Review: Samsara at Single Carrot Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Birth – Life – Death… That’s pretty much what Samsara means: We’re born – We live – We die. It’s what happens along that journey is what’s different for everyone and even the start is starting and ending is different. Single Carrot Theatre’s latest offering, Samsara by Lauren Yee, directed by Lauren A. Saunders, with Scenic Design by Jason Randolph, Lighting Design by Thomas P. Gardner, and Sound Design by Steven Kriegle, gives a thought provoking look into what it takes to bring a child into this world, even when it’s not your body your using. It delves into the intricacies of having a surrogate half way across the world and imagines the unknowns of unborn children who sometimes have more common sense than grown adults. It puts human faces on surrogacy and tells a story from both sides of a surrogate pregnancy.

The space at Single Carrot Theatre is intimate and they use the space wisely. From what I understand, the seating chart changes depending on the production and this set up for Samsara gives us a wide stage with room for Jason Randolph’s simple, but impressive Set Design. His use of movable blocks saves space and lends itself to multiple locations, not giving exact detail, but enough for the audience to know where they are. The curves in both the set and the hanging screen gives a whimsical, magical feel and the projections are spot on. Overall, the production value of this piece knocks it out of the ballpark. Set Design, Lighting Design, and Sound Design are worth the admission price alone.

Speaking of Lighting Design, Thomas P. Gardner does a superb job lighting this magical, fanciful piece with just the correct colors and levels, setting the mood for each scene and moving the story line along nicely. Along with Gardner’s work, Steven Kriegle’s Sound Design is on point. Every bit of recorded sound that comes out of the speakers is befitting and well placed. Whether it was Kriegle himself or a collaboration with the director, the music choices are spot on the Sound Design, as a whole, is impeccable.

Taking the helm of this production, Director Lauren A. Saunders does a fantastic job putting this piece on the stage. Her casting is outstanding and her staging is minimal and fanciful, but gives the audience enough to keep up with the complex story. She understands the script, the delicacy of the piece, and the intimate space and presents the story in an accessible way as to not overwhelm the audience but bring them along for the journey. Her understanding and handling of the piece makes for a very enjoyable evening of theatre.

The small ensemble of Samsara puts on an impressive show and the chemistry, for the most part, is clear and these actors are comfortable with each other which makes it easier for the audience to follow along and get engrossed in the touching story their telling.

Utkarsh Rajawat as Amit, Paul Diem as Craig, and Saraniya Tharmarajah as Suraiya. Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Utkarsh Rajawat as Amit, Paul Diem as Craig, and Saraniya Tharmarajah as Suraiya. Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Single Carrot Ensemble members, Paul Diem and Alix Fenhagen take on the roles of Craig, the kind good-hearted father sent off a half a world away on his own and Katie, the wife and childless mother who, because of her own issues, would not travel with her husband a half world away to experience the birth of their child. Diem and Fenhagen played these roles to the hilt and I can feel the unspoken tension between the characters as they are trying to navigate through a rocky marriage with the difficulty of not being able to have children. It is revealed that neither of them able to produce and that’s where the Indian surrogate comes into play. Why India, you may ask? Well, it’s simply financial and an Indian surrogate is actually much cheaper… thousands of dollars cheaper than an good old American surrogate. The question is, are both of these people ready for a child? Also, to add to the drama, these two characters seem to differ on their ideas of what a surrogate is and how much involvement one should have in a surrogate’s life, making for some pretty intense drama between these two characters.

Diem has a complete handle on this character and is confident in this role. His uncertainty is unmistakable and his kindness shines through making him a very likable character. The character of Craig might be a bit annoying at times, making unwise choices while in India, but Paul Diem gives an admirable performance having great chemistry with both Fenhagen and Saraniya Tharmarajah. Alix Fenhagen also gives a good performance, but seems a bit flat and monotone, in parts where I would prefer little more emotion, but she seems to be playing it subtly and gives a commendable performance.

Dustin C. T. Morris, as the imaginary Frenchman and sub-sequential “dream man” of Katie, is a bit of comic relief and he is 100% to this role. He also takes on the role of the doctor caring for the surrogate in India and he shines in this role, as well. As an imaginary character, he manages to move the story along, giving a backstory to Katie and her ideas of what she wants her child (and perhaps her life) to be as well as the possibilities that frighten her. Morris is radiant and confident and gives a praiseworthy performance.

