Review: The Revolutionists at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

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(l-r) Beth Hylton, Emily Kester, Megan Anderson, and Dawn Ursula. Photo: ClintonBPhotography

When strong women get together, change can happen, ideas can turn into action, and passions can be expressed. At a time when women voices are becoming stronger and more empowered, Everyman Theatre‘s latest offering, The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson, Directed by Casey Stangl, gives us an extremely humorous, but extremely poignant look at how women’s voices can make the aforementioned change whether it be in their current time or for posterity. It’s a story of how important a woman’s voice can be, even in the darkest of times.

Briefly, The Revolutionists is about a group of women, a playwright, a strong woman of color and activist, an assassin, and… a queen who discuss life and current events in Paris, France during the Reign of Terror (circa 1793) when the government is chopping off heads with the guillotine at the drop of a hat and a revolution is definitely brewing. These women, who have gathered in a study, a safe space, obviously come from different walks of life explain life and their thoughts to each other as they individually know them and they learn from and teach each other along the way, growing just a little strong and wiser just from knowing each other.

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(l-r) Emily Kester, Beth Hylton, Megan Anderson, and Dawn Ursula. Photo: ClintonBPhotography

Daniel Ettinger’s Set Design is well thought-out and brings this piece together nicely. With various locations, including a large study in a home, a prison cell, and the scaffold where the dreaded guillotine lives, Ettinger has managed to smoothly mesh these locations together with a clever design using set pieces and projections that work in tandem with each other to move the story along nicely.

Light Design by Elizabeth Harper and Sound Design by C Andrew Mayer blend beautifully within the production and help the audience, both visually and audibly, discern where any particular scene is taking place. The mood is created nicely with these aspects as well, engaging the audience wholly. With a nice balance of subtle and bold lighting changes and well-chosen and executed sound effects, Harper’s Light Design and Mayer’s Sound Design add great value to this production.

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(l-r) Dawn Ursula as Marianne Angelle and Beth Hylton as Marie Antoinette. Photo: ClintonBPhotography

David Burdick’s Costume Design is on point with these diverse characters. Each character has such a distinguishable personality and look, Burdick manages to bring out these differences in unique, yet appropriate costumes for each. His attention to detail is impeccable as with Marie Antoinette’s bright yellow and garnished ensemble that exudes the excess and decadence for which she is known (whether accurate or not). The authenticity of the costumes brought these characters to life and made them complete individuals which helped move the story along very nicely.

Casey Stangl takes the helm of this production and her Direction of this piece is, in a word, superb. She has a definite grasp and comprehension of this piece and it shines through in the staging and through the actors’ portrayal of these characters. Stangl’s staging is well-paced and engaging while be focused and clean. The transitions are smooth from one scene and setting to another making making for an even flow that’s easy to follow. Her casting is spot on and her overall vision of presenting strong, confident women is quite apparent.

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Emily Kester as Charlotte Corday. Photo: ClintonBPhotography

Performance-wise, this piece is acted beautifully and confidently with each member of the small four-person ensemble giving fully committed performances making the roles their own. The chemistry between these actors seems effortless and they all work well with and off of each other, especially Dawn Ursula as Marianne Angelle, the scrappy activist and Beth Hylton as the bubbly Queen Marie Antoinette, who play off of each other’s performance superbly.

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Megan Anderson as Olympe de Gouges. Photo: ClintonBPhotography

Emily Kester takes on the role of Charlotte Corday, a young assassin who comes to the only female playwright she knows of to write her last words before she is put to death for killing a very prominent male figure. Kester embodies this character and performs the role with high energy and gusto as required. Her comedic timing is good though it would benefit her and the production if she gave the audience a moment to laugh at the funny lines rather than speaking over the laugh, thus losing many of her lines. She plays this rough-around-the-edges character well and gives the comedy a good balance with poignancy and passion. Overall, she gives a commendable performance that’s a delight to watch.

Olympe de Gouges, the reluctant revolutionist female playwright, is played flawlessly by the incomparable Megan Anderson, an Everyman Resident Company member. She has a good grasp on this character and is authentic in her mannerisms and characterization of this high-strung and passionate character. Anderson’s delivery of the text is spot on and her comedic timing is down pat. She does well with this witty, intelligent dialogue and gives a confident, comfortable, and praiseworthy performance.

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(l-r) Emily Kester as Charlotte Corday and Dawn Ursula as Marianne Angelle. Photo: ClintonBPhotography

As mentioned, Everyman Resident Company member Dawn Ursula takes on the role of Marianne Angelle, the sassy activist who is trying to bring liberty and justice to her people of the Caribbean and she plays it to the hilt. With a keen and impressive sense of deadpan comedy and its delivery, Ursula is gives a strong, authentic presentation and embodies this character wholly. She has a good comprehension of what this character is about and exudes the passions and empathy that is required in her delivery of the text and is certainly one to watch in this production.

