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: 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Mike Zellhofer

Top row (From left to write): Tom Piccin, Dana Woodson, Dickey Wilson, Jon Meeker, Holly Gibbs, Parker, Dianne Hood and David Shoemaker.
Bottom Row: Natalie Dent and Barbara Madison Hauck. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

If you are searching for a hidden gem, then search no more, and get out to Fells Point Corner Theatre’s 10X10x10. This is a wonderful evening of ten plays, written by local playwrights, ten minutes in length, and performed by ten actors. You get to vote for your top three and the winner receives the “Audience Selection Award”.

Let me address a few administrative issues. This being the third year of the competition, I expect that some things are still being worked out and new ideas being tried, but here is my input:

  • The website states that the cash prize is $150. “That’s 10 TIMES the price of admission!” However, the price of admission is $19 opening weekend and Sunday’s and $24 on Fridays and Saturdays. So, let’s make the cash prize $250 and call it even.
  • It was nice to have the bios of the playwrights hanging in the lobby. However, if you are going to include bios for the actors in the program, then extend the same courtesy to the playwrights. After all it is a playwrighting competition.
  • I feel that if you are going to host a play writing competition, then the voting should be based on the merit of the plays themselves. This can best be done with a read through, with the director reading stage directions. No sets, no lighting, no sound, no costumes. As much as they added to the enjoyment of the evening, they took away from the spirit of the competition.
  • Give more information in the program, i.e. history of the competition, past winners, number of submissions, dates for next year, etc. I took time to speak to a staff member, but not every audience member has that luxury.
  • Have an opening night event with light refreshment prior to the show, and a talk back with the actors and playwrights at the end of the night.

David Shoemaker (Left) and Holly Gibbs (Right) in “WHILE IN A PARALLEL DIMENSION
CLOTHES HANGERS CONSPIRE” written by R.A. Pauli and directed by Andrew Porter with ast. dir. by Sarah Burton. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Since this is a competition, I feel that it would be unfair to review, reveal my selections, or give my opinion of the plays themselves. Suffice it for me to say that every play was entertaining, well written and that the playwrights brought the “A” game. I’m sure that review over 100 submissions from over 70 authors, and selecting only ten, could not have been an easy task for the committee.

One thing is for sure, you will enjoy an evening of fine entertainment. The ideas that this group of playwrights have penned will have you laughing, crying, scratching your head and wondering. I was so grateful that I was able to see genius come to life.

Barbara Madison Hauck in “Crito,” directed by Meghan Stanton and written by Alice Stanley. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Mark Scharf – The Last Ten

Alice Stanley- Crito

MJ Perrin- Open Mic

Rich Espey- In Memory of Mrs.Mary Brown

Rufus Dawlings- Mr. Shells Gets Shipped East for Beef

Daniel Collins- What’s the Point

Jennifer Harrison- Shrimp at the Radisson

Richard Pauli -While in a Parallel Dimension

DC Cathro- The Fine Art of Critiquing the Hang of the Shoe

Tatiana Nya Ford- Hello, baby. I miss you.

Tom Piccin (left) and Jon Meeker (Right) in “What’s the Point?” Written by Dan Collins directed by Andrew Porter. Shealyn Jae Photography

The evening would not have been complete without the talents of Dana Woodson, Dickey Wilson, Parker Damm, Dianne Hood, Natalie Dent, Holly Gibbs, Jon Meeker, Tom Piccin, David Shoemaker, and Barbara Madison Hauck. I don’t exaggerate when I say that this cast oozes talent. Their ability to play multiple characters in multiple plays, and to do it as different as night and day is simple astonishing. Pay close attention to the fun loving, huggable Natalie Dent as she makes the transition from Dax to the young woman in Ms. Ford’s production. What she brings to the stage in those two

Natalie Dent in “Hello, baby. I miss you.” Directed by Christen Cromwell and written Tatiana Nya Ford. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

contrasting plays alone, should be studied by all freshman theatre majors.

Another major stand out for me was Tom Piccin. His confidence and commanding stage presence leave you hanging on his every word and at the end wanting for more. Yet he plays his roles with such a subtleness, deriving his allure from his fellow actors by letting them have their moments. A few times I thought that I was watching Kevin Pollak, and in both of his plays I kept waiting for Rod Serling to come on stage saying, “You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, …”

So, if you are ready for some good, home grown theatre, with interesting stories and amazing actors, head to Fells Point Corner Theatre now through May 6th, and let me know what you thought of 10x10x10.

