Local Artists Shine in 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

10-minute play festivals are popping up all over the place these days. It’s become a little easier for authors to present their work to the public in both short form and feature length, but Baltimore just seems to have a knack for such things. Fells Point Corner Theatre has been presenting their 10x10x10 for a few years now, and have not disappointed. They choose relevant, entertaining pieces to produce and always acquire a superb cast of 10 actors to perform them. With no specific theme, they still manage to gather a group of plays together that fit nicely with each other and present the talents of the author, director, and performers.

Starting off the evening we have Harmony, Fix My Life, written and Directed by Christen Cromwell, with Grace O’Keefe as Kamryn, Shamire Casselle as Harmony, and Rob Vary as Simon. This was a fun way to start this 10-minute play presentation and Cromwell has written a light-hearted but serious piece about the responsibilities of men and women and newborns in today’s world. Rob Vary, though a bit subdued and scripted, pulls off the role of the young father nicely and seems to understand the message his character is trying to send. O’Keefe gives a natural performances as the young, tired mother, but the highlight of this piece is Shamire Casselle who shines as fairy godmother. Her high-energy and natural delivery of the dialogue keep the piece engaging and entertaining making for a great showing all around.

(l-r) Dana Woodson and Jenn Alexander. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Next, There is No More Left of Me After This by Jen Diamond, Directed by Betse Lyons with Karen Shantz as tina and Jenn Skarzynski as Kat is a surreal piece about coming to terms with death and whatever fate has in store for you. It’s a downer, but well written and Lyons’ staging is simple with great character work. Shantz and Skarzynski tackle these two tough roles naturally and confidently tell the short story superbly. Diamond has crafted a relaxing, but thoughtful piece that leaves the audience thinking.

Shamire Casselle and Jared Michael Swain. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Easily, one of my top choices of the evening, Reasons for Separation by Isaiah Harvey, Directed by Christen Cromwell, with Shamire Casselle as Shay and Jared Michael Swain as Marc, is a fast-paced, well-crafted piece that smacks you in the face with no apologies. It’s a current, relative story of divorce and what people go through during it, with real characters that Casselle and Swaine seem to embody and bring to life effortlessly. They have great chemistry and it helps the material immensely.

Things We Talk About at 4:00 in the Morning by Erica Smith, Directed by Betse Lyons with Jenn Alexander as Spencer and Dana Woodson as Terry is an interesting and entertaining piece about a young couple dealing with an illness in on of the young women. The twist is quite interesting and Smith almost had me fooled, until I remembered the time in which we live and what’s big in popular culture these days. Alexander and Woodson have great chemistry and portray these characters with feeling and high emotion. Lyons’ staging is simple, but effective and makes for an all around good showing.

(l-r) Christian O’Neill, Karen Shantz, and Tom Piccin. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Ending out the first act, we are presented with UH: A Brief Musical by Utkarsh Rajawat, Directed by Donna Ibale with Tom Piccin as Demon, Christian O’Neill as Angel, and Karen Shantz as Person which, I have to say, is not on my list of favorites. However, Piccin, O’Neill, and Shantz give stellar performances and Ibale’s staging is on point, the script is lackluster. The concept isn’t exactly new and the script seems like a rush job. It’s unfortunate because I enjoyed previous work by Rajawat at the 10x10x10 (read that review here) but this piece just doesn’t seem up to par with the previous work. Great performances and staging save this piece and the performers and Director should be applauded for their efforts.

Starting off Act II we have I Saw This is Paducah by Rich Espey, Directed by Matthew Shea, with Jenn Skarzynski as Barb and Jenn Alexander as Alice, and Rob Vary as Announcer is in the list of my favorites of the evening. It’s an immersive piece about two friends who are regular theatre goers, especially of the short works festivals, such as 10x10x10. Shea’s staging is spot on including the audience but not getting in our faces, which is a perfect blend. Espy seems to be poking fun at more conservative, old fashioned views of the world, but he does so subtly and not facetiously. Skarzyski hits the nail on the head in her portrayal of Barb, the narrow-minded, dominant, outspoken patron who wants everyone to abide by the rules and Alexander performs her character, Alice, with just enough meekness to feel sorry for her, but also enough chutzpah that you know she can take care of herself. All around, it’s a great piece with a good production value. Kudos to all.

Dana Woodson. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Mira by Tatiana Nya Ford, Directed by Donna Ibale with Dana Woodson as Woman and Jared Michael Swain as Man is a poignant and thoughtful piece about a woman in a coma who is to reconcile her reality with her fantasy. It’s a 10-minute, fast-paced monologue that seems to be stream-of-consciousness and Woodson chews it up and spits it out marvelously. She has a good handle on the material and presents it confidently, making for a great showing. Ibale’s staging is simple, but effective and puts the audience in the mind of this woman. In Swain’s short stage time, he emotes the emotions of his character, the son of the woman in the coma, and brings the entire piece home. Kudos to all inovled.