Saraniya Tharmarajah as Suraiya and Utkarsh Rajawat as Amit. Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Saraniya Tharmarajah as Suraiya and Utkarsh Rajawat as Amit. Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

At the heart of this story is Suraiya, the surrogate for Craig and Katie played masterfully by Saraniya Tharmarajah, whose performance is one of the highlights of this production. She is natural and comfortable in this role and her delicate performance is befitting of this character. Tharmarajah manages to bring forth a silent strength in her character and her chemistry with Rajawat, the unborn Amit, is charming and heart-warming. Kudos to Tharmarajah for her superb performance in this piece.

Speaking Utkarsh Rajawat, he is another highlight of this production as he tackles the role of Amit, the unborn child for whom everyone is waiting patiently. Rajawat’s performance is both charming and poignant as his character is in the mind of the surrogate and he is inquisitive and in awe of everything as he talks with her. Not having been jaded by the world just yet, this character seems to have the only common sense in the group and he has some of the funniest lines in the piece and handles the comedy and comedic timing beautifully. He masterfully plays this character as a doe-eyed child, wanting to learn everything he can about the world he is about to enter and Rajawat’s lovable portrayal makes it hard to feel anything but good, warm, and gooey things for this character. Kudos goes to both Tharmarajah and Rajawat for jobs well done.

Final thought…Samsara is an interesting look into surrogacy and relationships of surrogacy, touching on the deep and intense thoughts and feelings of all parties involved that aren’t always discussed at the dinner table. Single Carrot Theatre’s production is an approachable and accessible expression of those unsaid thoughts and feelings, giving the audience an insight only parents and a surrogate mother can have. This well-put, thought-provoking production should not be missed this season.

This is what I thought of Single Carrot Theatre’s production of Samsara… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Samsara will play through February 12 at Single Carrot Theatre, 2600 North Howard Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 443-844-9253 or purchase them online.

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Review: Grey Gardens at Stillpointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission

Looking on the bright side isn’t something everyone can do. Not everyone can find joy in the face of adversity but in Stillpointe Theatre’s latest offering, Grey Gardens with Music & Lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie and Book by Doug Wright, shows us there are folks who can. Directed by Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase, with Music Direction by Ben Shaver, Choreography by Lauren Spencer-Harris, Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Kit Crescenzo, and Lighting Design by Adrienne Gieszl, Grey Gardens shows that there are people who can see the light at the end of a dark tunnel and survive even when the world has forgotten them.

The cast of Grey Gardens at Stillepoint Theatre. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

The cast of Grey Gardens at Stillepoint Theatre. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Some are very familiar with the Beale women and the documentary about an Easthampton mansion named Grey Gardens and some have never heard of such a place or this piece of Long Island history. I was introduced to the Beales a few years back when a very good friend described a 1970s documentary that I just had to watch about these two oddball recluses who lived in a dilapidated 28-room garbage and critter filled mansion with barely any utilities and engulfed in overgrown foliage in Easthampton among the well-maintained houses and lawns of the well-to-do and… I’ve been in love with these two oddballs ever since!

Co-Directors Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase really captured the essence of this piece, which is survival and self-preservation, treating it dignity and respect. The relationship between this mother/daughter duo was so complex, they managed to touch on all the nuances such as the co-dependency and even jealousy these women had for each other. Their casting is on point and the experiment of using two spaces to represent to different times is a bona fide success. There is such a vast difference between the settings and time of Act I and Act II, it totally makes sense to use two separate spaces.

Speaking of spaces, Ryan Haase’s Set Design is, in a word, impeccable. He never ceases to amaze me with his original designs and this production is no different. Aside from being in two different spaces, the contrast between Act I and Act II is absolute and really compliments the story of these two women, not to mention, the attention to detail in Act II which adds tremendous value to this already superb production.

Another impressive aspect of this production is the phenomenal musicians in the orchestra. this orchestra is spot on in every number and has a very polished, well-rehearsed sound. Music Diretor Ben Shaver not only did a splendid job with the onstage ensemble, he managed to get together a top notch band including himself on Piano, Joe Pipkin on Drums, Stacey Antoine on Reeds, Billy Scaletta on Keyboards, and Andrea Gibeck on Violin. Kudos to each every one of them for a job well done.

