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Wittenberg
August 26 – September 13, 2009
Wednesday and Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Thursday at 7 pm; Friday at 8 pm
Saturday at 2 and 8 pm
Reviewed August 30 by
Brad Hathaway

A Potomac Stages Pick for a fabulously funny piece of philosophical fiction
Running time 2:15 – one intermission
Tickets $16 - $30

 


If you love flights of historical fancy taken with a light touch of anachronism, do we have a new play for you! Imagine the debates between the oh-so-earnest Martin Luther, who suffered neither fools nor foolishness lightly, and a flippant-tongued philosopher, the Doctor Faustus of German legend, if they were colleagues on the faculty of a medieval institution of higher learning. Written with a deliciously light touch by a new voice in contemporary playwriting, David Davalos, the puns fly thick and fast and the double-meanings span the centuries. (Dr. Faustus uses word association as a tool of psychoanalysis!)  Performed with panache, especially by Rep Stage Artistic Director Michael Stebbins, doing his best work here as an actor, and Philadelphia-based Seth Reichgott as Luther and Faustus.

Storyline: Martin Luther is the University of Wittenberg’s professor of religion. Doctor Faustus is the professor of philosophy. Their star pupil is the young prince of Denmark, one Hamlet by name. Mix in a touch of Copernicus and a dash of Freud and stir with allusions to most of the famous lines of Shakespeare and you have a farce with a serious side.

This first taste of the work of author David Davalos makes one yearn to explore his other works which, to judge by their titles, take a similar approach to time-spanning explorations of interesting themes. He’s the author of Daedalus: A Fantasia of Leonardo da Vinci, a sequel to Paradise Lost called Darkfall and a comedy in blank verse about television’s late night programming Johnius Caerson. For this play’s premiere in Philadelphia he walked away with the Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play, that city’s equivalent of the Helen Hayes Award’s Charles Macarthur Award for Outstanding New Play in the Washington area.

Reichgott delivers a bright, energetic performance as the Doctor Faustus who is comfortable questioning authority because he has tenure at Wittenberg University. The good doctor also moonlights as a singer in the local student hangout, “The Bunghole” – yes, its that kind of show. As much fun as Reichgott’s performance is, and it is a kick, it is Stebbins who has the harder task, making Martin Luther seem both tormented by religious principal and sympathetic to the plight of his colleagues and his pupil, including Michael Feldsher who, as Hamlet, provides some of the sharpest Shakespearean knockoffs (“To be or not to be?” – “Those are the Questions?”). All of the women in the story are played by Emily Clare Zempel who is listed not by their individual names but by the title “The Eternal Feminine”!

Not all of the good fun is just in fun, however. With lines like “Theologians read the bible for the answers – Philosophers for the questions” the text includes a debate between Luther and Faustus over much weightier questions than the sequential effects of laxatives – although that is covered as well. Sound designer Chas Marsh contributes to the fun with his selections of pre-show and intermission music, offering everything from Gregorian Chants and string quartets to Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” as a lovely flute solo and Robert Palmer’s “Bad Case of Loving You” with its repeated lyric “Doctor, Doctor, Give me the news.”

Written by David Davalos. Directed by Tony Tsendeas. Design: Paul Christensen (set) Norah Worthington (costumes) Liza Davies (properties) Jay Herzog (lights) Chas Marsh (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Emily Carter Watson (stage manager). Cast: Michael Feldsher, Seth Reichgott, Michael Stebbins, Emily Clare Zempel.


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God's Ear
April 1 - 26, 2009
Wednesday - Thursday at 7:30 pm
Friday - Saturday at 8 pm
Saturday - Sunday at 2:30 pm
Reviewed April 11 by Brad Hathaway

t A Potomac Stages Pick for an emotionally searing flood of words delivered with style
Running time 1:40 - no intermission
Tickets $15 - $30
Click here to buy the script


Remember the name Jenny Schwartz. She's a playwright with a new voice who is not likely to be a "one hit wonder" given the obvious craft as well as artistic sensibility on display in this, the first of her plays to be produced in our area. You may well remember your first exposure to her work for quite a while if you head up to Columbia for this oh-so-solid performance of her word-play play about grief and familial support. All seven performers director Kasi Campbell has assembled do fine jobs, but three do a great deal more than just fine, and, as it happens, these are the three in the most important roles. Campbell has a track record of selecting exceptional material to mount here and making good choices in casting and designers. Once again, she's put a fine troupe together on a worthwhile project and the result is an evening that pierces the heart through intelligent use of language, including some of the most facile assemblages of clichés imaginable. (Some of these must have been extraordinarily difficult for Julie-Ann Elliot, Paul Morella and Lauren Williams to memorize.)

Storyline: A family's effort to cope with tragedy is captured in flights of language, flashes of fantasy and the struggle to communicate under tremendous stress. The couple's second child has died. How the man and woman absorb the blow, comprehend the enormity of the impact and attempt to meet their duty to each other and to their remaining child is at the center of a piece with little plot, but, instead, individual vignettes of pain, withdrawal, denial, guilt, blame and need. Added to the mix are elements from the child's short life, including appearances by the tooth fairy who left a quarter for his first lost tooth and the GI Joe action figure with which he used to play.

Schwartz is a New York based playwright to watch. She graduated from Juilliard and then received a masters from Columbia University. She first drew attention with Cause for Alarm, another language-rich dark comedy in New York's Fringe Festival in 2002. This new play premiered five years later Off-Broadway. At Juilliard she received the Lila Acheson Wallace playwright fellowship and then a grant from the Lincoln Center foundation. Now she's working on a new piece under a Soho Rep fellowship, and was selected for the Sundance Institute this winter. These are the marks of a fast-track emerging playwright.

Julie-Ann Elliott and Paul Morella manage to establish rapport in a portrait of a couple pulled apart by grief. It is not an easy task, for Schwartz' play envisions this couple as at least temporarily unable to connect with each other because of the depth of their pain. The text does give flashes from the earlier strength of their devotion and hints that they may come back together because of their deep need for each other. In the meantime, they speak past each other in strings of only slightly connected clichés that are the vocal equivalent of word clouds. Lauren Williams' strong stage presence in the role of their daughter completes the family. Outside influences, both real and imagined, are brought to life by Barbara Rappaport (suitably flighty as the tooth fairy), Matthew Eisenberg (whose macho strut with stiff limbs as the life size GI Joe contrasts with his more fluid movements as a transvestite flight attendant), Sasha Olinick (a good ol' boy with his own tragedies) and, most notably, Gia Mora who has her own collection of overused meaningless expressions.

