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.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

Advertisements

Review: I Hate Hamlet at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

As a reviewer, I have the opportunity and honor of seeing the same show at different venues and sometimes I hate the show (not to be confused with the performances) and sometimes I love the show (again, not to be confused with the performances) but it’s rare that I hate the show at one venue but love it at another. However, this is exactly what happened with Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest offering, I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick, Directed by Mark Franceschini, with Set Design by Christopher Flint. Not my favorite piece of theatre, Fells Point Corner Theatre’s production has changed my opinions and it’s a production I suggest you experience if you get the chance.

(l-r) Gabe Fremuth, Abigail Wright, Kimberley Lynne, and Zarah Rautell. Credit: Shealyn Jae

I Hate Hamlet is about a young television actor, Andrew Rally, who rents the great John Barrymore’s old apartment in New York City as he prepares for the title role in Hamlet for Shakespeare in the Park. The only problem is, Andrew hates Hamlet. With the support of his aging agent, his upbeat, excited girlfriend, a shifty director-friend from L.A., and, oddly enough, his real estate agent, he tries to decide if this is the role for him. It’s then that the ghost of the aforementioned great John Barrymore comes for a visit to help Andrew discover he is good enough and even better than what people (and he, himself) gives him credit for. It’s a good story with a good message of self-worth that plays nicely.

Set Design by Christopher Flint is excellent with levels and an attention to detail. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, it’s quite functional working quite well with the blocking of this piece. Since the set is a major aspect of this show, being the former home of the legendary John Barrymore, it’s important to get it right and Flint has done just that with his choice of furniture pieces to his ornamentations and classic style. For a small (not micro, but small) space, Flint has used his space wisely and has created an appropriate setting for this production.

Mark Franceschini is at the helm of this production and he has hit the nail on the head. His casting is outstanding and his comprehension of the text is apparent. Franceschini understands the witty humor involved in the text and guides his already apt cast in delivering it appropriately. The action keeps moving and the characters are authentic making for a delightful piece of theatre.

Though a Costume Designer is not named in the program, it’s worth mentioning the Costume Design as it was realistic and well thought-out adding value to the production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of I Hate Hamlet, this small ensemble of six really knocks it out of the ballpark. They work well together with good chemistry and seem to have a good grasp of their characters.

Steven Shriner as John Barrymore and J Prunell Hargrove as Gary Peter Lefkowitz. Credit: Shealyn Jae

J. Purnell Hargrove takes on the role of Gary Peter Lefkowitz, the sleazy L.A. directory trying to get Andrew back on to television, and does an admirable job with the role. Though, at times, he’s a bit too much and in your face for the intimate space, Purnell seems to understand the kind of man this character is and plays it with gusto. I will say, the touchy-feely-ness he portrays with Gabe Fremuth gets a little too creepy. Whether it’s an actor or director choice, I totally get the whole “sleazy” aspect, and it totally works for the character but… sometimes, less is more.

Zarah Rautell takes on the role of real estate agent-turned-friend, Felicia Dantine. Rautell fits this role like a glove. Her comedic timing is spot on and she seems to embody this rough around the edges type character. The balance of edginess and tenderness she finds and portrays in this character is impressive.

Lillian Troy, the very German and elderly agent to Andrew, is played by Kimberley Lynne and this performance is on point. She has the German accent down pat and her gestures and delivery of her lines are totally authentic. She, too, has terrific comedic timing and knows her character well.

Next up is Abigail Wright as Deidre McDavey, the somewhat naïve, but kind and optimistic actress-girlfriend to Andrew. Wright is an absolute joy to watch in this production. Her upbeat, energized performance adds so much to this production and her delivery is spot on. I’d seen this character performed a very different way in a very different production but Wright has this on in the bag. Her energy alone, as she hops across the stage (and the furniture) gives a certain needed “oomph” to the entire production. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this actress.

Andrew Rally, the television actor on whom this entire story is revolved, is played diligently and aptly by Gabe Fremuth, who embodies this character with a lack of self-confidence. He finds a good balance of fake confidence and vulnerability that makes this character endearing and has you rooting for him. He has a good look for the role and gives a strong, confident performance, comfortable with the text and the character. He has a great chemistry with his cast and does well with this character.

