Review: The Women at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minuts with one 15-minute intermission

Kellie Podsednik and Michele Guyton. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography /

Times change and gender roles aren’t so black and white anymore. Though equality may not be 100% today, the stereotypes of men and women have blurred and aside from child birth and those pesky hormones, estrogen and testosterone (which both exist in both sexes, mind you), I like to think men and women are on a pretty level playing field. Of course, I’m saying this as someone of the male persuasion (with many female tendencies, if you catch my drift). Spotlighters Theatre’s latest offering, The Women by Clare Booth Luce, Directed by Fuzz Roark, with Set Design by Alan Zemla, and Costume Design by Andrew Malone, Amy Weimer, and Darcy Elliott takes us back to a bygone era where women were expected to tend to home an children while men were expected to provide and, if a husband strayed, it was all good and no questions were asked as long as the wife kept lifestyle to which she was accustomed. As advertised, this is a play is called The Women… and it’s all about the men!
Briefly, The Women is a comedy of manners and a 1930s commentary about the high class lives and power plays of wealthy socialites of Manhattan and the gossip that guides and ruins relationships, namely for women. Most of the discussions are about the men with which these women are involved and though the men are important to the plot, they strictly talked about but never seen.
The Women was written and first produced in 1936 and later adapted into an uber successful film in 1939 starring some of the top actresses of the day including Norma Sheer, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford. It was also adapted and updated in 2008, but we’ll pretend that never happened.

Kellie Podsednik as Crystal Allen. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography /

Anyone who’s tread the boards of the Spotlighters stage or sat in the audience can see right off the challenges it presents being an intimate space as well as in the round, but Alan Zemla’s Set Design is spot on for this production. Practically each scene is a different setting and the use of set pieces is the most effective and innovative way to present each scene. Zemla’s attention to detail is impeccable and the pieces used in this production are befitting and does not hinder the story whatsoever but moves it along nicely. The scene changes could move a bit faster, with some going as long as 2 to 3 minutes long (a century in production time), but the 4-person stage crew does a stupendous job moving the large, but absolutely appropriate set pieces on and off stage cautiously in the small space. Kudos to Alan Zemla for a job well done.
The wardrobe for this piece is a beast but Costume Design by Andrew Malone, Amy Weimer, and Darcy Elliot is on point. Every stitch these ladies wear is appropriate, to period, and authentic. Set in the days of art deco, the gowns provided to these actresses are superb and all of the actresses look comfortable in what they are wearing. Most of the ensemble members seem to have at least 3 costumes a piece, so I can only imagine the hours this Costume Design team put into this production, but it paid off. They were able to present the glamour these society ladies exuded as well as the conservatism of the 1930s through casual wear and business attire. Overall, Malone, Weimer, and Elliott knocked it out of the ballpark with their design and added great value to this production.

Andrea Bush as Nancy Blake. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography /

Baltimore theatre veteran and Spotlighters Theatre Managing Artistic Director Fuzz Roark takes the helm as Director of this piece and for a man directing all these ladies, he does an outstanding job. Aside from the long scene changes, Roark keeps the action moving along and though the piece runs almost 3 hours, it’s not because of any dragging on the stage, it’s just a lot of show, that Roark has managed to present at a good pace and with authenticity. His casting is impeccable and, above all, his vision is clear, and he seems to have a strong comprehension of the material and the era in which this piece is set allowing him to present an impressive production that is a joy to watch.

Kellie Podsednik as Crystal Allen. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography /

There are definitely some actresses who are stronger than others and there is a wide range of ability on the stage. However, all the members of this ensemble work well together and off of each other having a tremendous chemistry. Within this abundant cast, there were quite a few highlights.
Ilene Chalmers is charming and motherly as Mrs. Morehead, the conservative, wise mother of poor Mary Haines and though her role doesn’t require as much stage time as others, she gives a strong performance and delivers her lines confidently. Another “supporting” role is that of Jane, the loyal maid, played by Christina Holmes. Holmes gives an outstanding performance adding an Irish accent that is near flawless and she makes this character her own and one to watch.

