each does so with impressive ability. Definite highlights of this piece are Joe Ngo as Actor 1, Celeste Den as Actor 2, and Tony Aidan Vo as Actor 3. They are all powerhouses when it comes to character work and all should be commended for their work in this piece. These three actors work very well with and off of each other with great chemistry. Their transitions between characters are solid and clear and one would have to look closely to figure out who is whom. From Chinatown elders, to liquor store owners, to crazy bearded chiropractors, to a Sichuan face changer, to an ancient ancestor named Yee Fung Toy, these three play their roles immaculately and give 100% effort in their work. Every character is believable, funny, and endearing in their own ways and Ngo, Den, and Vo are to the ones to thank for these splendid performances.

The standout in this production is, hands down, Stan Egi as Larry Yee. His energy, authenticity, and likeable portrayal are heartwarming and, in my case, very relatable. He understands this character who walks a fine line by knowing his culture and ancestry but also living in the modern world. This character is welcoming and humorous and Egi gives an exceptional showing of this jovial character. His comedic timing is spot on and mixes well and just at the right times with his more poignant scenes. He absolutely embodies this character and gives a strong, confident performance that you don’t want ot miss. He is certainly one to watch in this production.

Final thought…  King of the Yees at Baltimore Center Stage is an upbeat, humorous look at Asian-American life, the importance of family, and the differences between generations. Lauren Yee has crafted a beautiful piece that mixes comedy, poignancy, and fantasy that blends seamlessly. What, on the surface, could look like a parody of Asian-American culture, specifically Chinese culture, turns out to be a true and meaningful look at how each generation seems to slip further away from the previous generation and their beliefs. As an Asian-American myself (well, half anyway), and I can assure you, though sometimes exaggerated, the funny parts come from a place of absolute truth. Overall, the production is top-notch and polished. The performances are on point and humorous, but real. This is not a production you want to miss this season so get your tickets now.

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

The King of Yees will play through November 18 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: SOUL the Stax Musical at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission

It’s likely that we’ve all heard of Motown Records, RCA, Atlantic, A&M, and all the other big names in the music business, but what about the smaller labels that gave us the classics we know and love today? Unbeknownst to many, small companies like Sun Records, Chess Records, and Stax Record Co. have given us numerous hits and given starts to such legendary performers such as Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and countless others, but we usually don’t think about where these folks started. Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, SOUL the Stax Musical with a Book by Matthew Benjamin, Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, Musically Directed by Rahn Coleman, and Choreographed by Chase Brock, tells the story of one of these aforementioned companies, Stax Record Company, and it’s rise and fall in that crazy business of music.

In a nutshell, SOUL the Stax Musical concerns itself with the rise and fall of Stax Record Company and the evolution of American soul music. It begins with a brother and sister team, Jim Steward and Estelle Axton, who combined the first two letters of each of their last names to form Stax Record Company. It touches on the careers of many well-known artists such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, and others who started their long, illustrious careers at the small label. It also tells of how the music business isn’t all about the music, sometimes, and bad deals, novice businessmen, and egos get in the way of the magic. Every good thing must come to an end whether we like it or not and this is not only a history of soul music but also a cautionary tale of the business part of show business.

Scenic Design by David Gallo is intelligent and practical adding value to this production. Using a unit set with set pieces coming in and out, create each space perfectly and seamlessly in this fast paced piece. Though in the background, the orchestra is presented nicely and they are noticeable but cleverly out of the way of the action. A simple looking set, it allows for ease of entrances and exits of the actors and helps tell the story in an interesting and engaging way.

Dede Ayite’s Costume Design is divine and on point as each era of this production is represented from the late 1950s through the 1970s, with a bit of the 90s thrown in there. Her attention to detail is commendable and there is no question as to which era we are in by the styles and wardrobe chosen for each character. Kudos to Avite for a superb design.

Since this piece is all about the music, Music Supervisor and Musical Director Rahn Coleman is to be commended for his fantastic direction. The tunes are recognizable and folks are familiar with most of them so it can be tricky not to mess with the music so much, but, wisely, Coleman has decided to stick to the original arrangements and the audience couldn’t have been more entertained and pleased. It’s worth mentioning the outstanding band consisting of Jared Denhard (Trombone), DeAnte Haggerty-Willis (Guitar), Matt Kruft (Guitar), Todd Harrison (Drums), Fred Irby, III (Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Winston Philip (Keyboard), Mark Russell (Bass), and Ed Walters (Saxophone/Flute). These folks hit the nail on the head when it came to performing the music of this energized, delving music and they deserve many kudos for their efforts for this production.

To go along with music being a main component of this production, Choreographer Chase Brock also gives us high energy, brilliant, and engaging choreography that is simply a joy to watch and is actually infectious, causing me to tap my foot along with the classics I grew up hearing. I found myself looking forward to and waiting with anticipation for the next choreographed number and I the dancers themselves were tight and well-rehearsed adding great value and vitality to this production.

Kwame Kwei-Armah, former Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage, has taken this script and presented it in a thoughtful and attentive manner, giving us the history and the humanity of a story not often told. Technically, this is a historical piece and has to be handled carefully, but Kwei-Armah with clever staging, on point pacing, and wonderful casting has managed to tell this story and stay true to that history. It’s obvious he has a great comprehension of the material (both the text and the music), and it shows in his dynamic vision that reaches into the psyche and soul (no pun intended) of the audience.

Moving on to the performance of this piece, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention how well polished and dedicated the entire ensemble of this piece is. They work well together and off of each other and it’s easy to see every member of this cast is giving 100% of him or herself and is confident in the story they are telling. Major kudos to the ensemble as a whole.

Among this amazing ensemble are a few higlights, such as Robert Lenzi as Jim Stewart and Warner Miller as Al Bell, the creator (Jim Stewart) and somewhat savior (Al Bell) of Stax Record Company. Lenzi is confident and has a complete grasp of his character – an unexperienced, wet-behind-the-ears music executive. His mannerisms and character work is impressive and makes Jim Steward a likeable character in the end. Miller, too, has a good comprehension of his character – a smooth-talking, good-intentioned radio DJ turned music executive. Miller’s blend of sincerity with a hint of sleaziness is impressive as he’s created a character that keeps the audience guessing whether or not they like him or not, making for a complex, engaging character.

There’s an old adage that goes something like “behind every great man is a great woman” and there is no exception in this story. Mary Jo Mecca takes on the role of Estelle Axton, co-founder of Stax Record Company and the logical thinker of the crew, and Anastacia McCleskey tackles the role of Deanie Parker, dedicated employee and peace-keeper of sorts. Mecca gives an authentic and poignant performance as Estelle Axton and plays this character as rough-around-the-edges but it’s easy to see she has a heart of gold and cares deeply for her brother and business partner, Jim. Mecca is able to portray this character with the perfect blend of acidity and charm that makes her a multifaceted, but likeable character. Also, her vocal performance is spot on, especially in her featured number, “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” which she duets with an able and resonating Tasha Taylor (as Mable John).

