Review: Fun in the Sun with Once On This Island Jr. at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes with intermission

High-quality theatre is always a “wow” moment. Achieving that effect with a cast of all young people is especially impressive, and Director Liz Boyer Hunnicutt has outdone herself again with Children Playhouse of Maryland’s current production of Once on This Island Jr. with Music by Stephen Flaherty and Lyrics and Book by Lynn Ahrens. From the moment that you arrive on property, meeting a real live goal and being welcomed to the island by young cast members, already in character, you are transported to another world. The bright and colorful costume design by Sharon Byrd sets the tone immediately that you have traveled off the campus and to a land faraway. The combined efforts of Diane M. Smith (Technical Director/Set Design & Construction), Tyrell Stanley (Lighting Designer), Laura Miller (Scenic Artist), and Donna Flaharty (Light Board Operator) really build on this vision with their excellent design work. There is a bubbling fountain on stage, and the show begins with sparks of special effects as the Gods enter from the back of the house. Even the traditional curtain speech is shortened and made into a recording to be certain not to break the spell of the transformation. The set, lighting, and technical choices continue throughout to be an intricate part of the action and the vision of the production.

Equally impressive are the vocals, under the Musical Direction of Charlotte Evans, and the choreography by James Hunnicutt. Hunnicutt does a particular impressive job of getting the young cast to master synchronicity in movement and creating interesting and varied visual images. These adults have truly provided an impressive framework in which these young performers are able to shine.

And shine, they do. The large ensemble is full of energy and takes little moments and little solo lines to show the wealth of talent among the cast. Several get to stand out in some featured roles as well. Zachary Byrd (Daniel’s Father) possesses such a strong stage presence that he seems older than his years. Ryann Nicole Reich also makes a memorable impression with her turn as The Gatekeeper. Creating the backbone of the show that move the story forward are the four storytellers (Bella Comotto, Molly Foggo, Rose Glennon, and Talia Lebowitz). Foggo especially stands out in the role with her mature poise and grace.

What makes the story so compelling, though, is the heart displayed by the characters in this world. Allyson Gray (Little Girl/Little Ti Moune) is likely bound for stardom with her beautiful vocals and believable characterization. Her natural innocence and optimism serves as a beacon for the entire tale. Surrounding her with love are the sweet and loveable Tonton Julian (Matthew Byrd) and Mama Euralie (Phyllis Wainaina). Wainaina also has a voice that is clear as a bell and conveys her warmth. As much as the audience might want to be mad at Andrea (Zoe Hammel) and Daniel (Kevin Franiak), it is hard when Hammel and Franiak do such a nice job of making them believable and likeable and showing clearly that they never meant to hurt anyone.

For this production to work, though, it is the Gods who must be larger than life as they manipulate the actions of the players within. All four of these young women rose to this challenge in interesting and different ways. Anna Sophia Claudio (Erzulie, God of Love) is grace and elegance personified with a legit Broadway belt. Catie Zimmer (Papa Ge, God of Death) is everything evil and manipulative with a hint of real emotion buried in the nuances of her characterization. Anderson Gray (Agwe, God of Water) is wisdom and strength and a powerful, mature vocal sound. Dersha Horrey (Asaka, God of Earth) is vibrant, hilarious, and fills the room with her soul.

Of course, none of this would mean anything without the perfect Ti Moune, our hero. Nyani Hawkins is indeed perfect in this role; she is the ideal leading lady. Hawkins draws the audience into her world and into her big, beautiful heart. We root for her, and we cry for her, because Hawkins makes Ti Moune real. Hawkins has a beautiful quality to her voice and demonstrates control throughout and she wows the audience with her compelling dance. Hawkins, like the entire production, is truly spot-on and then some more. Audiences should not miss their chance to catch this wonderful show in the next two weekends.

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

Once On This Island, Jr. will play through March 17 at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland at CCBC, Essex Campus, Administration Building. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

Email us at

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook  and Follow us on Twitter @BackstageBmoreand Instagram @backstagebaltimore

