Review: Charley’s Aunt at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Shoemaker as Lord Fancourt Babberley.

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

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

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

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

Review: [Title of Show] at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 1 hours and 55 minutes with no intermission
With the arts scene booming in Baltimore, some who are not in the “the know” enjoy (or don’t enjoy) the final product of months of auditions, casting, rehearsals, finding designers, and sometimes even writing but sometimes folks wonder what it takes to get a show from page to stage. Fells Point Corner Theatre‘s latest offering, [Title of Show] by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, with Direction by Kristen Cooley, Music Direction by Mandee Ferrier Roberts, and Choreographed by Tom Wyatt.
[Title of Show] actually covers its own creation and it’s journey from a blank page to the New York Musical Theatre Festival, all the way up to it’s Off Broadway run. Much of the material is based on true events and people, including writers, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, so much so that they used the real names of the folks involved. It explains the process and the changes and compromises that must be made and even the possible change in the people involved.
Set Design by Bush Greenbeck is simple but he uses his space wisely and his use of levels and revolves keeps the action moving and interesting. Primarily a unit set with set pieces, Greenbeck’s design fits this piece nicely and move the piece along.

Owen O’Leary as Jeff and Lauren Stuart as Heidi. Credit: Tessa Soloway

Choreography by Tom Wyatt is charming and the cast seems to have a good grasp of it and they are tight and well-rehearsed. There’s not a lot going on so you won’t see any big dance numbers, but with four characters, that would be going a bit overboard, anyway, but the choreography that is present is appropriate and adds value to the production.
Music Direction by Mandee Ferrier Roberts, who is also a character in the show, as the sole instrumenalist, is superb. I want to take a moment to say that the vocal work in this piece is outstanding. The four actors are in key and in harmony every step of the way. The whole piece has a very subdued sound having only piano accompaniment as backup, but the music shines through because of stellar performances. Mandee Ferrier Roberts is the usual accompanist, but I had the pleasure of experiencing Homeretta Ayala’s performance and it’s as if she had been performing with them from day one. Overall, the music is what makes this piece, but then again, it should… it’s a musical! Kudos to Roberts for a job well done.
Kristen Cooley, a wonderful fixture in Baltimore theatre, takes the helm of this production an makes her vision and love for this piece apparent. With an easy seat and good casting, she keeps this show moving and interesting. This is a unique show in that it’s not really a show within a show, but a show about its own creation, but Cooley seems to have a good comprehension of the script and and presents it clearly and with authenticity making for an enjoyable evening of theatre.

Owen O’Leary as Jeff and Izaak Michael as Hunter. Credit: Tessa Soloway

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, Owen O’Leary takes on the role of the more cautious, subdued Jeff and Izaak Michael tackles the role of the more exuberant and frantic Hunter. Both of these actors really do get their characters but, whether or not it is a directorial choice, both seem a bit too scripted throughout the entire piece. The singing… top notch, but the acting seems a bit forced. The script is a bit trite at times, as well, so that doesn’t help, either. This isn’t to say these gentlemen didn’t do an admirable job in these roles. Vocally, they are strong and have a pleasant, clean sound and they are both confident and seem comfortable on the stage, giving commendable performances.
The highlights of this production are the female counterparts, Heidi and Susan played by Lauren Stuart and Casey Dutt, respectively. These two actors are powerhouses and give superb and confident performances. Dutt has a natural flare and shines in her featured number “Die, Vampire, Die!” and Stuart gives a poignant, heartfelt performance of her featured number “A Way Back to Then” toward the end of the show. Both have great chemistry with each other and with O’Leary and Michael, making them a delight to watch.
Final thought… [Title of Show] at Fells Point Corner Theatre might not be my cup of tea as I see the script as a little trite and though the song selections are fitting and easy on the ear, they’re not ones that left an impression on me or had me humming as I left the theatre. However, it is a fun romp that delves into the subject of creating theatre, more specifically, musical theatre and all the good and not so good things that go into it. The production itself is simple, but the voices are absolutely top notch and the portrayal of the four characters by the actors give the lackluster script a good boost. With bouncy songs, a committed cast (and accompanist), and a composer/lyricist from right here in Baltimore, [Title of Show] is not the usual fare we get from Fells Point Corner Theatre but it’s refreshing to see they’re broadening their horizons and adding a musical to their season. If you’ve ever wondered how a musical is written, this show is a pretty good representation of the process and worth a look if you’re around town.
This is what I thought of Fells Point Corner Theater’s production of [Title of Show]… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
[Title of Show] will play through May 28 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call 410-669-0220 or purchase them online.
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Review: Trust at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 1 hours and 50 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
The 90s was a hell of a decade and I would do it all over again, if I could! Amidst the Gulf War, Rodney King Riots, and presidential sex-scandals, there were some pretty cool times, as well, such as The Berlin Wall coming down, the ending of the Cold War with the U.S.S.R. and… the World Wide Web! Fells Point Corner Theatre‘s production of Trust by Steven Dietz, Directed by Michael Byrne Zemarel, with Music Direction by Kristen Cooley, Set Design by Bush Greenbeck, and Lighting Design by Chris Allen takes the audience back to a bygone era where relationships and sex were just “a thing,” Chris Hardwick was hosting Singled Out on MTV and not talking about zombies, and Nirvana dominated the airwaves.

