Between the Lines with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. If you’re familiar with Shakespearian tragedies, you’ll recognize these two characters as supporting players in Hamlet and their unfortunate demise. Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest production, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, Directed by Lance Bankerd, takes a peek between the lines of the Shakespeare classic to gives us a theoretical peek into what these two ill-fated characters were up to in the background while our friend Hamlet was going crazy.

Matt Wetzel, Bethany Mayo, Rory Kennison, Michael Panzarotto. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

I’m usually a big fan of stories that include telling more in depth, parallel stories about minor or supporting characters of established stories. It’s always interesting to see and hear what’s going on in the background of other stories, and they are usually quite creative and imaginative. So, not knowing much about this title, but being familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I was excited to see what could transpire. I was excited. Then I realized this is Absurdist theatre. Admittedly, I am not a fan of Absurdist theatre and, after five minutes of rambling dialogue about probabilities and odds, I was turned off. The actors were doing a magnificent job, but the dialogue left me cold. The text is ostentatious and the fast pace of dialogue seems to me that the author is trying to create a character who’s mind works so fast he or she has to get out all the words before the next bright idea comes along. Ugh. Also, this doesn’t seem to be a stand-alone piece (as other titles are, this isn’t the only one) and one must have a familiarity with Hamlet before seeing this piece. There is an attempt to keep the audience up to pace with the introduction of certain characters and light explanations, but it’s half-hearted, at best. However, Stoppard does keeps true to the action of Hamlet, but when it comes to these two characters (and company), you can keep ‘em… but that’s just me.

No matter my feelings of the script, there’s absolutely no denying the fabulous production value Fells Point Corner Theatre gives us. Lance Bankerd, who takes the helm of this production, has a clear vision and tells the story straight-forward, with simple staging but superb character work. He seems to have a tight grasp on the tedious material and presents it in a laidback, easy-to-follow way making for a delightful showing. Also, it’s worth mentioning the creative Costume Design by Deana Fisher Brill and Maggie Flanigan who have managed to find and gather more denim in one place than I’ve seen since house party in the 90s. Their design compliments the piece and is consistent which makes it a praise-worthy design.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the effort and dedication this entire ensemble puts into this production and their work pays off, nicely.

(l-r) Thom Sinn and Dominic Gladden. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Though most of the ensemble seemed like fillers, all gave beautiful performances such as Elizabeth Ung as Ophelia, who didn’t have much stage time, but made the most of what she had and Michael Panzarotto and Rory Kennison, who took on the roles of The Tragedians Horatio and Alfred, respectively. Panzarotto and Kennison didn’t have many lines, but they certainly played their characters to the hilt, physically, with appropriate gestures, mannerisms, and impeccable reactions to the other happenings on the stage.

Dominic Gladden takes on the role of Hamlet, who actually isn’t the main character in this particular story, but Gladden played the role effortlessly. It’s hard to make out his dialogue, at times, through a heavy dialect, but he has a good comprehension of the twisted character and plays him with confidence giving a strong performance. In step with the freaky family, Tom Piccin tackled the role of Claudius, the conniving uncle to Hamlet, and Kay-Megan Washington portrays Gertrude, the award-winner for Worst Mother of the Year. Both Piccin and Washington know these characters well and they have a good chemistry to play well off of and with each other. Both are quite able actors and they shine through the supporting roles to give brilliant performances.

There are certainly highlights in this production, including Bethany Mayo as The Player, the leader of a passing troupe of actors, and a little bit of a con artist. She has this role down pat and her comedic timing, as well as understanding of dramatics is crystal clear. She is comfortable in the role and plays it with ease, making for a solid and robust portrayal.

Thom Sinn as Polonius, the hapless, disheveled advisor to Claudius, is also a highlight mainly because of his comedic timing. His take on this character is spot on. Playing Polonius as more of a bumbling assistant, Sinn makes this character likeable and you start rooting for him, but you don’t why, you just know you want everything to work out for this poor fool. His delivery is a bit mushed at first, but that could be what Sinn is going for as it would fit with the character, but otherwise, his performance is strong and confident, making for a charming character.