(l-r) Gabe Fremuth, Abigail Wright, and Steven Shriner. Credit: Shealyn Jae

Rounding out the ensemble is the incomparable standout of this production, Steven Shriner, who tackles the complex but common sense role of John Barrymore, who some consider was the best Hamlet to hit the stage. Shriner pulls this role off beautifully and is totally believable as the ghost of Barrymore. His comedic timing is second to none and he seems to have a complete comprehension of this character and the story of I Hate Hamlet. He is confident and comfortable on stage and delivers his lines clearly with purpose. He mixes this character with humor and poignancy and his balance of both is superb. He is certainly one to watch in this particular production.

Final thought… I Hate Hamlet is a humorous, but serious look at and partly analyzes one of Shakespeare’s most famous and popular plays in an easy, understandable way but, through this Shakespearean tragedy, also teaches us a little about ourselves and what we’re capable of doing in today’s modern world when we think the odds are against us. The story moves along nicely and the performances are strong and confident with a sturdy, impressive set and a fantastic costume design that makes for an exquisitely delightful evening of theatre.

This is what I thought of Fells Point Corner Theatre’s production of I Hate Hamlet… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

I Hate Hamlet will play through October 1 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call 410-669-0220 or purchase them online

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

PRESS RELEASE: The Woman in Black adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the book by Susan Hill Directed by Patrick Gorirossi

For immediate release:

Fells Point Corner Theatre proudly presents on our Godfrey Stage

The Woman in Black

adapted by Stephen Mallatratt

from the book by Susan Hill

Directed by Patrick Gorirossi

A London lawyer, looking to lay his demons to rest, hires a young actor to help him tell his story of fright and peril. Adapted from the novel of the same name, The Woman in Black has enjoyed a continuous run on London’s West End since its premiere in 1987, proving itself to be a tale of true terror!

“A real theatrical spine chiller…A truly nerve shredding experience.”
 -The Daily Mail

“Provides a pleasurable ripple of fear down one’s spine and an uncomfortable lurch in the pit of one’s stomach.”
Time out New York

Directed by Patrick Gorirossi and featuring the talents of Sean Coe and Grayson Owen, Woman in Black is a thrilling theatrical experience for regular theatre goers and everyone who loves a good scare.

Admission: $19 for Sundays, $24 for Fridays/Saturdays. 

Opens Friday October 13th, 2017 and runs through Sunday, November 5th, 2017

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.  Two Saturday matinees at 2pm on October 21st and October 28th.

There is a special Halloween Performance.

*There will also be a Pay What You Can Thursday performance on September 7th, which will be an open dress rehearsal.*

Review: The Christians at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Religion can be a tricky thing to write an entire show about. Religion is a very personal concept and people have very strong feelings about it which makes it even more risky. However, to find a good balance and write a show about religion that isn’t over-saturated with said religion is a rare and beautiful thing and Baltimore Center Stage’s latest production, The Christians by Lucas Hnath, Directed by Hana S. Sharif, with Music Direction by Jaret Landon, is just that, a fine balance of beliefs told in an entertaining but honest and poignant way that makes for an enjoyable, yet thought-provoking evening of theatre.

Mike Carnahan’s Set Design is minimal, but beautiful. This set puts the audience in the seats of a mega-church with a sleek and modern design that is quite functional, including a choir loft and bandstand for the outstanding choir and small band that is included in this piece. Most of the action takes place center stage and the minimal design prevents mucking up or crowding the actors and the band and choir, though set back, is prominent and easy to see, as they should be. This clever set design works in tandem with the stunning and mood-setting Projection Design by Hana S. Kim, that adds value to the production and, as stated, sets the mood for each scene and action happening onstage.

As with any mega-church, or any service in general, music is an important aspect and Music Director Jaret Landon knocks it out of the ballpark with this production. Wisely, this piece starts off with the choir (credited as the Community Choir of Baltimore Center Stage) with an upbeat, gospel piece that has the audience tapping their feet and clapping their hands. Some even sing along, which is actually encouraged. I’d like to note I am a HUGE fan of gospel music and I found myself tapping, clapping, and singing! Landon has the choir singing in beautiful harmony and the soloists were on point. The band, consisting of Jaret Landon on Keyboards, Todd Harrison on Drums, Max Murray on Bass, and Michael Raitzyk on Guitar are tight and well-rehearsed making for a phenomenal performance along with the Community Choir of Baltimore Center Stage. The music aspect of this production really put the audience in the mindset of the piece. The only stumble that comes along in the musical styling of this production is the last choir performance which is kind of like an audience-interactive piece, like in a church, and though the choir is just as strong as they are in the beginning, the male soloist is a curious choice as he doesn’t seem to have the gospel style down as well as he should for a finale, a little stiff and a little more subdued and technical than called for, the soloists performance just seems to fall flat. Otherwise, major kudos to a job well done in the music department.