As stated previously, Beth Hylton, another Everyman Resident Company member tackles the complex role of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France who doesn’t really get the regular folks, and she is, hands down, the standout in this production. With an Elle Woods (of Legally Blond) type personality and persona, Hylton is both hilarious and touching in this role. This character seems to be the one that grows and learns the most in this piece and it makes sense. The others are fighting against everything Marie Antoinette stands for, or seems to stand for, but, after talking and spending time with the other characters, her empathy shines through and she really seems to comprehend their plights. Hylton portrays this exquisitely, all the while keeping the comedy in tact while showing the compassionate and empathetic side to Marie. With a balance of humor and poignancy, Hylton shines as this flourishing character, giving a strong, note-worthy performance.

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Beth Hylton as Marie Antoinette. Photo: ClintonBPhotography

Final thought… The Revolutionists is a fun, hysterical but thoughtful and important look at how women’s voices can change the course of events and be important in deciding upon policy. The performances are strong and confident, much like the characters these actors are portraying, and the message is clear. Though a comedy, the production is focused and well-thought out both technically and onstage. With it’s modern, comedic twist on a dark, confusing era, The Revolutionists tickles the brain with witty and intelligent humor that forces us to think while we laugh and it’s a production that is not to be missed this season. Get your tickets, now, for this brilliant, funny, and thought-provoking piece of clever theatre!

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

The Revolutionists will play through January 7 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.

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Review: Lookingglass Alice at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Curiouser and curiouser… those are the words that come to mind when I think about the traditional, albeit twisted and psychedelic tale of a little girl named Alice and her adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s a dream-like story that can sometimes be convoluted and hard to follow, but there’s a certain appeal it has that has helped it survive many re-births since it’s original publishing in 1865. Whether it receives the Disney treatment in the 1951 animated feature, Alice in Wonderland, or the Tim Burton treatment in his 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland, it has never been a story I go out of my way to read or see presented on stage or film… until now. Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Lookingglass Alice, an adaptation of the stories of Lewis Carroll by David Catlin, Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen, with Music Direction by Jose C. Simbulan and Choreography by Rennie Harris gives this timeless story a fresh, modern re-boot with fun music and fast-paced staging that pulls it out of the Victorian age and places it right into the hands of 21st century.

Media Gallery_1200x__Technically, this production is top-notch. Set Design by Tim Mackabee and Light and Sound Design by Rui Rita and Lindsay Jones, respectively, pull this production together in an awe-inspiring mix that tingles all the senses. Mackabee is wise to use a minimal, unit set that is quite appropriate and does not interfere with, but enhances the telling of the story, providing levels and though-out set pieces to keep the production interesting. Working in tandem with Mackabee’s design is the well thought-out and attention grabbing light show that sets the mood of each scene beautifully and gives a nightclub feel in well-placed points of the production, keeping the audience engaged and interested.

Media Gallery_1200x__10Lindsay Jones’ sound design is nothing but superb. Every effect is placed perfectly and carefully making the experience that much more enjoyable. Not only is he responsible for Sound Design but he also wears the hats of Composer of original music and Musical Arranger taking the well-chosen songs and fitting them into the piece perfectly to help move the story along and give it depth. Major kudos to Jones for his impeccable work on this piece.

Rennie Harris’ Choreography is inspiring and full of energy making this piece engaging and engrossing with a mix of hip-hop and lyrical moves fill the stage and show off the ensemble’s individual abilities. Also, working together with Harris’ fabulous choreography, Jose C. Simbulan’s Music Direction is on point as this cast is flawless in the delivery of the songs included in this piece. Both choreography and vocal performances make for a delightful and intriguing two hours of theatre.

Jeremy B. Cohen takes the helm of this production of Lookingglass Alice and his direction is spot on with focused, precise staging that gets actors on and off efficiently and transitions between the scenes, which are more like vignettes, are flawless. The pacing is near perfect with every moment used wisely. Cohen’s comprehension of this piece is quite apparent as his refreshing vision of this aged story with an updated, intelligent script is presented with a delicate balance of new and old.

Media Gallery_1200x__7Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, all of the actors in this small ensemble take on many, varied roles but it’s worth mentioning the extremely able ensemble members Jessica Bennet and Sensei Silab. Bennet and Silab are committed and it’s easy to see they give 100% to their various roles. Both of these actors have a definite grasp on the complex choreography and musical arrangements and they add great value to this production as a whole.

Garrett Turner, who takes on the roles of White rabbit, White Night, and March Hare is a delight to watch as he embodies these very different characters with ease. As the White Night, he has fantastic comedic timing and he is  comfortable in his well-placed interactions with the audience. His ability to switch on and off between characters is impressive

Media Gallery_1200x__9Christopher Ramirez takes on the roles of Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the White Queen, among others and his performance is commendable. He understands his characters and shines as the caring  Mr. Dodgson who gets on the level of a young girl and tries to explain the world to her in terms she might understand. He is hilarious as the White Queen, throwing shade that RuPaul himself would be proud of, but also balances out by playing the character seriously and not over the top, exuding a compassion and caring that is required of the role. Vocally, Ramirez does a bang-up job with a smooth, booming baritone voice and shines in featured numbers such as in Milo Green’s “Afraid of Everything.”