Rounding out this uber-talened and able ensemble is Harrison White as Rufus Thomas, Ricky Fante as Otis Redding, and Boise Holmes as Isaac Hayes. These three actors couldn’t be more on point with not only their performances but their look and representation of these well-known soul singers of a bygone era. Harrison’s energy is relentless and remarkable as he sings and dances his way through is featured numbers such as “Walking the Dog,” “Can Your Monkey Do the Dog,” and the party staple “Do the Funky Chicken.” He also has a heartwarming duet with a velvet-voiced Allison Semmes (as Carla Thomas), “Cause I Love You,” which gives us a taste of the good music to come in this production.

Ricky Fante takes on the persona of the famous Otis Redding and shines bright not only in his portrayal but in his vocals in such numbers as “These Arms of Mine,” “Respect,” and the ever-popular smooth sounding “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Pure magic.

Kwei-Armah couldn’t have cast anyone more appropriate than Boise Holmes as (arguably) the most famous performer to come out of Stax Record Company, Isaac Hayes (who started at Stax while he was still working at a slaughter house… who knew?!). Holmes completely embodies Isaac Hayes as he transitions this character from the early 60s to through the 70s in style and mannerisms. His deep, smooth bass vocals resonate throughout the theatre and make one stand and take notice. His featured songs are performed flawlessly, such as “Soul Man” in which he duets with an equally notable Trevon Davis (as David Porter), the slow-groove and moving “Walk on By,” and even the mostly instrumental, mostly spoken “Theme from Shaft.” Overall, Holmes is an absolute standout in this production.

Final thought…  SOUL the Stax Musical at Baltimore Center Stage is a high energy, nostalgic look at the rise and fall of a special time and place that brought us some of the most memorable and meaningful music in American history. It not only entertains but teaches us a little about the music business and its darker side where it’s not just about the music, no matter how the creators want it to be. The performances are spot on, the choreography is inspiring, and the story is one that has been wanting and needed to be told and it is told with love and care. Whether you’re a fan of soul music or just discovering it, you do not want to miss this production this season. Get your tickets as fast as you can!

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s Productions’ production of SOUL the Stax Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

SOUL the Stax Musical will play through June 10 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: Animal Farm at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Originally written as a novel in 1945, the world was in a post war era and still scared of its own shadow with fresh memories of the atrocities of WWII. Countries didn’t trust each other and disagreed on how to run things. Orwell wrote this allegoric tale in criticism of our once recent allies, the Soviet Union and Stalin, in particular. In this day and age, I can’t help but thinking of the quote from author Alan Moore (V for Vendetta) stating “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” It’s a quote that would have done well for the characters of Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, adapted by Ian Wooldridge and Directed by May Adrales. This adaptation is spot on and brings on all the frustration and turmoil that exists in this story. It is a story every generation should see, hear, read, and understand as to protect not only themselves, but the future generations, yet to come.

In a nutshell, George Orwell’s Animal Farm uses animals and the setting of a farm to explore how communism and absolute power effect different classes of people and how something starts off as good for the whole ends up diluted and people (or pigs) get power hungry and human (or animal) nature takes over to turn it into something bad. For instance, those in charge create the “rules” but change them to suit their needs and actions, as needed. As the old adage goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And when a people blindly follow, they end up too deep in a situation to change it… or to feel as though they can change it.

The Scenic Design by Andrew Boyce is creative and appropriate for this piece. Being a unit set with various props keeps the attention on the text and action but adds to the oppressive and industrial feel of the entire production. The audience feels as though they are sitting in an old, dirty warehouse or slaughter house and it fits perfectly working in tandem with the Lighting Design by Noele Stollmack and Sound Design by Nathan A. Robers and Charles Coes. Stollmack works with the Scenic Design flawlessly, creating the mood of uncertainty and giving us backlighting and dramatic foot lighting to emphasize certain points of the text and characters. All the while the original compositions and Sound design create a mood of desperation, especially with the hymn “Beasts of England” with its blend of despair and hope all in one.

Costume Design by Izumi Inabi is a particular highlight of this production. Inabi has taken on the challenge of a production filled with humans playing animals and has risen to that challenge. Instead of dressing the actors head to toe as animals, Inabi has cleverly and creatively built costumes to insinuate animals, effectively, without bogging down the actors in heavy material, giving them room to work. More like puppetry, the costumes wisely consist of a base white overall while adding animal head puppets to portray each animal character and this also allows the members of this small ensemble to switch between animal characters easily and seamlessly. Overall, Costume Design is top notch and Inabi is to be applauded and commended for her impeccable design.

It’s worth mentioning that Ian Wooldridge’s adaptation is spot on. Being one of Orwell’s shorter novels, Wooldridge manages to cover all the main points without omitting or adding too much. In a cool 90 minutes, he manages to tell the story in its entirety. He also captures the oppression and blind loyalty in his text, as well as the change made of those in power and he writes in such a way that is easy to follow making this (I don’t mind saying) one of the best adaptations of a novel I’ve seen in quite awhile.

May Adrales takes the reigns of this production and her Direction and vision for this piece is clear making for some powerful and intense theatre. Adrales clearly has a thorough comprehension of the material and has guided this ensemble to tell this story effectively and unabashed. Her casting is superb and the staging keeps the story moving along nicely at a great pace while making sure to hit each important plot item. Staging a new, adapted production of a well-known novel can be tricky, but Adrales seems to have had no problem whatsoever and has given us a meaty, brilliant piece of theatre.

As for the performance aspect, the small ensemble works well together to bring this story to life and each individual actor delves into their animal character (all playing at least two characters during the production) making the audience forget these are actual animals but helping them see the humanity (whether or good or bad) in each character.

Napoleon, played by Melvin Abslon and Squealer, portrayed by Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, are the main pigs in charge of Animal Farm (the name given to the farm after the exile of Mr. Jones) and both of these actors play their characters to the hilt. They must be doing a bang up job because I find myself absolutely despising these two at the conclusion. Abslon (who adeptly takes on various roles, including that of a preaching crow named Moses) completely embodies the role of Napoleon and plays him with a certain dignity and grace one might not expect of a pig, but also has such a great, booming stage presence, this character, the leader, fits him perfectly.

