Review: Wait Until Dark at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

I’ve always been a fan of a good thriller. The nail biting, the jumps, the wondering what’s going to happen next, the edge-of-your-seat stuff… everything! I also love it because it accelerates the heart rate and you don’t even have to step on a treadmill, and we could all use some good cardio every now and again! The latest offering and opening production of the 2016/2017 season at Everyman Theatre, Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott, Adapted by Jeffery Hatcher, and Directed by Donald Hicken is two hours of excitement, intrigue, and entertainment that gets the heart racing and will have you leaving the theatre with shorter nails and when you walked in.

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Wait Until Dark is cleverly crafted with a ruthless gangster-type, an ousted NYPD detective, an army buddy, a bratty neighbor girl, an absent husband, and a seemingly helpless blind housewife who are all intertwined in a deadly game of hide and seek and catch-me-if-you-can. If this isn’t intriguing enough, throw in Greenwich Village, NYC in 1944 and a basement apartment and you have a fast paced, intelligent story that has you writhing in your seat and wanting to jump up on stage to yell directions to the protagonist.

Set Design by Daniel Ettinger is authentic, very well thought-out and compliments the story beautifully. Being a unit set and a basement apartment, Ettinger uses levels and, working along with the blocking of the piece, keeps the action moving and interesting. The set was so realistic, I really felt I was looking in through the window of a 1940s apartment in Greenwich Village so Mr. Ettinger has absolutely and superbly accomplished his set designing goals.

Eric M. Messner as Mike and Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Eric M. Messner as Mike and Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Costume Design by Ben Argenta Kress is spot on for the 1944 New York City setting and each actor’s wardrobe is seemingly researched and well though-out. Also, the costumes did not only fit the piece, the actors seemed to be very comfortable in what he or she is wearing, adding to the natural feel of the performances. From the saddle shoes of the upstairs neighbor girl to the uniform of a WWII soldier back from Italy, everything was in place and was matched impeccably with the piece.

Continuing with the technical aspect of this production, I couldn’t call this review complete without mentioning Lighting Design by Jay A. Herzog and Sound Design by Patrick Calhoun. Along with the Set Design and Costume Design, the Lights and Sound make this production a standout in current-running Baltimore theatre.

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Many folks have different theatre tastes – traditional, minimal, spectacle, etc. – and I am more of a traditionalist, overall, but this production is truly impressive for the fact that I felt as though I was sitting in a movie theatre watching a film because of the Light and Sound Design. The cinematic feel was just want this production needed and every cue was chosen wisely.

Patrick Calhoun’s choice of incidental music and dramatic string chords were not overbearing but used seamlessly with the scenes playing out on the stage. The attention to detail is absolutely remarkable from the footsteps in the hall, the locking of doors, and the city sounds to the ticking clock, that emphasizes the suspense and has your heart beating just as loudly and in rhythm. Calhoun’s design is extraordinary and is a major part of the success of this production.

In 1967, Wait Until Dark was made into a successful film starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, and Richard Crenna using the film noir style. The “noir” bit was a huge part in making the film successful (not to mention Miss Hepburn, of course), and this fact does not go unnoticed by Jay A. Herzog. His Lighting Design was near perfect for this production and completed the aforementioned cinematic feel of this piece. His use of lighting through the windows and through the open doors is realistic and added to the action. The prop lighting, such as lamps, flashlights, and the like fit in flawlessly, as well, adding subtle practicality to the entire production. The piece is dim, as all noir pieces are, but Herzog found a happy medium between the dark scenes and brightly lit scenes that did not take away from or hinder the action or story, but helped it along making for a very effective design.

The technical aspect of this production took this piece to the next level and Ettinger, Kress, Herzog, and Calhoun are to be commended for their impeccable technical work.

Taking the helm of this production, Director Donald Hicken’s vision for Wait Until Dark is genuine and well examined. He keeps the piece in its traditional setting, which is ideal for this piece, and his blocking keeps the actors moving through the various entrances and exits and keeps the action exciting. All of the technical and performance elements mesh together wonderfully and the tension is clearly present throughout but Hicken keeps the piece entertaining, as well, as to not overload the audience with horror and suspense. Overall, Hicken does a tremendous job in guiding this production.

