Review: Jerusalem at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 3 hours with two 10-minute intermissions

I’ve heard it said that a story about a day-in-the-life of someone doesn’t make for good theatre because, real life can actually be quite boring. Then, another school of thought is that day-in-the-life pieces are engaging because of the drama and emotion of real life.  Whichever side of the fence you’re on with day-in-the-life pieces, Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest offering, Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, Directed by Ann Turiano, gives us that glimpse into a day-in-the-life of an interesting character with interesting friends trying to get through a day of county fairs, alcohol and drug binges, and side-stepping the law.

Sitting Down from Left to Right: David Shoemaker as Ginger, Dylan McKenzi as Tanya, Kelly Hutchinson as Pea, Sean Coe as The Professor, Nate Krimmel as Lee, Terrance Flemming as Davey. Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

From what I could gather, briefly, Jerusalem takes place in Flint in one day, St. George’s Day, as well as the annual local county fair. Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a local drunk, addict, ne’er-do-well, and Pied Piper figure, knows his days are numbered on his land as the local officials want to evict him to make room for new development. His friends (some under-age) gather frequently throughout the day to relieve him of his supply of alcohol and drugs while his young son wants him to take him to the fair and a thug, the step-father of a missing girl, wants to give him a good thrashing. And… yeah… that’s about it. If anyone else has anything to add, please feel free to do so.

I’ll admit, this piece could be going over my head because I didn’t see or hear much of a plot, other than a stubborn dude, Rooster, played superbly by Ian Blackwell Rogers, saying “F**k You!” to the world and going about his business but Rogers plays him in a way that I was invested in him, much like his friends. A highlight of this piece is David Shoemaker, who takes on the role of Ginger, Rooster’s oldest mate who seems to understand him better than the others, and his natural delivery and take on the “sidekick,” true-friend character is phenomenal. Director Ann Turiano knocks it out of the ballpark with her staging and she keeps the piece moving smoothly throughout, and it’s easy to follow, but I think it’s the script that I can’t figure out.

The cast of Jerusalem. Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

Set Design by Christopher Flint and Scenic Art by Kim Speaks also seems to be a bit much for the space. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an outstanding design and the audience is transported to this trashy little plot of land in the English countryside, but it may have been too much for the intimacy of Fells Point Corner Theatre. Authentic, no denying, with a full trailer façade (which is impeccable), and turf covered stage with vines and trees strewn about, but the shit load of just about everything including an old commode, seems to draw more attention from the action than needed.

Ian Blackwell Rogers as Rooster. Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

Performance-wise, this is a large ensemble and, yes, some are more apt than others but, overall, the entire ensemble works well together to create this motley crew that follows this charismatic leader… almost sounds cultish, doesn’t it? The dialects were 50/50 and I lost a lot of dialogue because of it, but not enough that I still couldn’t follow the story. Most of the actors and actresses were apt enough to be believable British-folk, and honestly, depending on where you are in Great Britain, it’s kind of difficult to understand the different dialects anyway, so, kudos on authenticity. The character work is commendable such as Nate Krimel as Lee and Terrance Flemming as Davey, the young, party-boys, and Sean Coe as Professor and Michael Salconi as Wesley, the older friends of Rooster, who have been around and seen most, if not all.

Overall, the production value and performances were admirable and the show itself is entertaining. My frustrations with this piece probably root in my not getting what the show is about but, production-wise, Turiano and her cast and crew have put on a polished, thoughtful production that you should check out.

Final thought… Jerusalem, though entertaining with splendid performances, just isn’t my cup of tea. It seemed to be a good story of standing your ground and sticking it to the man, but there was a lot of stuff to get through to get to that message, (IF that’s the message, not to mention, it’s about a 3-hour journey (but with two intermissions to break it up, nicely). The set was immense for the intimate space, but I’m assuming the clutter is what they were going for, so, it works… in a way. Overall, it’s a well put-together production so I’m thinking it’s just the script I’m having second thoughts about but, Fells Point Corner Theatre always manages to put on a great show with fantastic production value so, I’d chalk it up to a success, with minor reservations, in the end.

This is what I thought of this production of Jerusalem.… what do you think?

From a different angle: The Bad Oracle or B.I.T.R. Sisters

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Jerusalem will play through February 3 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

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.