(l-r) Logan Davidson and Matt Wetzel. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Rounding out the cast is the truly remarkable Logan Davidson as Rosencrantz and Matt Wetzel as Guildenstern, who are the standouts in this production and they are working their asses off on that stage. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in the Shakespeare play, are friends of Hamlet, but are assigned by Claudius to take Hamlet to England with a letter to the King of England asking him to kill Hamlet, unbeknownst to the duo. Hamlet finds out, and, well… let’s just say things don’t turn out so well for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. You read the title already.

Davidson and Wetzel have a fantastic chemistry and work well off of each other, and, a little birdy told me they learned this hefty script in a little over a month, which is impressive with the amount of dialogue these two have to deliver throughout the show. They’re physical work is also spot on and they keep the audience engaged and entertained. Wetzel has a natural flair in his delivery and precise mannerisms that make him a joy to watch. Davidson, too, has a knack for the physical and portrays her role (whether it be Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, depending on what’s happening on stage at the time) with confidence and ease. Both of these actors have a tight grasp on their characters and play them solidly. Their effort is apparent, and they deserve the utmost kudos for their work on this production. They are certainly ones to watch.

Final thought… Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, is a polished, beautifully performed, well-thought out production but it’s not one I’d be running to see if it comes around again. Many folks love this kind of stuff, but absurdist theatre is just not my cup of tea, as it were, and the script is a little too pretentious for my tastes. However, Tom Stoppard’s pretentious “look-how-smart-I-am” script and dialogue aside, this is a splendid production. The ensemble is giving 100% effort in their superb performances and Bankerd’s staging is spot on, creating a smooth flow that keeps it engaging and entertaining. It’s definitely a praise-worthy production that deserves checking out.

This is what I thought of this production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead will play through May 5 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

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Review: The Elephant Man at Fells Point Corner Theatre & Collaborative Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Theatre is supposed to do something to us, emotionally. Whether we’re supposed to think, feel sad, feel hopeful, or simply be entertained, it’s supposed to do something. The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance, currently playing at Fells Point Corner Theatre and co-produced with Collabortive Theatre Company does all of it. With Direction by Anthony Lane Hinkle, Set and Lighting Design by Kel Millionie, Costume Design by Ben Kress, and Sound Design by Chris Aldrich, this poignant, very real story is breathtakingly woven together flawlessly and had me feeling all the feels and thoroughly entertained.
The Elephant Man gives us the true story of Joseph Carey Merrick (1862-1890), who is usually called John Merrick, as in this play, and his trials and tribulations as a person with a rare medical disorder in Victorian England. It also teaches us about ourselves and our reactions to people who may be “different” and how those people make us feel a little better about ourselves. Human nature is unpredictable and, at times, a very scary thing.
bttfTo begin, walking into the main theatre of Fells Point Corner Theatre, my initial excitement came from Kel Millionie’s beautiful set design. The unit set has smart levels that all lead to the center of the stage where most of the action takes place. The main entrance, through glass plated french doors blend nicely into the set design and the lower entrance, a hallway of sorts, is a nice contrast to the elegant french doors. The earthy tones lend well to expressing the Victorian era. Millionie used his space very wisely, cleverly creating storage for set pieces not in use within the set itself. The clean, subtle set was near perfect for this production.
Along with Set Design, Millionie has double duty as the Lighting Designer and this design is just as fantastic as his set design. I suppose, who better to light the set than the designer and in this case, it matches up stunningly. His use of shadows and dim light sets the audience not only in the mind of the Victorian age, but in the context of the show, exhibiting how Merrick had to live in the shadows for much of his short life.
The Set and Lighting Design added immense value to this already successful production and major kudos go out to Millionie for his thoughtful and impressive work.
To add to the technical side of the production, Sound Designer Chris Aldrich did a superb job finding music that fit the period and set the mood for scenes and added to the production rather than interfere. To go along with the sound, this production utilized projections to move the story along. The use of projections can be tricky and can almost ruin a show if not used properly however, Directory Anthony Lane Hinkle and Set & Lighitng Designer Kel Millionie took on the responsibility of choosing appropriate projections and they are all spot on. They do not take away from the production or add fluff, but are apart of the story and the action and help move it along, filling in the blanks for the audience as to better understand Merrick’s story.