Michele Guyton as Mary Haines. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography /

Nancy Blake, the witty, single and brassy author and world traveler of the group of ladies this story follows is played by Andrea Bush and she is on point with this character. She has a definite command of the stage and digs her teeth into this character, giving her a rough-around-the-edges persona that actually makes her very likable. This character doesn’t mince her words and Bush embraces this giving a very enjoyable, humorous performance.
Kellie Podsednik tackles the role of Crystal Allen, the other woman who frankly doesn’t give a damn and knows how to play the game of infidelity and social climbing. From the moment she stepped on stage, I wanted to scratch this woman’s eyes out so, with that said, Podsednik played this role superbly. She had just enough smugness and confidence that one has to almost respect her even though she is a homewrecker. Crystal Allen is a high-toned woman, but Podsednik may have taken her vocalization or accent a bit too far, almost sounding straight up British, but other than that minor detail, her performance is realistic and outstanding.

Suzanne Young as Countess de Lage. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography /

The role of Mary Haines, or Mrs. Stephen Haines, a gentle, level-headed socialite housewife and the character around whom this story mainly revolves is tackled by Michele Guyton who brings a certain grace and dignity to this character. Her choices work very well for this character and she gives a balanced and confident performance and, at times, seems to glide effortlessly across the stage adding to her brilliant performance.
A certain highlight of this piece is Suzanne Young who takes on the role of Countess de Lage, the very rich, care-free, love lorn lady who has been married several times. Young is an absolute hoot in this role summoning up belly laughs from the audience nearly every time she’s on stage. She understands the comedy and her timing is just about perfect. She plays off the other actresses beautifully and delivers her lines naturally and boldy. I’m lookig forward to seeing more from this extremely talented actress.

Melanie Bishop and Michele Guyton. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography /

Melanie Bishop portrays Sylvia Fowler, the sharp-tongued, gossipy, friend you love to hate and she plays it with gusto making her bona fide standout in this production. Having last seen Bishop in Spotlighters production of The Game’s Afoot playing a similar character in a similar time, she couldn’t have been cast better. She understands this type of character in and out and brings an authenticity that is second to none. I’d love to see her play another type of character because her acting chops are on point, but I thoroughly enjoy watching her play this type of role. Bishop’s comprehension, her comfort on the stage, and her strong stage presence makes for a superior execution of this nasty, loud-mouthed character.
Final thought… The Women at Spotlighters Theatre is a witty, brash, and honest play taking the point of view of women of the 1930s and though socially outdated, with certain ideas of how men and women should behave in relationships (namely marriage), it is still a piece ahead of its time. It portrays strong women and gives a humorous, true, and intelligent insight into their ideas of men. Spotlighters Theatre’s production is well thought-out, entertaining production with an more than able ensemble of strong actresses that should be added to your list of shows to see this season.
This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre‘s production of The Women… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The Women will play through March 19 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.
Email us at
Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook
Follow Backstage Baltimore on Twitter (@backstagebmore) and Instagram (backstagebaltimore)

Review: TOWARD ZERO at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


(l. to r.) Thomas C. Hessenauer, Randy Dalmas, John Rowe, Kelly Rardon, and Christopher D. Cahill. Photo credit: Joey Hellman