They perform on an elegantly effective set in sometimes subdued and sometimes properly outlandish costumes under often dark-blue illumination. Set designer Daniel Ettinger provides two back surfaces on which projected snow effects descend, contrasting with the physical snow which is back lit by Dan Covey. Ettinger's playing space also features step risers that illuminate to reveal bottles and action figures of the real size, not the life-size version that emerges later in the play.

Written by Jenny Schwartz. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Design: Daniel Ettinger (set) Kristina Lucka (costumes) Lian French (properties) Dan Covey (lights) Chas Marsh (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Emily Carter Watson (stage manager). Cast: Matthew Eisenberg, Julie-Ann Elliott,  Gia Mora, Paul Morella, Sasha Olinick, Barbara Rappaport, Lauren Williams.


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December 3, 2008 - January 4, 2009
The Butterfingers Angel ...
Reviewed December 7 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:20 - one intermission
A re-telling of the nativity tale with a contemporary flare
 


Each year at this time it seems fortunate when a new and/or lesser-known holiday-themed show appears to refresh the taste buds after a surfeit of  A Christmas Carols, The Nutcrackers and Messiahs. One year it was The Santaland Diaries. Another it was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which has now been discovered by so many companies it is becoming an overly familiar property itself. This year's offering of something different is this production of William Gibson's seasonal tale, the full title of which is The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut & The Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree. It is tempting to refer to this as a charming little show. Then you realize what goes into it and you have to take the "little" off the phrase, and you think of the culmination which is a rather shocking portrayal of Harod's campaign to kill every infant in the Kingdom of Judea, and you have to drop the word "charming." Still, it is refreshingly different, and if you don't bring young children expecting a sanitized Santa story, it offers a few delights during its slightly excessive length.

Storyline: A bumbling angel tries to convince the young Mary, who never wants to be married because she can't stand men, that she's to bare the Son of God, so she'd better get a husband. The much-older Joseph is anxious to fill the bill. He even sings songs to her while strumming his guitar. They troop on over to Bethlehem, followed by the three wise men and then split for Egypt to avoid the fate of all other infants in the Judea. 

The program notes inform us that the author of The Miracle Worker and Golda's Balcony, William Gibson, wrote this unconventional holiday pageant as "a church Christmas entertainment." Production dramaturg writes that "It does not appear in many of (Gibson's) bios and there is little production history of it. He seems to have written the play as an opportunity for many performers or all ages to come together and celebrate the Christmas season, incorporating, of course, as many Christmas carols as possible as well as some of the lesser known folk legends and apocryphal gospels and history." Director Lee Mikeska Gardner mounts it in the spirit of a pageant reminiscent of what you might expect in a production of a very large congregation or a church school but with the key roles played by adult equity actors.

As is her habit, Lauren Williams is delightful in the lighter moments of the pageant, making the most of the humor in Mary's disgust at the concept of a marriage and her dismissal of Joseph as a suitor. She's also good in the sentimental moments when Mary realizes the strength of her feelings for Joseph later in the play. Dan Manning is also fun to watch in the lighter moments and touching in his devotion to Mary. He avoids overdoing the emotion of jealousy when Mary, with whom he has not consummated his marriage, turns up pregnant. That jealousy is rather heavily written in Gibson's script so Manning's restraint is notable. Travis Hudson, an Equity candidate, makes a fine Potomac Region debut as the bumbling angel of the title who suffers from a nervous stomach and has sympathetic labor pains when Mary comes to term. Timothy Andres Pabon is a bit wasted in the obscure "Man in Grey" role and then has to cope with the strangeness of Gibson's writing for Herod. Dawn Ursula is fun but underutilized as the Pear Tree. Gretg Anderson, Jamie Driskill and Rickie Peete merge well for a fine ensemble as the three Kings.

The feeling of whimsy called for by any play that features a talking tree, a four-legged sidekick and the signing of "twelve hit carols" is carried over into the design. Emily Mason not only provides costumes that look appropriate for a nativity crèche but a few that look like a well-designed school pageant's as well. Bob Marietta's set includes a movable hill with a pop-up campfire and road signs pointing to the junction of Interstate XCV and Route XXIX. The spirit of these lighter touches are not allowed to impede the darker moments, however. It is a balance that can't have been easy to achieve but it works about as well as the script allows it to.

Written by William Gibson. Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner. Music direction by Laura Van Duzer. Original music by Neil McFadden. "Lullaby for the Christ Child" by Dan Manning. Design: Bob Marietta (set) Emily Mason (costumes) Andrea "Dre" Moore (properties) Harold Burgess (lights) Stan Barouh (photography) Emily Carter Watson (stage manager). Cast: Greg Anderson, Sydney K. Banks,  Natalie Blank, Rachel Olivia Condliffe, Brianna Dregier, Jamie Driskill, Menchu Esteban, Alistair Faghani, Travis Hudson, Jasmine Jefferson, KeiLyn Durrel Jones, Dan Manning, Connor McCully, Anne Nottage, Timothy Andres Pabon, Rickie Peete, Michael Shelton, Dawn Ursula, Lauren Williams.


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August 27 - September 28, 2008
Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted
Reviewed August 31 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:40 - no intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a chance to get to know a fascinating individual through a marvelous performance


Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo used a device that may look a bit odd to members of the younger generation who are reading this on their laptop screens or even their web-enabled I-Phone. It is a typewriter, a device that writers used to put words on paper before the English language began to be ravaged by the word-abridgement and initial replacement techniques of email and txting. Full words. Full sentences. Full paragraphs. Dalton Trumbo wrote full thoughts out in full. And he was very, very good at it. Those thoughts in those words are the stuff of this new bio-play assembled from his letters by his son. The son wrote himself into the piece as a narrator in order to give the audience a basic course in the horrors of the time of blacklisting that so affected America, Hollywood and Trumbo from roughly 1947 to 1960. The play isn't a history lesson, however. It is a personal visit with a fascinating individual whose wit, intelligence and integrity come down to us in his own -- What do you call them? Oh, yes. -- words!