The Cast of Trust. Credit: Chris Hartlove

The Cast of Trust. Credit: Chris Hartlove

In a nutshell, Trust is steamy, raw tale about Cody and Becca, a young engaged couple, and Cody has recently hit it big in the music industry and has graced the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. However, Cody also has the hots for an older faded and jaded star, Leah, who may or may not have a thing for him, too. Gretchen knew Leah back before she was big and had the hots for her, but never told her. Low and behold, Gretchen, who happens to be a dressmaker, is making Becca’s wedding dress may or may not have the hots for Becca and Becca might possibly have similar feelings in return. Enter the young Holly, another outspoken friend of Gretchen’s who adores Cody, the rising star, while Roy, a DJ, has his motor running for Holly. Welcome to love in the 90s.
Bush Greenbeck’s minimal, clean set design works well with this piece and his clever use of a revolving stage takes the audience seamlessly from one location to another and adds a bit of variety to the piece, which, in authentic 90s fashion, is quite black. To counter this dark tone, Greenbeck adds splashes of color and prints to break up the monotony and it keeps the set visually appealing.
To complement Greenbeck’s design, Lighting Design by Chris Allen sets the mood of the piece very nicely. He uses the levels in his lighting to portray locations such as living rooms, bars, and hotel rooms and his subtle changes and splashes of color are effective and moving the piece along smoothly.
Michael Byrne Zemarel, Laura Malkus, and David Shoemaker. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Michael Byrne Zemarel, Laura Malkus, and David Shoemaker. Credit: Chris Hartlove

According to Music Director Kristen Cooley, Trust is written as a straight play with no music, but it was the decision of Director Michael Byrne Zemarel to add this element, making it a play with music and it was indeed a creatively wise choice. The music that was added beautifully complimented the action in the piece and Cooley lucked out with actors who are instrumentalists as well, including Mark Scharf, who is credited only as The Musician. I’m assuming Scharf’s character was added in, as well, and he does an excellent job providing accompaniment with his acoustic guitar throughout the piece. I like the fact that the song choices aren’t just the top hits of the decade but some B-side songs were utilized as well, which is refreshing. Overall, Cooley’s song choices (in collaboration with Zemeral, I’m sure) are smart and befitting and her work with the cast shines through in their tight harmonies and strong vocal performances.
Michael Byrne Zemarel takes on double duty as a performer and director in this piece. On his directing, he does a superb job with this piece. As previously discussed, his decision to add the element of music is brilliant. It adds so much value to this piece and the decision of using live, acoustic guitar accompaniment makes it all the better. He was not afraid to push the boundaries in this piece that’s not only filled with relationship drama but also has a touch of simulated sex and nudity that may or may not be for shock value. Whether or not the sex stuff is or is not for shock value, it works and pulls the piece together.   His portrayal of Roy is realistic and, through is mannerisms, he really captures the essence of a man longing or love in the grunge age.
Rachel Roth as Gretchen. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Rachel Roth as Gretchen. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Overall, this ensemble worked superbly together with excellent chemistry. It is obvious they are comfortable with each other as they play off each other naturally and with confidence.
Casey Dutt portrayal of Holly, the sharp tongued, opinionated young friend is strong and entertaining. She portrays well a character who simply says what’s on her mind and doesn’t mean any harm, but does, in fact, cross the line sometimes.
David Shoemaker as Cody. Credit: Chris Hartlove

David Shoemaker as Cody. Credit: Chris Hartlove

David Shoemaker tackles the role of Cody, the rising star, trying to navigate through the newfound fame and all that goes with it. He definitely looked the part of a young rock star with the wispy hair and chiseled physique (and what a physique it is). He gives a confident performance and absolutely understands the humility of his character and aside from some of the decisions this character takes, he is quite likable. He is an outstanding musician both on his guitar and vocally with a soothing bass that resonates throughout the theatre. That being said, I would have like a little more enthusiasm whereas Shoemaker plays this role rather subtly to the point where it was almost hard to understand what he was saying or doing. However, a lot of the 90s was chill so, he would have probably fit right in.
Laura Malkus as Leah. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Laura Malkus as Leah. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Gretchen and Leah played by Rachel Roth and Laura Malkus, respectively, are definite highlights in this production. Roth plays her character, Gretchen, with just the right amount of angst and bitterness balanced out with a tenderness from the pain her character has experienced. In a character that seems to be cut from the same cloth, Malkus plays the jaded Leah with the skepticism that perfectly matches a fading star who was probably promised the world and given very little. It’s worth noting that Malkus gives an impressive, strong vocal performance with a clear, even-textured tone that made me take notice from the very first note.
Valerie Dowdle as Becca. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Valerie Dowdle as Becca. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Among her gifted cast mates, Valerie Dowdle as Becca is the standout in this piece. Her portrayal of her character is absolutely authentic and enthralling and she gives strong, confident performance. She fully embodies this character, making it her own. Dowdle understands Becca and the turmoil she is experiencing and balances this character beautifully with levels of intensity and reserve that keep Becca interesting for the audience. Kudos to Dowdle for a superb job and I’m very much looking forward to seeing more from this actress.
Final thought…Trust at Fells Point Corner Theatre is a fearless, unabashed, and gritty look at love and lost love in the 90s as well as the intertwining passions and all the male and female assumptions that go along with it. Adding the heartfelt, guitar driven music of the decade, this production looks past the flannel, choker necklaces, Doc Martins, and everything “grunge” to the human outlook on the difficulties of not only being in a relationship, but holding on to one, which is a timeless story and relevant to today’s audiences. Though the attire is correct and the music fits, being a kid/teen of the 90s, it might not have as much of a nostalgic feel as I would like, it still represents the decade nicely. This relevant, intelligent, and in-your-face production with all its twists and turns, chance meetings, and 90s nostalgic music will have you enthralled every step of the way and should be high on your list of things to see in Baltimore theatre this season.
This is what I thought of Fells Point Corner Theatre’s production of Trust… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Trust will play through March 19 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 South Ann Street, Baltimore, MD. For more information, go to or purchase tickets online.
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