I always enjoy a good murder mystery and they’re always good money makers for community theatres and no one writes a good murder mystery like the legendary Agatha Christie. This summer, Cockpit and Court Summer Theatre’s first offering in their cabaret space is Toward Zero by Agatha Christie, (who also penned the novel) and Gerald Verner and is directed by Joey Hellman.
Toward Zero tells the tale of a house party (of course) at Gull Point, the house of Lady Tressilian, at Saltcreek, Cornwall. The guests consist of an old family friend, a divorced couple, his 2nd wife and her suave friend, and a barrister, who is also and old friend of the family. The divorced couple are cordial and may still have something for each other, the suave friend has a thing for the 2nd wife, the 2nd wife hates the 1st wife, the old family friend has a thing for the 1st wife, and the hostess and the barrister want everyone to be mindful of their manners. Throw in a Superintendent, an Inspector, and a P.C., and, oh, yeah, a murder, then BOOM… you have an Agatha Christie mystery.
At first glance, I knew I was in for a treat when I walked into the cabaret and was greeted by a beautiful, classic set by Scenic Designer Michael Rasinski. Designing for theatre in the round is difficult but Rasinski pulled it off flawlessly and brilliantly with vintage furniture, wainscoting on the walls, a chandelier hanging in the middle of the stage, and a chaise lounge that, when this production is over, I’d like transported to my house! No detail was overlooked down to the light switches, which were the old fashioned push two-buttoned type rather than the modern one-switch we use today. The set design was practically perfect! Rasinski also pulled double duty as the Lighting Designer and he, too, pulled this off brilliantly with lighting that set the moods perfectly for each scene.
Throughout the production, Sound Designer James Lefter added the usual murder mystery show sound effects such as thunder storms and glass breaking but they sounded like quality effects and not just a generic mp3 that can be downloaded off the Internet (even if they were) and they were all placed perfectly. Director Joey Hellman and Stage Manager Marcy Petrick put together a great soundtrack of music including classical instrumental pieces as well as popular vocal works of the mid 20th century.
Kudos definitely goes to Costumer Eva Grove as costume designs were spot on and thought-out for both formal and casual wear for 1955. There were quite a few costumes for both the male and female actors in this production and each one was appropriate and natural.
Getting into the performance aspect of the production, let me preface by stating that, as a whole, Toward Zero is a very appropriate show for community theatre and Agatha Christie can always be counted on to give the audience a good story and she’ll always keep us on our toes. However, play adaptations of Christie stories can be challenging, especially pieces such as Toward Zero, one of her lesser known adaptations. Even though Christie herself had a hand in writing this adaptation, and it was your classic Agatha Christie whodunnit and predictable, I still found the script a bit jumbled and hard to follow, at times, if you aren’t paying close attention.
Overall, the cast did a fine job with this challenging piece and Hellman made some wise choices such as impeccable blocking, which is difficult in the round, where no actor’s back was facing the audience for any extended period of time, but, as I sat there watching the action unfold, I said to myself, “I think this cast needs to go out for a drink with each other!” because there seemed to be little chemistry within the cast which is of the utmost importance when it comes to any play, especially a murder mystery. The chemistry that is present is OK, but does feel a bit strained.
At various points in the script, characters speak of the feeling of “something wrong” or “something out of place” but, because of the lack of chemistry, unfortunately, there is a lack of much needed tension. For there having just been a murder in the house, and suspicion being thrown around, one would think one could cut the tension with a knife, but, that’s not the case here. It’s as if the actors are just going through the motions of a predictable script. However, let me clearly state I don’t blame the cast or the director… I reiterate… a murder mystery is a challenging undertaking!
Speaking of the cast, in general, the British accents are admirable, but, overall, a dialect coach may have been beneficial all around. The actors knew their blocking and their lines quite well and spoke very naturally with each other.
Christopher D. Cahill as Thomas Royde is the first character we meet and, though it’s a bit difficult to understand what he’s saying, at times (I think the British accent is tripping him up occasionally), he has a very good and demanding stage presence and demeanor and knew and played his character very well and gave a strong performance and his vape pipe was brilliant and added to his character.
Kristin Miller takes on the role of Kay Strange, the 2nd, discontented wife of Neville Strange, played by Randy Dalmas. Miller has a tendency to take her character over the top with seemingly one emotion – upset – accompanied by pouty faces, crossed arms, and rolling eyes every time she steps onto the stage. However, the character is unhappy being where she is and has to deal with an ex-wife, so, Miller’s choices aren’t off the mark and she pulls off a very good, though mellow-dramatic, performance. Kay’s cohort, Ted Latimer, is nicely played by Andrew Wilkin and another character even mentions that Latimer is “a dramatic fellow” and, boy, does Wilkin take this to heart. It’s almost fitting that his character and Miller’s characters are so close because he, too, takes the character a bit over the top, at times, with the same rolling of the eyes and pouty faces. Regardless, he gives a strong performance and  has the perfect look for his character.

