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St. Mark's Players - ARCHIVE
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January 9 - 24, 2009
Reviewed January11 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 3:15 - one intermission
A Potomac Stages Pick for great performances of an intellectually challenging script
Click here to buy the script

There are those who ask us why we cover community theater. After all, they seem to say, isn’t all the good stuff on professional stages? My answer for now will be “St. Mark’s Amadeus.” Its not only why we cover community theater. It is why we cover theater! Sure, the cast is uneven in its talents – the company draws from a deep pool of devoted people who have a variety of skill levels. But there is one very fine performance, one even better one and one fabulous one, and they happen to be the three leads. The director gives these three superb performers the freedom to make the most of their roles while maintaining the balance required of Peter Shafer’s demandingly intellectual script, and imparting to the other twelve members of the cast a sense of the quality of the material and the excitement of its language, pace and subject. The result is a lengthy excursion into intelligent theatrics that is to be treasured. If it drags a bit at the end, that is really a reflection of Shafer's inability to wrap it up cleanly and not the fault of the production.

Storyline: Peter Shaffer takes the rumor that Mozart was poisoned by a less talented colleague out of jealousy and uses it to explore weighty questions such as why God distributes his blessings so unevenly and why great talent resides in some less than great individuals.

Shaffer's play, just like his Equus and The Royal Hunt of the Sun, takes dramatic license with historical fact in order to explore philosophical truths, psychological phenomena and moral conundrums with a theatrical sense of the dramatic and a poetic sense of language. The result, when poorly produced, can be deathly dull. When well staged, as it is here, it can be captivating. For three of the three and a quarter hours of this production, you are tempted to push the "pause" button to ponder a point or savor a turn of phrase. Then, for the final quarter hour, you are tempted to push the "fast forward" button to get it over with. But, being a live performance, neither option is available. The ratio of fascinating to frustrating, thus, is roughly 12 to 1 which is much more than commendable.

James Raby captures the imagination at the very start of the show as the wheelchair bound supposed killer of Mozart, Antonio Salieri, who calls forth the audience as "the ghosts of the distant future" to bear witness to his act. As the flashback frees him from the wheelchair he stays just as captivating, exploring his frustration after having asked God to give him the ability to praise Him through music, only to find that that ability resides in the miscreant, Mozart, whose coarseness and shallow self absorption is well played by Jose Guzman. Add the thoroughly satisfying work of Noelle LuSane, as the girl who would become Mozart's wife, and you have a trio to treasure.

Give director D'Aiutolo great credit for finding the balance between the glories of his leading cast's abilities to sink their teeth into these challenging roles and the limitations of the rest of the group who bring more commitment and industry than skill and talent to the project. He gets the most out of practically every participant. The design team give their best as well. Heather Cipu's costumes are essentially vests over dark trousers, skirts, blouses and shirts, but they do the trick of creating both period and personality. Set designer Ceci Albert and lighting designer Jerry Dale combine to create marvelous images on the central drape of the set, and, in an absolutely inspired effect, subtly spotlight the stained glass image of Christ that overlooks the church's nave so that Raby can address his first act tirade to God directly to the object of his adoration/frustration.

Written by Peter Shaffer. Directed by Jacy D'Aiutolo. Design: Ceci Albert (set) Heather Cipu (costumes) Rick Hayes (makeup) Bobbie Legg (hair) Laura Denmark (properties) Jerry Dale (lights) Alan Wray (sound) Oscar Alvarez (photography) Eliza Bonner (stage manager). Cast: Mark Allen, Fairfield Butt, Heather Cipu, Quentin Dean, David Flinn, Jose Guzman, Rick Hayes, Joshua Kashinsky, Noelle LuSane, Daniel McLaughlin, James Raby, Lynn Ritland, Jeffrey Stevenson, Kim Liang Tan, Nancy Viemeister.

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May 4 - 19, 2007
Bye Bye Birdie
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:35 - one intermission
Broadway's first rock 'n roll flavored musical
Click here to buy the CD

In the late 1950s popular music moved away from crooners singing songs from the latest Broadway shows and Elvis, Bill Haley and Buddy Holly shook up the "Top 40." In 1960, a surprise hit musical on the Great White Way was an effort to use the phenomenon of rock 'n roll within the confines of a standard musical comedy. Newcomers Charles Strouse and Lee Adams had their first hit as a song writing team and Michael Stewart showed a prowess at constructing a functional script. That script remains a remnant of the traditions of its age, with side stories that stretch credulity to its limits, and the score is more show music than rock. Oh, but it was fun at the time with Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera and Paul Lynde, and it remains fun today when performed by amateurs or professionals who let the audience know they are having a good time putting on the show. That is the charm of this production, where the cast of somewhat mixed talents but a uniform attitude of pure fun are put through their paces by director Frank Pasqualino. Brandon Kraft choreographs some fine moves (and dances them well, too) and music director Peter Darling has his six-member pit band doing a creditable job with the sometimes tricky sub-rhythms of a reduced version of Robert Ginzler's original orchestrations.