Storyline: Dalton Trumbo, one of the more successful screenwriters in Hollywood before and during World War II, refused to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. For his stand he was imprisoned and the studios refused to hire him to write screenplays - the infamous blacklisting. The story of his experience is delivered in the first person using his own words from his voluminous correspondence.

The play is an obvious labor of love by its author, the son of its subject. Christopher Trumbo wrote the piece about five years ago and it has been gathering productions around the country. He takes the negatives of Hollywood and Washington during the infamous blacklisting period as a given. The story of "The Hollywood Ten" who became nearly three hundred before it was all over is explained through minimal facts and dates in order to put his father's story into context. But it is never more than his father's story. For an examination of the entire phenomenon of the "red scare" and America's response to the dangers of the cold war, you have to look elsewhere. For a chance to meet and get to know Dalton Trumbo, you need look no further than Rep Stage.

Getting to know Dalton Trumbo, as enjoyable as that may be, is not the only joy this production has to offer. The other is the opportunity to watch Nigel Reed's performance as Dalton Trumbo. He creates a completely compelling character. His "Trumbo" is urbane, witty, intellectual, acerbic, intelligent, loyal and loving. Reed combines all these aspects in a deeply human portrait that rings true. This reviewer doesn't have any idea whether the portrait is accurate, but Reed's creation is a vital, enjoyable and admirable person whose presence it is a pleasure to be in for an hour and a half. It is all the more impressive for those who have watched Reed work before. This is, after all, the actor who created an Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss, King Creon in Antigone, Sir George Crotts in Mrs. Warren's Profession, Norman in The Norman Conquests, the gay art dealer in Ten Unknowns and the besotted poet in The Underpants. Those are six very different characters. Here again, Reed creates a distinct and distinctive persona.

Director Steven Carpenter keeps the focus exactly where it should be, on the character and words of Dalton Trumbo. In order to avoid an overly static hour and a half, he moves Reed and Jonathan Watkins (who plays Trumbo's son) around on a multiple platform set designed by Milagros Ponce de León. She flanks the two-platform/metal staircase center section with two wooden walls that act as screens on which to project images of movie posters, period photographs and news clips of the committee investigations.

Written by Christopher Trumbo. Directed by Steven Carpenter. Design: Milagros Ponce de León (set) Melanie A. Clark (costumes) Andrea "Dre" Moore (properties) Andrew M. Haag, Jr. (lights) Neil McFadden (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Emily Carter Watson (stage manager). Cast: Nigel Reed, Jonathan Watkins.


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May 28 - June 28, 2008
In the Heart of America
Reviewed June 1 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:10 - one intermission
An earnest look at men and women caught up in the horrors of war 
Click here to buy the script


Those who remember Jeremy Skidmore's production of Naomi Wallace's Slaughter City a few years ago at the Theatre Alliance will recognize similar strengths and weaknesses in her later play in its Potomac Region premiere at Rep Stage under Kasi Campbell's direction. Just as there was little subtlety in Wallace's polemic masquerading as a play about the horrors of the industrial age, particularly the meatpacking industry, this time the playwright's message is front and center again in this diatribe over macho influences in adventurist foreign policy and the military mentality. No message is relegated to the background to be absorbed while you watch a human interest plot in the foreground. None of Wallace's points are relegated to a secondary position. It is a full out assault. Again this time out, the language she writes for her female characters is impressively image-based with descriptions that bring a world into focus, but the language for the men seems stressed beyond the normal vocabulary of macho military types. A woman observing that "a dead child weighs so much more than a live one" rings terribly true. A macho military man (or his soul, actually) observing that "Shooting a child is somewhat extraordinary, almost like shooting an angel" sounds artificial and false.

Storyline: A mélange of memory blends the Vietnam of Lt. William Calley, who led the troops into the village of My Lai, and the world of the first Gulf War through the efforts of a Vietnamese woman to connect with a soldier from her past, while a Palestinian-American woman tries to find out what happened to her brother who served in the American Army in the Saudi desert.

Wallace's conceit for this troubling drama is that the soul of Lt. Calley, leader of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Regiment, 11th Infantry Brigade in the Americal Division during the Vietnam war, flits from war to war seeking some sort of equilibrium, if not peace. Match this with two women searching for resolution to their traumas, one from the Vietnam War and the other from the first Gulf War, and then stir in a male sexual attraction and its homophobic antithesis, and you have Wallace's emotionally charged two hours. Subtlety isn't an ingredient, but Campbell leavens the mix a bit with some nice human touches between the two women and between one, a Palestinian, and her brother, an American soldier of Palestinian descent.

Dacyl Acevedo and Alexander Strain are quite natural and believable in these roles, as is the entire cast. Tuyet Thi Pham is touching as the Vietnamese woman who searches through time for word of her family, and Brandon McCoy is natural as a southern GI, delivering the humor Wallace includes for his character without overdoing the southern hick stereotype that could be distracting. All of these cast members are good indeed, but it is Tim Getman who dominates the piece as the swaggering soul of the prototypical macho military man. He communicates his character's repressed self-doubt and the nearly - but not completely - solid belief in the necessity of the absolutes of military discipline and action. His is the embodiment of "shock and awe" on a personal scale.

Contrasting the simple domesticity of a bedroom in Atlanta with the sand of the Middle East, and a motel in Kentucky with the sand-bagged tunnel entrance of Vietnam, Dan Conway's set leaves no space for any of the characters to get away from the tension of the piece. He backs the construct with a tall white screen on which scenes of the various locales are projected. A door through that screen allows cast members to enter the world of the play. Strangely, the projections aren't masked and, therefore, the images shine on the performers when they are in the doorway. Chas Marsh contributes a soundscape that goes from the faintest of wind sounds establishing the feeling of space and loneliness to the roar of battle.