David Darrow is a highlight in this production as he tackles the roles of Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, and Humpty Dumpty, among others. The characters are diverse and Darrow portrays each character effortlessly. Not only does he have admirable dramatic chops, this multi-talented performer provides much of the live music in this piece with a guitar and adds great value with a clear bari-tenor voice in numbers such as Jonathan Coulton’s “I Crush Everything,” and Ruth Berthe’s “Golden.” Whether he’s effectively portraying the Cheshire Cat, slinking across the stage, or giving a frantic performance as the high-energy Mad Hatter, or a comical, nerdy take on Humpty Dumpty, Darrow is certainly one to watch in this production.

Media Gallery_1200x__6Markita Prescott takes on the titular role of Alice in this production and gives an absolutely authentic and natural performance, embodying this young girl as she navigates through Wonderland searching for a way to become a queen. Prescott has great chemistry with her fellow ensemble members and really seems to have a great comprehension of her character. She plays Alice with the innocence of a child but the sass of a girl who can take care of herself and the curiosity of a person coming of age. Vocally, Prescott is superb with a strong voice that resonates throughout the theatre in numbers like the driving Emile Sande song “Breathing Underwater” and a more subdued, delicate sound that she uses in the poignant “Golden.” Overall, Prescott gives a strong, confident performance that pulls the piece together.

Media Gallery_1200x__2The definite standout in this production, hands down, is Patrice Covington as the Red Queen. Though she gives great turns in roles such as the Dormouse and Tweedle Dee, she shines brighly and intensely as the Red Queen. She steals the show during her featured number, the high-energy, upbeat Demi Lovoto tune “Confident”and that’s exactly what she exudes in her performance. The balance of elegance and diva-ness she brings to the role is on point and makes for an authentic portrayal of a tyrannical queen. Covington’s vocal performance is powerful and seemingly effortless as she wails her number with confidence, as the song suggests, and her own flare of showmanship that is second to none. I’ll be following this actresses career and am looking forward to seeing her onstage in the future.

Final thought…Lookingglass Alice is a modern, funky, and refreshing look at a very old, familiar story. The performances of this small ensemble playing various roles are focused and engaging, breathing new life and ideas into the well-known piece. The music that has been added and the arrangements of those songs give the impression that these tunes were written for this piece because they fit so well and help progress the story line. Overall, it’s a fun show to experience and whether you’re familiar with little Alice and her adventures in Wonderland or a newbie to her journeys, you will not be disappointed with this production and it’s energy. Get your tickets now as this is not one production you want to miss this season.

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

Lookingglass Alice will play through December 31 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410.332.0033 or purchase them online.

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PRESS RELEASE: Rapid Lemon Production presents the Regional Premiere of Love is a Blue Tick Hound

Rapid Lemon Press Release

For Immediate Release:

Regional Premiere of Love is a Blue Tick Hound

  • A new collection of four one-act plays by local author Audrey Cefaly
  • January 12-21 in Baltimore and February 9-17 in Washington, DC

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND December 4, 2017 — Rapid Lemon Productions will present the regional premiere of Audrey Cefaly’s Love is a Blue Tick Hound this winter as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. The production is a collection of four 20-minute plays, three of which have received New York premieres and all of which have won multiple festivals throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Love is a Blue Tick Hound Title

Performances January 12-21 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., Baltimore, MD 21201. Phone (410) 752-8558. Online http://www.theatreproject.org.

Performances February 9-17 at the Trinidad Theatre, Logan Fringe Arts Space, 1358 Florida Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002. Phone (866) 811-4111. Online http://www.capitalfringe.org.

Love is a Blue Tick Hound is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

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About the Company. Rapid Lemon Productions is a not-for-profit ensemble company whose mission is to encourage growth in the performing arts by developing and presenting new work by local playwrights. http://www.rapidlemon.com

For more information:

Max Garner, Managing Director

rapidlemon@gmail.com

(443) 832-8178

Review: The Liar at Patapsco High School Center for the Arts

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The LIar

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

It’s been said that if one keeps lying long enough, one actually starts to believe his or her lies and we all have different reasons for lying. Sometimes they’re harmless fibs, sometimes they’re hurtful deceptions but why do we do it? Patapsco High School Center for the Arts tries to give us a glimpse into one master liar’s reasoning in their latest offering, The Liar by David Ives, Directed by Kevin Carlson, with Set Design and Construction by Kailah Johnson (student), Bobbi Phillips (student), Will Prichard (student), Jacob Tomlinson (student), Patrick McGee (alum/volunteer), and Fred Schroeder (alum/volunteer) Lighting Design by students Cory Faison, Leo Lachnit, and Dersha Horrey, and Sound Design by student Keishla DeLeon. With an intelligent script (in iambic pentameter) and a committed, hard-working ensemble, this production makes for a delightful evening of theatre.

The Liar, in a nutshell is about a gentleman, Dorante, who can’t seem to help himself from lying… about everything. He comes across a manservant, Cliton, who simply cannot tell a lie. Over the course of two days, Dorante falls in love with Clarice who he mistakes for her friend Lucrece while Clarice is actually engaged to his friend Alcippe. All the while, Dorante’s father is trying to get him married off to Clarice while Lucrece is actually in love with him. All of these crazy scenarios begats lie after lie from Dorante who is trying to keep it all together but… can he?