Lighting Design by Jen Schriever is precise and fits well with this production. With isolation lighting and splashes of color, where needed, it blends nicely and moves the piece along without jarring the aesthetics or being a hindrance to the piece itself. A true sign of a good lighting design is when one doesn’t notice the lighting, but does when needed and that’s exactly what happens with Schriever’s design.

Hana S. Sharif takes the reigns of The Christians and she does, indeed, have a great comprehension of the text and the meaning of this complex story. Her casting is spot on and they all work well together. Her vision is clear and the piece does not lean to one side or the other but balances just as the text requires. Sharif does well with the multifaceted issue of afterlife and one’s belief in that afterlife, which is the center of this piece, and presents it in a way that is a back and forth dialogue instead of an argument. The pacing is near perfect and she keeps the action moving forward with moments of intensity between certain characters that give it a peaks and valleys movement which is exactly what makes this show work.

Moving on to the performance aspect of The Christians, every single actor in this ensemble made his or her character his or her own and worked with and off of their cast mates beautifully.

Jessiee Datino takes on the role of Jenny, a single mom who found redemption and salvation in the church and wants desperately to keep what she found but is having questions which she hesitantly, but bravely presents. Datino has this this character down pat. From the nervous giggling to the gestures, she really embodies this character of Jenny and has a good grasp on her. Datino gives a strong, natural, and delightful performance.

Lawrence Clayton (who if you look really quickly, could be a Lawrence Fishburn double) takes on the role of Elder Jay, a jovial but-business minded gentlemen who really wants what best for the church. Clayton plays this role splendidly with an authenticity that makes this character quite likeable and wise.

Adam Gerber tackles the role of Associate Pastor Joshua, the staunch, zealous, yet faithful Associate Pastor who wants what’s best for the church, just like the rest of the characters, but also wants to be certain everyone believes in a certain doctrine or dogma. Gerber plays the role intensely and confidently, making his character not so likable, but not despicable. His emotion and gestures give an authenticity to this character that Gerber completely embodies. The thing about his character is, we all, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, know a person like this character and he’s hard to figure out. He has an objective, that Gerber works for brilliantly, but it’s still hard to reconcile our respect for this character and our own beliefs, making for a stimulating and exasperating character that Gerber pulls off effortlessly.

Taking on the role of Elizabeth, the preachers wife, is Nikkole Salter who has an air of elegance and dignity that is required for this role. She fits perfectly with this character and gives a poignant, truthful performance. Salter works especially well with and has great chemistry with her counter-part, Howard W. Overshow, who takes on the complex role of Pastor Paul, who’s belief is changing and trying to deal with it and the opinions of his congregation. Overshow is an absolute standout in this production giving a superb performance. From the moment he steps onstage, one feels they are in a service watching a strong, confident preacher do his thing. His booming, yet comforting voice and gestures make for an extremely realistic performance and the emotion he emotes throughout his more intense scenes is outstanding. His anguish and confusion is clear in his performance and he handles the balance beautifully.

Final thought… The Christians is a poignant, though-provoking look at beliefs and how they can shape or even re-shape a person’s outlook on life. The performances were top-notch and the book by Lucas Hnath is cleverly written as he doesn’t dwell so much on religion but on individual views on the afterlife and gives a good balance of those views. From set design, lighting, and the amazing choir supporting this piece; you don’t want to miss it! It may have you asking questions or confirming what you already believe but either way, it will make you think and that’s always what good theatre does. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of The Christians… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Christians will play through October 8 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

Review: Two Trains Running at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

1718artworktrains_6_orig

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

August Wilson is a master in telling the everyday, slice-of-life stories of the average African-American community and his Pittsburg Cycle, a 10-play cycle of stories (mostly) out of Pittsburg, gives insight to the African-American experience during whole of the 20th century with one play touching on one decade in the century. With the recent popularity and critical acclaim for the film version of Fences, Wilson’s work has been brought to the forefront or, at least, has made a resurgence, which is warranted. Spotlighters Theatre’s latest offering, Two Trains Running, Directed by Fuzz Roark, with Set Design by Alan S. Zemla and Costumes by House of Bankard, touches on the late 1960s experience with authenticity and truthfulness that can only be found in a small neighborhood café with their regular crowd. This production is a great start to an exciting new season.