This is what Mike Zellhofer thought of 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre. What did you think?

10x10x10 will play through May 6 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD. For more information log on to fpct.org, or purchase tickets online.

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Review: An Inspector Calls at Laurel Mill Playhouse

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions
What kind of person are you? Do you have empathy for others or do you look out for number one? How diverse is your circle of friends, if at all? These are all rhetorical questions and no one has an obligation to answer, but they are certainly questions one might ask him or herself occasionally. Sometimes, we keep the answers to ourselves, even from our own families and when the answers are revealed, they can, sometimes, be earth shattering. In Laurel Mill Playhouse’s latest offering, An Inspector Calls by JP Priestley, Directed by Ilene Chalmers, with Set Design by Ilene Chalmers and Costume Design by Linda Swann, try to answer these questions that are raised by a visiting, mysterious Inspector as they pertain to a particular family who seem to live in their own little bubble in the Gilded Age England. The complex story has one common denominator… a dead girl in the morgue… but did one of these fine folks kill her?

Tom Piccin as Inspector Goole and Kyle Kelley as Eric Birling. Photo: Larry Simmons


If you haven’t attended a performance at Laurel Mill Playhouse, walking in, the intimate space is quite inviting and there’s really not a bad seat in the house. It’s old, but it’s comfortable. The Set Design for this production, by Ilene Chalmers (one of the many hats she wore for this production), is simple but functional. A few pieces of elegant furniture are used to represent a dining room of well-to-do English family and the furnishing choices do this quite well. This piece is a mystery/thriller and I understand that it is a darker piece, but the curious choice for simple black walls started getting to me as the production moved on. Paintings and prints adorned the walls, but there was no color with was a bit distracting, oddly enough. Otherwise, Chalmers’ design is precise and fits the piece very well.
Costume Design by Linda Swann is impeccable. This isn’t s large ensemble (only six characters) but each is costumed brilliantly. Swann’s attention to detail is splendid as the gentlemen are fitted with formal tuxedos that (mostly) fit well and the Inspector appropriately dressed in a plain, but neat suit that fits the part perfectly. The gowns for the ladies are true to the era, formal, and gorgeous, including the maid’s outfit and precious maid cap. Kudos to Swann for a job well done.
Ilene Chalmers, among many other duties, according to the program, takes the helm of this piece and it’s clear she has a complete vision for and comprehension of this twisting story. Her casting is superb and she tells the story without a lot of bells and whistles, which I can immensely appreciate. She sticks to the text in which the piece was written but still presents her vision clearly. Though there is a Dialect Coach listed in the program (Richard Atha-Nicholls), some of the actors are definitely struggling but not so much that it deters from the production as a whole. Overall, Chalmers produces a commendable presentation of this piece.