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Grayson Owen as John Merrick and Darius Foreman as London Police Officer. Credit: Tessa Sollway


Being a period piece, costumes play a very important role in this play and Costume Designer Ben Kress hits the nail on the head! The costumes are very appropriate and complement the actors wearing them. From the elegant gowns of the ladies to the sharp suits of the upper class gentlemen, to the ratted and tattered coats of the lower class characters, each costume was well thought-out and the actors are quite comfortable in them. There are a few absolutely beautiful gowns (with help from Shelly Steffens Joyce) and every costume made each character more real and tangible.
Aladrian Wetzel and Elizabeth Ung as Pinheads and Grayson Owen as John Merrick. Credit: Tessa Sollway.

Aladrian Wetzel and Elizabeth Ung as Pinheads and Grayson Owen as John Merrick. Credit: Tessa Sollway.


Anthony Lane Hinkle’s integrity and ingenuity shines through in his direction of this piece. His blocking with the use of levels keeps the movement of the actors interesting and purposeful and each actor seems to really understand his or her characters. All but one actor in his cast takes on more than one role and each character is different and fresh. His use of projections to accompany the story is helpful to the audience and the information he chooses for projection does not cause a distraction but educates. It’s clear that Hinkle has taken his time with this piece and researched the subject to get a better understanding of the story of Joseph (John) Merrick and wants to not only entertain, but teach his audience about the life of this remarkable man. From day one of accepting directing responsibilities for this proven, emotional piece is challenging but Hinkle is quite successful in transferring this piece from the page to the stage and teaching the audience that one, indeed, mustn’t judge a book by its cover. Well deserved kudos go out to Anthony Lane Hinkle for a stellar job and I’m looking forward to seeing his future work.
Grayson Owen as John Merrick and Sean Coe as Frederick Treves. Credit: Tessa Sollway.

Grayson Owen as John Merrick and Sean Coe as Frederick Treves. Credit: Tessa Sollway.


Sean Coe takes on the very important role of Dr. Frederick Treves, the brave, young doctor who tried to give Merrick somewhat of a normal life, whatever that means, as well as studied him to figure out his medical disorder. Coe has a strong command of the stage and is very comfortable as he navigates through a plethora of emotions with this character from curious doctor simply wanting to study Merrick to trusted friend making daily visits. Coe seems to truly understand the character of Frederick Treves and plays him with grace and compassion giving a truly superb performance.
Mark Scarf as Carr Comm. Credit: Tessa Sollway.

Mark Scarf as Carr Comm. Credit: Tessa Sollway.


Mark Scharf, who portrays Carr Gomm, head of the London Hospital where Merrick presides, does a wonderful job projecting the sternness and class-consciousness of an upper-class Victorian gentleman. He is quite believable with his hoity-toity attitude and I imagine him looking down his nose at those who he thinks lead less than exemplary lives. He is very comfortable on stage and gives  a very strong performance.
Frank Mancino as Ross. Credit: Tessa Sollway.

Frank Mancino as Ross. Credit: Tessa Sollway.


Ross, the sleezy freak show barker and low-life manager of John Merrick is played brilliantly by Frank Mancino and his characterization is on point. One cannot ignore his booming voice when he first enters onto the stage and he has a great presence that makes the audience take notice. He seems to understand the devious character he is playing and I must admit, I found myself very much disliking him which tells me he has accomplished his task as an actor superbly. He also takes on the part of a completely different type of character named Bishop Walsham How, but even then, he plays the Bishop with a tinge of “holier-than-thou” authenticity that makes the character somewhat unlikable, as well. Mancino’s performance was an admirable one but I did find him hard to understand most of the time, which may have been the cockney and/or british accent getting in the way.
 