Christine Demuth as Little Edie and Bobby Libby as Joe Kennedy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Christine Demuth as Little Edie and Bobby Libby as Joe Kennedy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

I can’t overlook the Costume Design by Kit Crescenzo as they are spot on and authentic, adding realism to this production, especially in Act II where the costumes are near perfect matches to the wardrobe the women wore in the Maysles Brothers documentary.

Working in such unique spaces, Adrienne Gieszl has to be clever with her Lighting Design and it is absolutely appropriate and befitting to the piece, setting the mood for each scene and number subtly but surely.

The ensemble for this production is dedicated and gives a brilliant showing. Bobby Libby makes a great showing as Joe Kennedy with his booming, smooth voice and good grasp of the character while Barney Rinaldi has a great command of the stage and gives a confident performance as the Bouvier patriarch, Major Bouvier. Jon Kevin Lazarus tackles the role of Jerry and his interpretation of this character is absolutely endearing and just made me want to give him a big ol’ hug. Rounding out the ensemble is Terrance Flemming as Brooks and Brooks Jr. and Anne Murphy or Kate Kilner-Pontone as young Jackie Bouvier and Avagail Hulbert or Compton Little as young Lee Bouvier, all who give commendable performances. Also, I’d like to comment on the Choreography by Lauren Spencer-Harris that was absolutely appropriate for the piece adding great value to the piece as a whole.

Gould (Adam Cooley) at the piano and Big Edie (Zoe Kanter) signing as Jackie and Lee look on. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Gould (Adam Cooley) at the piano and Big Edie (Zoe Kanter) signing as Jackie and Lee look on. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Three actresses lead this exquisite ensemble in this journey through space and time and Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale is played flawlessly by Zoe Kanter (in Act I as a younger Big Edie) and Danielle Robinette (in Act II as the older Big Edie that was immortalized in the documentary). Both of these actresses seem to really have a grasp on this character as Kanter plays her as whispy and carefree who values family above all, regardless of if it’s falling apart or not, and desperately trying to hold on to her only remaining child so she won’t be alone. And though Kanter is a bit stiff in her performance at times, almost as if she’s thinking too hard, she belts out her songs with a resonating and beautiful belt and she gives a fantastic showing. It’s also worth mentioning the great chemistry with Adam Cooley, who plays Gould, Big Edie’s ever-faithful accompanist, confidant, and friend and gives an admirable performance with a flamboyancy and flair I imagine the real George “Gould” Strong would have been.

Playing the role of older Big Edie in Act II, Danielle Robinette, couldn’t have played it better. With a brilliant make up job aging her to fit her character and her slouched posture and limping that was consistent through her entire performance made for a believable showing. Vocally, Robinette gives an outstanding performance, especially with the touching and tender “Jerry Likes My Corn.” Playing a somewhat iconic character can be daunting but Robinette takes this role and makes it her own.

Christine Demuth as Little Edie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Christine Demuth as Little Edie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Last but certainly not least, there’s Christine Demuth who is the absolute highlight of this production. She embodies both a young Little Edie and the iconic older Little Edie from the iconic documentary, all the while, bringing her own interpretation into the character. Not only does she give an outstanding vocal performance, her acting chops are superb. The subtle but definite change in her character from Act I to Act II is seamless and she plays it to the hilt. The real Little Edie had a very distinctive accent (New England, for sure) and Demuth is on point. From the moment she steps onstage until the emotional “Winter in a Summer Town,” she had me hooked. Kudos to Miss Demuth on a stellar performance and I can’t wait to see more from her.

Final thought…Grey Gardens is poignant and compassionate look into the lives of two women time and everyone else seemed to have forgotten but who had the gumption to survive. Whether or not you are familiar with the original Maysles Brothers documentary, Grey Gardens, you will not be disappointed with this production. Stillpointe Theatre has managed to bring a fresh look and feel to this piece and is not only able to express the absolute quirkiness of the Beales with brilliant casting and set designs, but also the tenderness and tragedy of this overlooked piece of Americana. This is NOT an experience you want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Stillpointe Theatre’s production of Grey Gardens… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Grey Gardens will play through February 4 at Stillpointe Theatre, 1825 N Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to stillpointetheatre.com for more information or purchase them online.