Megan Anderson as Susan and Bruce Randolph Nelson as Roat. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Megan Anderson as Susan and Bruce Randolph Nelson as Roat. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

At a particularly intense point in this piece, there is a drag-out, knock-down fight between a couple of important characters and though the scene choreographed by Fight Choreographer Lewis Shaw is respectable and passionate, something seemed to be off kilter. Perhaps it is the unbalanced momentum of the scene that seems to be interrupted here and there, giving us spurts of extreme physicality with dark quiet in between. The entire fight scene just seemed a bit forced and not as naturally flowing as the rest of the piece. Still, it was a respectable fight scene and the intensity was definitely there, making the audience gasp and clutch the arm rests while waiting to see who the ultimate victor is.

To comment on the performance side of Wait Until Dark, I’d like to begin by stating that the entire ensemble is impressive from the supporting actors such as Arturo Tolentino who gives a strong performance as the congenial WWII veteran husband, Sam, and Todd Scofield who is a convincing gruff, weathered, and disgraced former member of the NYPD.

Tolentino is confident as the very likable, young newlywed, Sam, who isn’t going to do things for his disabled wife, but wants her to do things for herself and he’s very natural and gives a very pleasing performance.

Todd Scofield as Carlino and Eric M. Messner as Mike. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Todd Scofield as Carlino and Eric M. Messner as Mike. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Scofield takes on Carlino, the first character to whom we are introduced and he sets the tone nicely, giving a robust, accurate portrayal of a character he seems to truly understand.

Bruce Randolph Nelson tackles the role of the old time, tough-guy ganster, Roat. He gives a commendable performance as he not only plays the tough gangster, but has to play a mild-mannered husband, as well as an in-your-face father, all within moments of each other. The contrasts between the characters he portrays and the ease in which he portrays them is evidence of the self-assurance he conveys on stage making for a magnificent, strong performance.

Bruce Randolph Neslon as Roat. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Bruce Randolph Neslon as Roat. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

In this particular production, the role of Gloria, the bratty upstairs neighbor girl who “helps” her disabled downstairs neighbor, is played by two young actresses, Ui-Seng Francois and Shannon Hutchinson. I had the pleasure of experiencing the performance of Ui-Seng Francois and I was not disappointed. Francois’ performance is so authentic, I found myself actually hating this little monster and wishing she’d step out in front of a NY Transit bus every time she opens her nasty flippant mouth. So, needless to say, wishing for her unpleasant demise is a credit to her very strong performance. Also, this character’s change throughout the piece is very interesting and Francois pulls it off flawlessly and she ended up probably being my favorite character in the piece. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this young lady.

Eric M. Messner takes on the role of Mike, a jovial, friendly soldier who’s back from the war on the Italian front but, as with many things and people, never judge a book by its cover. Messner plays the complex character brilliantly and comfortably with a confidence and definite command of the stage. This character is supposed to be likeable from the beginning and Messner accomplishes this nicely with his large stature, his voice – a soothing timber and tone, his gentle mannerisms, and giving off the overall sense of security. He is likened to a gentle giant that you’d like to have around in a pinch.

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

A definite highlight of this production is Megan Anderson as Susan, the blind but independent housewife who ends up in the middle of this nerve-racking tale, who has a constitution of steel and discovers exactly how strong she can be despite her disability. Portraying a character with any disability is a challenge for any actor, but Anderson pulls it off flawlessly and authentically. She does not falter or drop her “blindness” at any moment in the production and her dedication and understanding not only of the disability of this character, but of the character herself is clear in superb performance. Her transition from the poor blind woman we feel sorry for to strong blind woman we’re rooting for is gradual, realistic, and seamless. She is an absolute joy to watch and her command of the stage makes for a solid and worthy performance.

Final thought… Wait Until Dark is a suspenseful and extremely entertaining show that will raise your heart rate, have you biting your nails wondering who is friend and who is foe, and rooting for the assumed underdog. It definitely has all the requirements for a good thriller with a twisting story and very talented cast that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

This is what I thought of this production of Wait Until Dark.… what do you think?

