Review: Without a Clue at Tidewater Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

It was Mrs. Peacock, in the Conservatory, with the Candlestick!… Or was it? If you understood that reference instantly, you, like many, many others, are familiar with a certain board game aptly named Clue in which one must use his or her powers of deduction to solve a murder. This board game has also spawned a highly successful and oft quoted 1985 film of the same name, and stage musical adaptation, and many parodies through the years. Included in these adaptations is Tidewater Players latest offering, the new and original Without a Clue by Mark Briner, who also puts on the hat of Director.

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The cast of Without a Clue. Credit: Tidewater Players

In a nutshell, Without a Clue is a parody based on the board game Clue! and cleverly incorporates pop culture both past and recent. Five guests, Mrs. Peacock, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Mr. Green, and Miss Scarlet are invited to the palatial home of Mr. Boddy for dinner and, what they are led to believe, a beneficial financial opportunity. Once settled in with the help of Mr. Boddy’s staff, Ashe, the able Butler, Mrs. White, the begrudged maid, and Violet, the not-so-bright French maid, Mr. Boddy wastes no time in revealing the actual reason of the invitation… blackmail. Mr. Boddy is planning on blackmailing each guest for certain indiscretions and makes no bones about it. The guest, fed up with Mr. Boddy, and his crazy plan decide to leave but, as they do, the power goes out and Mr. Boddy is quickly taken care of by the way of a gun and the search for the killer begins and every person in the house is considered a suspect. By the end, it’s up to the audience to point out the murderer… if they’ve been paying attention!

Set Design by Dickie Mahoney and Mark Briner is smart and simple rolling walls and individual set pieces. With only one level to work with in the new and improved space at The Cultural Center at the Opera House, and many different locals written in the script, Mahoney and Briner’s design is easy to transition and effectively represents each location within the story nicely, adding great value to the production as a whole.

Along with Set Design, Mahoney and Briner also take on the responsibility of Costume Design and this design, like their Set Design, is spot on. Each character is appropriately represented whether in full color (as is Miss Scarlet and Mrs. Peacock, which we find out is actually just blue), or a splash of color, as for Mr. Green with his green tie or Colonel Mustard with his yellow or mustard colored ascot. The staff is traditionally dressed in maid uniforms and a tuxedo for Ashe, the Butler. Mahoney and Briner clearly takes time with their design with attention to detail that makes it all the more aesthetically pleasing and authentic.

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(l-r) Phil Hansel, Chris Volker, Allyson Sands, and Denise Rogers Mylin. Credit: Austin Barnes

To round out the production team responsibilities, Mark Briner, who authored the piece, takes on the helm and places the Director hat on, as well. In some cases, it can be risky to have the author direct his or her own work, but in this case, it seems to have worked out beautifully. He keeps the pacing consistent with his staging and has guided these actors to delightful performances of the characters he has crafted. As the author, he has a complete comprehension of the story and the humor of one-liners and wise-cracks. His understanding of farce is well apparent in this upbeat and frenetic piece.

There is a bit at the end of the production when the audience is supposed to vote on who the murderer is and the actors are assigned a section of the theatre to collect votes but the way this is done is quite chaotic and haphazard. The actors simply yell out to the audience to vote by raising their hand when the character they believe to be the killer is called out. With six or seven actors yelling out names and trying to adlib, it can become a bit overwhelming a loud. I get the whole audience participation bit, but perhaps this can be tweaked for future performances.

However, screaming actors aside, Briner has done a superb job with this production and is to be commended and applauded for his hard and diligent work creating and bringing this slice of witty and clever theatre to life.

Moving into the performance aspect of Without a Clue, Eric Brooks takes on the role of Mr. Boddy, the host of the evening and not the most popular kid at the party. Brooks is a bit scripted and sounds more like he’s screaming rather than having a conversation, but he pulls the role off adequately. Where Brooks shines is in his performance as the fed-up, over-dramatic, and comedic Chef Bleu with this grand gestures and impressive French accent. Along the same lines of an actor performing an unnamed role a bit better than the named role (according to the program) is Allyson Sands who portrays Violet, the ditzy French maid who can’t seem to find her way to the kitchen, and the new, psychic neighbor, Madame Rose. Sands has a good grasp of comedic timing and her portrayal of Violet is on par, but it’s her turn as Madame Rose that adds value to her performance. Her timing is on point, as well as her accent for this character. Sands has a good command of the stage and seems comfortable in these roles making for a strong performance.

Tom Hartzell tackles the role of the seemingly perverted Professor Plum and, though he seems to have a good comprehension of his character, his performance falls a bit flat. He certainly has issues in his delivery of the material as he trips over most of his lines, losing the momentum of the fast-paced piece. He seems scripted and uncomfortable most of the time, but he is believable as this sorted character and has a good chemistry with his cast mates.

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(l-r) Chris Volker, Greg Guyton, Denise Rogers Myli, Michele Guyton, and Phil Hansel. Credit: Austin Barnes

Taking on the role of the suave Mr. Green, Chris Volker gives a respectable performance but also has some trouble with his delivery of the text. Scripted and a little stiff, Volker seems to be going through the motions of this funny, sleazy character. That being said, he does give a dedicated performance and keeps the energy up throughout. He works well with and off of his cast mates and makes the role of Mr. Green his own.

Rounding out this motley crew of guests is Phil Hansel as Colonel Mustard and Michele Guyton as Mrs. Peacock and Denise Rogers Mylin as Miss Scarlet and all give admirable portrayals of their characters. Hansel’s portrayal is a bit befuddled but that could very well be the way the character is written and he does have good comedic timing that makes his character almost charming, in a way.

Mylin’s Miss Scarlet is on point and, though a bit monotone in her delivery, it is natural and consistent and she has a smooth, velvety voice that matches perfectly with her character. She does well with the fast pace and gives an overall strong performance

Michele Guyton’s portrayal of Mrs. Peacock (my favorite character in most of the adaptations) is not without its flaws but is a commendable performance. Her southern accent comes and goes, which ends up being a distraction, but her comedic skills are spot on and she delivers some great zingers throughout the evening. It just seems as though Guyton is trying too hard to caricaturize Mrs. Peacock and portray her as the “funny, sassy drunk” and it all seems forced. The trick in a character like this is to play it seriously and trust the dialogue and situations will invoke all the comedy that is required. However, aside from these minor issues, Guyton gives a splendid showing and praiseworthy performance.

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Justine Quirk as Mrs. White. Credit: Austin Barnes.

Definite highlights of this production are Greg Guyton and Justine Quirk who tackle the roles of Ashe and Mrs. White, the poor senior staff of the manor and the ones who try to keep thing manageable. Greg Guyton is perfectly cast for the role of Ashe and he completely embodies this character, keeping him consistent throughout. His delivery is near perfect and his character choices are absolutely appropriate. He has a strong presence and a knack for improvisation, as demonstrated when he breaks the fourth wall to stall for time as the audience votes are being counted. His pacing is near flawless, notably, his recap of events at the beginning of Act II. Guyton’s instincts and dedication to the character make for an outstanding performance.

Justine Quirk, as Mrs. White, is absolutely believable and she is probably the keenest with comedic timing and crystal clear delivery. Because of her style, she reminds me of Jackie Hoffman (of Broadway and Feud: Bette and Joan fame), one of my favorite current actresses of stage and screen. Quirk has a complete grasp of the humor of this piece and her portrayal of the begrudged servant is impeccable as she is able to take the role seriously enough to up the comedy of the character. Her delivery and instincts even make the touch of unmitigated, over-the-top melodrama digestible and funny. Her skillful portrayal make for a standout performance and certainly a joy to watch.