Written by Naomi Wallace. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Fight coordination by Robb Hunter. Design: Dan Conway (set) Kathleen Geldard (costumes) Adrea "Dre" Moore (properties) Daniel Covey (lights) Chas Marsh (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Emily Carter Watson (stage manager). Cast: Dacyl Acevedo, Tim Getman, Brandon McCoy, Tuyet Thi Pham, Alexander Strain.


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March 26 - April 14, 2008
Thom Pain (based on nothing)
Reviewed March 29 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:30 - no intermission
A rambling stream of consciousness rendered in a highly theatrical manner

Click here to buy the script


Richard Rodgers told us “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.” This overly long monologue demonstrates this truth. Never mind the title "Thom Pain." (The name is only mentioned briefly and has nothing at all to do with the Tom Paine of Common Sense fame.) The parenthetical phrase is the important part of the title, and it sets an impossibility as an expectation. The human mind is incapable of not thinking about something. It can't just think about nothing. Even transcendental meditators need mantras and focus points to minimize the mental background noise of a mind contemplating what Zoë Lewis calls “the miniscule-ist things.” But nothing "miniscules" to nothing. So, in this stream of consciousness, there still is consciousness and it has to focus on something. It isn't even a very close approach to nothing, but its concentration on tiny ideas and details of little consequence allows an actor of prodigious skill and considerable charm to craft a portrait of a character out of the bits and pieces of thought.

Storyline: The disjointed thought patterns of a monologist are shared directly with the audience (occasionally requesting a bit of audience participation as well) as if he has something he thinks is important to pass on but can't quite put his finger on it.

Just who is this "Thom Paine"? Author Will Eno gives the audience precious little by way of back story. We don't learn where or how he came upon his obvious love of language, his intriguing store of trivia, his considerable powers of observation or his acerbic world view. Playwright Will Eno took the Edinburgh Fringe Festival's "Fringe First Award" in 2004 for this rambling rumination. It captured the attention of such powers-that-be as the Pulitzer judges who considered it a finalist for their 2005 Prize for Drama. It might better be considered for an award for a challenging exercise for an actor, for its principal strength is the series of shifts in pace, tone and topic which an actor must navigate over a period that is simply too long for the content of the piece.

Timothy Andrés Pabon is the actor in this production and he has both the charm and the craft to make the piece be, as the Army says, all it can be. Under Lee Mikeska Gardner's smooth direction, he emphasizes those snippets that connect the pieces (the interrupted stories, running gags and the highly ponderable pithy remarks) without seeming to hammer them home. "When you have one hour to live, think of me," he says at one point, then "When you have one day to live, think of me," at another, and finally "When you have 30 seconds to live, think of me." This could become a mantra in less subtle hands. He manages to get puns across with a sort of self-effacing manner that lets their humor come through without causing a pause in the narrative. ("Love cankers all" gets an appreciative chuckle.)

With no set design (just a chair and a huge dictionary) but a very active light (and darkness) design by Harold Burgess, Pabon is on his own on stage. He succeeds in capturing the attention of the audience, but he can't hold on to that of all of them as the rambling narrative progresses. Chas Marsh helps, especially in the early going, with a soundscape that seems to provide additional dramatic atmosphere. He provides a dripping water sound that might well have been left over from Matt Rowe's audio effects at Signature Theatre's Kiss of the Spider Woman. However, since the story Pabon begins with involves a boy, some bees and a dog at a pond, the echo on the dripping water seems entirely too much like a constricted interior.

Written by Will Eno. Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner. Design: Harold F. Burgess II (lights) Melanie Clark (costume) Chas Marsh (sound) Stan Barouh (photograph) Emily Carter Watson (stage manager). Cast: Timothy Andrés Pabon.


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January 23 - February 24, 2008
Mrs. Warren's Profession
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:35 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a solid production of a marvelous play
Click here to buy the script


New Hampshire based director Gus Kaikkonen, who directed a touching and thoroughly entertaining  production of the Francis Biddle bio-play Trying at Ford's Theatre two years ago, heads out to Columbia to mount one of George Bernard Shaw's most appreciated literate mixtures of whimsy, wit, social conscience and pithy rejoinders, a play that was so scandalous in its day that it took nearly two decades before it could actually be performed in public. Today's audiences won't be shocked by the play - they may well be shocked by the idea that anyone would have been so shocked by it as to officially ban it - but they will be delighted by its display of mature, well considered thoughtfulness and its seemingly inexhaustible supply of "Gee, I wish I could think of rejoinders like that" lines. Pure Shaw is always entertaining and Kaikkonen guides a solid presentation of this play's strengths. 

Storyline: Late in the nineteenth century in the south of England, the well-educated Miss Warren discovers for the first time the source of the wealth that has paid for her upbringing and education. Her mother has been a tremendously successful practitioner of the madam's art with a chain of brothels from London to Budapest. Well, she can probably deal with the fact that her mother has a past. But when she learns that it isn't just a past, it is a present, that's going too far!

Director Gus Kaikkonen has his cast take pains to avoid rushing through some of the sparkling material in order to keep from having one great line overlap another or one sharp bit by one performer obscure a telling reaction by another. There is a benefit to this approach - we get to savor each and every bon mot, telling rejoinder and character quirk. But there is a cost, as well. The pace feels slow at times and the rapidity of the repartee is just a tad slow. They may go just a bit too far in the genteel feel but each still gets a number of fine moments and the cumulative effect is of charm and intelligence, just right for Shaw!

While Lisa Bostnar has the title role and does a fine job with both its sincerity and its style, it is Natasha Staley who owns the piece as her daughter, Miss Warren. Shaw gives us a Mrs. Warren who is proud of her success in life and suffers no feelings of guilt for her profession, which is precisely why the play was so shocking in its time. It is a character perfectly in tune with early twenty-first century mores in the English speaking world. Miss Warren, on the other hand, with her shock and disapproval, is still a bit of a throwback to the nineteenth and, as such, a harder role to pull off. Staley does it with a sense of personal pride softened with just a touch of the romantic which never cancels the keen intelligence which is the essence of the character. Matt Jared, as Miss Warren's romantic interest takes a while to flesh out his character, but when he does it becomes one of the stronger performances of the evening.  Both Bill Largess, as the reverend with a past (don't all of Shaw's religious characters have a past?) and Nigel Reed, as an unregenerate baronet, provide the kind of charmingly delightful performances every Shaw play deserves. Michael Stebbins offers sharply effective line readings as well.