The Blackbox Theatre at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts is an intimate, but adequate space and can easily be a challenge for any kind of design for a production. However, Set Design and Construction by students Kailah Johnson, Bobbi Phillips, Will Prichard, Jacob Tomlinson, and volunteers Patrick McGee and Fred Schroeder is just enough to create the setting for this piece without cluttering the stage so much that it becomes a hindrance. A unit set with an impressive running fountain) gives us the idea of a street in 1600s France and set pieces fill out the scenes and locations. Overall, the design is clever and works very well for the piece without getting in the way. Kudos to all for a job well done.

Costume Design by students Maddie Chester, Destiny Jackson, Maria Pullifrone, Kas Schroeder, and Megan Zeller is well thought-out and stays authentic to the time period in which this piece takes place. All the actors seem quite comfortable in their wardrobe and the attention to detail is impressive. A costume plot for a period piece is always difficult to design by these able Costume Designers do a superb job in this production.

Lighting Design by students Cory Faison, Leo Lachnit, and Dersha Horrey and Sound Design by Keishla DeLeon is absolutely on point in this production and is to be applauded. This is hands down one of the best Lighting and Sound Designs I’ve seen this season, so far, and what makes it more impressive is that it was accomplished by high school students. That’s not to say high school students aren’t capable of great things, but this Light and Sound Design is clean and precise, well-rehearsed, and adds great value to this production. Faison, Lachnit, and Horrey create locations, times of day, and moods with light that move the piece along and help the audience understand where and when they are in the piece. Keishla DeLeon’s sound design is spot on and every sound cue was absolutely appropriate and perfectly placed adding that much more authenticity to the production without getting in the way of the performance. Congratulations to these student designers for a superb showing.

Director and Technical Theatre teacher Kevin Carlson seems to have a good grasp of this material and has guided this ensemble toward a charming performance that teaches a good lesson. He knows his cast, which is important, and he has managed to bring out the best in them. The script itself has a particular rhythm that takes practice, but he has used his time wisely and the actors are able to deliver the text smoothly enough. His staging keeps the action moving and the transitions are smooth and clean. His gender-blind casting is commendable and he has presented this piece in such a way that those who are not as well versed in the classics will easily follow along as those with more experience.

Moving on the to performance aspect of this production, Benjamin Elzey takes on the role of Philiste, a good friend who is very French and has delicate sensibilities. Elzey understands the character and the humor of the character but needs to concentrate a little more on his delivery and projection rather than for the humor. However, he is dedicated to this role and seems to be having a great time portraying this quirky character making for an amiable performance.

Brittany Runk tackles the role of Cliton, the honest, friendly manservant and first character we meet in this piece. Runk is absolutely committed to this role and has a good comprehension of the character giving an intelligent performance. The character is very funny, but Runk has a tendency, in her delivery, to throw the lines away. Many of the punchlines are lost so a bit of slowing down and emphasis of the lines would do her well. She gives a great showing with great physicality and a strong presence on the stage.

Adding complications to the story for our “hero” is Geronte, the father, played nicely by Mags Carey and Alcippe, the best friend, portrayed skillfully by Emily McGee. Carey portrays the commanding father with authenticity and gives the character an elegant and snooty air that is required making her believable as Geronte. McGee, as Alcippe certainly makes this role her own and embodies this character completely. They physical demands on this character seem effortless for McGee and she portrays him with a good balance of confidence and dignity, giving a praiseworthy performance.

Taking on the role of the “love interest,” Clarice is Brittany Lorden and though she plays this role airing on the side of caution, she still have a good understanding of the character. Lorden seems a little subdued compared to the rest of the ensemble, but it works nicely for the role. Her delivery is clear and gives and admirable performance.

Maxwell Wolf portrays our aforementioned “hero,” Dorante, who is, in fact, the liar. This character is complex in many ways and always a clown. Wolf does well and keeps up with this fast-paced character from beginning to end. Many of his funny lines are lost due this his concentration on trying to be funny instead of letting the script do the work for him. However, his frenetic physical performance is on point and, overall, he gives a strong performance with a great command of the stage and understanding of the text.

A definite highlight of this production is Milo Gray as the duel role of twin sisters Sabine and Isabelle. Gray impressively switches back and forth between the two very different characters with east and her character choices for both are flawless. She has a great stage presence and is comfortable and confident in her movements and delivery.

Hunter Lubawski is the standout of this production as Lucrece, the dedicated and caring friend. Lubawski embodies this character and gives 100% to her performance. She has a natural flair and does quite well with the meter, allowing her to be clearly understood. Along with being natural, she has a great command of the stage and knows how to work the space. Her dedication is apparent and she is comfortable on stage with a great comprehension of the story and the material. I’m looking forward to seeing more stage work from this actress in the future as she grows and hones her craft.

Final thought…The Liar is a fun, lighthearted story with a meaningful message of how our own perceptions become our truths. It’s a modern twist on a classical style that works with a witty script and thoughtful staging. With a dedicated ensemble that puts in 100% effort and a technical design that is top notch, this production is definitely one you want to check out during its short run.