Final thought… Without a Clue is a witty, cute, and nostalgic slice of theatre incorporating familiar games and pop culture into a delightful, zany evening of intrigue, comedy and fun for all! It’s very reference heavy, as all parodies should be, so you’ve got to pay close attention to catch them all, and though some references may be more obscure than others, it’s still a delightful evening of theatre. A majority of the performances are top-notch and the pacing and staging is on point and swift making the two and a half hour run time feel less than it actually is. With a little tweaking of the script, this piece is going to be near flawless and Mark Briner is to be applauded for his efforts in both script and direction of this world premiere production. Get your tickets for the weekend as you don’t want to miss this one.

This is what I thought of Tidewater Players’ production of Without a Clue… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Without a Clue will run through March 4 at Tidewater Players, The Cultural Center at the Opera House, 121 N. Union Avenue, Havre de Grace, MD. For tickets call the box office at 667-225-8433 or purchase them online.

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Review: The Graduate at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours a 15-minute intermission

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Dyana Neal as Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

“Plastics.” If you are familiar with this one-word movie quote, you are familiar with one of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time (#42), and the 1967 film The Graduate. It’s a classic film with big name stars such as Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft and gave us the musical styling of the impeccable Simon and Garfunkle, including the well-known “Sound of Silence.” In 2002, The Graduate was taken from the screen and transferred to the stage starring Kathleen Turner, Jason Biggs, and Alicia Silverstone, who were all on their games at the time and it was a critical and commercial hit during its year-long, 380 performance run. The Graduate is now Dundalk Community Theatre’s latest offering, Directed by Todd Starkey, and presents this 1960’s coming-of-age and still-relevant piece to a new generation, some of whom may be dealing with similar personal problems as the complex characters in the story.

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Stephen Edwards Rachel Verhaaren, and Elisabeth Johnson. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Scenic Design by Marc W. Smith (who also wears the hats of Lighting and Sound Design, as well as Technical Director, in general) is, to say the least, exquisite. Smith, being the resident Scenic Designer for Dundalk Community Theatre, knows his space and is wise in his choice of a clean, minimal unit set utilizing set pieces to present various locations. Though the set is minimal, Smith has a great attention to detail with his choice of pieces adding a realistic, but non-hindering value to the production as a whole. With the amount of locations written in the script, the pieces are many and cause for a few lengthy transitions, but the design is superb, as a whole.

Costume Design by Eva Grove, who also graces the stage in a few supporting roles, is spot on and absolutely appropriate for the 1960s setting. Being a unique and eclectic time for fashion, Grove has managed to represent it flawlessly with loud colorful patterns, as well as subdued conservative looks that help, not distract from the action and setting. Her well thought-out, detailed design adds great value to the entire production.

Todd Starkey takes the helm of this production and, directing an adaption of an already well-known piece is always a challenge, but Starkey seems to have stepped up to that challenge. There are definite minor issues with the script, the main problem being missing information. If you’re familiar with the film, you’ll be okay, but if you are not, you might get confused as to how the relationship between the younger characters blossom and why but, taking it at face value, the gist is still intact. Starkey has cast his show well and has a good comprehension of the material and, aside from a few aforementioned lengthy transitions (the production could have done without a few of the blackouts, which broke up the momentum a bit), the pace is appropriate and consistent. Overall, Starkey should be applauded for his efforts in bringing this relevant and relatable story to the stage.

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Dyana Neal and Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth stating that the entire ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% effort to this production and each player works hard to bring this material together to tell this multifaceted story.

Alice Scanlon and Thomas “Toby” Hessenauer take on the roles of the caring, but somewhat oblivious Mr. and Mrs. Braddock. Though Scanlon is a little stiff and scripted in her performance, she clearly understands the character of the hapless, naïve mother who is a woman of a different time and is content being a housewife and letting the males in her life take the lead. She pulls off the role nicely and compliments the superb performance from Hessenauer, who is a highlight of this production and who completely embodies the character of the financially and, some would consider, personally successful Mr. Braddock. He emotes the confidence and strong will of a 1960s head-of-household. He works well with and off of his fellow cast mates that makes for a brilliant and believable performance.

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Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock and Elisabeth Johnson as Elaine Robinson. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

John Dignam as Mr. Robinson and Elisabeth Johnson and Elaine Robinson make up 2/3 of the dysfunctional Robinson family and are major players in this tawdry tale. Elisabeth Johnson does well with the role, having a good understanding of her character and the naiveté and sheltered upbringing that makes up Elaine Robinson. She has good chemistry with her cast mates and gives a commendable portrayal, save an over the top, hokey scene where her character gets drunk and Johnson is scripted and unnatural, barely getting her dialogue out, but, overall, she gives a delightful performance.

John Dignam is another highlight of this piece, portraying the at first confident, successful business man to distraught husband near flawlessly. His dramatic turn where his character breaks down and confronts Ben, his unassuming nemesis, is a bit forced and unnatural but, aside from that, his performance is strong, confident, and authentic.

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Dyana Neal as Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Last but certainly not least, we have Dyana Neal as the sensual cougar, Mrs. Robinson, and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock, the young man who is just searching for purpose, like so many so soon after graduating from college. It’s clear that Neal and Edwards have a firm grasp of their characters, but, unfortunately, the chemistry between the two is just not as apparent. Both play their characters well, individually, with Neal being the stronger performer, but are missing the connection and attraction required of these two characters, not to mention the awkward, forced insinuation of sexual acts that are, I assume, supposed to be humorous to downplay the sex, but just end up falling flat. Neal is on point with the sultriness of the bored Mrs. Robinson and keeps her character consistent, as she should be portrayed. It’s also worth mentioning Neal’s velvet voice that is a pleasure to listen to and makes it easy to understand why she is on the radio. Edwards starts off portraying Benjamin Braddock as an awkward, unsure recent graduate, which works perfectly, but as the story moves forward, Benjamin is supposed to find his footing and become surer of himself and comfortable with the world around him, but Edwards can’t seem to find that arc in this character. With that being said, he exudes a certain confidence and authenticity that makes for a charming performance.

Final thought…The Graduate is a coming-of-age story with a good blend of lightheartedness and complexity that keeps this piece interesting. Being a well-known, classic film, there are built-in challenges of transferring to the live stage and for those who are unfamiliar with the film, there may be some missing pieces in the script and it may seem a little jumbled and rushed, but in the end, you get the gist of the story. The performances are commendable and, aside from the numerous blackouts breaking up the flow, the pacing is decent. The story itself is timeless and relatable, so it’s worth checking out this well put-together production.

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

The Graduate will run through March 4 at Dundalk Community Theatre, College Community Center, John E. Ravekes Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney at Single Carrot Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Walt Disney. Chances are, you know who he is and, more importantly, what he’s done. There’s no denying the man was uber-successful in business and “the happiest place on earth” came from the depths of his mind. However, for all the joy and happiness he brought to millions upon millions of people of all ages, even until this day, there was, of course, a darker side to this captain of industry. In Single Carrot Theatre’s latest offering, A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About The Death of Walt Disney by Lucas Hnath, Directed by Genevieve De Mahy and Matthew Shea, they shed light on the more unsavory characteristics of the this “Uncle Walt” and gives a glimpse into behind the scenes of some of his best and brightest ideas.

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(l-r) Meghan Stanton, Eric Poch, Paul Diem, Mohammad R. Suaidi. Credit: Britt Olsen-Ecker

Don’t let the title fool you. This piece is not just a reading but a play about a reading of an unproduced screenplay. Actually, it’s kind of clever. The screenplay being read is supposedly one written by Walt Disney himself, about himself, and includes background information during various points of interest in his life that the public may not have been privy to. If its point was to make Walt Disney look like a completely self-centered asshole who did what he needed to see out his visions and dreams, no matter what it was he had to do or say or who he had to hurt, this piece was totally successful. My question is… why?