Storyline: When an Elvis Pressley-like rock star is drafted, his manager/song-writer looks for one last hit by writing a new song "One Last Kiss," and arranging to have him sing it to a middle-American teenage girl who is the head of his Sweet Apple, Ohio fan club during a live appearance on the popular television show of the day, the Ed Sullivan Show. The telecast is to be a remote and the singer, his manager and his manager's girlfriend travel to Sweet Apple where the arrival of a superstar shakes up the world of the kids and the grownups.

You don’t have to be old enough to remember when Elvis was drafted to enjoy this musical comedy. You don’t even have to know who Ed Sullivan was to enjoy "Hymn for a Sunday Evening," which became universally known as "The Ed Sullivan Song" or simply "Ed Sullivan." You'll find a number of songs that you recognize like  "A Lot of Livin’ to Do" or "Put on a Happy Face" and some of the Elvis parodies such as "Honestly Sincere" or the climactic "One Last Kiss" will sound somehow familiar. The classic opening number (actually the start of scene two) known as "The Telephone Hour" is performed with the requisite zing. The story is pretty lame (especially the second act diversion with the girl friend running off to sample the debauchery of the Shriners!) but it provides the excuses for a collection of comic bits and some really enjoyable songs.

Nathan Tatro and Jennifer Reitz are the central couple, the songwriter/manager who always thinks that one more hit will make it possible to split from his overbearing mother (played with a droll touch by Maureen Roult) and marry his longtime girlfriend and secretary. Tatro has a bit of fun with his big number "Baby, Talk to Me," while Reitz sings everything given to her with strength and style. The Elvis Pressley character is played by Chris Thorn with something of the feel of a Elvis impersonator who has seen better days. This may not be the best take on the role as it is hard to see this character as a draftable 23 year old. Still, he has fun with the songs he delivers with the traditional up-turned lip of all pretend Pressleys.

The population of Sweet Apple gets most of the real strength of the cast. There's Shannon Sarna who is good as the kissable Kim, a delightful James Semmelroth-Darnell as her jealous boyfriend, Nicky Joynson doing a funny squeak as a puberty passing teen and a high-energy Ruthie Rado brightening each of her scenes as one of the local teenagers. To top it off Larry Grey hams it up marvelously as Kim's father, who's unalterably opposed to the disruption that all this foolishness is causing in his home town until he finds out it means he gets to be on Ed Sullivan!

Music by Charles Strouse. Lyrics by Lee Adams. Book by Michael Stewart. Directed by Frank G. Pasqualino. Choreographed by Brandon Kraft. Music direction by Peter Darling. Design: Joe Rake (costumes) Ceci Albert (properties) Rick Hayes (makeup) Jerry Auerbach and Jerry Dale (lights) Ed Morman (sound) John Patterson (photography) Christine Farrell (stage manager). Cast: Lily Adelstein, Eleni Aldridge, Chase Ammon, Kylie Archie, William Athey-Lloyd, David Benson, Jennifer Blanton, Fairfield Butt, Eve Cox, Stuart Denyer, Susannah Eig, Samantha Gaies, Brenda Garcia, Larry Grey, Lexi Haddad, Jenna Jones, Brandon Kraft, Robert S. Kraus, Dennis John Lewis, Nick Joynson, Shannon Marie O'Brien, Rebecca Poyatt, Ruthie Rado, Jennifer Reitz, Maureen Roult, Shannon Sarna, James Semmelroth-Darnell, Nathan Tatro, Christopher Guy Thorn. Musicians: Mike Dzmbenski, Dana Gardner, Rob Gerstein, Jim Hoffman, Gwyn Jones, Mike Larsen.