This is what I thought of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts production of The Liar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Liar will run November 16 through November 19 at the Patapsco Blackbox Theatre, Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, 8100 Wise Avenue, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: Into the Woods at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Fairy tales are probably some of the best fodder for stage adaptations because, after all, they’re entire stories that are already written and told. It’s up to the author and, if a musical, the lyricist and composer of that stage adaptation to put the story together with a script and songs. In the case of Heritage Players latest offering, Into the Woods with Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Book by James Lapine, Directed by TJ Lukacsina, with Music Direction by Chris Pinder and Choreography by Rikki Howie does something refreshingly different. By intertwining a bunch of different stories into one big story, we get a delightful, interesting spin on what happens in the life of these popular characters outside of the stories we all know and love.

Briefly, Into the Woods gathers together the title characters of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a few other popular tales and throws them together in a story of trying to our happy-ever-after in life, regardless of what it throws at you, and learning that life, in fact, is not a fairy tale. Through aspects of each story, we learn a little more about these characters and realize all is not always what it seems.

Set Design by Ryan Geiger, though simple, is fitting and quite effective. The unit set is good for different settings with a simple opening of a swinging panel and small props and set pieces. For a complex show like this, this set design is well-thought out and doesn’t hinder the action, but helps by not getting in the way. Kudos to Geiger for an inspiring design.

Andrew Malone, an established Costume Designer in the area, reveals his able talents in this production. Every character is fitted appropriately to character but unique enough that no one is the traditional image we know from the stories. This piece gives the costumer a chance to be fanciful as well as elegant and Malone hit the nail on the head in this production.

Sound Design by Brent Tomchick and Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina had some issues, but overall, the design worked for the prouduction. Whether it was a dependency on microphones or directorial neglect, there were many characters I couldn’t understand because I could not hear them. A few of the members of the ensemble didn’t project as they should and their lines were lost. Of course, the mics themselves had their own troubles of not being at the correct levels or even turned on at the correct times. Lighting Design is its own beast and can make or break a show. Now, Lukacsina’s design certainly did not break the show, but there were curious choices throughout. A favorite covering of light seems to represent some sort of light and shadows through leaves, as if in the woods, so, I get it, but it doesn’t do the ensemble any favors as most of them are lost in the shadows. It gets rather dark at times, as well. Yes, there are dark parts in this show… metaphorically, they don’t have to actually be IN the dark. Again, there were some technical issues with Sound and Lighting Design but, overall, it is suitable for this production and doesn’t take away from the story or the performance. In fact, it just might need a little tweaking or closer attention because for the most part, it works.

Choreography by Rikki Howie is minimal, at best. Not because Howie is lazy but the piece itself doesn’t call for a lot of dancing. There are a few moments when the cast gathers together to do what look like jazz squares (or box steps, depending on where you came up), and hand gestures but, that’s all that is required, really. Most of the songs simply need staging and not a lot of bouncing around. Howie does her best with the material she’s given and, all in all, the choreography is delightful. The cast is comfortable and that makes them look good, which is somewhat the point.

Chris Pinder tackles this piece as its Music Director and his work is to be applauded. Teaching and working on a Sondheim score is no easy feat and Pinder has succeeded. He seems to understand the music and its nuances and he has guided his cast to give a splendid performance. Not only does he have a strong ensemble, vocally, he has a phenomenal orchestra backing them up. Well-rehearsed, and spot on, the orchestra is near flawless with this score and adds great value to the production as a whole. Included in the orchestra are Chris Pinder, Conductor; David Booth, Flute; Matt Elky, Clarinet; Allyson Wessley, Horn; Kevin Shields, Trumpet; Lynn Graham, Piano; John Keister, Synthesizer; Zachary Sotelo, Percussion; Naomi Chang-Zajic and Susan Beck, Violins; David Zajic and Kyle Gilbert, Viola; Ina O’Ryan and Juliana Torres, Cello; and Joe Surkiewicz, Bass.

TJ Lukacsina takes the helm of this production as its Director and, as stated, taking on any Sondheim piece is a challenge but Lukacsina, with a few minor hiccups, seems to have stepped up to the challenge. Casting is superb and his staging is concise making for a good pace and tempo for a naturally long piece with smooth, quick transitions. Overall, the piece is focused with a clear vision from Lukacsina and it moves along nicely… in Act I. Act II in this production has its problems but it’s mainly in the staging of this fast-paced script. Actors seem to be coming and going haphazardly through the various entrances and exits on the stage and if one is not familiar with the piece already, it’s easy to see how one might get a little perplexed in Act II. With cleaner staging, Act II may run a bit more smoothly. Again, the hiccups are minor and, overall, Lukacsina seems to have a good comprehension of the piece and a good grasp on what the characters are about making for a well thought-out, delightful production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, Todd Hochkeppel takes on the supporting role of the Narrator, the first character we encounter and Hochkeppel gives a respectable performance but, compared to the other characterizations, seems a bit over the top at times with grand, sweeping gestures that could be pulled back a bit. However, he has a great booming voice and fits well in the role.