I’m not a total fanatic when it comes to Disney. I enjoy the films, the music, the theme parks, all that… but I’m not going out of my way for them. However, with that being said, I’m curious as to why this piece was written. Was it simply to mar a man’s name? To shatter an image? To break the magic his name has brought to the aforementioned millions upon millions of people who live and breathe anything Disney and soak up it creates? If so, why? What’s the point? What’s more, the man isn’t even around to defend himself. Why try to destroy the legacy of man who has brought happiness to the world? One argument could be because bringing that happiness brought pain and strife to others. I don’t deny that. It probably did, or so says Lucas Hnath in this script. But, please, show me a man as successful as Disney who built an empire being the nice guy all the time. Is it right? I won’t tell you what’s right or wrong, that’s for you to decide for yourself, but is it a necessary evil when trying to attain the success Disney wanted? Yes. The material in this piece seems one sided and bitter and doesn’t seem to tell the story for enlightenment, but, for reasons only known to the author, for spite and “sticking it to the man,” as it were. That’s how I see it, anyway.

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Mohammad R. Suaidi, Paul Diem. Credit: Britt Olsen-Ecker

But I digress… I’ll step off my soapbox and get into the production itself, which is actually a very well-put together production. I could have done without the production of getting from the lobby to my seat, going through a dark, tight corridor with LED icicles that, I assume, is supposed to represent some kind of theme park or carnival attraction, then the clog at the performance space entrance because we had to stop to be seated personally by “Mr. Disney” with this Cheshire cat smile. When it’s general seating, I like to get from the lobby to my seat (which I like to choose) as quickly and efficiently as possible.

One major problem with this piece is the script. I am actually a fan of Lucas Hnath and it pains me to say, but this script is nothing but a jumble with incomplete sentences and cut offs. It’s hard to follow along and it continues through the ENTIRE piece. Luckily, this production of chock full of an able cast because the script is pretentious and trite being more show than substance.

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Mohammad r. Suaidi, Meghan Stanton, Paul Diem. Credit: Britt Olsen-Ecker

The space, however, is set up beautifully and that’s one of the things I really like about Single Carrot Theatre – their ability to change their space to fit the needs of the production. The tiered seating worked nicely for this production and the minimal Scenic Design by Kristin Hessenauer, Hayden Muller, Allison Blocechl, Cydney Cohn, and Sierra Ho is appropriate and effect, but I’m not sure why so many hands were involved in such a minimal Scenic Design… unless they are counting the seating arrangement and creepy entrance corridor, then maybe, but the simple cramped conference room setting is fitting and helps set the mood of this production.

Lighting Design by Helen Garcia-Alton and Sound Design by Glenn Ricci are impeccable and really help move this piece along. The changes from dim to full light are flawless and set the time and mood for each scene bringing the action together seamlessly. Garcia-Alton manages to capture the two sides of Walt Disney with both subtle and drastic changes in the lighting and keeps the audience engaged. Playing in tandem with the Lighting Design, Ricci’s Sound Design is careful not to overwhelm the production but blends in with the action to help tell the story and keep the action interesting.

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(l-r) Meghan Stanton, Eric Poch, Paul Diem, Mohammad R. Suaidi. Credit: Britt Olsen-Ecker

Co-Directors Genevieve De Mahy and Matthew Shea have a good grasp of this material and seem to like the purpose of exposing the dark side of Disney and stripping away prestige of the name. The minimal staging is wise and the action is stellar. The fact that all characters, except for Walt Disney are handcuffed to the table as if being kept prisoner and forced to listen, is powerful and drives home the kind of person Walt Disney was in real life. Their casting is top notch and they convened a cast with great chemistry and talent to pull this material off. Overall, their vision and presentation are on point and they should be applauded for their efforts in bringing this challenging script to life.

Eric Poch takes on the role of Ron Miller, Disney’s son-in-law, who is a fan, or so it seems, and needs a job. Poch seems to really embody this character with a goofy smile and tone that fits the character nicely (a former pro football player). He plays the character as an oafish but lovable guy and makes a good showing working well with and off of his cast mates.

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(l-r) Meghan Stanton, Eric Poch, Paul Diem. Credit: Britt Olsen-Ecker

Mohammad R. Suaidi tackles the role of the level headed and loyal lesser known brother, Roy Disney. Suaidi seems to have a good grasp on this character and seems comfortable in the role. His chemistry with Paul Diem (Walt Disney) is terrific and they work well with each other. This character could easily be played as a doormat for the title character to walk over, but Suaidi finds a good balance of loyalty and standing his ground in this character that plays quite well.

Meghan Stanton as Daughter (assuming it’s Diane Disney, since Ron is her husband) is a definite highlight of this production. She doesn’t have much to say but every line she delivers is genuine and her confidence and presence is strong, which works well with this discontented character. Stanton emotes the conflicting emotions of this character such as her love and hatred for her less-than-saintly father and her worry for her children is clear making for an overall outstanding performance.

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Paul Diem as Walt Disney. Credit: Britt Olsen-Ecker

Paul Diem shines as he takes on the titular role of Walt Disney. From the moment he enters the lobby to direct the audience to the performance space, Diem embodies Disney head to toe, which is no small feat. Though the structure of this script is horrendous, he does a brilliant job with his delivery, not skipping a beat in the fast-paced jumble of words. Not only is his delivery good, he really seems to have a good understanding of the character and man his he portraying.

Final thought…  A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About The Death of Walt Disney at Single Carrot Theatre is an interesting take on the beloved Walt Disney and sheds light on a darker side of the man who brought the world so much happiness. I hesitantly write this, but… this was not my kind of show. Now, let me be clear that the performances were pretty much spot on and the ensemble presented the material superbly with focused and engaging staging, but the script is trite and garbled with all of the “cut to” and broken sentences making it difficult to understand (and utter agony for anyone with an English degree). I’m actually a fan of Lucas Hnath and thoroughly enjoyed another piece producer last year in Baltimore, The Christians, so I know he can write, but this one seems to be trying too hard. However, don’t take my word for it. Go see it and form your own opinion, it just might be your kind of show.

This is what I thought of Single Carrot Theatre’s production of A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About The Death of Walt Disney… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About The Death of Walt Disney will play through February 25 at Single Carrot Theatre, 2600 North Howard Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-844-9253 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 3 hours and 15 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions

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The Tyrone Family (l-r: Kurt Rhoads, Danny Gavigan, Tim Getman, Deborah Hazlett) Credit: Stan Barouh

Some of the best fodder for plays, movies, television, or any form of entertainment is the family. Every family is different and every family has their ups and downs where sometimes the ups last for years with a few downs in between or vice versa. Who has the perfect family? Do you? I certainly don’t and if you do, please tell me what your secret is. Family can drive you crazy, at times, and Everyman Theatre’s latest production, Long Day’s Journey Into Night by the incomparable Eugene O’Neill, Directed by Donald Hicken, gives us a peek into a small family’s dysfunctional relationships at the beginning of the 20th century and, lo and behold, this production exhibits that family structures and dynamics haven’t really changed much throughout time.

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Deborah Hazlett as Mary Tyrone. Credit: Stan Barouh

Briefly, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a semi-autobiographical piece about O’Neill and his own family and revolves around the fictional Tyrone family, including James, it’s patriarch and famous actor, though he is really only known for one particular role, Mary, his wife, who loves to reminisce about her perfect childhood and never really fit in with her husband’s life in the theatre, and their two sons, the older but disappointing Jamie, who seems to have never really grown up, and the unassuming and sickly Edmund. Taking place during one full day from morning until midnight, we are presented with a family at odds with each other and with their individual selves as they try to grasp what is left of their small family, all the while dealing with addiction, sickness, alcoholism, and all the other fun things that keep a family going. In the end, it’s family so… what can you do? What impressed me the most is the authenticity of the dialogue and relationships within this family. For instance, a nice peaceful game of cards can turn into an all-out shouting match, then just as quickly as the shouting match began, it ends with a query of whose turn it is, as if the shouting match never happened. THAT’S family. That’s how things work. When it’s family, you forgive what you’d kill others for and no one seems to know why, but that’s the way it is and in this piece, O’Neill is on point.