 

xset-photos02_orig

Set Design by Alan S. Zemla for Two Trains Running at Spotlighters Theatre. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

With the intimate space at Spotlighters Theatre, some productions can be more difficult than others and sometimes a big show can feel stuffed into the space however, with the Set Design for this production of Two Trains Running, Alan S. Zemla has outdone himself. He used his space wisely, even with the four troublesome pillars holding the place up! Impressively, he used as much space as needed, but it did not feel cramped in any way. One corner for a counter, one corner for a window table and a jukebox, and one corner for the main entrance and front window while using the main stage for the main dining room worked out perfectly for this piece. It was an open design but not so open that the intimacy was lost. His choice of colors is spot with pinks and blues, which I imagine are remnants of an earlier era of bobbysocks and Elvis Presley that stuck around until the late 60s. Overall, the design is impressive, smart, and simple, working with the space and not against it. Kudos for a job well done.

twotrains21_orig

Linae Bullock and Troy Jennings. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Costumes by House of Bankard never disappoint and it’s the same for this production. Each era definitely has its own style and anytime a piece is hitting the cusp of a decade or era, it can be tricky. The late 1960s were flashy (paving the road for the outlandish 70s), but when you walked through a regular, blue-collar neighborhood, you didn’t see the avant garde fashions that were in the streets of New York City or Paris or Milan, but… just regular every day folks and House of Bankard does an admirable job with the wardrobes for these actors. You could see the differences in these characters by appearance alone and each costume fit each character beautifully from a café waitress, to the stylish proprietor of the café, to an elderly working-man, to the rich under-taker across the street. All costuming is appropriate and feels natural adding great value to the production.

Direction by Fuzz Roark is impeccable in this production. Roark really seems to have a great comprehension of this story and the characters and, though there is no major conflict or purpose, most days don’t and Roark guides these apt actors through a day as if we were actually sitting in the café with them, give the entire production an overall authenticity. Roark is experienced working in the round and the action was fluid. It’s a lengthy play, but it doesn’t feel lengthy because of the spot on pacing and, with the intimate space helping, the immersive feeling as if you are sitting at the table right next to these characters.

twotrains32_orig

Timothy Eric Andrews as West. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Moving into the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth noting that every single actor in this small ensemble gives 100% effort and entirely embodies his or her character. Major kudos to the entire ensemble of this production of Two Trains Running.

Timothy Eric Andrews takes on the role of West, the very rich owner of the funeral home who seems to want what’s best for the neighborhood, but doesn’t hide the fact that whatever he does can benefit him, as well. Andrews has a very good look for this part and is confident in his role, if not more soft-spoken that I like, at times, but his character mannerisms are a good fit for this character.

twotrains17_orig

Linae Bullock and Aaron Hancock. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Taking on the role of mentally challenged Hambone, who is obsessed with getting his ham (which was payment for painting a fence a decade before) from the grocer across the street from the café, is played by Aaron Hancock who does a bang up job with this character. Totally believable and brave, Hancock treats this character delicately and gives a strong, authentic performance that makes you want to take him in his arms and protect him.

twotrains39_orig

Troy Jennings as Sterling Johnson. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Taking on the role of the young, kind of mixed up and searching ex-con, Sterling Johnson, is Troy Jennings, who gives an admirable performance. Though his performance is a bit too technical and stiff instead of fluid and natural, he still gives a confident, precise performance, and gives his all for this character. Sterling Johnson isn’t someone you know you can trust… at first, then he grows on you and this is exactly how Jennings played this character and it worked nicely. His chemistry with the rest of the cast is very good and jovial but when it comes to his scenes with Linae Bullock, who plays Risa is, things seem a bit scripted, but still believable and the two work well together.

twotrains24_orig

Linae Bullock as Rissa. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Linae Bullock is a standout in this production as Risa, the lone female character and only employee at the café. Her natural motion and delivery of her dialogue had me believing she was this character from the first time she walked on stage. The character is jaded, but underneath the hard exterior, she has big heart and wants to be loved and Bullock presented this near perfectly.

twotrains40_orig

Mack Leamon as Wolf. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Wolf, the neighborhood “numbers guy,” who is actually a likeable person, regardless of his not-so-legal choice of profession, is played by Mack Leamon who does a brilliant job with the role. He plays the character low-key, as required by one running on the outskirts of the law, and with a heart for the neighborhood and its inhabitants. Leamon doesn’t overplay the light conflict between Wolf and Sterling (whether it be because of Rissa or a change in the rules of the numbers game) making it believable.