A couple of other supporting but important roles that move the piece along are the Mysterious Man played by Richard Greenslit and the Steward to the royal family, played by Sean Miller. Both Greenslit and Miller give commendable performances and make the most of the stage time they have.

The princes, played by Josh Schoff (Rapunzel’s Prince) and John Carter (Cinderalla’s Prince), are well cast in the roles and give admirable performances but their rendition of “Agony” falls a little flat. This is one of the most well-known numbers in this piece and it’s a hilarious song. Schoff and Carter sing the song beautifully, but really just stood opposite each other and didn’t seem to capitalize on the physical humor and melodramatic presentation that makes this number so enjoyable. It’s as if they both took the roles too seriously. Though both give entertaining performances, the stronger of the two is John Carter whose interpretation of Cinderella’s Prince is absolutely befitting, if not a tad too soft spoken (which is a shame as his smooth, deep timber is perfect for the stage!), and his take on The Wolf is spot on.

Scott AuCoin tackles the role of the Baker, the unlikely hero of the piece and Mia Coulborne takes on the character of Red Riding Hood, the bratty little girl who has no choice but to grow up throughout the story. Both actors are confident and committed to their roles and with characters being so intricate to the plot, both carry the responsibility nicely. Vocally, both give superb performances as in Red Ridinghood’s number “I Know Things Now” and the Baker’s “No More” and both seem to have an easy go with the material. Their chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is believable and they give 100% to their parts. Their interpretations of the characters could use a little kick as the performances were a bit scripted and forced but, overall, they give an admirable showing.

Rapunzel (played by Kirsti Dixon), the hapless girl stuck in a tower by her “mother”, who happens to be a Witch (portrayed by Rowena Winkler), are a good match to play these complex characters who play a big part in the plotline. Dixon shines with her beautiful soprano and gives an authentic portrayal as the young girl who knows there’s more out in the world than what she knows of her small tower. Winkler gives a completely dedicated, high energy performance as the Witch and her transition from Act I to Act II is more subtle than it should be both in character and presentation, but it works for the most part. Vocally, she has a better go with her higher register rather than the lower, but, overall, she gives a praiseworthy performance.

Some of the most humorous bits of this production come from Cinderella’s stepmother (Traci Denhardt), and the Stepsisters Florinda (Jamie Pasquinelli) and  Lucinda (Danyelle Spaar). This trio of actresses understand the importance of these characters but don’t take the roles so seriously that they’re not having fun. Pasquinelli and Spaar have a stupendous chemistry and play their characters to the hilt making for delightful performances. Denhardt as the stern Stepmother is poised and elegant, as the character requires and all three performances are on point. Along with this trio, Jessa Sahl takes on the role of Cinderlla’s Mother, a guiding ghost in a tree in the woods, and she gives a strong showing, especially vocally, with a clear voice that resonates throughout the theatre.

Jack is portrayed by Atticus Boidy and Jacks’ Mother, played by Temple Forston are a befitting duo with a great chemistry that makes for a charming mother/son relationship. Boidy has a good grasp of his character and gives an impressive vocal performance, shining in his featured number “Giants in the Sky” while Forston is believable as the stern but loving mother who only wants what’s best for her son. She makes the role her own and, though her character’s demise could have been tweaked out a bit more, she gives a commendable, strong performance.

The absolute highlights of this production of Into the Woods are Sydney Phipps taking on the role of Cinderella and Alana Simone who tackles the role of The Baker’s Wife. These two powerhouses are the ones to watch. Phipps effortlessly sings through Cinderella’s numbers such as her bit in the opening of Act I and her featured number “On the Steps of the Palace.” Also, her portrayal of Cinderella is authentic and because of Phipps splendid portrayal, you feel for this girl and are rooting for her. She has a good comprehension of the character, has a good presence on stage, and gives a strong, confident performance.

Likewise, Alana Simone starts off strong and keeps up the energy and consistency throughout the production. She has a booming voice and good chemistry with her fellow ensemble members, especially with Scott AuCoin, who plays her character’s husband. Simone belts out her numbers such as “It Takes Two” (with AuCoin), and the poignant “Moments in the Woods” with just the right amount of intensity and gentleness that is required of each number. Major kudos to Phipps and Simone for jobs very well done.

Final thought…Into the Woods is a monumental feat for any theatre, especially community theatres. Heritage Players certainly gives it the old college try and though some aspects fall short, others absolutely thrive. The show is long, by nature, and though this production has terrific pacing with an energetic cast, plan on sticking around for near three hours. Most of the cast is absolutely able and committed making for some great performances but as the production moves along, it seems to lose a little steam. That’s not to say it is not a commendable performance, because it most certainly is. With an ensemble who works well together, a simple but effective set, an orchestra that is on point, and a few standout performances, it’s definitely worth checking out this interpretation of a Stephen Sondheim favorite.