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(l-r) Danny Gavigan as Edmund Tyrone, Deborah Hazlett as Mary Tyrone, and Kurt Rhoads as James Tyrone. Credit: Stan Barouh

Everyman Theatre has yet to disappoint with the production sets and this Set Design by Daniel Ettinger is no different. He uses his space wisely and his attention to detail is second to none. From the period furniture to the dark wood and insinuation of high ceilings, Ettinger hit the nail on the head with this design. The audience is transported to a turn of the century home that wants to look exquisite, but is really falling to pieces under the surface… much like the family who lives in it. Kudos to Ettinger for another successful design.

Jay Herzog’s Lighting Design works in tandem with the action of this piece and sets the mood and time of each scene flawlessly. Herzog’s use of subtle shifts and placement of the lighting gives the audience a sense of exactly what time of day it is which helps keep track of when the action is taking place in each scene. The shift from morning to afternoon, then afternoon into night is gradual and natural, just like a real summer’s day making for an impeccable design.

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Tim Getman as Jamie Tyrone. Credit: Stan Barouh

Costume Design by David Burdick is spot on as this ensemble looks like they stepped right out of the early 1900s in their stuffy, but stylish duds that conservatively covers them pretty much from head to toe, so Burdick’s eye for authenticity is apparent and his talent for period pieces shines through in this design.

Donald Hicken takes the helm of this production and, being a well-known piece to many as well as a heavy piece, the challenges are vast, but Hicken tackles them and presents us with a well thought-out and well-paced production that hits home. His comprehension of the material is apparent and his casting is superb with apt and able actors who take this text and present it purely and intensely as is required. Hicken’s vision is clear and the message of learning the raw truth of your family isn’t always nice or comfortable but necessary to understand the ones closest to you is strong thanks to the performances he pulls out of his actors. Hicken should be applauded for his efforts with this complex, epic piece that he has presented beautifully.

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, it’s clear these actors enjoy working together and off of each other and all have great chemistry with his or her fellow castmates. If I didn’t know any better, I’d definitely believe this was your everyday, run-of-the-mill family down the street and that alone makes for a delightful evening of theatre.

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Danny Gavigan as Edmund Tyrone and Tim Getman as Jamie Tyrone. Credit: Stan Barouh

I’d be remiss not to mention Katherine Ariyan, who takes on the supporting, but very important role of Cathleen, one of the spunky seasonal maids for the Tyrone family. Ariyan makes the most of her short time on the stage and is absolutely believable with her strong Irish accent and quick, natural delivery. Her character, at one point, acts as a fill-in for Mary, while her family is off on their own business, and is vital in bringing to light the addiction of which Mary gives into. Ariyan takes on this supporting role with gusto and gives a strong performance.

Tackling the significant roles of the Tyrone brothers are Everyman Theatre Company members Danny Gavigan as Edmund and Tim Getman as Jamie. The chemistry between these two actors is superb and authentic making for a natural brotherly relationship. Gavigan has a clear understanding of his character, who seems to be the “peacemaker” of this family even though he’s suffering from an ailment all to familiar to the era and he gives a confident performance, even when his delivery seems a bit lazy where I lose some of his dialogue. Though both are fine performers, Tim Getman, as Jamie, is the stronger of the two in this production. Getman hits the ground running with this loafing, seemingly caddish character, that he plays near perfectly, making his performance a highlight of this production.

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Deborah Hazlett as Mary Tyrone, Kurt Rhoads as James Tyrone. Credit: Stan Barough

The parents of this dysfunctional crew are played by Deborah Hazlett as Mary and Kurt Rhoads as James. These two actors are quite believable as an older married couple who were probably very much in love at one time and the husband/wife chemistry between the two is splendid. Hazlett has a deep comprehension of her character and, it seems, of women in general of this early 20th century era and plays it to the hilt. I want to feel sorry for this character, but it’s clear she has found a way to deal with the lot she’s been given with the addiction she’s let take hold. Hazlett is sure to portray Mary as a caring soul, but with past and present demons she must deal with. The emotion she exudes as she tells this character’s story is poignant and real making for a stellar performance, overall.

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Kurt Rhoads as James Tyrone. Credit: Stan Barouh

Kurt Rhoads, as James Tyrone, the loud, control-craving father of the brood, is the definite standout in this production. His impressive, booming voice makes one stand up and take notice when he is on the stage and his presence is strong and confident, as it should be for this role. He, too, has a great comprehension of his character and its flaws. In his scenes with Gavigan and Getman, he’s totally believable as the domineering father in his delivery and gestures while he is more subdued in dealing with Hazlett’s character. He gets this character and plays him near flawlessly making him one to watch in this production.

Final thought… If you’re going to check out Long Day’s Journey Into Night at Everyman Theatre, brace yourself! Go to the restroom, get settled, and be ready to make an entire evening of it. It is, after all, an O’Neill drama. However, that being said… this is a show you don’t want to miss! I went in with hesitations because of my modern-day short attention span, but this production is top-notch and engaging. The pacing is on point and the performances are superb. Over half a century later, this story of family relations is still relevant and very relatable. Even though this play is set in the early 1900s, it’s interesting to see how very similar family relationships are even today. Styles may change, but, in the grand scheme of things, human nature stays the same and Eugene O’Neill had an uncanny knack of putting it down on paper. With a great script and production value, this is not a show you want to miss this season.

This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Long Day’s Journey Into Night will play through March 4 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Skeleton Crew at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours one 10-minute intermission

Circa 2008, the USA was thrown into a recession that hit hard. Some felt nothing, some felt a little, and then there were some who were completely knocked on their asses. Detroit has a special place in American history – from its place as the 4th largest city in The United States of America, to it’s decline, and its current up-sweep. Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau, Directed by Nicole A. Watson, is a perfect fit for The Women’s Voices Theater Festival and gives us a peek into the decline part of that history and gives those who may not have been in the heart of it a better understanding with relatable, authentic characters and heartfelt stories of survival in uncertain times.

SkeletonCrew_press with captions2Skeleton Crew is one part of Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit Project that includes this play as well as Detroit ’67 and Paradise Blue. This is a truly American play that exhibits an American experience as the country was on the verge of an economic collapse and deals with a group of people trapped in a system that seems to force their hand but also presents the choices those same people can make. The story is relatable and relevant as are the characters within this story and the dialogue is authentic making this an intriguing, engrossing evening of theatre.

Scenic Design by Mariana Sanchez gives us a well thought-out Scenic Design utilizing a unit set of a simple breakroom with all the fixings including a small kitchen area as well as a small locker area. It’s the details that make this set more real and “lived in” such as the dingy, stained walls and various signs, notes, and notices attached to them.

SkeletonCrew_press with captions4Sanchez’s design works in perfect tandem with a Lighting Design by Burke Brown and Sound Design by Darron L. West giving us a full and immersive production. Brown manages to set the mood and time of each scene with subtle shifts of light from within the small breakroom as well as from the insinuated factory beyond. His use of jolting flashes of light during particular points and transitions in the production are effective and work well with the piece as a whole. Along with Brown’s design, Darron L. West’s superb Sound Design helps put the audience smack dab in the middle of this auto factory with muted background sounds of an operational facility. The hum and rhythm of the machines are always present and are almost like the heartbeat of the production but also adds that extra bit of authenticity.

Costume Design by Karen Perry is spot on with a contemporary look of folks who are a little down on their luck, scraping by, but with their heads still above water. Like just about every other aspect of this production, Perry’s working-class, urban design is true and well thought-out, transcending the audience to this time and place making this piece more relatable.