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March 2 - 17, 2007
M. Butterfly
Reviewed by William Bryan

Running time 2:15 - one intermission
Madame Butterfly meets The Crying Game in this well
 performed production.
v Includes adult sexual material and nudity
Click here to buy the script

Art Imitates Life. This is the truth, despite the much more popular saying about “Life imitating Art.” This is a good thing, knowing that the basis for so much that is incredible in the world, creations of artists, be they painters, poets, musicians, or even, dare it be said, playwrights, can be found in our everyday lives. St. Mark’s Players latest offering is loosely based upon the more famous opera, Madame Butterfly, but its true roots lie much closer to real life. The play is based upon the real life story of Bernard Boursicot, a French diplomat who had an affair in 1964 with She Pei-Pu, a male Peking Opera singer and spy for the Chinese government. Their relationship developed and lasted for almost two decades, resulting in a bizarre case where the diplomat only believed his love was a man when the courts physically showed him the proof. Boursicot is quoted as saying after the affair, “When I believed it, it was a beautiful story,” and that is the foundation upon which playwright David Henry Hwang built his play; a complex look at diplomacy, espionage, Eastern vs. Western culture, and the depths to which the mind can deceive itself to find love. The last time this play was produced in our area at Arena stage it was a Potomac Stages pick. (Click here to read our review.)  St Mark’s Players, in their unique space at St Mark’s Episcopal Church, produce a credible performance under trying conditions.

Storyline: A French diplomat in China carries on an affair with a beautiful opera singer without knowing his lover was a man impersonating a woman. When he is caught passing state secrets to his paramour, and is tried for treason, he can cope with the disgrace and even with the scandal of the world believing his lover to be male, but he cannot accept the truth himself, and he is broken when the opera singer confirms his gender.

The staging of any work in the beautiful nave of this church can be challenging,, and set designer Rick Warfield must be applauded for creating a space that works for the numerous scenes in M. Butterfly, while still being easy to break down each night so that the space can once more be a Church the next day. Director Rick Hayes has woven the cast together well, keeping the stream of memories that form the play moving while leaving room for the story to unfold. There were numerous microphone problems during the evening that distracted from the work, and due to the cavernous nature of the nave, made it difficult to follow the story when some voices were amplified and others suffered without. Gratefully there were no affected French or Chinese accents to add to the difficulties produced by the microphones, leaving the work to stand on the merits of its words.

Costumes by Ceci Albert were more than adequate, adding flavor to the show, and especially lovely was the sound design work by Ed Morman, which captured both the beauty of parts of Madame Butterfly as well as the more melodic sounds of the Orient. Dances were short, and admirably performed, though the lack of long term training in Kurogan dance was apparent as hand gestures varied when it seemed they should not and the synchronicity slipped at times. The strangest part of this production is the fact that it features full nudity inside a church. It is an interesting choice for this company, made more so by St Mark’s allowance of the male disrobing for arts sake. The play is not like the film, The Crying Game, where no one knew the woman was a man till the end. By the time the nudity occurs, it has been confirmed for quite some time that the opera star, Song Liling, played capably by Kim Liang Tan, is not a woman. So the nudity would be gratuitous if not for the fact it is needed to shock the diplomat Rene Gallimard into his final act.

Gallimard is well portrayed by James McDaniel as a man troubled by memories he would rather refrain from sharing, almost as if the story is being pulled from him against his will. McDaniel is quite believable as a delusional diplomat who comes to be the butt of every cocktail joke due to his own role in his duplicity. The play has a few awkward moments as written, where we see things that could not be from Gallimard’s memory, and this, combined with its anticlimactic revealing of the sex of the Chinese love interest, is probably what made it fail in its bid for a Pulitzer prize.

Written by David Henry Hwang. Directed by Rick Hayes. Choreography by Rikki Howie. Design: Rick Warfield (set) Ceci Albert (costumes) Jeff Auerbach (lights) Ed Morman (sound) Alexis Truitt (stage manager). Cast: Heather Cipu, Aidan Hughes, Rachel Manteuffel, James McDaniel, Rachael Morrissey, Annie Mueller, Steve Rosenthal, Kim Liang Tan, Mary Yee.

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November 10 - 18, 2006
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:15 - one intermission
An affectionate mounting of a serious comedy

Click here to buy the script

This is an appealing production of a play that is already marked by the apparent fondness of its author for all of the characters he has created, and for the people who inspired them. There's not a mean moment in the text, and director Liz Owens keeps that tone going throughout, even when two of the performances become somewhat sharp in their treatment of what author Alfred Uhry penned as potentially endearing idiosyncrasies. The extended family (aunt, uncle, sister, half-sisters) who live under one roof on Habersham Road in Atlanta in 1939 has its tensions but jealousy is in moderation. The cast is well balanced and the pace is gentle as they work their way through the domestic trauma of whether or not the young ladies will have suitable escorts to the big social event of the season, the dance at the Progressive Club, a club for assimilated Jews that, as one character says, "would be a country club if this were the country."  The performers all manage an acceptably subtle Georgian accent, perhaps helped by the fact that two of the cast members are from Atlanta, including Anne Paine West in the central character of the mother concerned over her daughter's social standing. Her bio even points out that she spent a happy weekend as a teenager as a guest in one of the houses out on Habersham Road!