In keeping with the solid feel of the entire project, the physical designs of Daniel Ettinger, Kathleen Geldard and Daniel Covey are each substantial, appropriate and effective. The script requires four separate locations - two for each act. Ettinger's solution is a turntable with an exterior facing one way and an interior facing the other. It revolves between scenes and then, during intermission, the structure is altered sufficiently so that, when seen again, it is a different locale entirely. Since the show is mounted in the black box space, the audience is treated to the sight of the stage hands making the transition during intermission. Its rather fascinating. Geldard's costumes are high fashion for England in 1894, just the right touch for the play. Covey conveys basic information such as time of day in his lighting as well as subtly supporting mood as the story goes from giddy and fun to serious and fun. 

Written by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Gus Kaikkonen. Design: Daniel Ettinger (set) Kathleen Geldard (costumes) Andre "Dre" Moore (properties) Daniel Covey (lights) Ellen Mandel (music and sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Emily Carter Watson (stage manager). Cast: Lisa Bostnar, Matt Jared, Bill Largess, Nigel Reed, Natasha Staley, Michael Stebbins.


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October 3 - November 4, 2007
A Shayna Maidel
Reviewed by David Siegel

Running Time 2:30 - one intermission
A poignant tale of a family’s redemption

Click here to buy the script


Can a playwright explore the excruciating darkness of 20th century mass murder through small gestures in one family reunited after World War II? In A Shayna Maidel ("A Pretty Girl" in Yiddish) the playwright, Barbara Lebow, has found a way to provide a moving and insightful experience for all audiences by taking that which we think we already know; the Holocaust and its aftermath, and developing the connections of family and friends which, over time and distance, keep the dead sufficiently alive so as to provide strength for the living to do more than just survive. Lebow has developed one family’s interior world as a way to explore the path to redemption. Melodrama and endless lament are kept to a minimum as the family counts its losses and comes to terms with them, begins to live again and plan for the future. It is a challenging production which renders a single family’s saga into something that is universal. This is not a play for just one group to own and claim as only their own. The power of memory and vision can be positive forces and the restorative power of family can be a source of resilience, strength and renewal for any and all.

Storyline: Two sisters separated for 20 years; one a Holocaust survivor and the other who has spent nearly all her life in the United States with her father, are unexpectedly reunited in the New York City of 1946. In a few short days the two sisters and their father take a journey through memory while living in the here-and-now to confront the past, including large scale world events and a particular family’s unexpected actions to finally start to heal and embrace the future. All to try to rid themselves of the poison of catastrophe.

Barbara Lebow’s A Shayna Maidel (1987) ran for 501 performances off-Broadway. It is a play about the darkness of the Holocaust without stick figure Nazis in jack boots. The name Hitler is rarely mentioned. This is a play in which one family’s world that has been torn asunder represents millions of others. It is not a linear play; there are a number of flashbacks that are crucial to the understanding of events for those affected. It is not a bombastic text with long set pieces of loud wailing dialogue to inform and debate. It is one where God is represented as a responsible party, but then seems to slowly fade into the background so that humans can work together to understand what is incomprehensible. Lebow gives audiences a more challenging means to bear witness, one where the script must be performed by accomplished actors who can make gestures speak, who can make silence speak, who can make a list of names seem like a blunt instrument, and where choices made with incomplete information leading to unforeseen consequences are the main force holding the play together. A note: There are a number of Yiddish expressions used throughout the play, but an understanding of the language is not necessary, nor does this make this a play only for some. The actions of the actors are like a subtitle for the words spoken on stage. The words could be any language and from any group or people.

Directed by Margaret (Peg) Denithorne, this is a finely crafted portrayal with rich characterizations. The seemingly old-fashioned woman from the old country is given the opportunity to be more complex than she first appears. She is allowed to be openly portrayed as sexually adventuresome and willing to break barriers for the love of her life, even in the old country where tradition supposedly reigned. The modern woman, living in her own apartment, is at first a submissive mouse to her tyrannical controlling Papa. And the Papa maintains his sanity and hold on his place by cutting off any emotional attachments to the world around him -- at least until a final breakdown. Denithorne has her ensemble use gestures, small and large to marvelous effect to underline the written text.  Under her direction, no one is as first seen, and change in characters is realistically developed. The highly skilled ensemble, which includes Helen Hayes winners and nominees, has one particular standout. Lee Mikeska Gardner is revelatory in her role as the supposed old-fashioned Holocaust survivor. She emanates emotions through body movement, hand gestures and facial animation. With an arched eyebrow and a weathering stare Gardner effortlessly replaces reams and minutes of dialogue. Collen DeLany is the “modern American” sister having left Europe when she was 4 with only fleeting memories of those she left behind, including their deceased mother. Matched against Gardner, one can see DeLany go from dutiful daughter of a controlling father to a more complex woman who, thru her own painful journey, learns of the past, and breaks down in a harrowing scene. Dan Manning, with his baritone voice, is the image of the controlling father in his stiffness and coldness, fearful of emotion, having lost his humanity because of an earlier, too prideful decision that affected his family in unspeakable ways. His unyielding positions finally catch up to him in the final fadeout; not so much with something large and symbolic but with a small flick of a hand. Timothy Andres Pabon provides youthful male energy and sexual tension in the early flashback scenes. Later, he is both memory and reality and a key figure to move the play along.

The technical work is exquisite. James Kronzer has turned The Rep Stage's black box theater into a 1940’s New York City apartment with three rooms, each distinct in their purpose. Chas Marsh’s pre-show music with its European style clarinet-dominated Klezmer music transitions to the sounds of American music played almost casually on the radio, all to provoke memory and longing. Costume Designer Howard Vincent Kurtz has made the differences between the two sisters palpable; the younger New Yorker all in fashionable colorful dresses, perfect makeup and well groomed hair, while the newly arrived other sister begins in drab beiges and looks old beyond her real years, and slowly changes though still showing the affects of what she lived through. Jason Arnold's lights make the flashback scenes all their own by moving from the realistic lighting of the New York apartment, making the darkness visible.