(l. to r.) Christopher D. Cahill, Kelly Rardon, Andrew Wilkin, Randy Dalmas, Kristin Miller, Thomas C. Hessenauer, John Rowe. Photo credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Kelly Rardon tackles the roll of Mary Aldin, the pitiful Lady’s Maid to Lady Tressilian, played by Suzanne Young. Rardon gives a strong performance as Mary and is comfortable moving about the stage, giving a very nice performance but Young is one of the highlights of this production as she gives a very strong, believable performance as the old, crippled Lady Tressilian and has a demanding presence onstage as the matriarch of the bunch, shouting orders, and reminding everyone of the manners of a bygone era. Young is certainly one to watch!
A Baltimore favorite and a fixture in community theatre, John Rowe puts himself in the role of Matthew Treves, a barrister (an attorney, in America), and old friend of the family. He gives a strong performance as a stuffy, old fashioned gentleman of good background and is comfortable on the stage. Well, after being involved in community theatre for over 40 years, one should be comfortable, and Mr. Rowe certainly is! He certainly does take time with his lines, at times, maybe a bit too much time, but he is clear and strong and gives a very strong, believable performance.
Rounding out the cast are Thomas C. Hessenauer, Ryan Frank, and Connor Moore playing Superintendent Battle, Inspector Leach, and P.C. Benson, respectively. Hessenauer, a veteran of Baltimore community theatre, does a wonderful job as the lawman called in to investigate the inevitable murder and he has a strong understanding of his character and is believable as the person who takes charge to find out whodunnit! Occasionally, he comes on strong right out of the gate pointing a suspicious finger at the people he is questioning instead of transitioning gradually into that suspicion, but overall, Hessenauer pulls his role off very well.
As Inspector Leach, Ryan Frank seems to play the part more like an inexperienced young man who got his position because of nepotism rather than on merit. His character pops in, carrying various pieces of evidence and stands on the perimeter while his uncle, Superintendent Battle, solves the crimes. Script wise, I’m not sure the character is needed, but Frank plays the part admirably with the material he’s given and the same can be said for Connor Moore, as P.C. Benson. This character seems to just fill space on stage but could easily be cut, as well. However, Moore, in his impeccable costume and brilliant whistle, pulls off the part nicely and it’s obvious he’s giving 100%!

Stephanie Horvath. Photo credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Two highlights of this production of Toward Zero are Stephanie Horvath and Randy Dalmas. The two play ex-spouses, Audrey Strange and Neville Strange and they pull off the parts flawlessly. Randy Dalmas has a strong presence and seems to understand his character. He moves comfortably around the stage and, if I might add, has a very nice, smooth voice that lends well to the British accent he pulls off beautifully. Horvath glides across the stage comfortably and effortlessly, embodying the character of an ex-wife who may or may not be who we think she is. Though a few of her reactions to major events in the show could have been more thought out, she is still gives a strong, believable performance. Hovarth and Dalmas make a dynamic duo that are a joy to watch.
Toward Zero is indeed a good show and has some very talented folks involved so, if you find yourself looking for something to do for the next couple of weekends, check it out! Agatha Christie always delivers and it’s always fun to see if you and your friends can solve the mystery before the big reveal!
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one 10 minute intermission
This is my take on this production of Toward Zero… what do you think?
Toward Zero will play Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through June 26th at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.