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Review: Three Penny Opera at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 3 hours with one 15 minute intermission

Connor Moore As the Street Singer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Connor Moore As the Street Singer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

I’m both a musical theatre fan and an opera fan, with emphasis on the former, but I certainly appreciate a good opera now and then. Of course, both genres’ main element is music but the production is a bit different. Spotlighters Theatre‘s latest offering, Three Penny Opera Adapted by Bertolt Brecht and Music by Kurt Weill (adapted from a translation of Jonathan Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera by Elizabeth Hauptmann) merges both of these genres to give us a three hour journey where our heroes fight for social and economic justices to which today’s audiences can relate. This production is Directed, Edited, Adapted, and Newly Translated by Michael Blum, with Music Direction by Erica Rome, and Choreography by Melissa McGinley.

The story begins with the familiar Ballad of Mack the Knife, beautifully performed by Connor Moore (though, be forewarned, it’s much different from the jazzy Bobby Darrin version we’re used to), then goes on to tell the story of Macheath (a.k.a. Mack the Knife) the most notorious criminal in all of England. Macheath marries Polly Peachum (Allison Hicks) much to the dismay of her parents (Frank Mancino and Kay-Megan Washington), who happen to be wealthy and in charge of all the beggars in London but there’s not much to be done since Tiger Brown, the High Sheriff of London is a very good boyhood friend of Macheath. Mr. Peachum, with his clout, threatens Tiger Brown, leading to the arrest of Macheath who manage to escape (a couple of times) with the help of some prostitutes, which leads to an abrupt ending a la deus ex machina (but you’ll have to see it to see if it’s happy or sad).

Steve Quintillian and Robert Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Steve Quintillian and Robert Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Although this piece runs just about as long as an average opera, the pacing and tempo is very good so, it’s not that the cast is dragging their feet, it’s just A LOT of show. Blum skillfully punches out each scene smoothly without much downtime and keeps the action moving along nicely.

Spotlighters Theatre’s space being as intimate as it is, the Set Design by Alan Zemla is fitting for this piece utilizing set pieces rather than a unit set, which is clever, and using space off the stage wisely, as well.

Going along with the production aspect of this piece, Costume Design by Amy Weimer and Darcy Elliot was well thought-out and befitting with variety and authenticity.

Rachel Verhaaren, Andrea Bush, Evangeline Ridgeway, and Kay-Megan Washington. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Rachel Verhaaren, Andrea Bush, Evangeline Ridgeway, and Kay-Megan Washington. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Overall, this is a well put-together production with a tight ensemble but the story gets somewhat lost in the translation by Director Michael Blum. According to Blum’s bio, he has a background in opera, and it seems as though that’s how he approached this production rather than a play with music or a musical theatre piece. The program states the setting of this piece is supposed to be Baltimore in 2017 and London, 1838 (as seen through the eyes of Brecht in Berlin, 1928) – did ya get all that? Blum manages to portray the latter adequately, but the only hint of Baltimore 2017 comes in to play during two instances where the cast dresses up like modern day beggars but, unless I missed it, I didn’t get the feel of modern day Baltimore at all in this piece. However, minor curious direction choices aside, his casting is full of superb vocalists and most are indeed top notch such as Kay-Megan Washington, Allison Hicks, and Amber Hooper – all vocal powerhouses. Music Director Erica Rome is to be commended for her work with this ensemble as they are on point, musically, and Choreography by Melissa McGinley is charming and appropriate, adding value to the production.

Robert Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Robert Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

A couple of highlights in this production are Evangeline Ridgeway as Jenny Diver and Robert Wall as Tiger Brown, High Sheriff of London. Both a very accomplished vocalists and each portrays his or her respective character with confidence and ease with a strong presence on the stage.

Steve Quintillian takes on the role of our “hero,” Macheath, and though his overall performance falls a little flat as, vocally, he may not be as strong as his counterparts, he gives a good showing as the suave con man, King of Criminals and he is dedicated to his role.

Allison Hicks. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

Allison Hicks. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography

The entire ensemble gives an admirable, dedicated performance (especially ensemble standout Andrea Bush, who carries her smaller role naturally and confidently), moving the piece along smoothly and really rounding out this production beautifully.