Written by Barbara Lebow. Directed by Margaret (Peg) Denithorne. Cast includes: Collen Delany, Rebecca Eliss, Dan Manning, Lee Mikeska Gardner, Timonthy Andres Pabon, and Susan Rome. Technical staff includes: set designer James Kronzer, costume designer Howard Vincent Kurtz, lighting designer Jason Arnold and sound designer Chas Marsh.


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August 22 - September 23, 2007
Mrs. Farnsworth
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:30 - no intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a great comic concept fully developed in a fabulously fun hour and a half
Click here to buy the script


Oh, the pleasure of witnessing a really inventive concept developed to the limits of its potential ... and then not beyond. So many times, a great concept is ruined by taking it one (or twelve) steps too far. Not here! This perfectly proportioned production of a well constructed serious comedy lands every laugh, every "ah-hah!" moment and every delightful turn of the plot squarely and cleanly. The decision to take advantage of Rep Stage's status as the professional theater in residence at an actual college to borrow a real classroom to perform the one-act play as a "site specific performance" in lecture hall N220 was inspired. By making the audience actually the class and scattering three supporting players throughout the seating area while the three principals perform before the white board at the head of the class, the conceit is carried to delightful completion.

Storyline: In early 2004, at the first meeting of a college creative writing course, a middle aged Mrs. Farnsworth makes a presentation from the book she is trying to write, which, while she doesn't want to name names, will be a memoir of her history with a youthful Yale boy who did her wrong in her youth. Her professor, a liberal who is passionately opposed to the re-election of the President, sees in the story a scandal that could change the course of history and he drags one George W. Bush related detail after another from her. Just as he thinks he's pieced it all together, however, Mr. Farnsworth shows up looking for his wife and presents arguments which counter her claims.

Kudos are in order for almost everyone involved in the production. Of course, it all begins with A.R. Gurney's script. He's the one who get credit for both the original idea, which is superbly creative in itself, and for developing it in a structure that dribbles out plot developments in measured doses at just the right points along the way, keeping the class - oops, the audience - wondering what comes next. Steven Carpenter directs the play with clarity and some very nice touches such as the creative use of the two doors which flank the lecture space.

Helen Hedman is fabulously flighty as the title character who may or may not have a great story to write. She nudges right up to the line where the audience might decide her character is off the deep end, but she never crosses over it. Jason Schuchman is prototypically the young, liberal, enthusiastic college lecturer. Believability is the key to each of their performances, and each pulls it off with a sense of style and assurance. Then Mitchell Hébert enters. He carries a big burden, since his character has already been established through the dialogue between Hedman and Schuchman over the first half of the play and everyone in the class (there I go again ... audience) has already concluded he's an evil, horrible person -- and a Bush supporter, at that! Hébert not only has to establish his own flesh-and-blood character, he has to undo all that has gone before, to raise questions as to just what is truth and what is fiction from the fertile mind of his spouse. Watching him accomplish this feat is part of the pleasure of the piece.

Attention to detail is always a mark of a superb production, and there are signs of real thought being given to each aspect here. The costumes for all six cast members speak volumes about them. Hedman's neutral toned outfit, Schuchman's cycler's helmet and back pack, Hébert's precisely tied tie and french cuffs are all details that contribute to the believability factor. A projection of an internet page of coverage of the 2004 election campaign on a pull--down screen indicates the time and the element of political interest even before the action begins. Normally, a clock on a set is a distraction as the audience is reminded of the passing of time and may even begin to watch it to see how much longer they must watch a show that is beginning to loose their interest. Not here, for this story plays out in "real time" as a ninety minute class (the schedule showing the class as "Creative Writing 8:00 - 9:30" is written on the white board) and the clock, which reads 8:00 at the start, adds an element of realism that really helps.

Written by A.R. Gurney. Directed by Steven Carpenter. Design: Jason Arnold (art) Melanie Clark (costumes) Andrea "Dre" Moore (properties) Stan Barouh (photography) Stacey Shade (stage manager). Cast: Grace Anastasiadis, Mitchell Hébert, Helen Hedman, Jason Schuchman, Shelby Sours, Daniel Lee Townsend.


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March 16 - April 1, 2007
Bach at Leipzig
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:10 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a fantastic farcical fugue
Click here to buy the script


No wonder Kasi Campbell found this particular script just the challenge she was looking for. She studied musical composition in her student days. Indeed, her director's notes in the program indicate that she was required to compose a fugue in her undergraduate counterpoint class. Here's a play that is not only about music making as a profession - and what we now call classical music at that - it is a play that is structured as a piece of music. If you don't happen to be familiar with all the rules of that venerable compositional form, the fugue, you might not recognize the unique aspects of the structure of the play during the first act. But even without any formal musical training, all will become clear at the start of the second when one character explains the requirements of that form while the rest of the cast illustrate those rules in a pantomime repeat of the blocking of the action from the first act. It is filled with witty dialogue, wild confusions and broadly idiosyncratic characters. It drags through some of that first act but takes flight in the second.

Storyline: In 1722 one of the most important musical positions in Germany became vacant. Seven of the leading organists and composers in all of Germany gathered for auditions for the post - everyone named either Johann or Georg. They competed. They argued. They connived. They plotted. But there was one more Johann in the wings - Johann Sebastian Bach.

Campbell takes to the piece with a sense of delicious relish that permeates the production. In fact, the cast seems to be having somewhat more fun that some in the audience. Perhaps some arrived expecting something akin to Amadeus and it took them a while to accept the elements of farce. (A gentleman in front of me turned and all but glowered at my first explosion of laughter.) It didn't take too many of them too long, however, to get into the spirit of the thing and go along with the farce. There is a good deal of exposition to get through in the early going, but once the comic engine gets into gear and the pace picks up, it is a kick.