Storyline: An affectionate portrait of life among middle class Jews in an Atlanta long past contrasts the rise of Hitler in Germany with the cultural trends represented by the world premiere of the movie version of Gone With The Wind. At the center of the piece are the concerns of a single family with the social event known as Ballyhoo.

This gentle play is part of a trilogy by Alfred Uhry dealing with the history of the Jewish population of Atlanta. First came the biggest hit of the three, Driving Miss Daisy, which dealt with the relations between Jews and African-Americans through the story of an elderly Jewish lady and the black man hired to drive her in the days following World War II. It earned Uhry the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Ballyhoo was the second and it stepped back in time a bit to deal with discrimination between what Uhry presents as two classes of Jews, the more successfully assimilated German Jews who Uhry saw as abandoning ties to their religion and their heritage in the search for acceptance in American society, and "the other kind," the Jews hailing from east of the Elbe. This time out, Uhry won the Tony Award for best play. The third installment in the trilogy was a musical, Parade, dealing with the true story of Leo Frank, a Jew from New York convicted of murdering a young girl who worked at his factory in 1913. That earned Uhry the Tony Award for best book for a musical.

Anne Paine West does a fine job as the mother (and we're not just referring to her accent here). The part of her daughter, the flighty debutante caught up in the thrill of the premiere of 1939's big movie ("Just imagine, Clark Gable is just five miles from this very house!") is played by Heather Cipu, who's resemblance to Gone With The Wind star Vivien Leigh is highlighted not only by her red ball gown and pulled back coiffeur but with hand and wrist mannerisms reminiscent of Scarlet O'Harra's. She, and Stephen Young as her suitor, get just a bit overly broad in the parody. Nello DeBlasio avoids excessive stridency as "the other kind of Jew" who falls for the other young lady in the family, nicely played by Jen Durham. Rick Hayes exhibits a fine way with a throw away aside as well.  

Set designer Christian Hershey elegantly solves a number of difficulties in the challenge of this piece. There are two short scenes in a railway car, so he has provided a slide-out set piece that can be quickly pulled into place and then returned without slowing the action of the play. Late in the second act there is another brief scene at the dance in the Progressive Club. This time, it is a wall that folds out to create the locale quickly and efficiently. Of course, a Christmas tree is the central feature of the main set constructed in the nave of St. Mark's Episcopal Church where the high ceiling and brick construction makes for an echoey atmosphere. The solution to the echoes for this production is a rather loud amplification system with every cast member wearing a wireless microphone. Somehow, that simply emphasizes the echoes, however, giving an artificial feel to the piece.

Written by Alfred Uhry. Directed by Liz Owens. Choreographed by Richelle Howie. Design: Christian Hershey (set) Anndi Daleski (costumes) Ceci Albert (properties) Lori Devonshyre Hubbard (lights) Jen Durham (sound) R. C. Bates (stage manager). Cast: Nello DeBlasio, Heather Cipu, Jen Durham, Rick Hayes, Lee McAuliffe Rambo, Stephen Young, Anne Paine West.

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November 5 - 20, 2004
The Heidi Chronicles

Reviewed November 14
Running time 3:00 - one intermission

Click here to buy the script

Wendy Wasserstein’s most famous play presents a gentle story of self-discovery that follows the growth of a high school girl of the 1960’s into a mature woman of the 1980’s. Staged in the round in the nave of St. Mark's church with its high ceiling and hard surfaces, the acoustics present a challenge to the talented cast to allow time for the echo to clear before following up on a line, and to the audience to pay close attention to the dialogue. The result is an enhanced feeling of intensity as the cast and audience bond in the effort to understand and be understood. Combined with a nice sense of intimacy, it all blends together in a theatrically satisfying evening. The cast is very good and director Frank Pasqualino adds a series of video presentations to ground each scene in its time from 1965 to 1989.

Storyline: Viewed episodically in flashbacks, a young woman's life progresses from a high school sock hop to the time when her biological clock tells her she has to make a final choice between her profession and her maternal instincts. In between come college, forming enduring relationships with men and women, watching friends get married and become parents, achieving professional recognition and even some celebrity. Through it all, the things gained are always accompanied by the sense that there are things lost or at least chances missed.