Nicole A. Watson takes the helm of this production and her Direction is on point, guiding her actors and creative team to bring out the poignancy and drama of this story. She has a good grasp on the material and understands the delicate balance between feeling sorry for these strong characters and rooting for them. Her staging is engaging and allows for great pacing mixing points of urgency and calm that keep the audience interested and invested.

SkeletonCrew_press with captions8Moving on to the performance aspect of Skeleton Crew, we meet Shanita, portrayed by an able Brittany Bellizeare. Shanita is a young mother-to-be who is optimistic, hard-working and proud of her work and wants what’s best for the city she lives in. Belllizeare shines in this role and it’s as if it was written just for her. She’s comfortable with this character and has a good understanding of what she’s going through and what she has to deal with as a single, pregnant young woman trying to make her way in the world. Her grasp of this character is quite apparent, especially in her monologue about how her character feels like she’s making a difference with her part in creating automobiles and how she’s a part of the lives of people who purchase and drive these vehicles. Aside from sounding a little scripted, at times, Bellizeare gives a strong, confident performance.

SkeletonCrew_press with captions9Gabriel Lawrence takes on the role of Dez, the young, rough-around-the-edges guy who has a slight problem with authority and big dreams of striking out on his own. Lawrence gives a brilliant performance as this character and seems to understand the load this character carries on his shoulders every day as a young, middle-class, African-American male. Lawrence also manages to blend that rough exterior with a man who is, deep down, a good soul. The way he portrays him with his fellow workers in the breakroom as opposed to the way he portrays the character with management is a good, definite switch that makes this character interesting.

SkeletonCrew_press with captions10Sekou Laidlow is a highlight in this production as he tackles the role of Reggie, the Supervisor who worked his way up the ranks at the factory but has close ties to the workers and absolutely understands their plights and honestly wants what’s best for everyone. Laidlow starts off a little stiff, but quickly starts to ease into his character to give a natural portrayal. Laidlow understands his character walks the very thin line between management and employees but he plays this balance beautifully. We learn of this character’s background and relationship with the other characters and Laidlow manages to emote the conflict within this character of what he thinks is right and black and white of company policy. He’s got a strong presence and natural flair that makes his performance a definite highlight.

SkeletonCrew_press with captions7Last, but certainly not least, we have Stephanie Berry, who takes on the role of Faye, the hard-as-nails old-timer on the line who happens to be the union representative and seems to have seen it all and knows how to survive. Berry, hands down, is the standout in this production and completely embodies this character she is portraying. She pulls of a motherly persona, who wants to take care of those around her, as well as the loner persona who just wants to be left alone to take care of herself. That conflicting balance can be challenging to portray, but Berry does it with ease and confidence. The character of Faye is multi-faceted but Berry tackles her with gusto and is quite successful in her portrayal. Her presence is formidable and her chemistry with her castmates is superb. The poignancy in tandem with the roughness in her portrayal make this a beautiful performance and certainly one to watch.

Final thought…  Skeleton Crew at Baltimore Center Stage is a fitting addition for The Women’s Voices Theater Festival with its strong female lead and its poignant and authentic look at the decline of a great city and the effects of that decline on the people living and working there. Dominique Morisseau’s script is top-notch as it is engaging with a beautiful blend of drama and comedy that makes for a tangible representation of everyday life, allowing for the audience to relate and connect with these characters. The chemistry in this cast is impeccable and the performances are top notch. Get your tickets, now, for this production because it’s not one you want to miss.

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

Skeleton Crew will play through March 4 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Love is a Blue Tick Hound by Rapid Lemon Productions at Baltimore Theatre Project

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours one 10-minute intermission

There comes a time when we all question our lives. Some do it once in awhile, some do it when things are going crazy, and some do it daily… well, most of us do it daily, and Rapid Lemon Productions‘ latest offering, Love is a Blue Tick Hound by Audrey Cefaly, Directed by Donna Ibale, Lee Conderacci, Betse Lyons, and Lauren Erica Jackson, and Set Design by Reese Siedlecki tries to answer some of those questions through four two-person shorts exposing the lives of folks from different walks of life with very different questions and problems.

In a nutshell, Love is a Blue Tick Hound is a delving introspective on relationships and ask the serious questions of life. The entire production is made up of four short two-person plays that ask life’s questions such as “are we happy or are we settling?” or “am I afraid to be alone or am I okay with that?” with a blend of poignancy and comedy that gives the audience emotional peaks and valleys that make for good theatre.

Set Design by Reese Siedlecki is semi-minimal but quite appropriate to make it easy to present four different stories. Set pieces are brought on and off stage to set the scenes and this design does its job superbly. With the use of lawn chairs, a cafe table, willow weeds, and a living room set transports the audience into the scenes easily. Transitions are a bit lengthy and clunky, but not enough to deter the flow of the piece and the cast is well-rehearsed and precise in the changes.

Light and Sound Design by Allan Sean Weeks and Max Garner, respectively, add great value to this production while Weeks sets the scene and times of day brilliantly with subtle light changes and accents while Garner produces a flawless sound design that puts the audience smack dab in the scene with a well thought-out design that doesn’t hinder, but helps the setting and adds that extra authenticity. Also, I found myself Shazam-ing the transition tunes that were used because, well, they were not only fitting but pretty awesome tunes!

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Lauren Erica Jackson as Euba and Carolyn Koch as Fin. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Moving on to the shorts themselves, we are first presented with Fin and Euba, Directed by Donna Ibale, featuring Carolyn Koch as Fin and Lauren Erica Jackson as Euba. This short concerns best friends Fin and Euba (of course) as they complain about their current situation and dream about changing it but don’t do much to do so, as if they are settling for what they go or are afraid to move forward. Director Donna Ibale has a great comprehension of this text and presents the piece in an authentic, down-home way that works nicely. Koch understands her character and portrays her fittingly as someone who wants so much more but can’t seem to figure out how to get it while Jackson, as Euba, portrays her character beautifully as someone who doesn’t dare to want more. Both actresses have a good chemistry and work well off each other to present a deep connection and dependency upon each other.

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Beste Lyons as Lina and Justin Johnson as Roberto. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Second we are presented with Clean, Directed by Lee Conderacci, featuring Betse Lyons as Lina and Justin Johnson as Roberto. In this piece, food service two co-workers discuss relationships and wants before opening and make certain discoveries about each other that were right in front of them the entire time. Director Lee Conderacci’s casting is spot on and she presents this piece in a minimally, but effectively. Lyons embodies her character and connects with the audience making you empathize with her character’s turmoil and her confidence and onstage presence makes one take notice. Johnson gives a superb performance as the immigrant dish-washer with a secret yearning and common sense way of looking at things. His performance is spot-on making him and this piece a highlight of this production.

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Donna Ibale as Kendra and Aladrian C. Wetzel as Betty. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Next is The Gulf, Directed by Betse Lyons, featuring Donna Ibale as Kendra and Aladrian C. Wetzel as Betty. This short begins with what simply looks like two people on a fishing excursion in a deep southern watering hole. However, we discover Betty, played flawlessly by Wetzel, is trying to better herself with plans of schooling and moving out of wherever they currently are and Kendra, played by an able and intense Ibale, is content to stay right where she is. Director Betse Lyons seems to have a tight grasp on this material and presents it simply and concisely with her choice of setting and casting. Wetzel, gives a glimmer of grace and elegance just under the surface of her character and it works beautifully for the scene. The despair and want this actress exudes makes one want to just take her, hug her, and tell her everything’s going to be okay. Ibale, too, portrays her rough around the edges character impeccably with a smidgen of vulnerability that she tries to hide but can’t help but let show every now and then. This piece and its actresses are certainly standouts in this production with spot on performances.

