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Colonial Players - ARCHIVE
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March 2 Ė March 31, 2007
Jekyll & Hyde
Reviewed by William Bryan

Running time 2:30  - one intermission
A big musical that works well on a small stage
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A complex musical with a roller coaster history is produced in a small and intimate setting during the 58th season of shows at the Colonial Players in Annapolis. This production features several factors which enable it to stand out as a first rate example of how to adapt large shows into smaller settings. First it is staged in scenic Annapolis which makes for a pleasant day outside before the gothic horror commences within, not that this is something every stage can accomplish, but when your environment works for you, never begrudge the extra help. Also, the strength of this production relies entirely on the strength of the cast instead of the usual pyrotechnics, fog, and special effects for which the musical has become known. Additionally the quality and caliber of the performances of the cast provide an afternoon (or evening) of up close and personal interaction with the characters, the sort of musical staging that has made Signature Theater so very impressive in the Potomac Region. This is quality theater with only a few small drawbacks, and it is easy to see why it has sold out many of its performances.

Storyline: Robert Louis Stevensonís famous novella of a doctor who separates good and evil was adapted for the Broadway stage as a musical. They changed the doctor from a "mad scientist" to a good doctor searching for a cure to his fatherís mental illness, and added two love interests: a fiancťe and a prostitute. But the story still revolves around the doctor experimenting on himself and unleashing his evil side which takes control and goes on a rampage of murder while the good doctor struggles to find an antidote before it is too late.

After an original and somewhat unsuccessful production in Houston in 1990, the show received a complete overhaul and was transformed into an entirely new version for its Broadway premiere in 1997 where it ran successfully for four years with four different leads. It became a cult phenomenon, complete with its own following of groupies, known as ďJekkies,Ē who support and follow not only Jekyll & Hyde, but all of the works of composer Frank Wildhorn. The musical has seen numerous interpretations, from the high budget, yet poorly received national touring company, to the small budget theater such as this new show from the Colonial Players house in Annapolis where its strengths can truly be appreciated. A unique set and dynamic staging deliver a musical that almost feels like it is being performed just for you personally, even through it is delivered in the round. There is never a lack of action to follow, nor any difficulties understanding the lyrics when the singer faces away, and the large cast never seems too tight for the small performance space.

The drawbacks mentioned before were minor but should be noted. The first is the lack of an orchestra, relying instead on recorded music, but still music produced for the show. The second was the filling of the lead role for the performance reviewed by understudy Stephen Deininger. Mr. Deiningerís performance was perhaps the weakest of the cast with a distracting lack of separation between his two personas of Jekyll and Hyde. However it must be noted that much of the success of the show is also due to his work as Music Director for the production. The normal lead, Pete Thompson, has received numerous positive reviews for this run of the show and the effect of his absence was noticeable during the afternoon performance. These two small points aside, the show is very engaging, providing an up close and personal performance where every moment is felt, whether emotionally during the touching duets and solos, or even physically during the fight scenes when those seated in the front row must feel as if they are about to be drawn into the battles, separated as they are by no more than 2 feet from the falling bodies.

The set is a simple construction of benches that have hidden storage compartments allowing them to transform from a tawdry pub to the good doctor's lab in mere moments for the 18 different scene changes. Special mention should go also to Equity member Christine Asero, performing under a special appearance contract in this non-professional show. She brings a true sense of suffering and keenly displays the emotional range of the love interest of the evil Mr. Hyde as the prostitute Lucy. Her voice and performance are worth the price of admission alone. Yet it is the combination of all of the talent on the stage that makes this show a success. Director Craig Allen Mummey has achieved remarkable results with this production, continuing the tradition of quality work from the Colonial Players.

Music by Frank Wildhorn. Book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Directed by Craig Allen Mummey. Music Direction by Stephen Deininger. Choreography by Alicia Sweeny. Design: Craig Allen Mummey (set) Melinda Lee Braden (costume) Alex Banos (lights) Richard Atha Nicholls (sound) R.A.R.E Photography (photography) Herb Elkin (stage manager). Cast: Christine Asero, Lindsey Bell, Emily Bowen, Bob Brewer, Bryant Centofanti, Catherine Chiappa, Kevin Cleaver, Andrea Elward, Ron Giddings, Joan Hamilton, Jamie Hanna, Mark Kidwell, Aimee Lambing, Walt League, Henry Pazaryna, Jamie Erin Phipps, Becki Placella, Jordan Silver, Katelyn Skerpon, Jeff Sprague, David Thompson, Pete Thompson, Vincent Van Joolen.