Elizabeth Ung is charming as The Duchess as she sweeps in and out of her scenes and just as charming as she is as The Duchess, she is just as vile as the over confident, obnoxious Nurse Sandwich, who thinks she’s seen it all but quickly finds out she hasn’t seen the likes of John Merrick. She also takes a turn as a “pinhead” from a freak show and all of her characters, though secondary, are strong and she has a strong presence on the stage.
Darius Foreman takes on various supporting characters including a London Policeman, Porter, and Lord John and, as an actor, his skills aren’t as strong as his cast mates, but he manages to hold his own against his very strong co-horts. It is very difficult to understand what he is saying throughout the play but, the accents for his characters range from cockney to proper British and it can be quite a challenge for any actor. Regardless, I could see he is giving 100% on stage and has a good presence.
Aladrian Wetzel as Mrs. Kendal and Grayson Owen as John Merrick. Credit: Tessa Sollway.

Aladrian Wetzel as Mrs. Kendal and Grayson Owen as John Merrick. Credit: Tessa Sollway.


A definite highlight in this production is Aladrian Wetzel who takes on the role of Mrs. Kendal, a friend and confidant of John Merrick’s and she is an absolute joy to watch. From the moment Wetzel enters onto the stage she takes full command and is stunning with her period gowns and graceful movements. Her very unique, soothing voice resonates throughout the theatre with every line and she is very comfortable on the stage and in her interactions with her cast mates. She has a complete understanding of her character; an actress who started an acquaintance with John Merrick at the request of Dr. Treves, their mutual friend, to become a true and dear friend. Her transition from acquaintance to friend is seamless and she gives a phenomenal performance. In this challenging piece and strong ensemble, Wetzel shines bright.
Grayson Owen tackles the very challenging, titular role of The Elephant Man himself, John Merrick. If I had to chose one word to describe Owen’s performance it would be… outstanding. His performance was the stuff every actor strives for and he pulled it off flawlessly. Though physically he was an absolutely average man, his skill in physicality caused me to believe he had the ailments suffered by the real John Merrick. One of his most amazing feats was his transformation from average man into the deformed John Merrick. This transition happens, cleverly, as Dr. Treves is explaining his patient’s ailments and seemingly, right before our eyes, Owen manages to mangle his body to become The Elephant man… Superb. His vocal work was superb as his speech was supposed to be almost inaudible but yet, I understood every word he said. This role is a major physical challenge but Owen managed to keep it up throughout the entire play, save one scene, even throughout the scene changes. So exceptional is his performance, there were times I teared up not only because of his acting skills but because I believed John Merrick was speaking out. His command of the stage is second to none and he truly takes the reigns of this production, on stage. It seems as though he’s done his homework because his understanding of John Merrick is clear as he truly becomes the man himself. I am very much looking forward to seeing more from Grayson Owen in the future and he is to be commended for this stellar performance. Someone, give this man an award!
Grayson Owen as John Merrick and Sean Coe as Frederick Treves. Credit: Tessa Sollway.

Grayson Owen as John Merrick and Sean Coe as Frederick Treves. Credit: Tessa Sollway.


Final thought… The Elephant Man is a moving, poignant, strong, and deep piece about not judging a book by its cover and how human nature can get in the way of most things. This production is not to be missed. The performances are authentic and the production teaches us not only about The Elephant Man, Joseph “John” Merrick, but also about ourselves and how we see the world and others. It’s a timeless message of acceptance and tolerance and you will not be disappointed with this interpretation of this piece. Go see this show!
This is what I thought of this production of The Elephant Man.… what do you think?
The Elephant Man will play through October 2, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, and a special Saturday Matinee on September 24 at 2pm at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.