While Abslon is large and in charge, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart takes on the role of what seems to be the #2 pig in charge, keeping tabs on everyone and making sure everything runs smoothly… in accordance to what the pigs want. While Stewart does a fantastic job as the voice box for the leader, I found her portrayal a bit annoying and though the character is written as an annoyance, Stewart played this up more so than it should be. Her jerky movements and idiosyncratic noises throughout the production just grated on the nerves, but, in her defense, it works to make her character more intolerable. Overall, her performance is effective, if not aggravating.

Brendan Tilley as Snowball, makes a great showing and gives a strong performance, as a betrayed pig who is exiled, just as the farmer was, and is turned into public enemy #1. Tilley’s stature helps him create a character with a big presence and one of authority and he has a good grasp on the necessity of this character and his place in the story and this makes for a commendable performance. Along those same lines, Jonathan Gillard Daly, who tackles the role of Benjamin, the old, curmudgeon donkey who questions the actions of the powers that be, knows exactly what his character is about and how he fits into the story. Daly takes on various roles (namely that of the humans in this piece), and does a splendid job transforming from his animal characters to his human characters. He is confident and comfortable on the stage and gives Benjamin a certain sense of balance between the clever pigs in charge and the workers (of whom he is one of the few who can read well). Both Tilley and Daly add value to this production with their character work and understanding of the material.

Deborah Staples as Clover, the young mare (though in the novel, she’s a bit older) and companion to Boxer, and Stephanie Weeks as Major, the former leader of the pigs, and Boxer, a work horse, are definite highlights of this production of Animal Farm. Staples plays Clover as an unsure character who knows something is awry, but also unsure of what to do about it. Much like many people throughout time who stood by out of fear or ignorance when things were going bad. Staples completely embodies this character and it is easy to connect with her as I would venture to say we’ve all been in her shoes at one time or another. She’s comfortable on stage and has a strong presence making for a stellar performance.

The other standout, Stephanie Meeks, starts off with a bang as Old Major, the boar who is the leader of not only the pigs, but all the animals on the farm and her monologue rallying the animals into rebellion is inspiring. You can see in her eyes the emotion and the heartache in her performance, especially when she begins the hymn “Beasts of England,” with a very impressive low, guttural alto that fits this character and the mood perfectly. Meeks’ turn as Boxer is just as impressive as she has a full grasp on this character and exudes the blind loyalty that leads to pretty much nowhere. It’s frustrating for the audience to see but she also emits a certain hope in her performance that gives the audience a light at the end of a tunnel that makes for an outstanding performance.

Final thought…  George Orwell’s Animal Farm at Baltimore Center Stage is everything an adaptation of this novel should be. Especially with the uncertain times we live in today, it captures the frustration of those who are blindly loyal and presents an uncomfortable truth about the rise of power and the changes those who apart of that upswing go through. It sends the message that, pardon the cliché, that the grass is not always greener on the other side and, absolutely represents the time in which Orwell wrote Animal Farm with the fear of communism and the worker’s plight. The performances are spot on and the production is well through-out and presented impeccably. You don’t want to miss this production this season so, get your tickets directly.

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

Animal Farm will play through April 1 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvery Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or you can purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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PRESS RELEASE: Baltimore Center Stage Announces 2018/19 Mainstage Season

FOR RELEASE ON MARCH 8, 2018

Baltimore Center Stage Announces 2018/19 Mainstage Season

Baltimore—March 7, 2018. Baltimore Center Stage is pleased to announce its 2018/19 Mainstage Season, which includes a world premiere and a classic family drama, along with provocative political and social justice stories providing a lens into American life across cultures.

“Our 2018/19 Season is going to be a theater-goers’ theater season, full of the kind of diverse, smart, entertaining and thought-provoking work you have come to expect from Baltimore Center Stage,” said Michael Ross, Baltimore Center Stage Executive Director. “It’s a season of acclaimed hits, voices new and returning, and stunning theatricality. “

Our 56th season kicks off with the sultry American classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Award-winning playwright Lauren Yee brings a fresh comedy to the stage with King of the Yees, and Marcus Gardley’s A Wonder in My Soul, updated with a Baltimore setting, will be our holiday production. The season will also feature Paula Vogel’s highly acclaimed play Indecent, and the 2015 Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home. The world premiere of Christina Anderson’s How to Catch Creation will close out the 2018/19 Season.

2018/19 Season

A SULTRY AMERICAN CLASSIC
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
by Tennessee Williams
Sep 13–Oct 14

In this enduring American classic, family ties and layers of lies collide over the course of one simmering Southern summer night. Themes of morality, greed, and desire play across the stage in this explosive drama about what can happen when illusions begin to unravel. Brick, racked with guilt over his best friend’s death, numbs his pain with drink. Maggie, his wife, is determined to win even fleeting attention from her neglectful husband. But when three generations come together to celebrate a birthday—and discuss a will—all of the players start to the crack under the pressure and the heat. How long can tensions build in a house boiling over with uncertainty, secrets, and maybe even love?

HEARTFELT HILARITY BRIDGING GENERATIONS
King of the Yees
By Lauren Yee
Oct 25–Nov 18

Playwright Lauren Yee has always felt like an outsider, especially compared to her father, Larry, the unofficial center of their Chinese American community. When Larry suddenly goes missing, Lauren has to chase through time, space, and the fourth wall itself to find her father, save his story, and chronicle a vanishing piece of American culture. Explore the vivid legacy of one changing Chinatown through the vibrant imagination of a new generation in award-winning playwright Lauren Yee’s smart and cheeky family comedy.

A STORY OF FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY, AND THE HEART OF A NEIGHBORHOOD
A Wonder in My Soul
By Marcus Gardley
Nov 29–Dec 23

In a Baltimore beauty shop, two longtime co-owners and best friends grapple with a major decision. Remain as the anchor of their beloved neighborhood, or relocate under the pressures of gentrification and crime? In dialogue that resonates with everyday poetry, and filled with music both profound and stirring, A Wonder in My Soul looks at the evolution of one family and a whole community through the eyes of two best friends and their lifetime of friendship.

A COMING-OUT MUSICAL, BASED ON A TRUE FAMILY
Fun Home
Jan 17–Feb 24
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron
Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel

Welcome to the Bechdel family. But just what family is it? Through the searching eyes of daughter Alison—aged 9, 17, and then 42—we meet her ever-shifting and sometimes unreliable memories of brothers, mother, and above all her repressed father, along with recollections from the family funeral home to Alison’s coming out. Based on Bechdel’s own best-selling illustrated memoir, this poignant tale harnesses every facet of music and theater to explore and unravel the mysteries of childhood and the surprising secrets that shape a life. Winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical, from the composer of Caroline, or Change and the writer of 2.5 Minute Ride.