Beer Bottle Bug by David J. Hills, Directed by Matthew Shea, with Karen Shantz as Carrie and Christian O’Neill as Ty is a fanciful, humorous piece about a woman who thinks she has certain supernatural powers and it’s delightful. Not one of my favorites, but certainly entertaining. Hills creates a world where the impossible seems possible and leaves the audience wondering, which any good book should do. Shantz and O’Neill portray their modern characters effortlessly and have a great chemistry adding to the production value. Shea’s staging is appropriate and easy to follow making it a well-rounded piece to be included in this production.

Grace O’Keefe and Tom Piccin. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

The Home for Retired Canadian Girlfriends by John Bavaso, Directed by Steve Goldklang, with Tom Piccin as Rupert and Grace O’Keefe as Tiffany is probably one of my favorites of the evening. Bavaso creates an imaginary world where imaginary girlfriends go when they are no longer needed. It’s relatable, current, and relevant with a solid script and concept. His dialogue is easy to follow and natural. Goldklang stages it simply but keeps it engaging all at the same time, which is no small feat for a short piece. Piccin and O’Keefe shine in their roles and bring out the comedy and tragedy of these characters and this piece as a whole.  Their effective and praise-worthy performances drive this play along with their natural delivery of the dialogue and spot on comedic timing. A major kudos to all involved in this piece.

Knock Knock by Rich Pauli, Directed by Steve Goldklang, with Christian O’Neill as Dave and Jenn Alexander as Francesca was a curious choice to end this production, but I can understand the reasoning. It concerns itself with the last man on earth and his Amazon Echo. Reminiscent of Stanly Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Amazon Echo takes the place of H.A.L., even stating “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that,” at one point. It’s well performed, Goldklang’s staging is superb, and Pauli’s script is current and well-written, but the concept has been done over and over again. It’s hard to freshen up an old concept such as “the last man on earth” but Pauli does his best and the piece is entertaining. O’Neill brings a certain urgency and panic to the character that is required and makes for a terrific showing and overall good presentation of the piece.

Final thought… 10x10x10, is a quirky menagerie of very original and fun 10-minute plays that keep the audience engaged and even thinking, at times, some are better than others, but all of them have heart. The performers are grasp the concepts of these short pieces nicely and the directors seems to have good comprehension of the material making for an enjoyable, entertaining, and even thought provoking evening. Kudos to the authors for putting themselves and their work out there and I’m very interested to see more of their work in the future.

This is what I thought of this production of 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

10x10x10 will play through June 16 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: Detroit ’67 at The Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

Some of us are lucky to come from close knit families and they are important parts of our lives. Brothers and sisters the world over have a special bond, sometimes they like each other, sometimes they hate each other, sometimes they don’t understand each other, and sometimes they’re on the exact same page. If you are fortunate enough (or, at times, unfortunate enough) to have a sibling, you know they never cease to amaze whether it be for the good or for the bad. The Strand Theatre’s latest offering, Detroit ‘67 by Dominique Morisseau, Directed by Erin Riley gives us a glimpse into the lives of an African-American brother-sister relationship amidst the strife and change of late 60s Detroit. Part of a trilogy including Skelton Crew and Blue Paradise, Morisseau manages to capture the authenticity of these people and their times in both dialogue and storyline. With the addition of all the great music of the time from The Temptations to Mary Wells to Marvin Gay, this piece promotes a certain nostalgia that makes for a charming evening of theatre.

Shamire Casselle as Chelle and Mack Leamon as Sly. Credit: The Strand Theatre

Detroit ‘67, as the title states, concerns itself with happenings in Detroit, Michigan during the year 1967. Chelle and Lank, sister and brother, try to earn some extra money by opening up their basement as an after-hours joint and everything is running smoothly, if not under the legal radar. One evening, a hurt, broken woman with a mysterious past finds herself into Lank and Chelle’s home and lives and soon the brother and sister are arguing over more than after-hours “business.” Just as their bottled up feelings explode, so does Detroit and they find themselves stuck right in the middle of the Detroit riots of 1967.

Brian Douglas’ Set Design and David Cunningham’s Scenic Art is superb, to say the least. Walking into the theatre, one is transported to a basement of an average home in Detroit and the attention to detail is amazing. From the staircase leading to “upstairs” to the concrete façade on the back wall, including two highly placed windows, places the audience into the action and adds great value to the production. Douglas uses his intimate space wisely and Cunningham, with the help of the script, gives us little touches here and there such as an old painting of a 6 year old adds authenticity to the entire setting. Kudos to Douglas and Cunningham on jobs quite well done.