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January 12 - February 10, 2007
A Moon for the Misbegotten
Reviewed by William Bryan

Running time 3:10 Ė with two short intermissions
Love doesnít conquer all but this show does
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Eugene OíNeill is not known for comedy. His life history reads like a great sordid novel. Many  films, TV shows, and books have documented his life.  Somewhere along the way he found the time to win two Pulitzer prizes for drama and the Nobel prize for Literature for his uncanny ability to take people on the edge of society and portray their lives, miserable though they may be, into stories that remains as gripping now as when they were first produced. The Colonial Players manage to find some humor in the tale of three people whose lives seem to revolve around drinking and despair. Thatís not to say they make light of the material, or fail to take their subject seriously. Indeed this theater in the round does well in capturing the pathos of the destructive force of alcoholic extremes for both the drinker and those who must watch him drink. With two outstanding performances and a set that captures the life of a tenant farmer, Colonialís Moon shines brightly over Annapolis.

Storyline:  A young woman with a sordid reputation, her scheming drunken father, and his alcoholic landlord and drinking buddy come to a crossroads in their relationship one long summer night.

Set in rural Connecticut, reflecting an autobiographical representation of OíNeillís own home, and often thought of as a sequel to the more famous Long Dayís Journey Into Night, this play, like its predecessor, takes place over the course of one long day. Director Bob Bartlett delivers all of the angst, emotion and rage that his cast is able to deliver. Kelley Slagle is incredible in the role of the non-drinking daughter. Watching her face provides more insight into her emotional state than many of her lines, as the waves of joy and despair roll over her one after the other, lifting the hopes on a crest and then dashing them to be drowned. She, and Edd Miller portraying her drunken conniving father, speak in a think brogue accent, which, while strange for a setting in Connecticut, delivers well the feeling of immigrants working the land, and, unlike many community productions where accent is used, they seldom at all let it slip. Brian Donohue, who plays the landlord, is the sequel character from Long Dayís Journey Into Night. Unfortunately, he doesnít achieve the depth of his two costars. His lines remain powerful due to OíNeillís writing, but it is difficult to believe he is drunk and his efforts to portray inebriation end up with many of his lines coming across monotone and staccato.

The setting is the front of the Hoganís farm, and this is recreated well in the center of the space. Rocks imported, we are told, from Vermont, and potatoes packed in dirt, provide the space in which the drama unfolds. Dottie Meggersí lighting conveys the mood and the time of day as it plays out over four acts.  Clocking in at three hours, this is a long show, but Edd Millerís ability to bring out the humor of the lout of a father he plays lifts it beyond the pacing of the clock.

The State Capital is visible from the front door the Colonial Playerís house. Once the play begins, thoughts and visions of the small town of Annapolis, of the sailboats and scenic shops, fade away for three hours of very good, if not exactly uplifting, work.  Colonial does itself no shame with their fine production of this often underrated work.

Written by Eugene OíNeill. Directed by Bob Bartlett. Design: Bob Bartlett (set) Dottie Meggers (lights) Brian Donohue (sound) R.A.R.E Photographic (photography) Tom Byrne (stage manager). Cast: Brian Donohue, Rick Hall, Edd Miller, Robby Rose, Kelley Slagle.

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August 26 - September 24, 2005
The Battle of Shallowford

Reviewed August 28
Running time 2:20 - one intermission
A solid production of a pleasant human comedy

Joe Thompson directs an ensemble of capable players in Ed Simpson's gentle play which is marked by the fact that all the characters are genuinely nice people. There is not a heavy in the bunch, although one of the townspeople does get a lot of pleasure out of teasing another. It becomes clear, however, that the teasing is both a sign of affection from the teaser and is secretly appreciated by the teased. The relationship between two teenagers is the most complicating factor in the play, and they come across as particularly wholesome even though they each have a streak of independence in them and one is not above using an unorthodox situation to pursue his own amorous desires.

Storyline: On a Sunday night in 1938 a few of the locals gather, as they do most Sunday nights, at Burton Mock's general store and Post Office in Shallowford, North Carolina to play some checkers, share some gossip and try to avoid eating any of Mock's rabbit stew. This night is different, for this is the night that Orson Welles' panicked radio listeners with a real-sounding dramatization of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Just like so many others, the group in Shallowford didn't hear the disclaimer and all but one - a teen age science fiction fan who recognizes the material - are panicked and then embarrassed.

The emphasis of both the author and the director on gentle friendships makes this a very pleasant experience even when it isn't particularly engrossing. The comedy is of the school that brings knowing smiles and even an occasional chuckle of  recognition, but few bursts of laughter. The situations are not fraught with conflict, skullduggery or even danger, although the characters do think for a while that they are in grave danger. Their discovery of their own foolishness comes off-stage so you never see the moment they figure out that they have been duped.