Wait Until Dark will play through October 9 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.

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New Backstage Banter for The Elephant Man at Fells Point Corner Theatre with The Collaborative Theatre Company

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Check out the Backstage Banter for The Elephant Man at Fells Point Corner Theatre with The Collaborative Theatre Company!

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.

Review: Marx in Soho at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 1 hours and 35 minutes with no intermission

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Karl Marx. Credt: Public Domain

If I were to invite any deceased historic figure to dinner, Karl Marx would not have been my first choice. Actually, he probably wouldn’t have even crossed my mind but after experiencing Spotlighters Theatre latest offering of Marx in Soho by Howard Zinn and directed by Sherrionne Brown and starring Phil Gallagher, I think Mr. Marx could possibly make my Top Five (of whom currently includes Mozart, Joan Crawford, Karen Carpenter, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Disney, but I haven’t a clue of who would be bumped).

I admit… I walked in thinking this piece thinking it was going to be uber-political and argue the pros of Marxism and Communism and, with the political climate being what it is in the country at the moment, I rolled my eyes and settled in for the long haul. I can also admit my thinking was incorrect. Though this piece did touch on a many of Karl Marx’s ideas, it was not so much political as it was a piece showing Marx in a different light. He is usually thought of as a revolutionary, trouble maker, or rabble rouser but Zinn’s piece expressed his softer side; his life as a family man and his love and adoration for his wife and children (of which only three lived into adulthood). It shows a Marx who can admit when he is wrong and came back from the dead to express to the world that his ideas are different to the ideals of Communism that Lenin spouted out and that he wasn’t so stubborn that he couldn’t debate (sometimes heatedly) different ideas with friends and colleagues. Zinn manages to reveal Marx’s positive achievements rather than concentrate on the negative connotations of his life and work.

I certainly have my own ideals, politically and otherwise, as we all do, but I’m glad I was able to attend this production of Marx in Soho as it enlightened me, made me think, and reminded me that there are many different angles to folks that we must consider before passing any type of judgment. This piece wasn’t a lesson on Marxism or Communism, but a look into the life of a man who had his own ideas and way of looking at the world and his courage to express them, regardless of any adversity. Zinn manages to balance out the history and the entertainment in his script and it blends together beautifully.

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Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Spotlighters is a unique space, to say the least. It’s theatre in the round, which is always challenging and to add to that challenge, they have four pillars on each corner of the stage of which they have to contend but Spotlighters has not disappointed, yet! The production teams for each show manage to use the space to maximum efficiency, and this production is no different. The Set Design by Director Sherrionne Brown is minimal, with a desk, a couple of chairs, and a stool, but it all comes together perfectly. It’s the set decorations of old photos of historic figures such and folks from Marx’s life add a sense of familiarity, like we’re sitting in Marx’s parlor or study, as a guest or old friend, listening to him as he talks about his ideas and writings.

Lighting Design by Fuzz Roark was very subtle but that’s exactly what is needed in this piece. His use of brightness levels are barely noticeable but add depth to the performance as the lighting seems to change with Marx’s changing moods from fiery revolutionist to loving husband and doting father and add great production value to the piece. The imitation thunder and lightning are perfect transitions and stop signs for the character of Karl Marx when he gets a little too saucy or political.

Director Sherrione Brown uses this space wisely and keeps her actor moving fluidly as to not ignore any part of the audience that surrounds him. Her guidance, along with the natural instincts of Phil Gallagher, brought Karl Marx to life right before my eyes and the nuances of the character, including the look, gestures, and facial expressions set me at east, as an audience member looking in. The Set Design complimented the performance and Brown is to be commended for her thought-provoking work on this piece.