(l-r) Matt Leyendecker, Kyle Kelley, and JilliAnne McCarty. Photo: Larry Simmons


The entire ensemble works well together and the chemistry is absolutely apparent and all are giving 100% effort in their performances. Tracy Dye, as Enda, the maid to the Birling family has but a handful of lines, and some of them only one word, but her performance is top-notch. Though she is a character of few words, her expressions and gestures tell her story and Dye makes it clear her character is of a different world than those for whom she works. Her non-verbal skills make for a terrific performance.
Taking on the role of Eric Birling, the dependent-but-wants-to-be-independent son of the Birlings, is played by Kyle Kelley. Of the entire ensemble, Kelley is probably the weakest but that’s not to say he doesn’t do an admirable job. The character himself is nervous and anxious but that seems to be the only emotion Kelley emotes throughout the entire production. His darting eyes and shaky voice is appropriate for some of the dialogue but overall, he portrays Eric Birling as nothing more than a bag of nerves when he could bring more out of the character. Again, this isn’t to say Kelley gives an inadequate performance for it does seem to have a great grasp of his character and his tribulations.
Matt Leyendecker takes on the role of Gerald Croft, the fiancé to the Shiela, the Birling daughter, and his character is spot on. He embodies this character wholly, though I see Gerald Croft as a slightly younger man. Leyendecker certainly portrays an air of a man of the upper class during the time setting of the piece and it plays nicely. He gives a strong, confident performance that works well for this character.
The role of Sheila Birling is tackled by JilliAnne McCarty and she plays this role with gusto and is a highlight of this production. She has a good comprehension of her character and the change in views she portrays is superb. She gives us just enough emotion to express her anguish while still upholding her elegance as an upper-class lady. This character is desperately trying to make the others see the err of their ways (while all along admitting her own) and one can see the desperation in her face and gestures. Overall, McCarty gives an outstanding performance.
The matriarch, Sybil Birling, is portrayed by Sam David and she is the epitome of the sophisticated, rich mother of the Gilded Age (or a little after, rather). David takes this role, chews it up, and spits out a phenomenal performance. Her non-verbal work as well as her delivery is exquisite making for one of the standout performances in this piece.
Jeff Dunne takes on the character of Arthur Birling, the patriarch of the Birling family and he does so with 100% commitment. Dunne has a very strong stage presence and makes one take notice. He gets his character and understands the burdens of this man as he tries to work out a way to keep his family safe, even if it’s just from gossip. The air he portrays is absolutely appropriate for the character and he is consistent throughout.
Rounding out the cast is the title character (kind of), Inspector Goole, played efficiently by Tom Piccin. Aside from the lack of the British accent the rest of the cast is using, Piccin gives a strong, authentic performance. The authenticity in his performance is the lack of emotion and level headed-ness he presents as he interrogates each person in his quest for the truth, just as any real-life inspector or officer would have, putting his emotions aside to get to the facts of the matter. Piccin keeps his piercing glare consistent throughout the production and when his emotions are finally at a point where he cannot contain them any longer, it’s jarring, as it should be, and effective for the character. Major kudos to Piccin for a job well done.
Final thought… An Inspector Calls is a mysterious, intense look into ourselves as human beings as one part of a bigger organism. It forces us to ask questions about our own morals and ways of thinking. The production is well presented and the ensemble works quite well together to tell this cautionary tale carefully. With (mostly) authentic performances and a simple but very appropriate set, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the Laurel area!
This is what I thought of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s production of An Inspector Calls… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
An Inspector Calls will play through October 1 at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main Street, Laurel, MD . For tickets, call 301-617-9906 or purchase them online.
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Dear Friends at Just Off-Broadway: They May Not Be There For You

By Mark Briner

DISCLAIMERPlease note, one or more persons directly involved in this production are members of the staff of Backstage Baltimore. This individual or persons did not write or participate in writing this review. The only editing performed on this piece was for grammar, punctuation, and organization. No content editing (adding, changing, or omitting words) were completed without the expressed permission of the author.
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
In this internet age of 2017, there is not one person reading this column that does not have that ubiquitous, annoying friend or relative who bemoans all the woes of their lives to them personally—the sexless bedroom, the kids’ classroom struggles, the anger, hate, and silence on a daily basis—then logs onto Facebook and posts picture after picture of the perfect Osmond-like family moments, the spouse who is the love of their life, the all-American perfect 2.3 golden children who excel at everything, the blessings of family they gratefully thank God for on a daily basis, the entire “life is beautiful and I’m so thankful” package. As we find in the east coast premiere of Dear Friends by Reginald Rose, presented this weekend only at Just Off Broadway, it’s actually a tale as old as time. Except fifty years ago, the fraud was generally confined to suburban cocktail pleasantries and the annual fake Christmas card letter.
Originally a screenplay written for CBS Playhouse as part of a live television series of plays in 1967 starring such luminaries as Rosemary Harris, Eli Wallach, James Daly, Pernell Roberts, and Hope Lange, the saga opens at a dinner party for eight longtime dear friends hosted, secretly, in efforts to stage an intervention in concern for two of their group, Michael and Lois (Jason Crawford and Tracy Dye) who have recently separated. The ambush however backfires when we soon find that, like in real life, their efforts are not totally altruistic. The fact that one of their own marriages in their close-knit group could fall apart suddenly threatens each of the couples’ not so solid as they would have the others believe relationships.

Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


The play alternates between the events of the soireé on the traditional mainstage with flashbacks to each of the four couples in private on a satellite platform on the audience floor. In these transitions, we learn the cracks beneath each of their perfect veneers they wear for each other. In an attempt to contemporize a dated script (an affair—shocking!), director Patrick Jay Golden shakes up the gender balance (the four heterosexual white suburban couples in the script are now two straight, one lesbian, and one gay) and utilizes a welcome diverse cast of interracial relationships.

Penny Nichols and Tom Piccin. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Mature couple Lenny and Charlotte (Tom Piccin and Penny Nichols) encourage Michael and Lois to think of their children. But after a late night of Lenny “entertaining a client”, we find their marriage to be a farce fueled by a toxic cocktail of alcohol and anger. The darkest of the relationships, as they pour from a never-ending super-sized bottle of Canadian Club, they heap emotional and physical abuse upon each other in proportion to the alcohol they down. Yet the stay together because they can’t think of a better option to satisfy their individual selfish needs. Think of the children. Piccin and Nichols range from volatile to downright terrifying as the night carries on until these traits publicly unveil themselves at the gathering.