twotrains08_orig

Tyrell Martin as Holloway. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Next, probably my favorite character and a highlight in this piece is Holloway, the down-home, common sense elderly regular who always has an anecdote or story for every situation, is played Tyrell Martin.  The only slight flaw is that Martin may be too young for this role. Appearance-wise, this may have been more successful in a bigger space, but in the intimate surroundings of Spotlighters, it just didn’t read as well as it should have. HOWEVER, that’s not to say Martin’s performance wasn’t spectacular, because it most certainly was! He has a good grasp of this character and his purpose and pulls it off beautifully. Aside from looking too young for the part, he even has the mannerisms and gestures of an elderly gentleman down pat. He fully embodies this role and makes me feel like he’s the good-natured uncle who you visit for a spell, just sitting on the stoop, talking about everything under the sun and watching the world go by.

twotrains45_orig

Louis B. Murray as Memphis Lee. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Rounding out the small ensemble and a standout in this piece is Louis B. Murray who tackles the role of Memphis Lee, the proprietor of the small Pittsburg café, in which this piece takes place, known simply as Memphis Lee’s. Murray, who has experience with August Wilson works, is superb as the non-nonsense, old-timer who doesn’t seem to understand the generation of outspoken activists. Murray understands where this character is coming from and gives a confident, natural performance. He delivers August Wilson’s words with passion and intensity, when needed, as well as with a tenderness that is seeping just under the surface in this character. He, too, is someone to whom everyone can relate… like an older uncle or family friend who you don’t mind spending an hour or two with each week, just talking and learning. His chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is on point, as well, making for a strong, thoughtful performance.

Final thought… Two Trains Running is a poignant, relatable look at the African-American experience in America, told masterfully with a thoughtful script, good directing, and exquisite performances. The chemistry in the cast is strong and every actor has a good comprehension of what their characters are all about and how they fit in the story. As part of a 10-play cycle, this work stands alone and really puts you in the moment. Though there’s no major conflict, this piece works nicely as a “slice of life” piece where the audience is witness to every day goings on in a small café in Pittsburg and, because of the dialogue and situations, it’s still enthralling. This production is a great addition to the theatre season and you should get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre production of Two Trains Running… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Two Trains Running will play through October 8 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

PRESS RELEASE: Fells Point Corner Theatre seeking original 10-minute plays by Baltimore area playwrights for the 10 x 10 x 10 (2018) Unfinished Business

Fells Point Corner Theatre is seeking original 10-minute plays by Baltimore area playwrights for our critically acclaimed play festival 10x10x10.  The 10x10x10 play festival has turned into a staple of local theatre in Baltimore, selling out nearly every performance for the last two year.

As is tradition with our 10x10x10 festival, we will collect audience votes at the end of each performance.  The top play, by the accumulation of votes, will be awarded an Audience Selection Award in the form of a cash prize of $150. That’s 10 TIMES the price of admission!  Second and third place finishers will also receive a cash prize award.  See festival rules and guidelines below for more information.

The 10x10x10 festival  will open on Friday, March 31st and run through Sunday, April 16th.  They will be performed in our Godfrey Stage on the first floor.  Performances will be held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings @ 8:00pm and Sunday afternoons at 2:00pm. General admission tickets will be sold for $15 for all performances.

SUBMISSION RULES AND GUIDELINES:

  • Scripts should be submitted via email between September 24th, 2017 and January 7th, 2018 to submissions@fpct.org. Scripts must be attached as a PDF.
  • Playwrights located in or around the Baltimore area are eligible for production. Playwrights who no longer reside in Baltimore but were once Baltimore-based artists may also submit. We encourage those playwrights who are selected to engage with us during the rehearsal process.
  • Writers can submit a maximum of two plays.
  • The body of the email should contain the playwright’s first and last name, address, and a primary phone number. Please also attach a character list, as well as the genders and ages of characters if the script calls for them. The play should be included as an attachment, preferably a .pdf or .doc, with the playwright’s name and contact information removed from the actual script (blind submission).
  • Submissions should be no more than 1700 words in length.  If your play is longer than that we will read it but you may be asked to provide a shortened version.  Whether or not you want to provide a shortened script will be completely up to you.
  • No child actors will be cast.
  • Scripts must have relatively simple demands for stage, costume, props or other design requirements. No script may have more than six characters.
  • Scripts must represent completely original works. We are looking for NEW plays. Please do not submit anything that has previously been produced. No adaptations or transcriptions.
  • Audience votes will be tallied and cash prizes will be given out on the final Sunday of the festival. 1st Place – $150.00 2nd Place – $100.00 and 3rd Place – $50.00.