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Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

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Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Phil Gallagher as the titular character of Karl Marx is an absolute joy to watch. Performing in a biographical piece has its own set of challenges but Gallagher completely nails this role and gives an outstanding performance. From the moment he steps on stage, one cannot help but notice the striking resemblance Gallagher has to a young(er) Marx (a little different from the common white bushy bearded, older Marx). The Costume Design by Andrew Malone is spot on and very appropriate for the time in which Marx lived and for this piece. Gallagher is very comfortable both in his wardrobe and on the stage, having a strong command and he moves smoothly around making sure he gives attention to all sides of his audience. To be honest, Gallagher has completely changed the way I envisioned Karl Marx that was formed from what I’ve researched about him and from the stern photographs I’ve seen. Gallagher’s very authentic performance makes Marx approachable and downright likeable and though this may have something to do with the script, it is mostly because of the friendly feel I get from Gallagher. He is so natural in this role, there were many times I completely forgot there was a script involved. His German accent is on point and he, impressively, holds it throughout the entire performance, adding a realism to the performance. Gallagher seemed to have really understood the man he was portraying and it showed through in his strong, confident performance. Major kudos to Phil Gallagher for this exceptional performance as Karl Marx.

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Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shaelyn Jae Photography

Final thought… Marx in Soho is a show that makes me see things from a different angle and appreciate another view. In these crazy times of this crazy United States Presidential election, I’m glad that I was reminded that this is very important. This piece portrays another side of a man who is commonly seen in a negative light and makes him more familiar and approachable. Whatever ideals you may have, Marx in Soho is an enlightening, provocative look into the life of a man who, in the end, just wanted the world to be a little better for everyone.

This is what I thought of this production of Marx in Soho.… what do you think?

Another point of view: The Bad Oracle’s review of Marx in Soho

Marx in Soho will play through September 18 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

Review: Murder Ballad at StillPointe Theatre @ The Ottobar

 

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By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 1 hours and 10 minutes with no intermission

Art can happen anywhere at any time and StillPointe Theatre has proven that with their latest offering, Murder Ballad with Book & Lyrics by Julia Jordan and Music & Lyrics by Juliana Nash. Directed by Corey Hennessy and Co-Directed by Amanda J. Rife with Music Direction by Nick Jewett, Murder Ballad is a voyeuristic peek into a juicy, dark love triangle in an edgy setting of which one would be hard pressed to look away!

Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

First, the setting of this production is like none I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing and it was a joyous experience. The action takes place in the upstairs bar of The Ottobar and it couldn’t be a better setting. The performance has a very casual, fringe feeling too it and could be considered performance art, but whatever you consider it, the setting sets an appropriate mood. Researching the piece, I discovered that it was, in fact, written for just this type of setting but The Ottobar, a Baltimore institution for live, local music, was familiar and comfortable, putting me instantly at ease for this completely immersive production. The booming bass from the live bands playing downstairs added to the realism of just sitting in a crowded bar watching the drama unfold between three poor souls in the city and I was set in the mood of curious excitement.

The Ottobar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The Ottobar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The setting being what it is, there’s not much in the way of set, lights, and sound but, it absolutely worked for this production. There was some special lighting and a few props but the Production/Design team of Ryan Haase, Corey Hennessey, Zoe Kanter, and Danielle Robinette didn’t seem to have much to do but their choice of the upstairs bar at The Ottobar is brilliant. The bar itself compliments the performance and, though this piece might work on a traditional stage, I wouldn’t have wanted to experience it any other way. Since the upstairs bar at The Ottobar isn’t huge, the actors were able to use just about every inch of the space without much trouble. The band was set off in one of the corners and they aren’t hidden, but exposed in all their glory and were apart of the setting and a welcome addition.

To mention sound, the balance between the actors and the band could use a little more work as the actors microphones were set very low. When the Murder Ballad band started it was challenging to hear what the actors were singing but when the local bands downstairs started, it was almost impossible, but the blocking of the piece helped a little, putting the actors closer to the audience members throughout.

Murder Ballad is a sung-through piece and it’s worth mentioning the score by Juliana Nash is exhilarating with a modern rock feel that had me tapping my foot throughout the performance. Reminiscent of the music of the guitar heavy 90s, I thoroughly enjoyed this well-befitting score.

The Murder Ballad Band. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The Murder Ballad Band. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Speaking of the music, I have to mention the terrific band for Murder Ballad consisting of Nick Jewett on Guitar, who also put on the hat of Music Director, Cody Raum on Bass, Trevor Shipley on Keys, and Joe Pipkin on Drums. These guys were on point and on key through the entire performance and the use of electric drums was wise as it kept everything very well balanced. Kudos to these talented players!