Sarah O’Hara and India Palmer. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Lesbian couple Gigi and Vivian (Sarah O’Hara and India Palmer) actually seem to have a genuine loving relationship. Their only flaw, albeit a critical one, is their disparate views on starting a family. Vivian longs for the experience of motherhood; Gigi isn’t interested. However, they have an extra dimension to their deception. Whereas all the other couples lies are ones of (significant) omission, Gigi and Vivian add a layer of active duplicity, inventing medical complications including a fake cancer scare to justify Gigi’s refusal to have children. Palmer is sweet, gentle, and loving to a fault, burying any disappointment her wife’s decision evokes behind her radiant façade. O’Hara mines an addition layer to her character, so quick to be vocally “honest” regarding the flaws and fallacies of her friends, all the while perpetuating the biggest lie that caused everyone genuine concern and unwarranted worry.

Brad Angst, Joyanne Gohl, and Emmanuel Vickers. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


As the hosts of the evening, gay couple Douglas and Sal (Brad Angst and Emmanuel Vickers) are perhaps the most stereotypically comic in their personal scenes. Angst is the gay trifecta of precision, polish, and perfection, while Vickers is hyper-emotional and tending towards the dramatic. However, when Douglas does the math and deduces that Sal has been unfaithful, the couple draws deep on restraint and inner strength to consciously maintain that perfection they apparently consider so important to their public image. Their scenes are a cool complement to the bombastic, burn the house down Albee-esque theatrics of Lenny and Charlotte.

Tracy Dye and Jason Crawford. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


All the couples in the engaging cast have strong, well defined bonds between themselves, and hide these from the group in their own manipulative ways. But it is Crawford and Dye as the couple in the center of the storm who excel. True, they are aided by the strongest storyline in script, being the only couple who is completely honest with their friends and each other. But their private scenes are not about lies and resentment, instead they are about harsh honesty and unpleasant choices. Ironically the couples with all the secreted problems manage to stay together while these two drift apart not from issues and betrayals, but from simple stagnation. Yet in the midst of the histrionics of the dinner party aimed at saving them, they actually draw closer together, defending their privacy and each other, observing the dislikeable facets of their friends which makes them appreciate the qualities they admire in each other that initially drew them together. We leave the evening in doubt about the future of every couple in the piece, but these two with their amiability and genuine respect for each other, despite actually being separated, may actually be the strongest bet for the duo to be left standing down the road.
Though Theresa Bonvegna is the Resident Set Designer for Just Off Broadway, Jason Crawford and Patrick Jay Golden take the lead on this one and do an admirable job on the main dinner party set creating the ambiance of Douglas and Sal’s gay tastes, utilizing sleek lines in the furniture and fun accents like framed Broadway playbills and a Warholian shrine to Audrey Hepburn across the back wall. Their secondary set on the floor employs sometimes extravagant touches to set the tone of locales from an Atlantic City hotel room to a garden patio brunch. Sometimes his attention to detail on the secondary set leads to extended set changes between scenes. Perhaps they could have chosen a more generic design that could flex into different locations, or have collaborated with Golden to stage them in a common room in everyone’s house. However, having seen a press preview early in production week, these lengthy set changes could have very well ironed themselves out by opening night. Lighting designer Alex Powell gives contrasting effects for the chaotic party and the more intimate scenes on the floor.

Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Director Golden has assembled a very capable and engaging cast through which to interpret his revisionist piece. Golden defends his bold choices of shaking up the genders in the relationships by stating that at the core, all marriages suffer from the same base issues. (Famed gay playwright Terrance McNally might disagree). His able cast gamely embraces the challenge, but with mixed results. For instance, the gender flip of Gigi and Vivian defuses their script. A woman who isn’t interested in adopting or raising another woman’s child doesn’t carry the emotional heft of a husband who doesn’t want to have a child with his wife, the denial of a basic emotional need and betrayal of the very basis of their marriage. In the case of Douglas and Sal, however, the gender flip adds a layer of complexity when a revealed extramarital affair, a common enough issue in the gay community (famed gay playwright Terrance McNally would absolutely agree), transforms a bored bedroom dalliance amongst the group into a lie at the very core of another marriage with its down low implications of closeted homosexuality and an almost direct assault on the boundaries of the group as a corp.
Golden displays proficiencies to be a more intimate director, finding the heart in the scenes between the couples in their private territory, exploring their deceit and flaws while finding their unique pairings. He moves them fluidly through their paces and establishes their inner connections and their outward disconnects. Mechanically, though, his group scenes at the dinner party by contrast are slightly static, lacking blocking movement and physical dynamics. He is not aided by the major flaw in set design, laying out the living room like an actual living room and not a stage (or TV) set space. The sofa is centered and side chairs hug the walls completely across the stage, instead of being drawn into a more intimate central arena in relationship to the sofa and other set pieces. When actors are confined to these seats, the result is a lot of shouted unpleasantries across the room instead of the more personal, in your face assaults the words suggest. This also affects the pacing and emotional dynamics of these encounters since everyone hurls insults from a very safe distance, instead of the lines coming fast and quick, on top of and over each other in the face of the heated, impassioned revelations that unravel the group in the final scenes. Again, however, this was an early dress rehearsal and the cast may improve the pace by merely being more familiar with the scene as the week progressed.
Overall, Dear Friends is an evening of reflection that encourages one to look inward into their own relationships, and reminds us that those daily, awesome, life affirming Facebook posts those dear friends of our own make ad nauseum, usually mask, in direct proportion, the lies and insecurities that are at the heart of the exaggerations. Golden has given us a mirror in which to examine our own exteriors, and the multiple faces covering the various truths and lies that we tell the world, each other, and ourselves in order to get by at the end of the day.
This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Dear Friends… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Dear Friends will play through May 21 at Just Off Broadway @ JELC, 4506 Belair Road, Baltimore, MD 21206. For ticket reservation information, email justoffbroadwaymd@gmail.com or purchase them online.
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East Coast Premiere of DEAR FRIENDS, Reginald Rose's Obscure but Enlightening Play at Just Off Broadway

Just Off Broadway gives us an East Coast Premiere of a piece that rarely sees the light of day because of the playwright Reginald Rose’s more popular piece, Twelve Angry Men, but this piece, with some, but not much re-imagining, is as relevant and relatable today as it was 50 years ago.

For Immediate Release:
April 26, 2017
The Author of 12 Angry Men Gives Us a Story of What We Present to the Outside World and What Happens Behind Closed Doors
Baltimore, MD – Just Off Broadway presents the East Coast Premiere of Dear Friends, a drama from the Emmy award winning film and television author who gave us 12 Angry Men, Reginald Rose. Dear Friends is currently in rehearsal and runs ONE WEEKEND from April 18-21, 2017.

The Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Like the more popular 12 Angry Men, a teleplay for CBS Studio One in 1955, Dear Friends began as a 90-minute teleplay for CBS Playhouse aired in 1967 and, aside from a single matinee performance from theatre club at a small college on the banks of Lake Eerie, it hasn’t been seen on stage since. With the popularity of the 12 Angry Men, Dear Friends is a real-life, slice of life drama that has been hidden in the shadows for the last five decades until Jason Crawford Samios-Uy, Co-founder of Just Off Broadway, stumbled upon it while searching for a 2017 spring production. The author’s name was recognizable but the title wasn’t but by reading the first few sentences of the synopsis, it was clear this was an appropriate, near perfect piece for Just Off Broadway.

The Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Four married couples have been friends for several years and one of the couples, Lois & Michael, decide to call it quits. The other couples, Charlotte & Lenny, Gigi & Vivian, and Douglas & Sal want desperately to help these two see the error of their ways and realize divorce is not what they really want and concoct an intervention, unbeknownst to Lois & Michael. As the evening wears on, problems in all of the marriages and in the friendships themselves start to bubble to the surface. Are these dear friends trying to help Lois & Michael get back together because they truly believe it’s what’s best for them or… are Lois & Michael examples of the raw truth that could shatter the seemingly blissful lives of the others and they want to stop it for their own sakes?
Since it was written and produced 50 years ago, Just Off Broadway Co-Founder and first-time Director Patrick Jay Golden and Jason Crawford Samios-Uy have re-imagined this piece, updating it and bringing it into the 21st century. Diverse and non-traditional casting help to modernize this piece and make it more relatable to today’s audiences. However, the story itself stays in tack as they are timeless issues and situations any married couple through the ages could experience which makes this piece still relevant today.
Dear Friends features Brad Angst, Tracy Dye, Joyanne Gohl, Penny Nichols, Sarah O’Hara, India Palmer, Tom Piccin, Jason Crawford Samios-Uy, and Emmanuel Vickers and is Directed by Patrick Jay Golden. This production will play ONE WEEKEND, May 18-21 at Just Off Broadway @ JELC located at Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church, 4605 Baltimore, MD 21206.
You may purchase tickets online at: www.justoffbroadwaymd.wordpress.com.
Reserve tickets by email: justoffbroadwaymd@gmail.com. Please use Subject Line TICKETS and include the following in the body of the email:

  1. Full Name
  2. Number of Tickets
  3. Date of Performance
  4. Contact phone number

DEAR FRIENDS is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York.