This is what I thought of Heritage Players production of Into the Woods… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Into the Woods will run through November 19 at Heritage Players in the Thomas-Rice Auditorium on the Spring Gove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: Shakespeare in Love at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

2017-18Season_330x220_v22Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

The Great Bard, William Shakespeare, not only wrote great plays, but he’s great fodder for plays and film alike. In 1998, a great film was released revolving around the fictional life-happenings and implied inspirations of Shakespeare during the writing of Romeo & Juliet called Shakespeare in Love and, it just so happens, this film has been transferred to the stage at Baltimore Center Stage in a show of the same name, Directed by Blake Robinson, with Scenic Design by Tim Macabee, and Costume Design by Kathleen Geldard. Though based on the film, Shakespeare in Love stands on its own on the stage and with a strong ensemble and well thought-out script, it makes for a successful transition.

sil-mg-160William Shakespeare is a mythical figure as it is and so many questions surround his life and work and many stories have sprouted up through the ages. Shakespeare in Love does a great job at mixing history and events that could have possibly happened, but are most likely fiction. This piece takes place around the creation of the great tragedy Romeo & Juliet and a star-crossed love affair (go figure!) between Shakespeare himself and Viola, the daughter of a rich merchant in London during the 1530s and during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Scenic Design by Tim Macabee is spot on for this piece. Creating a traditional Shakespearian stage, including balcony, with a sneaking resemblance to The Rose theatre in London, where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first run, Macabee has created the mood required of this piece and transports us back to the Elizabethan age. Mainly using set pieces rather than full sets, the design is clean and gives just enough insinuation for the audience to know where each scene is taking place. This simple but effective design also makes the transitions between scenes quick and smooth.

sil-mg-289Costume Designer Kathleen Geldard is to be commended for her authentic and thoughtful design for this production. Period pieces can be tricky to costume, especially the Elizabethan era with wild designs and layers upon layers but every character was costumed appropriately, differentiating class and style with each character. Queen Elizabeth was decked out to the hilt and I loved every moment of it. Kudos on a job well done.

Lighting Design by Michelle Habeck and Sound Design by Matthew M. Nielson added great value to this production with Habeck using isolation lighting to depict dramatic moments and subtle changes in lighting levels to insinuate different times of day and location. Along with Habeck’s lighting, Nielson’s sound design moved the story along nicely and added that bit of authenticity with the mediaeval music selections driving home to point of when this story is taking place. Admirable Lighting and Sound Designs from both Habeck and Nielson for this production.

sil-mg-725Blake Robinson takes the helm of this production and gives us a fresh take on this beloved story. It’s easy to see Robinson is not trying to put the film on stage but trying to make this stage version its own entity and does so with success. He captures the true essence of the piece, which is simply a love story, weaves it through the twists and turns of the story. There are a few bits that are curious such as the jolting turns of drama and comedy where some confusion comes into the piece as if it’s a comedy or a drama. If it’s both, the blend could use some work, but the dramatic parts are well portrays, just as the comedic parts. Regardless, Robinson has a great comprehension of the material and he guides this ensemble to a successful telling of the story. The transitions are smooth and his staging is impeccable.

sil-mg-175Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth saying the entire ensemble is dedicated and committed to this piece giving 100% to telling this story. Avery Glymph shines as Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, the man who would have probably been Shakespeare’s only equal. It’s been an argument that it was actually Marlowe who wrote the great plays that are credited to Shakespeare and being a Shakespeare fan, I don’t follow that line of thinking, but it is hinted to in this script but is very clever in the fact that it is portrayed as Marlowe just giving ideas to Shakespeare rather than writing the play completely. Glymph portrays him with dignity and a certain humility that works well for the role and he has a great command of the stage. Likewise, David Whalen, who takes on the role of Ned Alleyn, the egotistical, but realistic lead of the Admiral’s men (a company of actors), gives just the right balance of ego and humbleness that is required of this character making him one of my favorite characters. Michael Brusasco as Wessex plays a believable protagonist in this piece, exuding the snootiness and desperation of a man with a title and not much else. I wouldn’t be doing this review much good if I didn’t mention Meatball, a little Chihuahua who takes on the role of Spot, the resident dog of the troupe, who was obviously frightened, but managed to do his job and do it well! Kudos to Meatball for a great debut!

sil-mediakit-098Barzin Akhavan takes on the role of Henslowe, owner of The Rose and Brent Harris tackles the role of Burbage, owner of The Curtain and probably the most famous actor in all of England. These two actors portray these rival theatre owners beautifully with a blend of hatred that one would have for an arch nemesis and respect for each other’s integrity and art. Akhavan’s comedic timing is spot on for the character of Henslowe and Harris tackles the over-the-top, dramatic flair of Burbage brilliantly. Both work well off each other and with the company as a whole.