Bruce Nelson's performance is a classic of surgically precise mannerisms as the excessively prim and proper but morally deficient candidate, who, his colleagues continually remind him, never even gained admission to the music school. Karl Kippola is somewhat more restrained in a role that combines participation in the competition and narration so the audience can figure out what is going on. Each of the organists are played as broadly comical but none quite so broad or quite so funny as Bill Largess' performance as the dimwitted one who never quite realizes that when his colleagues talk about "The Unbelievably Incredulous Fool" they mean him. Alex Zavistovich is very funny, as well, in a recurring walk-on role in which his failure to speak even one word is funnier each time he passes through in light of the continued comments that he's endowed with a glorious voice. 

This is a first class production as well in its physical presentation. The elegant set seems a bit modern for a play set in the eighteenth century but that simply emphasizes the timelessness of the portrayal of human frailties - ambition, jealousy, pride, foolishness - that are being lampooned. The costumes are just right, both for the time and for the characters, and Chas Marsh's sound design not only brings the baroque style of music into the hall, it captures the sound of wishes taking flight as well.

Written by Itamar Moses. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Fight and movement choreography by Lewis Shaw. Design: Milagros Ponce de León (set) Kathleen Geldard (costumes) Dre Moore (properties) Dan Covey (lights) Stan Barouh (photography) Che Wernsman (stage manager). Cast: Matt Dunphy, Karl Kippola, Bill Largess, David Marks, Bruce Nelson, Alexander Strain, Alex Zavistovich.


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February 2 - 25, 2007
Two by Pinter
Reviewed by William Bryan

Running time 2:00 with one intermission
Two plays with no straight answers

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Pinteresque. It’s a word. No, really! You can look it up. An adjective that in its simplest form means to be like Pinter; yet to be like Pinter could never be simple. Rep Stage produces two works by Harold Pinter (hence the clever title of the show) that come from his middle years. This time was after his youthful beginning and before his political statement phase. These works, The Collection and The Lover, clearly define what it means to be Pinteresque. Performed on a simple set with well trained actors and a comedic direction, the shows present the audience with the mastery that comes from the hand of a man whose name has been defined in the English vernacular for over thirty years as “comedy with menace.” Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, and more well known perhaps for other works such as the screenplay to The French Lieutenant’s Woman or his most famous play, The Birthday Party, his works stand as a testament to how silence can tell a story, and how the spoken word can be more silent still.

Storyline:  Two stories that strangely tie together. In the first act two couples must deal with the prospect of an unfaithful partner. In the second act a single couple takes being unfaithful to a new level.

Pinter was once asked what his work was about. His reply, which he regrets making to this day, was a flippant answer, “The weasel under the cocktail cabinet.” Though he claimed he was joking and never really meant it, critics to this day have applied this to his works. And while there may be no weasel under the cabinet, something is hiding there, and throughout the two plays it lurks as a figure just out of sight. It is a tension, a palpable thing like a wave crest just waiting to break but that never comes to pass. Xerxes Mehta has done an excellent job directing these two shows. While the first, The Collection, may seem slower than most feel comfortable with, it still is an admirable work. It is a tale of two couples, Harry and James, and Bill and Stella, whose lives interact when Stella tells Bill that she had an affair with James while they were away on a business conference. Pinter never answers the question 'did the affair ever really happen?" Truly, that is not the focus of the play. Rather, it is the nature of trust, distrust, love and jealousy and the actions they can drive us to perform.

The second show, The Lover, has been staged previously as either a dramatic or comedic piece.  Fortunately for us, Mehta chose comedic, for it allows us to experience the masterful talent for understated comedic acting that comes from Marni Penning. She is a housewife who, with the blessing of her husband, carries on a romantic affair with another man. As the story unfolds and the truth becomes known, her transformations, and the fears of loss and longing that march across Ms Penning’s face are a delight to watch. The role of her husband, played by Nigel Reed, is also well acted, but suffers the curse of being the strait man in the play, and as such his talents do not receive as much recognition.

The set is simple and while it serves its purpose, like the lighting and costumes, it is mere placeholding for the storytelling. This is a quality performance, and it would have been interesting to see it with a larger budget staging, but nothing is lost in its current form. Not every performance can be so surprising in its presentation, but what a delight it is to show up and be unexpectedly whisked away by a master playwright's work retold in such fine form.

Written by Harold Pinter. Directed by Xerxes Mehta. Design: Elena Zlotescu (set and costumes) Judith Daitsman (lights) Ann Warren (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Stacey Shade (stage manager). Cast: Bill Largess, Bolton Marsh, Timothy Andres Pabon, Marni Penning, Nigel Reed, Peggy Yates.


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October 27 - November 19, 2006
Tintypes
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:15 - one intermission
A musical review using songs of 1890 - 1920 to sketch American history of the time

Click here to buy the CD


Oh, the great times Potomac Region theater lovers are going to have within these four new walls! The new Black Box Theatre in the expanded Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Howard Community College opened this week, giving the professional company in residence at the campus a well equipped, well proportioned secondary space for smaller productions. It is literally next door to the larger, 350 seat Smith Theater with its proscenium stage. Now Rep Stage offers its first production in the black box which can be configured for up to 250 seats. The production is the turn-of-the-century (the 20th century, that is) revue that originated lo those many years ago in 1979 at Arena Stage, and transferred first to Off-Off-Broadway and then to Off-Broadway and finally, for 93 performances, to Broadway itself, picking up three Tony Award nominations including best musical and best book for a musical. The great times for theater lovers haven't quite begun, however, for this production, even with all the trappings, resolutely refuses to take life.

Storyline: America's emergence into a world power between the administrations of, roughly, Benjamin Harrison and Woodrow Wilson, but centering clearly on Teddy Roosevelt's first decade of the twentieth century, is sketched through a dozen scenes using nearly fifty of the popular songs of the era by a singing, dancing, acting cast of five.

Spark is a difficult thing to create in theater and it seems that the harder you try the harder it gets. This cast gets right up to the edge of ignition a number of times during the show, but each time the momentum seems to falter and the energy escapes leaving the scene flat. With over a dozen dramatically unconnected scenes, the flow that director Carole Graham Lehan seems to be trying to establish just trips as if there were a speed bump in the road. Sometimes it trips over a visual gaffe (Teddy Roosevelt being semi-stripped and apparently going to war in an undershirt). At others it seems it is a sound (Evan Casey's extra-thick East-European accent while singing George M. Cohan's "The Yankee Doodle Boy").