Review: Antony & Cleopatra at The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Even though many are familiar with the plays or poetry of Shakespeare, it can be daunting when one is face to face with it. It can be even more daunting when someone decides to present said material in Original Pronunciation (OP), but the latest offering from The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (BSF), Antony & Cleopatra, Directed by Thomas Delise, is a charming, easy-to-follow presentation that will be a delight for Shakespearean newbies and experts alike.
True to form, the staging for Antony & Cleopatra is sparse with the production depending on the performances to carry the show, however, it’s worth mentioning Costume Design by April Forrer is exquisite and adds great value to production as a whole. Forrer’s design is authentic and the actors seem comfortable in the wardrobe making for quite pleasing aesthetics to go along with the superb performances.
To help those who may not be as versed in the work of the Great Bard, a BSF company member takes the time to explain a few things to the audience before the show starts and this is a good call on the part of BSF. The explanation and examples of Modern English, which is actually what Shakespeare spoke and wrote, in contrast to Old and Middle English gives the audience an idea of what they’re about to experience and a base from which to work and it eases the anxiety a little, letting the audience relax and enjoy the production.

Chris Cotterman and Valerie Dowdle. Credit: Will Kirk


As for the performance aspect, it’s easy to see this production team and actors have put time, blood, sweat, and tears into this production and it certainly pays off. Kudos to Director Thomas Delise for keeping this piece moving with a balanced pace making the near 3-hour run time seem much less. Delise has a good understanding of the material and has guided his actors so well they tell this story effortlessly.
During a short Q&A after the performance I attended, the actors explained how they paraphrased and came up with their own translations of the material, helping them understand the text and, in turn, being able to express the words to the audience with their inflections and movement. I can’t emphasize enough how easy it is to follow this story, even if you aren’t familiar with it. Though some performers were a little stronger than others, the entire ensemble is spot on with their performances and easily accomplish the Original Pronunciation.
Tom Piccin, a fairly new Shakespearean actor, does well taking on four roles (Mardian, Scarus, Thidias, and Seleucus) but shines as Mardian, Cleopatra’s eunuch who entertains and has a bagful of jokes for any occasion. He works well with and has a good chemistry with Bethany Mayo and Isa Guitan who take on the roles of Charmina and Iras, respectively, with Mayo being a definite highlight of this production and gives a natural, effortless performance as one of Cleopatra’s attendants.

Troy Jennings as Octavius Caesar. Credit: Will Kirk


Taking on the titular role of Mark Antony, Chris Cotterman is confident and comfortable but next to his counterpart, Valerie Dowdle (who I will most definitely discuss in a moment), his performance falls slightly flat. This isn’t to say he doesn’t do an admirable job, because he does, but Cotterman seems a little stiff and scripted, at times. Regardless, he still does a bang up job and has a fantastic comprehension of the piece making for a commendable performance. Cotterman does, however, very well in tandem with Troy Jennings who takes on the role of Octavius Caesar and he embodies this character wholly. Jennings is comfortable in this role. but makes a curious and somewhat annoying vocalization choice with Caesar (and this is a little nitpicking, but it stood out for me) repeatedly speaking in a voice obviously higher than his own and it just didn’t fit well for the character. Otherwise, he has a great grasp of the character and the story and gives a strong, confident performance. Both Cotterman and Jennings are to be commended for their performances.