How many Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, especially those that also won the Tony Award for best play, have been so heavily criticized for supposed weaknesses in the script? People keep picking The Heidi Chronicles apart for failure to consistently defend the feminist position, for simplistic characters, for failing to write a scene for the heroine to stand up to the men in her life, for "sit com" comedy in supposedly tackling serious themes, for a weak ending - well, for just about everything. Yet the text is so compellingly interesting and the issues it airs are so true to their time that almost every complaint is not that it's bad but that it isn't as good as it seems to want to be. Well, that's churlish. In fact, the play may well raise hopes or expectations that it can't always meet, but it is constantly striving for something admirable and perhaps its very imperfections are a realistic representation of the gap that always exists between human aspirations and what humans can actually accomplish.

Leah Daily's Heidi grows from idealistic and hopeful teen to outwardly confident but internally conflicted adult while giving voice to both the serious truths and the humorous observations with which Wasserstein paints her portrait. She benefits from a strong cast in the frequently stereotypical supporting roles including Blakeman Brophy as the predictably sensitive gay man friend and Howard Vine who allows intelligence to shine from his eyes as the flippant heterosexual who comes to believe he made a mistake settling for a lesser love than Heidi. Very nice work is also contributed by Bobbie Legg as Heidi's life long friend and Sara Mead in a number of smaller roles including a very funny touch as a whiney youngster.

Director Frank Pasqualino designed videos to set the time for each of the scenes which are mini-scenes in themselves, featuring icons that form a portrait of each of the years involved. Given that there are eleven scenes thus set up and that each of these videos takes over a minute, this adds about fifteen minutes to the already excessively lengthy show, but they are so interesting in themselves that it would be a shame to sacrifice them. Three of the late scenes in the second act seem overly long and overdone but the play re-captures your attention in time for the final resolution to Heidi's quandary.

Written by Wendy Wasserstein. Directed by Frank Pasqualino. Design: Jeffrey Stevenson and Jeffrey Auerbach (set) Frank Pasualino (video) Abby Briggs (costumes) Rick Hayes (makeup) Jennifer Keely (hair) Richard Warfield (properties) Jeffrey Auerbach and Jerry Dale (lights) Frank Pasqualino and Ed Morman (sound) Jeffrey Stevenson (stage manager). Cast: Blakeman Brophy, David J. Clement, Jr., Leah Daily, Janice Dionne, Ariel Grayson, Bobbie Legg, Sara Mead, Howard Vine.

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April 30 - May 15, 2004
Reviewed May 2
Running time 3 hours

The musical re-telling of our nation’s creation has a special impact when performed in the Potomac Region where we live each day elbow to elbow with history. Here, literally in the shadow of the Capitol Dome at the end of a Sunday Afternoon matinee the arguments over the values for which this country was founded take on special meaning. The St. Mark's Players production has its strengths and its weaknesses, but it is true to its material and trusts in the magic of the show. It captures the emotional essence of our nation and its struggle to live up to the moral standards it wants to set for itself. What is amazing is that Sherman Edwards, a history teacher with little or no experience in musical theater could, with the help of the inestimable Peter Stone (Titanic, The Will Rogers Follies), manage to make this history lesson an entertaining, genuinely funny, romantic and exceptionally passionate musical.

Storyline: In a hot and humid hall in "foul, filthy, fuming Philadelphia," the delegates of the 13 colonies debate everything from opening up a window to declaring independence. Central to the cause of separation are John Adams who is "obnoxious and disliked" but devoted to the cause, Benjamin Franklin, "a sage, a bit gouty in the leg" who understands the importance of crafting coalitions and Thomas Jefferson who, at age 33, has "a remarkable felicity of expression." The audience knows what the outcome of the debate will be, but there is tension and drama aplenty along the way to the final vote.

Donald Neal, who seems to show up for productions of 1776 throughout the Potomac Region, reprises his trademark work as Benjamin Franklyn. His performance remains remarkably fresh and satisfying. The John Adams of this production is a strong voiced Christopher Tully who is fine but isn't the best Adams in the show. That accolade would be reserved for Persis Sosiak who's strengths go from beautiful voice to charming acting with charming humor and affecting romantic attachment as Abagail Adams.