A couple of absolute highlights in this production are Naomi Jacobsen as Queen Elizabeth, and Laura Gordon as Nurse. Jacobsen completely embodies QE1 and her comedic timing is spot on. She also has the ability to show Elizabeth’s compassion and understanding being “a woman in a man’s profession.” She gives a strong, confident, and memorable performance. Along those lines, Gordon’s portrayal of Nurse is endearing as she is reminiscent of the written, doting Nurse of Romeo & Juliet, and she has great chemistry with Emily Trask making for an authentic, and praiseworthy performance. Both of these actresses are ones to watch in this production.

sil-mg-1036Taking on the title role as William “Will” Shakespeare, Nicholas Carriere gives an admirable performance and seems to understand his character quite well but there was something in the way his over-the-top gestures and facial expressions seem to cheapen the role. It’s clear he knows what the character is all about and his gestures are purposeful… just a little to big, making the performance look campy, at times. It could very well be a directorial choice, because in the dramatic scenes Carriere is on point and believable. His and Emily Trasks chemistry is a slow burn, is convincing and has the audience drawn into their relationship by the end of the story. Overall, his performance is strong and he has a great command of the stage.

sil-mg-273Emily Trask takes on the role of Viola de Lesseps, the heroine of the piece and the forward thinker. Lady de Lesseps wants to be an actress when women on the stage was unheard of and even considered lewd. Trask takes this role, makes it her own, and runs with it. The character of Viola is complex but Trask has a good grasp on her and the problems she faces. Her delivery of the text is impeccable and she gives a natural, commanding performance.

Final thought…Shakespeare in Love is a lighthearted, but moving piece that is a fictional story around the writing of one of William Shakespeare’s most famous works, Romeo & Juliet, that blends make believe and history seamlessly and with thoughtfulness. Being based on a popular and well-received film (and one of my absolute favorites), I was worried about how it would transfer to the stage, but, ultimately, the script stays true and the Great Bard’s reputation is still intact. The performances are spot on and each actor makes their roles their own, not being a carbon copy of the film. Whether it be script or directional choices, it seems this piece doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy or a drama with jarring switches from one to the other. Also, a few  of the performances were a bit over the top, at times, but overall, fans of the film and those unfamiliar with the story will be delighted with this production and it’s not one you want to miss this season.

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

Shakespeare in Love will run through November 26 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at 410-332-0033 or purchase them online.

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PRESS RELEASE: Baltimore Center Stage Announces Lookingglass Alice Cast and Artistic Team

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Baltimore Center Stage Announces Lookingglass Alice Cast and Artistic Team

Center Stage’s Holiday Production Boasts a Contemporary retelling of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale.

Baltimore—November 3, 2017. Baltimore Center Stage is pleased to announce the cast
and artistic team for Lookingglass Alice. A witty tale of curiosity and wonder, Baltimore Center Stage brings a fresh, modern twist to the original story. As the third production in Baltimore Center Stage’s “Season of Community,” Lookingglass Alice is a journey of rediscovery—a timely theme as families reconnect during the holiday season.

Lookingglass Alice is directed by Jeremy Cohen. This is Cohen’s third production at
Baltimore Center Stage. He previously directed Let There Be Love (2010) and Wild with
Happy (2014) and he is excited to collaborate with staff members that he has gotten to
know over the years. Assistant Director Mari Travis was handpicked by Cohen and is a
native Baltimorean.

“From the beginning, this has been a collaborative process, thinking about what this story
should be for Baltimore in 2017,” said Cohen. “The idea for this production is also that
we are engaging very directly with the audience right as they walk through the doors.”

The cast includes Markita Prescott* (Alice), Garrett Turner* (White Rabbit/White
Knight), Patrice Covington* (Red Queen/Dormouse), Christopher Ramirez*
(Dodgson/White Queen) and David Darrow* (Mad Hatter/Caterpillar). Two local artists were cast as dancers, Jessica Bennett, a recent graduate of Garrison Forest School,
and Sensi Silab, a senior at the Baltimore School for the Arts, in her first professional
stage appearance.

The artistic team includes director Cohen and Assistant Director Travis, along with music
director Jose C. Simbulan (Music Director), Tim Mackabee (Scenic Designer), David
Burdick (Costume Designer), Rui Rita (Lighting Designer), Lindsay Jones (Sound Designer), and Caite Hevner (Projection Designer). World renowned professor of hip-hop dance, Rennie Harris will serve as choreographer.

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association

Lookingglass Alice begins Thursday, November 30, with previews through December 6,
and closes Sunday, December 31. Press night is Opening Night, Thursday, December 7.
For more information, visit http://www.centerstage.org or call the box office at 410.332.0033.

Lookingglass Alice is made possible by KPMG and Kramon & Graham. This performance is supported in part by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC). Center Stage’s Season Sponsor is M&T Bank and the season is also made possible by The Shubert Foundation and the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences.

About Baltimore Center

Stage Baltimore Center Stage is a professional, nonprofit institution committed to entertaining, engaging and enriching audiences through bold, innovative and thought-provoking classical and contemporary theater. Named the State Theater of Maryland in 1978, Baltimore Center Stage has steadily grown as a leader in the national regional theater scene. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE and Managing Director Michael Ross, Baltimore Center Stage is committed to creating and presenting a diverse array of world premieres and exhilarating interpretations of established works.

Baltimore Center Stage believes in access for all—creating a welcoming environment for everyone who enters its theater doors and, at the same time, striving to meet audiences where they are. In addition to its Mainstage and Off Center productions in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, Baltimore Center Stage ignites conversations among a global audience through digital initiatives, which explore how technology and the arts
intersect. The theater also nurtures the next generation of artists and theater-goers through the Young Playwrights Festival, Student Matinee Series and many other educational programs for students, families and educators.