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Mike Smith as Bob and Lee Conderacci as Maggie. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Finally, the production rounds out with Stuck, Directed by Lauren Erica Jackson, featuring Mike Smith as Rob and Lee Conderacci as Maggie. This short deals with a second date between two people who might not know exactly what they’re looking for and trying very hard to impress others. Director Lauren Erica Jackson gives a good showing in her presentation and her understanding of the material is evident. Conderacci gets the fundamentals of her character, a strong woman who has a definite individuality but still wants to “fit in,” and she portrays this nicely but her delivery gets a little scripted at times, but her energy and confident stage presence makes for a lovely performance. Her partner, Mike Smith is the stronger of the duet and is, hands down, another standout in this production. His portrayal of his character, a nervous young man going into a second date and just wants to make a good impression, is on point and natural. He has a strong stage presence with a good comedic timing making for a performance that is a joy to watch.

Final thought… Love is a Blue Tick Hound from Rapid Lemon Production is a perfect fit for Women’s Voice Theatre Festival and the tries to answer some of life’s questions through a series of four short plays directed by a different director (all of whom are women and double as actors in one of the other plays) and allows for various visions of a main theme and each play is cast nicely with actors who work well together. Presenting this piece in a minimalist fashion is a wise choice as is forces concentration on the text and performances making the scenes uncluttered and more meaningful. Overall, this production is well through-out and well-presented and is worth checking out if your wandering around looking for good live theatre in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

This is what I thought of Rapid Lemon Productions’ production of Love is a Blue Tick Hound… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Love is a Blue Tick Hound will play through January 21 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD and February 9-17 at Logan Fringe Art Space: Trinidad Theatre, 1358 Florida Avenue, NE Washington, DC. For tickets, you can purchase them online.

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Review: First Date at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission

Most of us have been there. A well-meaning friend or family member wants to set us up with someone who will be “perfect” for us. So, we give in (usually after relentless nudging) and find ourselves in a coffee shop or restaurant, waiting anxiously to meet our possible future lifelong mate. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it’s a total disaster, but every time, we learn something about ourselves and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. In Spotlighters Theatre‘s latest offering, First Date with a Book by Austin Winsberg and Music and Lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weine, Directed by Fuzz Roark, with Music Direction by Michael W. Tan, and Choreography by Emily Frank, gives us a glimpse, from a safe distance, into one of these first dates and all the feelings, anxieties, and emotions that go into the whole messy affair.

In a nutshell, First Date tells the story of, well, a first date between Aaron and Casey, who have been set up by Aaron’s best friend and Casey’s sister. Aaron has no experience with blind dates and Casey is what one would call a serial dater, having a lot of experiences, with first dates, anyway. Throughout the show, we are given a glimpse into the thoughts that go through Aaron and Casey’s heads as these thoughts materialize in front of us in the form of friends, family, ex-girlfriends, etc. We are shown the insecurities, anxieties, and fears of these two young people as they discover themselves, in the process.

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The Company of First Date. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Alan Zemla’s Set Design is clever for this space, that he knows so well. He has managed to create a cozy setting using the entire theatre, making the audience feel as though they are sitting in the same small restaurant where the action is unfolding. The use of easy to move set pieces and detailed set decorations make for an authentic, immersive design that works quite well for this piece.

Choreography by Emily Frank is high-energy and fun and the ensemble seems to be having a blast performing it. She seems to know her cast well, and has created moves that her cast can perform effortlessly. With it’s contemporary style, it works well with Michael W. Tan’s focused, and well-rehearsed Music Direction. Together, Frank’s Choreography and Tan’s Music Direction add great value to this production and make for a delightful evening of theatre.

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Matt Wetzel and Adam Abruzzo. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Fuzz Roark takes the helm of this production and his vision for this modern piece is clear in his Direction. This may be billed as a one act, but pacing is a bit dragging and this piece can easily be broken up into two acts, if just to let the audience run to the restroom or stretch our legs a bit. Not even a decade old, it can be tricky to make a piece like this look authentic, but Roark does just that. With so many modern day references such as cell phones, Facebook, dating apps, and the like, dialogue could be very scripted, but with Roark’s splendid casting, he has managed to guide this ensemble to portraying an impressive realism. The transitions are smooth and the piece flows nicely (aside from the minor pacing issue) making for a charming and enjoyable production.

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Reed DeLisle as Aaron and Lindsay Litka as Casey. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

First Date has quite a few characters with a small ensemble taking on various roles and this strong ensemble takes on the task with gusto and dedication. Aside from the actors portraying the main characters, Aaron and Casey, the other five actors impressively take on all of the other characters in this piece and their hard work pays off.

Matt Wetzel and Marela Kay Minosa take on the supporting roles of Man 2 and Woman 2, two other patrons in the restaurant, as well as other important characters such as Allison, Aaron’s chilly ex-girlfriend, and Reggie, Casey’s flamboyant best friend who leaves messages on her voicemail throughout the evening. According to Roark, Minosa is making her stage debut and she gives a very good first showing. She is committed to her roles and seems to understand how they move the story along, especially the role of Allison. Though a bit subdued in her performance, she gives the character an icy and snooty overtone that is required of this character and should be applauded for her first time treading the boards.

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Lindsay Litka and Reed DeLisle. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

It’s clear to see that Wetzel is giging 100% to all his characters and he shines with his praise-worthy performance as Aaron’s Future Son as he easily raps his way through the number “The Girl for You.” He also gives a very strong, humorous performance as a British Rocker, with a spot on British accent and good comedic timing in another featured number “That’s Why You Love Me.” His energy is consistent and it’s easy to see he’s enjoying performing his roles but in such an intimate space as Spotlighters, it may be a bit too much at times. He’s very expressive and, on a larger stage, it works perfectly, but when the audience is inches away, it comes off as unnatural. For instance, though some may find his portrayal as Reggie, the over-the-top friend of Casey amusing, I find it to be stereotypical and a bit mocking, though the audience seems to get a kick out of it. However, that being said, he has a good comprehension of his characters’ roles in this story and has has a good command of the stage making for a strong, entertaining performance.

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(l-r) Marela Kay Minosa, Reed DeLisle, and Adam Abruzzo. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Adam Abruzzo and Alyssa Bell take on the role of Man 1 and Woman 1, but also take on other, important roles such as Gabe and Lauren, the best friend of Aaron and sister of Casey, the architects of this first date. Both of these actors are able and make all of the characters they portray individuals. Abruzzo, as Gabe, is comfortable playing this aggressive, in-your-face character, making him quite the lovable asshole, who really just wants what’s best for his best bud. He also carries his own, vocally, along side Wetzel in his featured number, “That’s Why You Love Me,” as well as his part in the rap (again, along with Wetzel) in “The Girl for You.”

Bell is cast well in her roles, especially as Lauren, Casey’s over-bearing sister and Aaron’s Mother. Her performance is authentic and varied, giving each character their own space and, vocally, she shines with a sweet tone as in number such as the emotional “The Things I Never Said.” Also, she’s hilarious portraying Aaron’s very Jewish grandmother with a good grasp on comedic timing and character.

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(l-r) Adam Abruzzo, Alyssa Bell, Jim Gross, and Marela Kay Minosa. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Jim Gross, as Waiter, the love-lorn observer, who has seen more than his fair share of first dates, gives a commendable showing. With a big presence and command of the stage, he certainly makes one stand up and take notice, but, like Wetzel, seems to be a bit too big for Spotlighters intimate setting. He knows his character and is dedicated to his performance, but it seems a bit scripted, but probably would not be on a larger stage. In his featured number, “I’d Order Love,” his booming voice easily fills the theatre and he completely understands the humor of this number and performs it nicely.