WOULD YOU GO TO JAIL FOR WHAT YOU LOVE?
Indecent
By Paula Vogel
Produced in Association with Arena Stage and Kansas City Rep
Feb 28–Mar 31

What is the cost when we sacrifice truth for success? Can radical love be pious, or merely provocative? Does every religion sell God for a price? Follow the true story of a play, a playwright, and a plucky troupe of Yiddish theater artists from 1906 Warsaw to 1923 Broadway, from risky experiment to global sensation—and ultimately shattering scandal. The latest hit from the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of A Civil War Christmas, The Baltimore Waltz, and How I Learned to Drive, this highly acclaimed and award-winning drama pays homage to artists ahead of their time and doomed to pay the price.

FROM LOVE TO ART AND BACK AGAIN
How to Catch Creation
By Christina Anderson
May 2–26

In the mid-1960s, a young writer’s life turns upside down when her girlfriend drops some unexpected news. Even 50 years later, the reverberations of that moment, and its unexpected consequences, still echo in the intersecting lives of four individuals caught up in a rapidly changing world. This is a bittersweet story of finding and following our passions from Christina Anderson, winner of the Lorraine Hansberry Award. This world-premiere play that explores the universal act of creation—of life, of family, of art—spans space and time to inspire a new generation of makers and lovers.

About Baltimore Center Stage

Baltimore Center Stage is a theater committed to artistic excellence. We engage, enrich, and broaden the perspectives of diverse audiences through entertaining and thought-provoking work and educational programs. Named the State Theater of Maryland in 1978, Baltimore Center Stage has steadily grown as a leader in the national regional theater scene. Under Executive Director Michael Ross, Baltimore Center Stage is committed to creating and presenting a diverse array of world premieres and exhilarating interpretations of established works. Baltimore Center Stage believes in access for all—creating a welcoming environment for everyone who enters its doors and, at the same time, striving to meet audiences where they are. In addition to Mainstage and Third Space productions in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, Baltimore Center Stage ignites conversations across Baltimore and beyond through the Mobile Unit, which brings high-quality theater to economically, culturally and geographically diverse communities. The theater also nurtures the next generation of artists and theatergoers through the Young Playwrights Festival, Student Matinee Series, and many other educational programs for students, families, and educators

Review: Skeleton Crew at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
BCS_PlayPhoto
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours one 10-minute intermission
Circa 2008, the USA was thrown into a recession that hit hard. Some felt nothing, some felt a little, and then there were some who were completely knocked on their asses. Detroit has a special place in American history – from its place as the 4th largest city in The United States of America, to it’s decline, and its current up-sweep. Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau, Directed by Nicole A. Watson, is a perfect fit for The Women’s Voices Theater Festival and gives us a peek into the decline part of that history and gives those who may not have been in the heart of it a better understanding with relatable, authentic characters and heartfelt stories of survival in uncertain times.
SkeletonCrew_press with captions2Skeleton Crew is one part of Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit Project that includes this play as well as Detroit ’67 and Paradise Blue. This is a truly American play that exhibits an American experience as the country was on the verge of an economic collapse and deals with a group of people trapped in a system that seems to force their hand but also presents the choices those same people can make. The story is relatable and relevant as are the characters within this story and the dialogue is authentic making this an intriguing, engrossing evening of theatre.
Scenic Design by Mariana Sanchez gives us a well thought-out Scenic Design utilizing a unit set of a simple breakroom with all the fixings including a small kitchen area as well as a small locker area. It’s the details that make this set more real and “lived in” such as the dingy, stained walls and various signs, notes, and notices attached to them.
SkeletonCrew_press with captions4Sanchez’s design works in perfect tandem with a Lighting Design by Burke Brown and Sound Design by Darron L. West giving us a full and immersive production. Brown manages to set the mood and time of each scene with subtle shifts of light from within the small breakroom as well as from the insinuated factory beyond. His use of jolting flashes of light during particular points and transitions in the production are effective and work well with the piece as a whole. Along with Brown’s design, Darron L. West’s superb Sound Design helps put the audience smack dab in the middle of this auto factory with muted background sounds of an operational facility. The hum and rhythm of the machines are always present and are almost like the heartbeat of the production but also adds that extra bit of authenticity.
Costume Design by Karen Perry is spot on with a contemporary look of folks who are a little down on their luck, scraping by, but with their heads still above water. Like just about every other aspect of this production, Perry’s working-class, urban design is true and well thought-out, transcending the audience to this time and place making this piece more relatable.
Nicole A. Watson takes the helm of this production and her Direction is on point, guiding her actors and creative team to bring out the poignancy and drama of this story. She has a good grasp on the material and understands the delicate balance between feeling sorry for these strong characters and rooting for them. Her staging is engaging and allows for great pacing mixing points of urgency and calm that keep the audience interested and invested.
SkeletonCrew_press with captions8Moving on to the performance aspect of Skeleton Crew, we meet Shanita, portrayed by an able Brittany Bellizeare. Shanita is a young mother-to-be who is optimistic, hard-working and proud of her work and wants what’s best for the city she lives in. Belllizeare shines in this role and it’s as if it was written just for her. She’s comfortable with this character and has a good understanding of what she’s going through and what she has to deal with as a single, pregnant young woman trying to make her way in the world. Her grasp of this character is quite apparent, especially in her monologue about how her character feels like she’s making a difference with her part in creating automobiles and how she’s a part of the lives of people who purchase and drive these vehicles. Aside from sounding a little scripted, at times, Bellizeare gives a strong, confident performance.
SkeletonCrew_press with captions9Gabriel Lawrence takes on the role of Dez, the young, rough-around-the-edges guy who has a slight problem with authority and big dreams of striking out on his own. Lawrence gives a brilliant performance as this character and seems to understand the load this character carries on his shoulders every day as a young, middle-class, African-American male. Lawrence also manages to blend that rough exterior with a man who is, deep down, a good soul. The way he portrays him with his fellow workers in the breakroom as opposed to the way he portrays the character with management is a good, definite switch that makes this character interesting.
SkeletonCrew_press with captions10Sekou Laidlow is a highlight in this production as he tackles the role of Reggie, the Supervisor who worked his way up the ranks at the factory but has close ties to the workers and absolutely understands their plights and honestly wants what’s best for everyone. Laidlow starts off a little stiff, but quickly starts to ease into his character to give a natural portrayal. Laidlow understands his character walks the very thin line between management and employees but he plays this balance beautifully. We learn of this character’s background and relationship with the other characters and Laidlow manages to emote the conflict within this character of what he thinks is right and black and white of company policy. He’s got a strong presence and natural flair that makes his performance a definite highlight.
SkeletonCrew_press with captions7Last, but certainly not least, we have Stephanie Berry, who takes on the role of Faye, the hard-as-nails old-timer on the line who happens to be the union representative and seems to have seen it all and knows how to survive. Berry, hands down, is the standout in this production and completely embodies this character she is portraying. She pulls of a motherly persona, who wants to take care of those around her, as well as the loner persona who just wants to be left alone to take care of herself. That conflicting balance can be challenging to portray, but Berry does it with ease and confidence. The character of Faye is multi-faceted but Berry tackles her with gusto and is quite successful in her portrayal. Her presence is formidable and her chemistry with her castmates is superb. The poignancy in tandem with the roughness in her portrayal make this a beautiful performance and certainly one to watch.
Final thought…  Skeleton Crew at Baltimore Center Stage is a fitting addition for The Women’s Voices Theater Festival with its strong female lead and its poignant and authentic look at the decline of a great city and the effects of that decline on the people living and working there. Dominique Morisseau’s script is top-notch as it is engaging with a beautiful blend of drama and comedy that makes for a tangible representation of everyday life, allowing for the audience to relate and connect with these characters. The chemistry in this cast is impeccable and the performances are top notch. Get your tickets, now, for this production because it’s not one you want to miss.
This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s Productions’ production of Skeleton Crew… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Skeleton Crew will play through March 4 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.
Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com
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PRESS RELEASE: Baltimore Center Stage to Present the World Premiere of SOUL The Stax Musical May 3 – June 10, 2018