Final thought… Three Penny Opera is definitely a bit of an acquired taste but definitely worth checking out because of the incredibly immense vocal talent in this production. The translation may make the sordid story of criminals, con men, crooked cops, and even a little love a bit jumbled, but, overall, it’s a well-performed, charming piece with an absolutely dedicated ensemble. Whether your an opera fan or an old fashioned musical theatre fan, you’ll find a familiar joy in this production.

This is what I thought of Spotlight Theatre’s production of Three Penny Opera.

What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Three Penny Opera will play through February 5 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

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Review: Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with one 10 minute intermission

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

In these crazy times since the election and recent swearing in of the new President of the United States, whether we want to admit it or not, there are definite divisions between races, political though, and fundamental beliefs. That being said, Third Wall Productions latest offer, Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, Directed by Grant Myers with Set Design by Jordan Hollett, Light and Sound Design by Jim Shomo, and Costume Design by Grant Myers, gives us a story of how people from different walks of life and beliefs can actually grow to understand each other and get along even though those differences are still present.

Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography

Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography

Superior Donuts, a local donut shop in downtown Chicago, isn’t much to look at but it is a respectable business owned by Arthur Przybyszewski (played by Ed Higgins) and is frequented by two beat cops (Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove), a bag lady (Emma Hawthorn), and the Russian businessman, Max) who runs the DVD shop next door (Michael Zellhofer). These characters, all from different walks of life, make up a delightful and diverse group of people who seem to care about Superior Donuts more than its proprietor until Franco Wicks (played by Isaiah Evans) enters, looking for a job. The older, white Arthur and younger African-American Franco have their differences, of course, but find common ground with the donut shop and actually grow to care about each other. The subplot of Franco’s past is intriguing and puts Arthur’s friendship to the test, which he passes with flying colors. The show doesn’t provide a lot of laughs or the happiest of endings (but I wouldn’t say it was a sad ending either), but it tells an important story.

Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Among the talented ensemble, there are a few standout performances such as Isaiah Evans, as Franco, who gives a confident, authentic performance that makes his character very likable. His moves about with purpose and connects with his fellow actors and the audience making for a stellar performance.

Adding the only comedy to the piece are Michael Zellhofer and Emma Hawthorn who play their characters to the hilt. Zellhofer’s performance as Max Tarasov is commanding and believable and his skill in playing the character straight without working to hard for the laughs his character garners is brilliant. Emma Hawthorn as Lady, the friendly neighborhood bag lady, is outstanding in her role playing it with both humor and a touch of poignancy that really makes you feel for her.

Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Ed Higgins tackles the role of Superior Donuts sole proprietor Arthur Pryzbyszewski and through he gives an admirable performance, it’s a bit shaky and unsure, at times. He has great chemistry with the rest of the ensemble, especially Isaiah Evans, and he carries the character well, albeit a bit monotone, notably during the out-of-nowhere monologues directed toward the audience. Aside from those minor observations, overall, he gives a commendable performance.

Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

The rest of the talented ensemble hold their own and add value to this production. Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove as Officers Randy Osteen and James Bailey, respectively, are charming as the beat cops and friends of Arthur, adding a bit of romance with Officer Randy and old Arthur. Bill Brisbee as Luther Flynn, the tough bookie could play the part a bit more intimidating but he has Chip Willett as Kevin Magee, Flynn’s goon, to pick up the gruff slack. Even William Zellhofer’s Russian is impressive in his brief appearance.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quaint set that was absolutely stellar and very befitting of this piece. Simple, yet detailed, Jordan Hollet’s design is authentic and well thought-out, putting the audience right smack dab in the middle of an old fashioned donut shop, adding an immersive feel to the entire production. Going along with the Set Design, Jim Shomo’s Light and Sound Design is minimal, at best, but to no real fault of Shomo. There really isn’t a lot going on with lights or sound but, then again, when it comes to plays, sometimes minimal is best. There’s not really a need for any fancy light show or sound so, in a way, it fits nicely. It’s interesting to note that it was decided to not use any music for this production, as well, but the use of music might have set the mood better for the scenes and helped with smoother transitions, which were a bit bungled.

The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Director Grant Myers made some curious choices while taking the helm of this production. The transitions were a little unkempt, the frequent breaking of the fourth wall from one of the main characters seemed to come out of nowhere, and a certain fight scene was difficult in such an intimate space, but, overall, despite a some other minor issues, the piece is charming and, as a whole, is very good and well put together. It gets the point across that, with a little trying, anybody can get along, despite their differences. The ensemble gives a commendable performance and they all have great chemistry and work well together.