Lighting Design by Lana Riggins and Sound Design by Carlos Guillen are also stellar adding realism to the piece, as a whole. A good light and sound design are not very noticeable and do not take away from the action, but, instead, blend into the action and this is exactly what Riggins and Guillen have accomplished. The script calls for a hefty sound design as is, with music and songs from the era, but the added effects that are chosen fit in flawlessly and with the lights and sound working in tandem moving the story along, it makes for a well put-together design.

Rachel D. Reckling as Bunny. Credit: The Strand Theatre

When it comes to an overall look of a piece, this era, the 60s, is one of my favorites to experience. With so much fashion and cutting edge designs (for the time), costuming for this period can be daunting but Costume Design by Lori Travis hits the nail on the head. Each character seems to have stepped right out of a late 60s closet but all look totally natural in their threads. Finding period costuming for gentlemen isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s a little easier to find pants and shirts for guys than it is to find particular period styles for the ladies. However, Travis has done it in this piece, especially for the character of Bunny, who seems to be on top of the fashions of the day, and every outfit she appears in is on point. All of the costume choices made for this production are spot on and realistic adding a great deal of value to the entire production.

Erin Riley takes the helm of this production of Detroit ‘67 as Director and it’s clear she has a great comprehension of this piece and understands the material quite well. Her staging is terrific and her casting couldn’t have been better for this particular production. She has a good grasp on the message of family and compromise in this piece and presents it beautifully on this stage. Through her guidance and Morisseau’s script, it makes for a delightful, emotional evening of theatre with peaks and valleys that are required for a great show.

Betse Lyons as Caroline and Troy Jennings as Lank. Credit: The Strand Theatre

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, we being with Rachel D. Reckling as Bunny and Mack Leamon as Sly. Both of these actors know their characters and portray them genuinely with little flaw. Reckling is comfortable as Bunny, the fast-talking, quit witted go-to girl of the neighborhood. Though her lack of eye contact can be distracting at times, disconnecting her with her fellow cast mates, her performance, overall, is commendable. She gives just the right amount of attitude, sass, and compassion as required, making her a very likeable character. Leamon, too, is confidant and comfortable in his role as the laid back, helpful best friend and he completely embodies this character. He has a strong presence and gives a great showing making him a character to whom the audience wants to be pals and can relate.

Caroline, the mysterious outsider who has, by a strange fateful meeting, finds herself engrossed in the lives of Chelle and Lank, is played ably by Betse Lyons. Lyons does quite well in this role and seems to have a good grasp of what her character is going through. She portrays the beaten and broken Caroline beautifully, if not a little too timid. The character is afraid for herself and for her new friends but many times, it was hard to follow along with Lyons as she stuttered and mumbled her way through a lot of her lines. However, that’s not to say her performance was bad because it most certainly was not. She’s comfortable on stage and her presence is strong making for an admirable performance, overall.

A certain highlight of this production is Troy Jennings who tackles the role of Lank, a young man just trying to make his way in life who is tired of making ends meet through different odd jobs and wants something stable for himself and his family and friends. Jennings takes this part and makes it his own. He emotes the conflict in Lank and his ideas of what is right and wrong. His chemistry with his cast mates is natural and he moves and speaks with purpose delivering the dialogue as if he were simply holding a conversation, adding legitimacy to his performance, especially in his scenes with Shamire Casselle.

Speaking of Shamire Casselle, she is a standout in this piece as Chelle, the worrying, older sister who likes things the way they are and is resistant to change, but understands it’s inevitable. Casselle is superb in her portrayal of this character. Her ability to show the emotions of her character from happy to upset to angry is spot on. Right away, she is able to connect with her audience making her and endearing character. She gives a solid, robust, and charming performance that makes her one to watch. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Casselle’s work in the future.

Final thought… Detroit ‘67 is a nostalgic and poignant look at a bygone era when the music was great and people helped each other, when in need. Dominique Morisseau has crafted a beautiful piece incorporating humor, tenderness, high emotion, and humanity that crosses time and space. The story takes place in the late 60s and concerns itself with subjects of family, racial tensions, and blurred lines between the races, but it is still quite relevant today. The production is one of the best I’ve seen this season (so far) from the set, to the staging, to the performances, this is not a show you want to miss this season. Get your tickets now, while they last!

This is what I thought of The Strand Theatre’s production of Detroit ‘67… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Detroit ‘67 will play through November 18 at The Strand Theatre, 5426 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-874-4917 or you can purchase them online.

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