Valerie Dowdle as Cleopatra. Credit: Will Kirk


Working along side of this able and worthy cast, Valerie Dowdle is the standout in this production Antony & Cleopatra, taking on the role of the complex, manipulative, and sexy Queen Cleopatra. Dowdle has this role down pat and makes it her own with no holds barred. She has a flawless authenticity and such a strong, assured stage presence, it’s hard not to watch her when she steps onto the stage. Even with the challenge of Original Pronunciation, she seems to be Cleopatra incarnate and glides across the stage understanding every word which gives the audience a better understanding of this character. Her intonation and movement are on point and she is an absolute joy to watch.
Final thought… Antony & Cleopatra at The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory takes us back to days of olde when Modern English was just starting to form and William Shakespeare was a rockstar of the theatre. This Original Pronunciation production is well put-together with painstaking detail and talented Shakespearean actors from beginners to more advanced. It’s actually quite easy to follow, even if you are unfamiliar with the Great Bard’s work. It does help that the audience gets a tiny crash course in language before the show starts, which is a good call on BSF’s part! It’s an authentic showing and whether your a Shakespearean expert, beginner or somewhere in between, this is not a production you want to miss.
This is what I thought of The Baltimore Shakespeare’s production of Antony & Cleopatra… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Antony & Cleopatra will play through April 23 at The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at The Great Hall Theatre at St. Mary’s, 3900 Roland Avenue, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase the online here.
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Review: The Game's Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

gamesafoot-artwork_orig

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

When one thinks of the holidays, rarely does one think of a murder-mystery, but Spotlighters Theatre latest offering, Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot, Directed by Fuzz Roark with Danny Romeo, along with Set Design by Alan Zemla, Lighting Deisign by Al Ramer, and Costume Design by Andrew Malone is a joyful whodunit that is sure to be a pleasing break from the hustle and bustle of this holiday season.

The Cast of The Game's Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

The Cast of The Game’s Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Set in 1936, this zany story unfolds at the large estate of William Gillette, a famous actor who is known for portraying that well known sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. The problem is, Gillette fancies himself a real life detective and when murder comes to his home, he and his guests (and cast mates from his latest production) work to figure out who the culprit is. Throw in a sharp tongued theatre reviewer and a local constable, the investigation develops with humorous results.

Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Set Design by Alan Zemla is impressive with an attention to detail. Spotlighters is somewhat unique in the fact that practically the entire theatre is used in their sets and this production is no different. It’s already theatre in the round and every corner is utilized, including a large trimmed Christmas tree, a small closet, an entrance/exit to the stage, and… get this… a secret room, which is absolutely ingenious. Taking a moment with the secret room, the door is evening seemingly automatic with the pull of an ornamented rope. Zemla’s detail with the stone work and shiny marble floor is superb and adds value to the production and sets the mood for the piece. Major kudos to Alan Zemla on his brilliant design.

Lighting Design by Al Ramer is appropriate and well planned out, adding to the value of the production. Murder-mysteries rely on precisely timed blackouts and Ramer’s design is on point, adding suspense to the scenes. Spotlighters is a small space but Ramer manages to light it accordingly with a well thought out design.

Melanie Bishop, Ilene Chalmers, and Thom Eric Sinn. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Melanie Bishop, Ilene Chalmers, and Thom Eric Sinn. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Costume Design by Andrew Malone is impeccable and he nails the period of the piece, which is the mid-1930s (and one of my favorite eras). Mens fashion hasn’t changed much through the years and a suit is always the norm, but Malone fits his male actors nicely and they seem comfortable as they move about the stage. The ladies fashions are quite a different story. Malone completely captures the essence of the 1936 upper class with flowing, yet form fitting gowns that ooze elegance. All the characters look their part and the period and gives an authenticity to the entire piece. Overall, Malone’s design is stunning and intelligent and is a joy to experience.

Tom Piccin and Ilene Chalmer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Tom Piccin and Ilene Chalmer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Direction by veteran Fuzz Roark with Danny Romeo is very good and they give us a charming and entertaining piece. Their vision is strong and through clever blocking in the round and with the talents of the cast, the story is easy to follow throughout. Roark and Romeo keep the action and their actors moving naturally to make sure the entire audience gets attention and doesn’t miss out on any of the story being told. The character work is brilliant and with the guidance of Roark and Romeo, they are fleshed out and authentic. The twist at the end is a bit abrupt and a tad bit confusing, but it is surprising, as intended and you’ll have to check it out to find out what it is! In general, Roark and Romeo did a splendid job with this piece and kept it funny, entertaining, and suspenseful, making for an veritable murder-mystery for the holidays.