With an orchestra of eight, a cast of twenty-six and no fewer than forty people listed in the production crew credits, this has been a massive project for the company. The set may be a bit flimsy and squeezed into the available space on the west side of the nave, but the cumulative effect of everyone's effort is substantial and satisfying. Director Jeffrey R. Breslow makes an interesting choice of where to place the intermission. The show was originally written as a single lengthy act with no logical breaking point, but most productions, including the Broadway runs in 1972 and the revival in 1997 took an intermission following the courier's "Mamma Look Sharp." This made for a lengthy first half and a short second and it highlighted one of the weaker songs, "The Egg," by making it the curtain raiser for Act II. Breslow breaks earlier than that at "He Plays the Violin." It works quite well and doesn't harm Nick Aliff's beautifully delivered "Mamma Look Sharp" one bit.

Still, the real magic of this piece is the way Stone and Edwards manage to communicate the complexity of the issues and avoid making simplistic cartoons out of the majority of the characters they portray. Richard Henry Lee is treated with less respect than most, being a comic popinjay of an egotist, which here is handled quite nicely by Blakemar Brophy. Even the adherents to the heritage of the British nation are shown as earnest, honest men who have an honest difference of opinion. Indeed, Stone writes a marvelously moving moment at the end when Tulley's victorious John Adams pays tribute to the defeated John Dickenson who, in Alex Zavistovich's heart-felt portrayal, has fought with all the energy and passion at his command in a cause he holds dear. Even the question of slavery, which was finally resolved on the side of human dignity only by bloody civil war decades later, is presented with both sides landing telling blows in the argument.

Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards. Book by Peter Stone. Directed by Jeffrey R. Breslow. Musical direction by J. N. Wickert III. Choreography by Paula Becker. Design: Russell Colman (set) Jim Robertson (lights) Jill Vohr (makeup) Youri Beitdashtoo (wigs and hair) Susan Sedgewick and Ceci Albert (properties) Lisa Anne Kerwin (stage manager). Cast: Ian Adams, Nick Aliff, Mark Allen, Michael Blackburn, Blakemar Brophy, Fairfield Butt, Courtney Carter, John Condray, Pete Eveleth, John Keeling, Matthew Krell, Joseph Mancuso, Joe McDonald, Jerry McKenzie, Donald Neal, Paul Neiswander, Rick Rutherford, Theo Rutherford, Jackson Snyder, Persis Sosiak, Lawrence Thompson, Christopher Tully, John Wagner, Ross Wolfarth, Mitchell Wunsh, Alex Zavistovich.

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November 7 - 22, 2003

Reviewed November 16
Running time 2 hours

The farthest thing from a musical comedy, this oh-so-earnest musical treatment of the lives of runaway kids on inner city streets is frequently unsettling and occasionally painful to witness. Still, the performances of the kids are impressive and there are highlights to be savored. The show proceeds for almost a full hour before there is anything approaching an attempt at humor and the first song to present a catchy up-beat melody is the finale of the first act in which the entire cast sings a country-music flavored plea “Find Me a Hero.”  

Storyline: Thirty-seven vignettes, some of them scenes and some of them songs, present a picture of life on the streets for youngsters who have found home life unbearable. They also explore what drove these children to leave what should have been the safety and security of their homes. The titles of some of the vignettes tell a great deal about the tone of the show: “Out On The Street,” “Song of a Child Prostitute,” “This is What I Do When I’m Angry,” “To the Dead of Family Wars” and “Lullaby from Baby to Baby.”

Runaways was an off-Broadway production in 1978 that was so successful in a limited run that it transferred to Broadway where it had a run of less than a year and received a number of Tony award nominations. But it didn’t really belong on Broadway. It belonged in the tiny (183 seat) space for which it was first created. That is one reason why it feels so right when performed in the nave of St. Mark’s. The other reason is that St. Mark’s has a tradition of mounting shows that explore moral issues. Can there be many more immediately compelling moral issues than the responsibility of adults to their children and of society for its youngest, most vulnerable citizens?

Kevin Sockwell directs a cast of eighteen young performers in a very strong, personal style that engages the audience. The performers directly challenge people in the audience and plead with them for answers. Audience members aren't expected to respond, but as a group, the audience isn’t allowed to sit back and just be entertained. There is a message being driven home and it is delivered full force by a talented troupe of kids.

The kids include Bobbie Legg who delivers the first searing monologue of the show, Armand T. Rice who anchors a number of musical moments with a strong, clear voice, Andy Tonken whose ramble on “Current Events” gives a very atypical meaning to a typical homework assignment, and Aaron Reeder who first breaks the up-to-then unrelieved dark mood with a bit of levity as the director of a documentary. But it is as an ensemble that the cast is most impressive. Besides, the program doesn’t identify the performers for each vignette, and it would be a shame to single out others without being sure the names were correctly linked to the many strong efforts.