DEADLINE FOR ALL ENTRIES IS 11:59 PM Sunday, January 7th, 2018.

PRESS RELEASE: Friends, Romans, Countrymen (and Women): JULIUS CAESAR, by William Shakespeare at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Sept. 29 – Oct. 29, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:      

Friends, Romans, Countrymen (and Women): JULIUS CAESAR, by William Shakespeare

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Sept. 29 – Oct. 29, 2017

BALTIMORE (Sept. 18, 2017) — With Julius Caesar and the Roman conspirators wearing suits instead of togas, the classic tragedy of political morals and personal ambition marches into the present September 29 through October 29, 2017, at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202.

Caesar’s adoring fans and paparazzi will give him the celebrity treatment as he returns victorious from foreign wars. Theatre audiences will be encouraged to cheer his homecoming, too. However, as every school kid knows, the great general’s amassed power makes him the target of scheming senators, some with noble intent and others who covet power for themselves.

The real story is what happens after Caesar’s assassination:  Did the conspirators’ bloody act save the Republic from dictatorship?  The answer is in the history books and the breathtaking civil war scene that erupts on the stage: It’s a resounding “no,” which explains why many Shakespeare scholars consider this 400-year-old play a cautionary tale for all times.

“The play deals with protecting a form of government that worked (for some) and is suddenly threatened by change,” says Julius Caesar director, Michael Tolaydo, who forbade designers from indulging any temptation to superimpose the story on a recognizable head of state, political party, or current social movement. To make it about Trump or any sitting official distracts the audience from Shakespeare’s words, he says. “Let the audience decide for themselves.”

Tolaydo is an accomplished Shakespearean actor and director, and professor emeritus at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he served for 25 years as professor in the Department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies.  Shakespeare’s Caesar dies before intermission, Tolaydo notes: “The play is not really about Caesar or any particular leader: It is about trying to protect the Republic and the voices of the Roman citizens. One can argue that very notion of protecting the citizens’ voices is at the heart of America’s current political situation. Julius Caesar speaks of our times right now.”

Tolaydo’s contemporary Caesar has a diverse cast and reinterprets several familiar characters as women, including Antony (our Antonia), who is Caesar’s friend and avenger, and Octavius (our Octavia), who is Caesar’s adopted heir and the future Roman emperor. This is not new, Tolaydo adds:  Women heads of state around the world are making headlines.

Performances of Julius Caesar are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The 10am weekday school matinees with actor-audience talkbacks are also open to the public with limited seating. Prices are $16-$50.  The online ticket calendar is at ChesapeakeShakespeare.com. Box Office: 410-244-8570.

JULIUS CAESAR:  Community Conversations and Special Events:

Thursday, October 5, 2017  – Interpretations of Julius Caesar:  A Gallery Talk at the Walters Art Museum with Chesapeake Shakespeare actors presenting scenes from Julius Caesar during a tour of the museum’s world-class collection of Roman antiquities. Our tour guide is Lisa Anderson-Zhu, Associate Curator of Art of the Mediterranean, 5000 BCE – 300 CE. When: 6:30pm – 7:15pm, on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore. Admission: Free

Sunday, October 15, 2017   – “The Women of Julius Caesar”: A Community Conversation with Dr. Judith Peller Hallett, Professor of Classics at UMD and an expert on the women of Rome. This 1pm pre-show talk at Chesapeake Shakespeare explores the lives of the political wives in the play (Caesar’s wife Calpurnia and Brutus’ wife Portia), and the play’s reinterpreted political leaders, Mar Antonia and Octavia. Patrons may combine the free 1pm talk with a ticket to the 2pm performance of Julius Caesar. Get October 15 tickets at ChesapeakeShakespeare.com.

Thursday, October 26, 2017 – “Lawyers’ Night” at Julius Caesar, pre-show reception from 5:30pm, with 7:30pm performance of Julius Caesar. Bar Association members and others in the legal community gather to discuss using the performing arts in professional development, with The Studio at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. Email education@chesapeakeshakespeare.com for details.

October 4, 5, 12, 13, 18, and 20, 2017 — New 10am Weekday Matinees of Julius Caesar for school groups are also open to the public with general admission seating. These matinees encourage audience engagement and learning. A talkback with actors follows the play. Public seats are $25, available at ChesapeakeShakespeare.com. For school rates and reservations, email matinees@chesapeakeshakespeare.com.