Chelsea Hunt and Robby Rose are the young couple left behind when the adults rush out to defend their world. Their relationship builds sweetly during the show. Rick Hall is nicely touching as the girl's father while John Ritch and Danny Brooks build a sense of rapport as the aforementioned teaser and teasee. Annapolis High student Steven Cohen makes a delightful debut on this stage as the nearly mute local boy.

Colonial's theater in the round is well used by set designers Edd Miller and Joe Thompson. Their assembly of counters, tables, chairs, benches and - of course - a free standing stove is made into a 1930s general store principally by the use of antiques which look 2005-old rather than 1938-new. Attention to fabric as well as style in Tori Walker's costume design helps a good deal too.

Written by Ed Simpson. Directed by Joe Thompson. Design: Edd Miller and Joe Thompson (set) Tori Walker (costumes) Pat Browning, Jo Ann Gidos, Mike Gidos, Jeanie Mincher, Christy Stouffer, Tom Stuckey (properties) Tim Grieb (lights) Amy Youmatz (sound) R.A.R.E Photographic (photography) Karen Katschenreuther and Brigette M. Marchand (stage managers). Cast: Danny Brooks, Steven Cohen, Jacob Dink, Rick Hall, Chelsea Hunt, John Ritch, Robby Rose, Glenn Singer, Vince Van Joop.

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September 3 - October 2, 2004

Reviewed September 3
Running time 2:05 - one intermission

t A Potomac Stages Pick for intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying fare
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Proof is known for its success at making intellectually gifted people seem entirely approachable. It gets the exhilaration of the pursuit of knowledge just right. But geniuses are people too, with hopes, fears, loves and losses. This warm, fascinating and funny play draws you into the personal world of intelligent people who are facing major crises in their personal lives. Presented in this intimate theater, it takes on even more power to engage the emotions as well as the intellect. Director Rick Wade's approach to mounting this play is to trust the material. He doesn't attempt to impose any new interpretation or discover any previously unexplored elements. Instead, he and his talented cast work hard to keep the focus on the play as written. Not a bad approach when that play is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Storyline: The twenty-five year old daughter of a famous mathematician has spent five years caring for her father as mental illness progressively incapacitated him. On the eve of his funeral she has to cope not only with his death, but with the concern of her sister, the attention of one of her fatherís graduate students and the lingering presence of her father in their Chicago home. She may have inherited some of her fatherís genius but she fears she may have also inherited his "tendency to instability."

The role of the daughter is the centerpiece of the play. Kelly Meredith McPhee is natural and believable in the part, and avoids the trap of signaling too many of her thoughts too far in advance. She gets maximum impact out of the revelations the playwright has given her. Josh Watters does very well with the multiple layers of the young math student's interests and Nicole Roblyer's take on the role of the sister is softer and more likeable than some others, but no less satisfying. It does, however, make her lack of tact in announcing plans concerning the house after her father's death seem a bit out of character. As the father, Jim Reiter may overplay a few humorous lines early in the play but he gets the powerful scene in which he confronts his mental deterioration just right and McPhee's subtle sob at the end of the scene plays true precisely because of the honesty of his performance.

As good as this cast is, they happen to be working with a script that creates four well-defined people with dreams, fears, histories and opinions, whose dealings with each other are the natural results of their personalities and circumstances. It is all there in the text. This is no easy task as any playwright will attest, and Auburn gets it right in his very first major play. He also comes up with one of the great first-act curtain lines of recent memory.

With a mathematical "proof" at the center of the story, Auburn turns his title into a double entandrť. There is little actual discussion of higher mathematics, so the audience need not even know what a prime number might be in order to follow the discussions. There is never a sense that the author is "talking down" to the audience or artificially keeping the discussion non-technical. A welcome improvement to the original text in this production is the elimination of the one awkward effort to avoid technical details, a fairly clumsy "lets go for a walk and you can tell me what this means" moment which proves to be superfluous. The play is the better for its absence.

Colonial's intimate arena shaped theatre with its three and four rows of seats on each side of the playing space is a marvelous room for a play that takes place entirely on one set and features a small cast delivering sharp dialogue in a natural manner. It is almost like eavesdropping on strangers, except that the characters don't remain strangers for long. The set here is simple but nicely representative of the porch of a family home in suburban Chicago. The lighting is a bit overly patterned for the scenes that take place in moonlight, leaving faces in shadows that are a bit too deep to allow their expressions to register, but the daylight scenes are nicely done and both costuming and sound designs help establish the mood very well.

Written by David Auburn. Directed by Rick Wade. Design: Barry Christy (set) JoAnn Gidos and Sarah Wade (properties) Dottie Meggers (lights) Mary Davidson (sound) Jennifer Tate (poster design) R.A.R.E. Photographic (photography) Jean Jackson (stage manager). Cast: Kelly Meridith McPhee, Jim Reiter, Nicole Roblyer, Josh Watters.