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Reed DeLisle and Lindsay Litka. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Reed DeLisle as Aaron and Lindsey Litka as Casey are the definite highlights of his production. Both of these actors have an uncanny chemistry and a completely natural delivery of dialogue that makes one forget these two are reading from a script. They are comfortable with their characters and with each other making for impeccable performances. They both have a strong presence and easily command the stage. Both are superb actors but, vocally, Litka is the stronger singe. That’s not to say DeLisle can’t hold his own, because he certainly can, as he exhibits in the poignant “The Things I Never Said.” Litka is an absolute powerhouse with every note she sings and her flawless performance of “Safer” will downright give you chills.

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Lindsay Litka as Casey. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Final thought… First Date at Spotlighters Theatre is a fun, thoughtful piece that you do not want to miss this season. The story is deep and poignant with an important message of not only self-discovery but discovery of the people who surround you and the interactions involved in first meetings. With high energy choreography, and a great cast with impeccable chemistry and two leads who have a natural delivery and ability to portray these insecure characters, you’ll be able to relate, if not about first dates, about how anxieties and self-doubt occasionally creep into our everyday lives. It’s also a story of how we can overcome those doubts to find our happiness, when we really need it. Get your tickets now!

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

First Date will play through January 21 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

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Review: Madagascar, A Musical Adventure at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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NOTE: MADAGASCAR, A MUSICAL ADVENTURE CLOSED DECEMBER 23, 2017

Running Time: Approx. 80 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Do you like to move it, move it? Well, if you do, you’re probably familiar with the 2005 Dreamworks film Madagascar. If you’re not familiar with it and it’s sequels, it’s a cute computer-animated feature about four unlikely animal friends, a lion, a zebra, a giraffe, and a hippo, from the Central Park Zoo who find themselves on the island of Madagascar, realizing what it is to be in the wild. Red Branch Theatre Company’s latest offering, Madagascar, A Musical Adventure, with a Book by Kevin Del Aguila and Music and Lyrics by George Noriega and Jose Someillan, is the stage version of this popular film, Directed by Jenny Male, with Music Direction by Dustin Merril, and Choreography by Angeleaza Anderson, Sarah Luckadoo, and Jenny Male, is fun, energetic production perfect for this time of year when you need a break from the crazy mid-Atlantic weather and the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Set Design by Jacob Cordell is minimal but appropriate and sets the scenes cleverly. Using set pieces, it’s easy to determine where each scene is placed and Cordell decorates the set festively that works quite will with this piece.

A highlight of this production is Choreography by Angeleaza Anderson, Sarah Luckadoo, and Jenny Male. It’s contemporary, high energy, tight, and the ensemble performs it well, adding great value to the production as a whole and keeps the attention of the targeted, younger audience members.

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The company of Madagascar, A Musical Adventure. Photo: Bruce F Press Photography

Costume Design by Jackie Rebok is well thought-out, flashy, and fanciful, as it should be. With the risk of doing too much for a character when it comes to people playing animals, Rebok’s design is intelligent in that it doesn’t inhibit the actors performances but gives the audience just enough to know which animal is being portrayed. Simple, but spot on, each costume is quite appropriate and adds great value to this production. On a personal note, I think the platform boots for Melman the Giraffe are everything and a clever touch to the character.

Music Diretion by Dustin Merrill is focused and commendable and, even though the production uses recorded music (I’m assuming, since there wasn’t a pit orchestra listed in the program), his cast his well-rehearsed and committed. The score is very pop-inspired and quite catchy. The tunes are hummable and the ensemble has a good grasp of the music making for a delightful production.

Jenny Male takes the helm of this production of Madagascar, A Musical Adventure and her vision and staging of this piece is superb. She doesn’t treat this material simply as a “kids show” but as a quality production. It’s a fluffy show that’s meant to be more fun than anything, but it does have a message of belonging of which Male has a strong comprehension and her vision is clear. Her casting is spot on and her staging keeps the piece moving along nicely with smooth transitions and a peppy pace.

Speaking on the performances of this piece, it’s worth noting that every single ensemble member is 100% committed and gives dedicated, strong performances. They all work well together and take the piece seriously enough to get the message across but also have fun with the material making for an engaging evening of theatre.

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The company of Madagascar, A Musical Adventure. Photo: Bruce F Press Photography

To begin, Rick Westerkamp takes on the role of the over-the-top, zany King Julien and Megan Henderson takes on the character of the business-like assistant, Maurice. Overall, these two give confident performances and are comfortable in their roles, but Westerkamp takes the over-the-top a little too far and it actually hinders his performance. It’s as if he’s trying too hard for the laugh and the portrayal falls a bit flat. Vocally, he’s not the strongest and with one of the most recognizable, catchy songs in the entire production, “I Like to Move It,” one would think this number would be the most memorable. The choreography is spot on but Westerkamp seems to be just going through the motions, depending on the assumption that the audience will find it humorous.

Ben Ribler tackles the role of Alex the Lion, the star of the Central Park Zoo and a carefree, kept creature that takes advantages of all the privileges that entails. Ribler’s character work is admirable and, vocally, he makes a very good showing but it is a subdued performance, lacking energy at times, and he seems to be so soft spoken, it was difficult to make out his dialogue through much of the performance. However, aside from a few minor issues, he has a good presence, understands his character, and seems to be enjoying the role which transfers to the beguiled audience.

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Bryan Thompson as Marty. Photo: Bruce F Press Photography

Performing the role of Marty the Zebra is Bryan Thompson and he has a great grasp of this character and his need for freedom. Thompson’s delivery is commendable and his dedication is apparent for this role. Vocally, he may not be as strong as others in the ensemble, but he holds his own nicely and has great chemistry with his cast mates. Overall, it’s a notable performance and his enjoyment of playing this role shines through.

Though supporting characters, The Penguins are probably some of the most popular characters in this piece and Liliana Evans as Skipper, Angeleaza Anderson as Private, Sarah Luckadoo Rico, and Molly Mayne as Kowalski give a hilarious showing as these determined arctic fowls. They have a brilliant chemistry and work well together. Each actor portrays the individuality of each character and give the Penguins a near perfect balance of hard-nosed, military purpose and compassion for their fellow animals. Kudos to Evans, Anderson, Luckadoo, and Mayne on their wonderful performances.

Danny Bertaux is a highlight in this production as Melman the Giraffe. Melman is such a quirky character, but Bertaux pulls off a stellar performance. He embodies this character who suffers from severe hypochondria and endears himself to the audience. He works quite well with and off of his cast mates and adds a certain charm to this character. It’s worth mentioning, also, that he keeps up with the intense choreography in exceedingly high platform boots (that I absolutely adore) without missing a step. Overall, a praise-worthy performance.

In this particular production, Taylor Washington as Gloria the Hippo as the standout. This lady has a voice on her that soars throughout the theatre and makes one take notice. She’s committed to her role and adds a maternal aspect that is required of Gloria. Her chemistry with her “boys” is spot on and she takes the material seriously enough to tell the story but also has fun with the role that balances out to be a superb performancce.

Final thought… Madagascar is a cute, fun, and energetic staged version of the popular 2005 film and it transfers nicely to the stage. The music is pop-inspired and damned catchy, that you may find yourself humming on your way out of the theatre. The performances are committed and the ensemble is strong. You don’t have to be familiar with the film to enjoy this family-friendly, fluffy, and thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre.

This is what I thought of Red Branch Theatre Company’s production of Madagascar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Madagascar, A Musical Adventure played December 8-23 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD.