Review: The Liar at Patapsco High School Center for the Arts

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
The LIar
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
It’s been said that if one keeps lying long enough, one actually starts to believe his or her lies and we all have different reasons for lying. Sometimes they’re harmless fibs, sometimes they’re hurtful deceptions but why do we do it? Patapsco High School Center for the Arts tries to give us a glimpse into one master liar’s reasoning in their latest offering, The Liar by David Ives, Directed by Kevin Carlson, with Set Design and Construction by Kailah Johnson (student), Bobbi Phillips (student), Will Prichard (student), Jacob Tomlinson (student), Patrick McGee (alum/volunteer), and Fred Schroeder (alum/volunteer) Lighting Design by students Cory Faison, Leo Lachnit, and Dersha Horrey, and Sound Design by student Keishla DeLeon. With an intelligent script (in iambic pentameter) and a committed, hard-working ensemble, this production makes for a delightful evening of theatre.
The Liar, in a nutshell is about a gentleman, Dorante, who can’t seem to help himself from lying… about everything. He comes across a manservant, Cliton, who simply cannot tell a lie. Over the course of two days, Dorante falls in love with Clarice who he mistakes for her friend Lucrece while Clarice is actually engaged to his friend Alcippe. All the while, Dorante’s father is trying to get him married off to Clarice while Lucrece is actually in love with him. All of these crazy scenarios begats lie after lie from Dorante who is trying to keep it all together but… can he?
The Blackbox Theatre at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts is an intimate, but adequate space and can easily be a challenge for any kind of design for a production. However, Set Design and Construction by students Kailah Johnson, Bobbi Phillips, Will Prichard, Jacob Tomlinson, and volunteers Patrick McGee and Fred Schroeder is just enough to create the setting for this piece without cluttering the stage so much that it becomes a hindrance. A unit set with an impressive running fountain) gives us the idea of a street in 1600s France and set pieces fill out the scenes and locations. Overall, the design is clever and works very well for the piece without getting in the way. Kudos to all for a job well done.
Costume Design by students Maddie Chester, Destiny Jackson, Maria Pullifrone, Kas Schroeder, and Megan Zeller is well thought-out and stays authentic to the time period in which this piece takes place. All the actors seem quite comfortable in their wardrobe and the attention to detail is impressive. A costume plot for a period piece is always difficult to design by these able Costume Designers do a superb job in this production.
Lighting Design by students Cory Faison, Leo Lachnit, and Dersha Horrey and Sound Design by Keishla DeLeon is absolutely on point in this production and is to be applauded. This is hands down one of the best Lighting and Sound Designs I’ve seen this season, so far, and what makes it more impressive is that it was accomplished by high school students. That’s not to say high school students aren’t capable of great things, but this Light and Sound Design is clean and precise, well-rehearsed, and adds great value to this production. Faison, Lachnit, and Horrey create locations, times of day, and moods with light that move the piece along and help the audience understand where and when they are in the piece. Keishla DeLeon’s sound design is spot on and every sound cue was absolutely appropriate and perfectly placed adding that much more authenticity to the production without getting in the way of the performance. Congratulations to these student designers for a superb showing.
Director and Technical Theatre teacher Kevin Carlson seems to have a good grasp of this material and has guided this ensemble toward a charming performance that teaches a good lesson. He knows his cast, which is important, and he has managed to bring out the best in them. The script itself has a particular rhythm that takes practice, but he has used his time wisely and the actors are able to deliver the text smoothly enough. His staging keeps the action moving and the transitions are smooth and clean. His gender-blind casting is commendable and he has presented this piece in such a way that those who are not as well versed in the classics will easily follow along as those with more experience.
Moving on the to performance aspect of this production, Benjamin Elzey takes on the role of Philiste, a good friend who is very French and has delicate sensibilities. Elzey understands the character and the humor of the character but needs to concentrate a little more on his delivery and projection rather than for the humor. However, he is dedicated to this role and seems to be having a great time portraying this quirky character making for an amiable performance.
Brittany Runk tackles the role of Cliton, the honest, friendly manservant and first character we meet in this piece. Runk is absolutely committed to this role and has a good comprehension of the character giving an intelligent performance. The character is very funny, but Runk has a tendency, in her delivery, to throw the lines away. Many of the punchlines are lost so a bit of slowing down and emphasis of the lines would do her well. She gives a great showing with great physicality and a strong presence on the stage.
Adding complications to the story for our “hero” is Geronte, the father, played nicely by Mags Carey and Alcippe, the best friend, portrayed skillfully by Emily McGee. Carey portrays the commanding father with authenticity and gives the character an elegant and snooty air that is required making her believable as Geronte. McGee, as Alcippe certainly makes this role her own and embodies this character completely. They physical demands on this character seem effortless for McGee and she portrays him with a good balance of confidence and dignity, giving a praiseworthy performance.
Taking on the role of the “love interest,” Clarice is Brittany Lorden and though she plays this role airing on the side of caution, she still have a good understanding of the character. Lorden seems a little subdued compared to the rest of the ensemble, but it works nicely for the role. Her delivery is clear and gives and admirable performance.
Maxwell Wolf portrays our aforementioned “hero,” Dorante, who is, in fact, the liar. This character is complex in many ways and always a clown. Wolf does well and keeps up with this fast-paced character from beginning to end. Many of his funny lines are lost due this his concentration on trying to be funny instead of letting the script do the work for him. However, his frenetic physical performance is on point and, overall, he gives a strong performance with a great command of the stage and understanding of the text.
A definite highlight of this production is Milo Gray as the duel role of twin sisters Sabine and Isabelle. Gray impressively switches back and forth between the two very different characters with east and her character choices for both are flawless. She has a great stage presence and is comfortable and confident in her movements and delivery.
Hunter Lubawski is the standout of this production as Lucrece, the dedicated and caring friend. Lubawski embodies this character and gives 100% to her performance. She has a natural flair and does quite well with the meter, allowing her to be clearly understood. Along with being natural, she has a great command of the stage and knows how to work the space. Her dedication is apparent and she is comfortable on stage with a great comprehension of the story and the material. I’m looking forward to seeing more stage work from this actress in the future as she grows and hones her craft.
Final thought…The Liar is a fun, lighthearted story with a meaningful message of how our own perceptions become our truths. It’s a modern twist on a classical style that works with a witty script and thoughtful staging. With a dedicated ensemble that puts in 100% effort and a technical design that is top notch, this production is definitely one you want to check out during its short run.
This is what I thought of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts production of The Liar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The Liar will run November 16 through November 19 at the Patapsco Blackbox Theatre, Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, 8100 Wise Avenue, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.
Email us at
Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)