Suzanne Hoxsey as Inspector Harriet Goring. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Suzanne Hoxsey as Inspector Harriet Goring. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Moving into the performance aspect of The Game’s Afoot, Suzanne Hoxsey takes on the role of Inspector Harriet Goring, the local constable assigned to check out a mysterious call made to the police station earlier in the evening. The character of Inspector Harriet Goring is supposed to be the “straight-man,” as it were, taking things seriously and trying to solve the mystery. Through this seriousness, the comedy shines through but, frankly, Hoxsey’s performance falls flat for me. She seems as though she’s trying too hard for the laugh but the timing is off and somewhat monotone, cautious delivery loses the comedy. That being said, Hoxsey gives 100% to her performance which is very admirable. She’s de
dicated to the role and sticks with it with confidence and a command of the stage.

Kellie Podsednik, Ilene Chalmers, and Andrew Wilkin. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Kellie Podsednik, Ilene Chalmers, and Andrew Wilkin. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Andrew Wilkin tackles the role of Simon Brigh, the younger actor who exudes a certain sleaziness but you can’t figure out just why because he seems like a gentleman but there’s just something about him. Wilken plays that aspect of the role beautifully and he looks the part and plays it confidently but his representation of this character seems to be all in contorted facial expressions. At times, in his intense scenes, he comes off more as a scary deranged clown rather than an upset and angry young actor. His character goes from one end of the spectrum to the other, between a suave demeanor to an angry desperation and both are a bit over the top with no in between. Now, this is not to say his performance is bad, because it is not. He commands the stage easily and his voice resonates throughout the small theatre. He, too, gives 100% to his character and makes choices to allow his character to be easily understood.

Tom Piccin as Felix Geisel does an admirable job as the loyal, laid back best friend and gives a strong performance with very good comedic timing and an urgency that drives his character’s actions. He understands his character and plays him with ease while having great chemistry with his fellow cast mates making for a very enjoyable performance.

Kellie Podsednik as Aggie Wheeler. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Kellie Podsednik as Aggie Wheeler. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

The role of Aggie Wheeler, the young, impressionable actress is taken on by Kellie Podsednik and her take on this character is thoughtful and entertaining. There may be more to this character than meets the eye and Podsednik plays the role with a natural, innocent air that works well and actually makes her a likable character. Podsednik is comfortable on stage and gives a strong performance that is confident and enjoyable.

Ilene Chalmers takes on the role of Madge Geisel, an old friend who is just as loyal as her husband, Felix. Chalmers plays this role with gusto and gives her all to this character and her dedication pays off as her portrayal is authentic and natural. Madge Geisel is more than an innocent bystander and she likes to get into the heart of the action and Chalmers plays this beautifully. She has a strong command of the stage and is a joy to watch.

Thom Eric Sinn. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Thom Eric Sinn. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Thom Eric Sinn plays William Gillette, the leading man who is famous for playing Sherlock Holmes and actually considers himself a brilliant detective and who has gathered these poor souls to his home on Christmas Eve. Sinn has a very strong stage presence and fits nicely into this character. His voice resonates throughout the theatre and he is natural and comfortable in this role. He has great comedic timing and does well with the farce, though his urgency does seem a bit forced at times. Overall, Sinn gives a very strong and entertaining performance.

Penny Nichols as Martha Gillette. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Penny Nichols as Martha Gillette. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Martha Gillette, the doting, elderly mother of William Gillette, is played by Penny Nichols and she is beyond charming in this role. At first glance, I didn’t buy the fact that Nichols is playing Sinns mother as she looks entirely too young for the role, but her portrayal of the character just emphasizes her acting skills and she played this part to the hilt. After a few moments, she is totally believable as the mother of Sinn’s character, regardless of looking younger than her character is supposed to be. She has beautiful comedic timing and her asides as she leaves the stage are just as funny as her onstage lines. She is a joy to watch and I hope to see more of her work in the future.

Melanie Bishop as Daria Chase. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Melanie Bishop as Daria Chase. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography/shealynjaephotography.com

Melanie Bishop as Daria Chase, the cut-throat, acidic theatre reviewer who seems to know the secrets of all the other guests and isn’t afraid to share them, is an absolute highlight of his production giving an outstanding performance. She has the fast talking, quit witted character down pat even using a Katherine Hepburn-esque voice that absolutely fits this character making her more authentic. Her confidence and comfort on stage makes for a superb performance that is not to be missed.

Final thought… The Game’s Afoot at Spotlighters Theatre is a bona fide murder-mystery that will have you laughing and scratching your head, wondering “whodunit?” The performances are strong and the story is entertaining and original making for a fun night of theatre in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Take a break from the craziness and check out this show!

This is what I th
ought of Spotlighters Theatre production of
The Game’s Afoot. What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Game’s Afoot will play through December 18 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.