Music and lyrics by Elizabeth Swados. Directed by Kevin Sockwell. Music director Catherine Manley-Ebert. Choreography by Paula Grace Becker and Robert Moses. Fight Choreography by Monalisa Arias. Design: Jeff Stevenson (set) Susan Tully (costumes) Kathy Rehak (properties) Jim Robertson (lights) Edwin Morman (sound)  Jeff Stevenson  (stage manager). Cast: Misha Enayat, Hannah Hagerty, Mattie Hagerty, Madeline Hall, Lauren Gaston-Hawkins, Eben Kuhns, Bobbie Legg, Ann Limberger, Samantha Lint, Jack Moore, Will (Andy) Pommerening, Aaron Reeder, Armand T. Rice, Ashley Robinson, Josh Soble, Woody (Will) Stewart, Jr., Andy Tonken, Alexis Truitt. Musicians: Mike Burnbaum, David Burrelli, Catherine Manley-Ebert, Eric Northern, Kevin Steffanic.

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March 14 - 30, 2003
Albertine in Five Times

Reviewed March 14
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes

An unconventional play with an intriguing concept is made all the more interesting by an unconventional approach to casting. The play by Canadian author Michel Tremblay, which was written about a character form the French-speaking population of Quebec, has been cast entirely with African American actresses. Having made the casting decision, director Ingrid Cornell lets it work subtly to enrich the issues of human rights and human dignity raised in the text without unbalancing the work by drawing attention to the conceit.

Storyline: Albertine is an woman of 70 settling in to her new home, a room in a home for the elderly. As she looks back on her life and how she came to be alone in this one small room she, converses with herself at earlier times. All told there are five Albertines talking amongst themselves, reviewing their one life from five different perspectives.  

There are six actresses in the piece, for Albertine has a sister, Madeleine, who raises questions that stimulate discussions between the various Albertines as they all try to figure out what went wrong and what went right about their life. These six actresses have a dignity about them, an honesty in their performances that brings the text to life without pretense or artifice. S. Lee Knorr brings a touching hint of disorientation to Albertine at 70 trying to make sense of her new surroundings.

The Albertines of different ages each bring to the fore a different aspect of their joint personality. Janice A. Bailey makes a notable acting debut as an acerbic Albertine at 60 while Kera Jordan lets the frustrations of missed opportunities show strongly on her Albertine at 40. Sonni Watkins, as Albertine at 30, shows more apprehension over the life she’s beginning and Toni Cooper lets the pride of self support shine through in her Albertine at 50. Vanessa Allegra, as the sister, pulls it all together as she visits between ages, stimulating cross-age discussions and even arguments – the same life looks so different from different vantages. 

Gregory McLellan’s set design uses the flexibility of St. Mark’s playing space, the nave of the church with the pews removed. He places each of the five Albertines in her own environment: the tiny room in the home for the elderly, the bedroom of her house, her job site, the balcony of her home, the veranda of the house she grew up in. Each is on a platform separated by part of the audience, all facing toward the center of the space. Each is a detailed set unto itself. Jo Rake matches the settings with costumes that evoke both the age of the individual Albertine and the age she lives in. A nice touch, however, is that each is wearing pearls. Albertine’s tastes may have changed over the years but she’s the same woman after all so she tends to make the same style choices at each different age.  

Written by Michel Tremblay. Directed by Ingrid Cornell. Design: Gregory McLellan (set)  Jo Rake (costumes) Columbia Impraim (hair) Edwin Morman (sound)  Robert C. (RC) Bates (stage manager) Adolph Parkins (photography). Cast: S. Lee Knorr, Janice A. Bailey, Sonni Watkins, Kera Jordan, Toni Cooper, Vanessa Allegra.

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November 8 - 23, 2002
Driving Miss Daisy

Reviewed November 17
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes

The gentle spell this play can cast feels just right in the brick and stained glass nave of St. Mark’s 1888 church where these players present their frequently well-received productions. This one is a fine match for the spirit of the place and for the values the group represents. It may not be a religious play in the sense of an organized religion, and the only reference to religious organization is to the Jewish faith, but its moral foundation is rich, deep and full. It is also sweet but not too sweet. It is a simple, satisfying and charming production played out on a well designed set.

Storyline: At 72, a proud widow in post World War II Atlanta is getting too old to safely drive a car. Her grown son employs a none-too-young man to be her chauffer. She is Jewish and he is Black. Over the next twenty-five years, they share many minor experiences together, see the world change around them as the civil rights movement alters race relations in the new South, and develop a strong affection for each other despite their individual foibles.

Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, which he adapted into an Oscar winning movie, creates a self-contained world populated by two irresistible characters. Kate Blackburn takes her time revealing the warmth under the surface of the crotchety widow watching her world constrict all around her. Her husband has died. Her child has grown and moved out. Her friends are dying off as well. And now she is losing the freedom that driving allows. No wonder she’s up tight! Blackburn doesn’t overdo the hard edge so, when the warmth does begin to show, it doesn’t seem foreign to her nature. She’s just very private and doesn’t grant affection or intimacy readily. As the relationship with the chauffer lasts a quarter century, there is plenty of time for that affection to grow.

Derrick Lampkins, a former professional boxer turned thespian, takes a similar approach, staying a bit standoffish at first, hiding a bit behind just a hint of subservient shuffle as a black man wary of another white employer in pre-civil rights movement Georgia. Much of the magic he spins comes from his soft eyes and voice while his posture slowly changes to reflect the aging process. He ages with the relationship, mellowing with time and assuming an ever increasing importance in his employer’s life until they are no longer servant and served, they are partners.

Michael A. Pemberton is memorable in the part no one ever seems to remember in the play, that of the loving but eminently practical son who hires the chauffer and responds to his mother’s crises as she ages. He may overplay a bit of the humor just a little but he gets the underlying warmth right that the son feels for his mother throughout the play and comes to feel for the driver.

Written By Alfred Uhry. Directed by Jessie Marshall. Design: R. Cary Blackwelder-Plair (set) Kelley Wells (costumes) Catherine J. Young (hair and makeup) Jeffrey Scott Auerbach (lights) Edwin Morman (sound). Cast: Kate Blackburn, Derrick Lampkins, Michael A. Pemberton.

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November 30 - December 15, 2001
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Reviewed December 8
Running Time 1 hour 10 minutes

This one-act program was written for small amateur groups to charm their friends, families and neighbors and that is exactly what this well directed production will do. Kevin Sockwell is directing his ninth show with the St. Mark’s Players and it is clear that he knows all the tricks of giving each scene a hook and each performer a specific identity. It makes for a mighty quick hour.

Storyline: The Badley’s church is putting on its annual Christmas Pageant and Mrs. Bradley is drafted into directing it. Her children enjoy participating in church activities if only because it is a safe haven from the Herdman kids, a rough bunch who, in the words of the opening scene "were the worst kids in school, they lied they stole, they cussed . . ." well, you get the idea. This year, however, the Herdmans volunteer for the pageant. While everything seems on the verge of disaster, the rough Herdmans learn lessons about the meaning of Christmas and the parish learns a few lessons about Christian acceptance.

Lisa Anne Kerwin as the mother and Scott Shumaker as the father lead the adults in the production capably but it is the kids that spark this production. Joshua Soble demonstrates fine comic timing as the oldest Bradley child and Olivia Houck is very funny as the girl who has always played the part of Mary but who gets replaced by one of the Herdman kids.

The herd of Herdmans who disrupt the church’s normally serene holiday traditions is composed of five kids played with energy and verve by Theo Rutherford, Genevieve James, Madeline Hall, John-Francis Young and Virginia Pommerening. Each seems to take specific delight in the chaos which is exactly the spirit needed for the show to succeed.

The show is staged, as are all St. Mark’s Players productions, in the beautiful nave of the historic church on Capitol Hill. Minimal but efficient sets and effective lighting help create the atmosphere. Costumes, as befits a show about a church pageant, are kids street clothes plus their pageant costumes. But the torn jeans and ill fitting shirts of the Herdman kids are just right to set them off from the other children and the adult’s costumes show attention to detail as well. Ed Morman provides cute sound cues such as Christmas songs by Perry Como, Elvis Presley and the Chipmunks and mics the principal characters.

Written by Barbara Robinson. Directed by Kevin Sockwell assisted by Christopher Tully. Design: Susan Kovalik Tully (costumes) Jeffrey Scott Auerbach (lights) Ed Morman (sound.) Cast: Lisa Anne Kerwin, Scott Shumaker, Naomi Almquist, Molly Blumgart, Joshua Soble, Theo Rutherford, Genevieve James, Madeline Hall, John-Francis Young, Virginia Pommerening, Olivia Houck, S. Lee Knorr, Susan Kovalik Tully, Jackie Young, Toni Cooper, Celena Dopart, Armand T. Rice, Lizzy Seitel, Claire James, Katherine Young, Grace Ellison, Nicole Mariotte, Dominick J.N. Houston, Johanna Cahil, Steven Young, Kevin Dopart.