For Release: December 20, 2017
Baltimore Center Stage
Baltimore Center Stage to Present the World Premiere of SOUL The Stax Musical
May 3 – June 10, 2018
Baltimore Center Stage has announced the final play of the 2017/18 season. SOUL The Stax Musical is a world premiere which tells the story of Memphis, Tennessee based Stax Records, its impact on the American cultural landscape, and the launch of iconic artists who created the foundation of what we know today as soul and rhythm & blues music. Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah and produced in association with Stuart Benjamin and Concord Music, SOUL The Stax Musical will feature the music of such legendary acts as Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes and others. SOUL The Stax Musical celebrates how music played a role in bringing Americans together during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement, and continues to bring generations together, from those who remember the early days of R&B, to those who have discovered the phenomenal impact of Stax Records and its artists through recent interpretations of their iconic catalog. A full cast and creative team announcement will follow.
What: SOUL The Stax Musical
Book by Matthew Benjamin
Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah Produced in association with Stuart Benjamin and Concord Music
When: Performances Begin May 3, 2018
Where: Baltimore Center Stage – 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202
SOUL Musical
About Baltimore Center Stage
Baltimore Center Stage is a professional, nonprofit institution committed to entertaining, engaging and enriching audiences through bold, innovative and thought-provoking classical and contemporary theater. Named the State Theater of Maryland in 1978, Baltimore Center Stage has steadily grown as a leader in the national regional theater scene. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE and Managing Director Michael Ross, Baltimore Center Stage is committed to creating and presenting a diverse array of world premieres and exhilarating interpretations of established works. In 2017, the theater completed a $28 million building renovation that created more opportunities for art making and community building, with new public spaces to gather before and after shows and state-of-the-art performance spaces with the best in theater design and technology.
Baltimore Center Stage believes in access for all—creating a welcoming environment for everyone who enters its theater doors and, at the same time, striving to meet audiences where they are. In addition to its Mainstage, Off Center and Family Series productions in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, Baltimore Center Stage ignites conversations among a global audience through digital initiatives, which explore how technology and the arts intersect. The theater also nurtures the next generation of artists and theater-goers through the Young Playwrights Festival, Student Matinee Series and many other educational programs for students, families and professionals.