Final thought…in this time of uncertain race relations and division in current events, Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions is a light but through-provoking piece expressing how different generations and races can come together in friendship and love. There’s an old adage that “it takes all kinds” and this production demonstrates this very well with its beautifully diverse ensemble who works well together to tell this important story.

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Superior DonutsWhat did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Superior Donuts will play through January 29 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to thirdwall.org for information or purchase them online.

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Review: Blackbird at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission

Sometimes theatre is created to simply entertain and help one escape the realities of life and sometimes it’s created to make one think and, sometimes, that’s uncomfortable, depending on the subject matter but it’s OK. Being a traditionalist and loving theatre that makes me smile and tap my foot and giving me a happy ending, I certainly understand and appreciate the importance of theatre that makes one step out of his or her comfort zone and is in your face about issues we don’t like to talk about in public. Fells Point Corner Theatre‘s latest offering, Blackbird by David Harrower, with Direction and Set Design by Anthony Lane Hinkle and Sound and Light Design by Christoper Flint is the latter; up close and personal with the audience, making them look into an uncomfortable issue that makes for an enlightening, intense evening of theatre that’s not to be missed.

Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

Presented in the intimate upstairs Sokal Stage, this production very effectively puts the issue of sexual abuse, quite literally, in the face of the audience and forces them to look and listen. The setting is a very unkempt break room in some office building on the outside of London and the absolute mess of a room mirrors the issue at hand and is a perfect setting with trash all over the floor and on the tables and counters. At first glance Set Design by Anthony Lane Hinkle seems over simplified, simply throwing trash all over the stage, but, thinking deeper and associating it with the mixed up emotions and confusion that makes up sexual abuse, Hinkle gives us an intelligent, well thought-out design that is absolutely befitting of this production.

Along with Set Design, Hinkle’s Direction of Blackbird is stellar. He forces his actors to make choices in a tight space with intense situations and guides them into the right choices for this piece. He throws a whole lot in your face in only 80 minutes and though the action seems a bit rushed, there’s almost no choice as this piece hits the ground running from the moment the characters step onto the stage. Though the overall intensity of this piece is high, it is a roller coaster of frenzy and calm that Hinkle manages to balance nicely.

The performance of this piece is outstanding and both Steve Shriner and Ann Turiano give powerful performances.

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Steve Shriner as Ray. Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

Steve Shriner, last seen in his hilarious performance of Mother Superior in Fells Point Corner Theatre’s production of The Divine Sister, make a complete 180 degree turn for this production. He is a proven comedic actor but his dramatic chops are on point, as well. He is so in tune with his character, Ray, not once did I see a hint of true regret or remorse for the sordid relationship with a 12-year-old girl years before. Nor did I see any attempt to apologize because though this character realizes what he did was legally wrong, he truly doesn’t believe it was emotionally wrong at all, allowing him to move on with his life. All this combined makes for a complex, somewhat pathetic character that Shriner plays beautifully.

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Ann Turiano as Una. Credit: Fells Point Corner Theatre

Ann Turiano, as Una, the young victim in this relationship, now a seemingly confident woman plays this part superbly and with ease. She is comfortable in this role and her very purposeful movements express the childish 12-year-old Una once was as well as the brave, confident woman she has become who doesn’t seem to know what she wants from this meeting. Una’s relationship with Ray is complicated but open as she talks to him bluntly about having sex all those years back and Turiano is no-holds-barred when it comes to the dialogue or getting in your face. Her strong performance is not one to be missed this season.

Final thought… Blackbird at Fells Point Corner Theatre is a poignant, raw, powerful, and unapologetic look at not only sexual abuse, but it’s long term effects. Without making judgment or defending, this piece takes a serious look into both sides of abuse and tells a story only victim and predator can tell. It’ll make you angry, it’ll make you uncomfortable, it’ll make you feel sorry for everyone involved, and it will make you think long and hard about this unfortunate truth in our world. You don’t want to miss this production so get your tickets while they last.

This is what I thought of Fells Point Corner Theatre’s production of Blackbird.

Check out what The Bad Oracle thought here: https://thebadoracle.com/2017/01/16/blackbird-the-dead-of-night/

What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Blackbird will play through January 29 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to fpct.org for information or purchase them online.