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Review: A Christmas Carol at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Bah Humbug! It’s a phrase familiar to most who know the story of old, crotchety Ebeneezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story teaches many lessons including compassion, empathy, and love, especially around the holidays. So, it’s popular story and has been adapted countless times for both stage and film so, there’s always a risk that most of the theatre companies in any particular area will rush to present their own version of this staple of the holiday season. With about 15 productions going on in Baltimore at the same time, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has joined the fray to mount their latest production of A Christmas Carol, adapted and Directed by Founding Artistic Directory Ian Gallanar, with Music Direction by Grace Srinivasan, Choreography by Nellie K. Glover, Set and Lighting Design by Daniel O’Brien, and Costume Design by Kristina Lambdin, giving a traditional look at this classic with a good old Baltimore twist.

Set and Light Design by Daniel O’Brien is simple, but impressive. A bit minimal as it is a unit set but using various set pieces to represent times and places makes for an efficient design to help move the story along and O’Brien’s attention to detail for each well-chosen piece gives the production a more authentic feel all around. His Lighting Design is also a well though-out design as it sets the mood for each scene adding a little creepiness when needed as well as bringing a particular brightness to the more lighthearted scenes.

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Tiny Tim (Vivian Klepper) and Bob Cratchit (Scott Alan Small) take a stroll in the snow on Christmas Day. Photo: Jean Thompson

Kristina Lambdin’s Costume Design are nothing less than superb. Her attention to detail and craftsmanship is top notch, taking the audience back to the Victorian era with its layers and subdued, earthy colors. Each character was dressed appropriately and seemed to be as comfortable as can be in the style making for a very intelligent, authentic design.

Choreography by Nellie K. Glover is delightful and upbeat for the numbers requiring dance and merry-making. In numbers such as the Fezziwig party scene, Glover keeps the chorography engaging and in the style of the era in which the production is set, adding to the authenticity of the entire piece. The cast seems to have a blast performing the choreography making for a fun, energized performance.

Grace Srinivasan’s Music Direction is admirable as we are treated to traditional carols such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Coventry Carol,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” that fit very well with this production. Srinivasan has this ensemble singing in harmony and has well-chosen featured vocalists. There is actually a very good balance of music in this production and Srinivasan’s work adds value to this production.

Scrooge and Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Elliott Kashner) reveals to Ebenezer Scrooge (Gregory Burgess) that few people will remember him fondly after his death because he has been so miserly. Photo: Jean Thompson

Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar wears the hats of both Director and Adapter of this production and, overall, it’s a good showing, but it does have it’s flaws. First off, setting the story in Baltimore is endearing and charming indeed, but the reminders of this in what seems every other line can get taxing and give the appearance of trying too hard. He didn’t change the time, just the place and because of that, it frankly doesn’t change much. Spouting out Baltimore street names and places is more like filler rather than important to the story line making the script seem a bit trite. He may have been a little more successful by keeping the story in tact, completely. As for his Direction of the production, it’s commendable keeping this large cast in sync, but the staging is a little flat. For instance, the fateful meeting between Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley is very lackluster and moves along at a snail’s pace, as do other scenes. Most of the performances are admirable with a well-cast, dedicated ensemble, but the staging and script somewhat hinder some of the phenomenal talent onstage. Overall, pacing was okay, but transitions were a bit clunky and slowed the flow. That being said, it’s clear Gallanar has a good comprehension of the story and the message it sends as well as a good understanding of these characters. The audiences are definitely entertained, but a little more work on the text and staging would do well for this production as a whole.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, Scott Alan Small takes on the role of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s gentle and compassionate clerk and Gabriel Hoch tackles the role of the ill, but positive Tiny Tim. Small gives an admirable performance but it does fall a bit flat throughout. He has a good grasp of the character but is stiff and scripted throughout. However, he has good chemistry with this ensemble and is confident onstage. Gabriel Hoch, one of the many children in this production also gives a good showing and is a good fit for this role and understands its importance, giving a good sympathetic spin on this character. When it comes to the many children in this production, all seem to be simply going through the motions – reading their lines and moving to their marks. A little more work with the children may have benefited their performances just a tad.

Ghost of Christmas Past

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Ashly Fishell-Shaffer) enjoys Scrooge’s memories of his Maryland childhood. Photo: Jean Thompson

There are quite a few ghosts or spirits in this production and Keegan Cassady takes on the role of The Ghost of Jacob Marley and, though he portrays a very creepy ghost, the performance seems called in but this may be because of the staging. For such an important scene, I wanted more from The Ghost of Jacob Marley, not just a walking around banging chains. It looks great, and Cassady does what he’s supposed to do in being scary, but he could step up the intensity.

Ashly Fishell-Shaffer portrays The Ghost of Christmas Past, Larry Malkus takes on the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Elliot Kashner performs the silent role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Fischell-Shaffer gives a fantastic, whimsical portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Past and gives the character a good balance of empathy and sternness that the character requires to help Scrooge remember better times, as well as not so happy times that shaped him into the man he is. Larry Malkus is a dominant, confident Ghost of Christmas Present and gives a strong performance as the traditionally robust and hearty character.

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Fred Scrooge (Elliott Kashner) invites his uncle Ebenezer Scrooge (Gregory Burgess) to dinner and offers a gift, which Scrooge declines. Photo: Jean Thompson

Elliott Kashner does take on the shadowy role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but he is a highlight of this production as Fred, Scrooge’s young, hapless, and congenial nephew. Kashner gives a committed and strong performance as the counter to the curmudgeon old Scrooge and keeps up his energy throughout the production. A featured scene, a Christmas party along with his wife, Dorothy (Alana Michelle), Topper (Bart Debick), and Caroline (Kate Forton), is natural with a good chemistry between all of the actors. Forton gives a particularly humorous performance of a young girl who’s had a little too much egg nog.

Two standouts in this production are Larry Malkus as Mr. Fezziwig and Kathryne Daniels as Mrs. Fezziwig. This scene during a point in Scrooge’s past is always a high-energy, upbeat scene and Malkus and Daniels take it to the hilt. They both give strong, energetic performances with a natural flare that make these characters likable from the moment they step onstage.

Fezziwig Dance

Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (Larry Malkus and Kathryne Daniels) kick up their heels during an office party with employees Young Scrooge (JC Payne), George Wilkens (Bart Debicki) and others (Lauren Engler and Elana Michelle) among the revelers. Photo: Jean Thompson

Gregory Burgess is superb as Ebeneezer Scrooge and has a tight grasp on this character and what he’s all about. His transition from the beginning of this story to the end is seamless but noticeable, as it should be. He has a strong presence and a great command of the stage making him an ideal Ebeneezer Scrooge. There are a few curious choices he makes portraying this character such as a screeching yelp I believe is supposed to be comical but comes off more jarring than anything and a tendency to over-act with large, sweeping gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. Regardless, Burgess portrays this popular, well-known character with a natural ease and succeeds in transitioning Scrooge from a stingy, heartless old man to a loving, compassionate being who has really learned the meaning of Christmas and the love of your fellow man.

Final thought… A Christmas Carol is a timeless tale that can be challenging to give an overall fresh look. Some adaptations are successful, some are so-so, and some are downright painful. I’d put this production at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in the middle category of so-so. Don’t get me wrong… the production itself is quite good and the audiences seem to enjoy it immensely. Most of the performances were top-notch and dedicated, the costumes were on point, the music selections are appropriate and well-rehearsed, the Set Design is spot on, and all technical aspects of this production work nicely together. The problem lies in the script and the attempt to bring Baltimore into the equation. This story is such that it can be set anywhere, but the setting is not so important as the lesson taught and being reminded that we are in Baltimore every five minutes got downright annoying. We get it. We’re in Baltimore. It’s cute and it helps the audience make a connection, but sometimes it’s best to air on the side of moderation. As stated, overall, it is a well put-together, focused and, even though there are about fifteen other productions of A Christmas Carol happening in the area, this is a production, aside from a few minor flaws, worth checking out during the holiday season.

This is what I thought of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of A Christmas Carol… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Christmas Carol will play through December 23 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-244-8571 or purchase them online.

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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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