Review: Lookingglass Alice at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
1505931137-lookingglass_alice_tickets
Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission
Curiouser and curiouser… those are the words that come to mind when I think about the traditional, albeit twisted and psychedelic tale of a little girl named Alice and her adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s a dream-like story that can sometimes be convoluted and hard to follow, but there’s a certain appeal it has that has helped it survive many re-births since it’s original publishing in 1865. Whether it receives the Disney treatment in the 1951 animated feature, Alice in Wonderland, or the Tim Burton treatment in his 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland, it has never been a story I go out of my way to read or see presented on stage or film… until now. Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Lookingglass Alice, an adaptation of the stories of Lewis Carroll by David Catlin, Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen, with Music Direction by Jose C. Simbulan and Choreography by Rennie Harris gives this timeless story a fresh, modern re-boot with fun music and fast-paced staging that pulls it out of the Victorian age and places it right into the hands of 21st century.
Media Gallery_1200x__Technically, this production is top-notch. Set Design by Tim Mackabee and Light and Sound Design by Rui Rita and Lindsay Jones, respectively, pull this production together in an awe-inspiring mix that tingles all the senses. Mackabee is wise to use a minimal, unit set that is quite appropriate and does not interfere with, but enhances the telling of the story, providing levels and though-out set pieces to keep the production interesting. Working in tandem with Mackabee’s design is the well thought-out and attention grabbing light show that sets the mood of each scene beautifully and gives a nightclub feel in well-placed points of the production, keeping the audience engaged and interested.
Media Gallery_1200x__10Lindsay Jones’ sound design is nothing but superb. Every effect is placed perfectly and carefully making the experience that much more enjoyable. Not only is he responsible for Sound Design but he also wears the hats of Composer of original music and Musical Arranger taking the well-chosen songs and fitting them into the piece perfectly to help move the story along and give it depth. Major kudos to Jones for his impeccable work on this piece.
Rennie Harris’ Choreography is inspiring and full of energy making this piece engaging and engrossing with a mix of hip-hop and lyrical moves fill the stage and show off the ensemble’s individual abilities. Also, working together with Harris’ fabulous choreography, Jose C. Simbulan’s Music Direction is on point as this cast is flawless in the delivery of the songs included in this piece. Both choreography and vocal performances make for a delightful and intriguing two hours of theatre.
Jeremy B. Cohen takes the helm of this production of Lookingglass Alice and his direction is spot on with focused, precise staging that gets actors on and off efficiently and transitions between the scenes, which are more like vignettes, are flawless. The pacing is near perfect with every moment used wisely. Cohen’s comprehension of this piece is quite apparent as his refreshing vision of this aged story with an updated, intelligent script is presented with a delicate balance of new and old.
Media Gallery_1200x__7Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, all of the actors in this small ensemble take on many, varied roles but it’s worth mentioning the extremely able ensemble members Jessica Bennet and Sensei Silab. Bennet and Silab are committed and it’s easy to see they give 100% to their various roles. Both of these actors have a definite grasp on the complex choreography and musical arrangements and they add great value to this production as a whole.
Garrett Turner, who takes on the roles of White rabbit, White Night, and March Hare is a delight to watch as he embodies these very different characters with ease. As the White Night, he has fantastic comedic timing and he is  comfortable in his well-placed interactions with the audience. His ability to switch on and off between characters is impressive
Media Gallery_1200x__9Christopher Ramirez takes on the roles of Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the White Queen, among others and his performance is commendable. He understands his characters and shines as the caring  Mr. Dodgson who gets on the level of a young girl and tries to explain the world to her in terms she might understand. He is hilarious as the White Queen, throwing shade that RuPaul himself would be proud of, but also balances out by playing the character seriously and not over the top, exuding a compassion and caring that is required of the role. Vocally, Ramirez does a bang-up job with a smooth, booming baritone voice and shines in featured numbers such as in Milo Green’s “Afraid of Everything.”
David Darrow is a highlight in this production as he tackles the roles of Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, and Humpty Dumpty, among others. The characters are diverse and Darrow portrays each character effortlessly. Not only does he have admirable dramatic chops, this multi-talented performer provides much of the live music in this piece with a guitar and adds great value with a clear bari-tenor voice in numbers such as Jonathan Coulton’s “I Crush Everything,” and Ruth Berthe’s “Golden.” Whether he’s effectively portraying the Cheshire Cat, slinking across the stage, or giving a frantic performance as the high-energy Mad Hatter, or a comical, nerdy take on Humpty Dumpty, Darrow is certainly one to watch in this production.
Media Gallery_1200x__6Markita Prescott takes on the titular role of Alice in this production and gives an absolutely authentic and natural performance, embodying this young girl as she navigates through Wonderland searching for a way to become a queen. Prescott has great chemistry with her fellow ensemble members and really seems to have a great comprehension of her character. She plays Alice with the innocence of a child but the sass of a girl who can take care of herself and the curiosity of a person coming of age. Vocally, Prescott is superb with a strong voice that resonates throughout the theatre in numbers like the driving Emile Sande song “Breathing Underwater” and a more subdued, delicate sound that she uses in the poignant “Golden.” Overall, Prescott gives a strong, confident performance that pulls the piece together.
Media Gallery_1200x__2The definite standout in this production, hands down, is Patrice Covington as the Red Queen. Though she gives great turns in roles such as the Dormouse and Tweedle Dee, she shines brighly and intensely as the Red Queen. She steals the show during her featured number, the high-energy, upbeat Demi Lovoto tune “Confident”and that’s exactly what she exudes in her performance. The balance of elegance and diva-ness she brings to the role is on point and makes for an authentic portrayal of a tyrannical queen. Covington’s vocal performance is powerful and seemingly effortless as she wails her number with confidence, as the song suggests, and her own flare of showmanship that is second to none. I’ll be following this actresses career and am looking forward to seeing her onstage in the future.
Final thought…Lookingglass Alice is a modern, funky, and refreshing look at a very old, familiar story. The performances of this small ensemble playing various roles are focused and engaging, breathing new life and ideas into the well-known piece. The music that has been added and the arrangements of those songs give the impression that these tunes were written for this piece because they fit so well and help progress the story line. Overall, it’s a fun show to experience and whether you’re familiar with little Alice and her adventures in Wonderland or a newbie to her journeys, you will not be disappointed with this production and it’s energy. Get your tickets now as this is not one production you want to miss this season.
This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of Lookingglass Alice… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Lookingglass Alice will play through December 31 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410.332.0033 or purchase them online.
Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com
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Review: Shakespeare in Love at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
2017-18Season_330x220_v22Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission
The Great Bard, William Shakespeare, not only wrote great plays, but he’s great fodder for plays and film alike. In 1998, a great film was released revolving around the fictional life-happenings and implied inspirations of Shakespeare during the writing of Romeo & Juliet called Shakespeare in Love and, it just so happens, this film has been transferred to the stage at Baltimore Center Stage in a show of the same name, Directed by Blake Robinson, with Scenic Design by Tim Macabee, and Costume Design by Kathleen Geldard. Though based on the film, Shakespeare in Love stands on its own on the stage and with a strong ensemble and well thought-out script, it makes for a successful transition.
sil-mg-160William Shakespeare is a mythical figure as it is and so many questions surround his life and work and many stories have sprouted up through the ages. Shakespeare in Love does a great job at mixing history and events that could have possibly happened, but are most likely fiction. This piece takes place around the creation of the great tragedy Romeo & Juliet and a star-crossed love affair (go figure!) between Shakespeare himself and Viola, the daughter of a rich merchant in London during the 1530s and during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Scenic Design by Tim Macabee is spot on for this piece. Creating a traditional Shakespearian stage, including balcony, with a sneaking resemblance to The Rose theatre in London, where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first run, Macabee has created the mood required of this piece and transports us back to the Elizabethan age. Mainly using set pieces rather than full sets, the design is clean and gives just enough insinuation for the audience to know where each scene is taking place. This simple but effective design also makes the transitions between scenes quick and smooth.
sil-mg-289Costume Designer Kathleen Geldard is to be commended for her authentic and thoughtful design for this production. Period pieces can be tricky to costume, especially the Elizabethan era with wild designs and layers upon layers but every character was costumed appropriately, differentiating class and style with each character. Queen Elizabeth was decked out to the hilt and I loved every moment of it. Kudos on a job well done.
Lighting Design by Michelle Habeck and Sound Design by Matthew M. Nielson added great value to this production with Habeck using isolation lighting to depict dramatic moments and subtle changes in lighting levels to insinuate different times of day and location. Along with Habeck’s lighting, Nielson’s sound design moved the story along nicely and added that bit of authenticity with the mediaeval music selections driving home to point of when this story is taking place. Admirable Lighting and Sound Designs from both Habeck and Nielson for this production.
sil-mg-725Blake Robinson takes the helm of this production and gives us a fresh take on this beloved story. It’s easy to see Robinson is not trying to put the film on stage but trying to make this stage version its own entity and does so with success. He captures the true essence of the piece, which is simply a love story, weaves it through the twists and turns of the story. There are a few bits that are curious such as the jolting turns of drama and comedy where some confusion comes into the piece as if it’s a comedy or a drama. If it’s both, the blend could use some work, but the dramatic parts are well portrays, just as the comedic parts. Regardless, Robinson has a great comprehension of the material and he guides this ensemble to a successful telling of the story. The transitions are smooth and his staging is impeccable.
sil-mg-175Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth saying the entire ensemble is dedicated and committed to this piece giving 100% to telling this story. Avery Glymph shines as Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, the man who would have probably been Shakespeare’s only equal. It’s been an argument that it was actually Marlowe who wrote the great plays that are credited to Shakespeare and being a Shakespeare fan, I don’t follow that line of thinking, but it is hinted to in this script but is very clever in the fact that it is portrayed as Marlowe just giving ideas to Shakespeare rather than writing the play completely. Glymph portrays him with dignity and a certain humility that works well for the role and he has a great command of the stage. Likewise, David Whalen, who takes on the role of Ned Alleyn, the egotistical, but realistic lead of the Admiral’s men (a company of actors), gives just the right balance of ego and humbleness that is required of this character making him one of my favorite characters. Michael Brusasco as Wessex plays a believable protagonist in this piece, exuding the snootiness and desperation of a man with a title and not much else. I wouldn’t be doing this review much good if I didn’t mention Meatball, a little Chihuahua who takes on the role of Spot, the resident dog of the troupe, who was obviously frightened, but managed to do his job and do it well! Kudos to Meatball for a great debut!
sil-mediakit-098Barzin Akhavan takes on the role of Henslowe, owner of The Rose and Brent Harris tackles the role of Burbage, owner of The Curtain and probably the most famous actor in all of England. These two actors portray these rival theatre owners beautifully with a blend of hatred that one would have for an arch nemesis and respect for each other’s integrity and art. Akhavan’s comedic timing is spot on for the character of Henslowe and Harris tackles the over-the-top, dramatic flair of Burbage brilliantly. Both work well off each other and with the company as a whole.
A couple of absolute highlights in this production are Naomi Jacobsen as Queen Elizabeth, and Laura Gordon as Nurse. Jacobsen completely embodies QE1 and her comedic timing is spot on. She also has the ability to show Elizabeth’s compassion and understanding being “a woman in a man’s profession.” She gives a strong, confident, and memorable performance. Along those lines, Gordon’s portrayal of Nurse is endearing as she is reminiscent of the written, doting Nurse of Romeo & Juliet, and she has great chemistry with Emily Trask making for an authentic, and praiseworthy performance. Both of these actresses are ones to watch in this production.
sil-mg-1036Taking on the title role as William “Will” Shakespeare, Nicholas Carriere gives an admirable performance and seems to understand his character quite well but there was something in the way his over-the-top gestures and facial expressions seem to cheapen the role. It’s clear he knows what the character is all about and his gestures are purposeful… just a little to big, making the performance look campy, at times. It could very well be a directorial choice, because in the dramatic scenes Carriere is on point and believable. His and Emily Trasks chemistry is a slow burn, is convincing and has the audience drawn into their relationship by the end of the story. Overall, his performance is strong and he has a great command of the stage.
sil-mg-273Emily Trask takes on the role of Viola de Lesseps, the heroine of the piece and the forward thinker. Lady de Lesseps wants to be an actress when women on the stage was unheard of and even considered lewd. Trask takes this role, makes it her own, and runs with it. The character of Viola is complex but Trask has a good grasp on her and the problems she faces. Her delivery of the text is impeccable and she gives a natural, commanding performance.
Final thought…Shakespeare in Love is a lighthearted, but moving piece that is a fictional story around the writing of one of William Shakespeare’s most famous works, Romeo & Juliet, that blends make believe and history seamlessly and with thoughtfulness. Being based on a popular and well-received film (and one of my absolute favorites), I was worried about how it would transfer to the stage, but, ultimately, the script stays true and the Great Bard’s reputation is still intact. The performances are spot on and each actor makes their roles their own, not being a carbon copy of the film. Whether it be script or directional choices, it seems this piece doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy or a drama with jarring switches from one to the other. Also, a few  of the performances were a bit over the top, at times, but overall, fans of the film and those unfamiliar with the story will be delighted with this production and it’s not one you want to miss this season.
This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of Shakespeare in Love… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Shakespeare in Love will run through November 26 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at 410-332-0033 or purchase them online.
Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com
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PRESS RELEASE: Baltimore Center Stage Announces Shakespeare in Love Cast and Artistic Team