Co-directors Corey Hennessey and Amanda J. Rife do a fantastic job of transferring this piece to this unique setting, not disrupting the original set up of the bar. They keep their actors moving around, keeping the action interesting and purposeful. There is a slow-motion fight scene during a pivotal point in the piece but since the space is so intimate, it seems a bit trite and doesn’t work as well as it would on a more traditional stage. Regardless, Hennessey and Rife use their space cleverly and give us an entertaining and meaningful show.

Moira Horowitz as Michael. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Moira Horowitz as Michael. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Cleverly, the actors performances begin well before actual show time. They actually begin the moment the first patron walks through the door and it’s fun to watch these four characters interact as I settled into my seat and waited for the actual show to start. The gender-blind casting worked wonderfully with this piece and did not hinder the story at all, but complimented the story. The actors didn’t put a masculine or feminine spin on their characters but simply played them as human beings.

Corey Hennessey as Narrator. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Corey Hennessey as Narrator. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Aside from co-directing, Corey Hennessey tackles the role of the Narrator (a part originally played by a female) with a strong presence and just enough creepiness to make one shudder when he is near. This character is very similar to the omnipotent Master of Ceremonies (MC) character in Cabaret – a more traditional musical – as he is ever-present and lurks in the shadows, just watching. Hennessey starts out strong with a strong voice and sets the mood for the entire piece with an edginess that is very appropriate for this character. However, as the show progresses, his performance falls a little flat as the only feeling I get from him is “I’m-irritated-and-I-don’t-care-about-these-idiots”. The only emotion he seems to emote is that of disdain. Rolling eyes and grimaces can only take this character so far, but if he isn’t interested and irritated with these characters, why should I worry about them? Vocally, his performance is good, but he does have some issues with the notes in the higher register. Overall, with few issues, he gives a strong and confident performance.

Moira Horowitz takes on the role of Michael, the stand-up, feet-on-the-ground provider who falls for the wild city girl. Horowitz does a fine job portraying this character and seems to understand the inner pain of this character. Thankfully, Horowitz does not try to play this character as a man, but simply as a person struggling to understand his partner and the relationship in which he is involved. Vocally, she is delicate when needed and strong when needed and holds her own very well.

Amber Wood as Tom and Sarah Heiderman as Sara. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Amber Wood as Tom and Sarah Heiderman as Sara. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Taking on the role of Tom, the downtown bad boy, is Amber Wood who gives the part a realistic feel as she navigates through the desperation and wanting of this character who let “the one” slip through his fingers only to find her again, years later. Wood has the appropriate look and is quite comfortable in this role and has a good command of the “stage.” She, too, does not try to play this part as a man, but simply as non-gender specific person in the middle of a love triangle and she plays it with ease. She easily finds her way through the score with rock-style vocals and gives a very enjoyable performance.

Moira Horowitz as Michael and Sarah Heiderman as Sara. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Moira Horowitz as Michael and Sarah Heiderman as Sara. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

The highlight in this production is Sarah Heiderman as Sara, the bad-downtown-girl turned good-uptown-mother. Her performance is nearly flawless and confident as she has a very strong command of the the stage. She has a big voice and is comfortable with the score giving a idyllic performance. Her character’s transition is seamless and her inner conflict is expressed beautifully in her gestures and facial expressions. She really understands her character and, what’s more, her characters change and portrays it beautifully. She is a joy to watch and I look forward to seeing her future work.

Final thought… Murder Ballad is a strong, modern piece about love in the big city as well as finding and losing “the one.” It’s a meaningful piece with a well thought-out, relatable story and a fantastic rock score. The setting and immersion is worth the price of admission and the experience is riveting! If you don’t mind that the fourth wall is broken and if you’re into fringe-type theatre, this is the show for you! Go check it out! It’s an experience not to be missed!

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

Murder Ballad will play through September 17 at StillPointe Theatre @ The Ottobar (upstairs), 2549 N Howard Street, Baltimore, MD 21218. Tickets are available for purchase at the door 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.