Baltimore Center StageShakespeare in Love
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Center Stage Continues its “Season of Community” with a Boisterous, Joyful
Production of the Blockbuster Movie
Baltimore — Baltimore Center Stage is pleased to announce the cast and artistic team for Shakespeare In Love.
Continuing a “Season of Community” at Baltimore Center Stage, where every program
and production explores the role of artists and institutions in building community,
Shakespeare in Love embraces the theme of “joy”. The language, love story and
luxurious scenery aim directly at the joy in the connectedness of the human spirit. It is a
moving examination of the relationship between art and love.
“This joyful romp celebrates every aspect of theater, from the words on the page to the
actors on stage. It is a charming tale of love, the English language, and theater itself,”
said Baltimore Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah. “It is simply the joy
that this theater can provide in turbulent times.”
Shakespeare in Love is the most produced play in the 2017/18 theater season. Baltimore Center Stage is its only production in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area. Based on the Oscar-winning film of the same name, Shakespeare in Love was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay. It is directed by Blake Robison, Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
The cast includes Nicholas Carriere* (William Shakespeare), Avery Glypmh* (Marlowe/Priest/Ensemble), John Plumpis* (Fennyman/Catling?ensemble), David Whalen* (Ned Alleyn/Lambert/Ensemble), Michael Fajardo* (Frees/Wabash/Heavy
1/Ensemble), Barzin Akhavan* (Henslowe/Ensemble), Brent Harris* (Burbage/Barman/Ensemble), Liz Daingerfield (Mistress Quickly/Waitress/Kate/Abraham/Ensemble), Marquis D. Gibson (Adam/Heavy
2/Ensemble), Wynn Harmon* (Tifney/Sir Robert de Lesseps/Ensemble), Naomi Jacobsen* (Queen Elizabeth/Molly/Ensemble), Bari Robinson* (Nol/Valentine/Ensemble), Taha Mandviwala (Peter/Proteus/Guard 2/Ensemble), Emily Trask* (Viola de Lesseps/Ensemble), Laura Gordon* (Nurse/Ensemble), Jefferson A. Russell* (Ralph/Ensemble), Jamal James* (Robin/Guard 1/Boatman/Ensemble) Clark Furlong (Webster), Michael Brusasco* (Wessex/Ensemble), and Richard Buchanan (Sam/Ensemble). There’s also a featured appearance by Meatball, a Chihuahua (Spot).
The artistic team includes director Robison, Tim Mackabee (Scenic Designer),
Kathleen Geldard (Costume Designer), Michelle Habeck (Lighting Designer), Matt
Nielson (Sound Designer), Diane Lala (Choreographer), Rick Sordelet and Christian
Kelly-Sordelet (fight directors).
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association.
Shakespeare in Love opens Thursday, October 26, with previews October 19–25, and
closes Sunday, November 26. Press night is Opening Night, October 26. For more
information, visit www.centerstage.org or call the box office at 410.332.0033.
Shakespeare in Love is made possible by T. Rowe Price. This performance is supported
in part by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC). Center Stage’s Season
Sponsor is M&T Bank and the season is also made possible by The Shubert Foundation
and the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences
About Baltimore Center Stage
Baltimore Center Stage is a professional, nonprofit institution committed to entertaining,
engaging and enriching audiences through bold, innovative and thought-provoking classical and contemporary theater. Named the State Theater of Maryland in 1978,
Baltimore Center Stage has steadily grown as a leader in the national regional theater
scene. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE and Managing
Director Michael Ross, Baltimore Center Stage is committed to creating and presenting a
diverse array of world premieres and exhilarating interpretations of established works.
Baltimore Center Stage believes in access for all—creating a welcoming environment for
everyone who enters its theater doors and, at the same time, striving to meet audiences
where they are. In addition to its Mainstage and Off Center productions in the historic
Mount Vernon neighborhood, Baltimore Center Stage ignites conversations among a
global audience through digital initiatives, which explore how technology and the arts
intersect. The theater also nurtures the next generation of artists and theater-goers
through the Young Playwrights Festival, Student Matinee Series and many other
educational programs for students, families and educators.

Review: The Christians at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission
Religion can be a tricky thing to write an entire show about. Religion is a very personal concept and people have very strong feelings about it which makes it even more risky. However, to find a good balance and write a show about religion that isn’t over-saturated with said religion is a rare and beautiful thing and Baltimore Center Stage’s latest production, The Christians by Lucas Hnath, Directed by Hana S. Sharif, with Music Direction by Jaret Landon, is just that, a fine balance of beliefs told in an entertaining but honest and poignant way that makes for an enjoyable, yet thought-provoking evening of theatre.
Mike Carnahan’s Set Design is minimal, but beautiful. This set puts the audience in the seats of a mega-church with a sleek and modern design that is quite functional, including a choir loft and bandstand for the outstanding choir and small band that is included in this piece. Most of the action takes place center stage and the minimal design prevents mucking up or crowding the actors and the band and choir, though set back, is prominent and easy to see, as they should be. This clever set design works in tandem with the stunning and mood-setting Projection Design by Hana S. Kim, that adds value to the production and, as stated, sets the mood for each scene and action happening onstage.
As with any mega-church, or any service in general, music is an important aspect and Music Director Jaret Landon knocks it out of the ballpark with this production. Wisely, this piece starts off with the choir (credited as the Community Choir of Baltimore Center Stage) with an upbeat, gospel piece that has the audience tapping their feet and clapping their hands. Some even sing along, which is actually encouraged. I’d like to note I am a HUGE fan of gospel music and I found myself tapping, clapping, and singing! Landon has the choir singing in beautiful harmony and the soloists were on point. The band, consisting of Jaret Landon on Keyboards, Todd Harrison on Drums, Max Murray on Bass, and Michael Raitzyk on Guitar are tight and well-rehearsed making for a phenomenal performance along with the Community Choir of Baltimore Center Stage. The music aspect of this production really put the audience in the mindset of the piece. The only stumble that comes along in the musical styling of this production is the last choir performance which is kind of like an audience-interactive piece, like in a church, and though the choir is just as strong as they are in the beginning, the male soloist is a curious choice as he doesn’t seem to have the gospel style down as well as he should for a finale, a little stiff and a little more subdued and technical than called for, the soloists performance just seems to fall flat. Otherwise, major kudos to a job well done in the music department.
Lighting Design by Jen Schriever is precise and fits well with this production. With isolation lighting and splashes of color, where needed, it blends nicely and moves the piece along without jarring the aesthetics or being a hindrance to the piece itself. A true sign of a good lighting design is when one doesn’t notice the lighting, but does when needed and that’s exactly what happens with Schriever’s design.
Hana S. Sharif takes the reigns of The Christians and she does, indeed, have a great comprehension of the text and the meaning of this complex story. Her casting is spot on and they all work well together. Her vision is clear and the piece does not lean to one side or the other but balances just as the text requires. Sharif does well with the multifaceted issue of afterlife and one’s belief in that afterlife, which is the center of this piece, and presents it in a way that is a back and forth dialogue instead of an argument. The pacing is near perfect and she keeps the action moving forward with moments of intensity between certain characters that give it a peaks and valleys movement which is exactly what makes this show work.
Moving on to the performance aspect of The Christians, every single actor in this ensemble made his or her character his or her own and worked with and off of their cast mates beautifully.
Jessiee Datino takes on the role of Jenny, a single mom who found redemption and salvation in the church and wants desperately to keep what she found but is having questions which she hesitantly, but bravely presents. Datino has this this character down pat. From the nervous giggling to the gestures, she really embodies this character of Jenny and has a good grasp on her. Datino gives a strong, natural, and delightful performance.
Lawrence Clayton (who if you look really quickly, could be a Lawrence Fishburn double) takes on the role of Elder Jay, a jovial but-business minded gentlemen who really wants what best for the church. Clayton plays this role splendidly with an authenticity that makes this character quite likeable and wise.
Adam Gerber tackles the role of Associate Pastor Joshua, the staunch, zealous, yet faithful Associate Pastor who wants what’s best for the church, just like the rest of the characters, but also wants to be certain everyone believes in a certain doctrine or dogma. Gerber plays the role intensely and confidently, making his character not so likable, but not despicable. His emotion and gestures give an authenticity to this character that Gerber completely embodies. The thing about his character is, we all, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, know a person like this character and he’s hard to figure out. He has an objective, that Gerber works for brilliantly, but it’s still hard to reconcile our respect for this character and our own beliefs, making for a stimulating and exasperating character that Gerber pulls off effortlessly.
Taking on the role of Elizabeth, the preachers wife, is Nikkole Salter who has an air of elegance and dignity that is required for this role. She fits perfectly with this character and gives a poignant, truthful performance. Salter works especially well with and has great chemistry with her counter-part, Howard W. Overshow, who takes on the complex role of Pastor Paul, who’s belief is changing and trying to deal with it and the opinions of his congregation. Overshow is an absolute standout in this production giving a superb performance. From the moment he steps onstage, one feels they are in a service watching a strong, confident preacher do his thing. His booming, yet comforting voice and gestures make for an extremely realistic performance and the emotion he emotes throughout his more intense scenes is outstanding. His anguish and confusion is clear in his performance and he handles the balance beautifully.
Final thought… The Christians is a poignant, though-provoking look at beliefs and how they can shape or even re-shape a person’s outlook on life. The performances were top-notch and the book by Lucas Hnath is cleverly written as he doesn’t dwell so much on religion but on individual views on the afterlife and gives a good balance of those views. From set design, lighting, and the amazing choir supporting this piece; you don’t want to miss it! It may have you asking questions or confirming what you already believe but either way, it will make you think and that’s always what good theatre does. Get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of The Christians… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The Christians will play through October 8 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.
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