There are moments that seem to work, though. Early in the first act the group breaks into Harry B. Smith and Karl Hoschna's 1905 song "Electricity" and the energy level seems to rise. Later director Lehan demonstrates the felicity of a choreographer/director with a nifty staging of Edwards and Byran's famous "In My Merry Oldsmobile" - no it wasn't first a singing commercial, it was a hit song. Kate Briante affects the vocal mannerisms Anna Held, the prototypical Ziegfeld Girl with a sense of class, and Shannon Wollman gets the earnestness of Emma Goldman right when she does, as Goldman did, "speechify." Goldman wasn't known for her singing, however, nor, for that matter, her dancing. Felicia Curry struts a mean cakewalk and later sells the Bert Williams classic "Nobody."

Daniel Ettinger designed the inaugural setting for the new Black Box, nicely tying the railing of the theater's upper scaffold into the set itself. With a hint of the face of the Statue of Liberty looking on from the back wall, the singing and dancing takes place on a platform of wooden planking that could be a show boat's dock one minute, the factory floor the next and a political convention's dais a moment later. The feel of the space is nicely manipulated by Lynn Joslin's lights, but the decision to open each act with a stage smoke effect goes awry. Perhaps this was because this is a new space and how it works is just being discovered, but the effect seemed unnecessary in the first place. The cast is accompanied by two pianos at the back of the stage. One assumes the two were played by musical director Brant Challacombe and Assistant Musical Director Aaron Broderick, but it isn't mentioned in the program.

Conceived by Mary Kyte with Mel Marvin and Gary Pearle. Directed and choreographed by Carole Graham Lehan. Musical direction by Brant Challacombe. Design: Daniel Ettinger (set) Denise Umland (costumes) Dre Suchoski (properties) Lynn Joslin (lights) Stan Barouh (photography) Cambra Overend (stage manager). Cast: Kate Briante,  Evan Casey, Felicia Curry, Gary Hiel, Shannon Woollman.


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September 22 - October 8, 2006
Stones in His Pockets

Running time 2:30 - one intermission
A display of acting skills by two fine practitioners

Click here to buy the script


Two of the most boring jobs in the world must be that of a fashion model and of a movie extra, both of whom mostly stand around waiting to do something. A play based on the "adventures" of either needs quite a plot to sustain interest for very long. Marie Jones' play about the extras on a movie being shot in Ireland doesn't have enough plot to hold much interest, but it does have a gimmick: all fifteen characters are portrayed by two actors, in this case Bruce Nelson and Michael Stebbins. With a predictable story to tell, the production soon becomes not about events in Ireland, but about the performance techniques of the two actors who are given every opportunity to show off their skills. Show off, they do. It is the display of craft and craftiness that is interesting here, not the glamour (or lack of it) of movie making or the fairly tired tales of life in "the old country."

Storyline: A big Hollywood movie company comes to a small village in County Kerry on the west coast of Ireland where such classic films as John Wayne’s The Quiet Man and David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter captured the glorious scenery. Two local lads get jobs as extras in the new movie. Their experiences with the cast, crew and the other extras come to a climax when another villager commits suicide on the next to last day of filming by drowning himself in a lake. It is clear that he intended to drown because he had filled his pockets with stones.

When Marie Jones’ play had its first success it was in a tiny theater in Belfast, Northern Ireland. That success led to a run at the fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland which led to a London engagement which led to a Broadway run and then a national tour with Bronson Pinchot and Tim Ruddy which played the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater in 2003. With each advance, the play found itself in a larger theatre. On Broadway, it was the 800-seat Golden Theatre and, of course, the Eisenhower has about 1,100. Here at Howard Community College's 250 seat Smith Theatre, it seems better scaled, and Rep Stage gives it a comfortably attractive set with projections to change locales for some of the stories the characters tell.

With Bruce Nelson and Michael Stebbins, Rep Stage regulars know they are in for quite a display of thespian legerdemain. They have watched Nelson enthrall as "Gidger" who had a direct connection to the future in The Violet Hour, the father of the rapidly aging Kimberly in Kimberly Akimbo, a marvelously foppish second rate poet in Arcadia, the stranger of two strange brothers in The Dazzle and dry Teddy in Faith Healer, just to mention roles here at Rep Stage. Stebbins created something like forty characters in his career this far with this company but it was in just one show - that other display of performance proficiency, Fully Committed. (In addition, he is Rep Stage's Artistic Director.)

Watching the production, it is difficult to tell if Director Lee Mikeska Gardner exercised her skills by getting Nelson and Stebbins to fill the evening with displays of  performance prowess, or by keeping them from overdoing it. Whichever, she manages to keep the show focused on the story, such as it is. The production has a handsome feel to it with a movie set structure of a rock fence and hill backed by a screen for the projections.

Written by Marie Jones. Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner. Design: Melanie A. Clark (costumes) Dre Suchoski (properties) Lisa L. Ogonowski (lights) Chas Marsh (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Rebecca L. Trotter (stage manager). Cast: Bruce Nelson, Michael Stebbins.


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March 24 - April 9, 2006
Hamlet

Reviewed March 26
Running time 3:05 - one intermission
t Potomac Stages Pick for a fascinating performance in the title role
Winner of the Ushers Favorite Show award for March 2006

Click here to buy the script


You know you are in for a display of acting prowess in the title role when the first image of the play is Karl Miller as Hamlet sitting cross legged at the lip of Tony Cisek's black and grey set, smoking a cigarette. Normally, you don't even see the melancholy Dane until scene two, and then his first words are the relatively tame aside "A little more than kin," not the poetic "What a piece of work is man!" But Miller, under the inventive direction of Kasi Cambell, starts right out lamenting the loss of his mirth, making sure that this production will be Hamlet, as its title says, and not Claudius or Gertrude or Ophelia or even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. No, it is Hamlet and Miller's take is all youthful impatience, adolescent rashness, immature plotting and more than a touch of raging hormones. It is a fascinating performance. 

Storyline: The prince of Denmark discovers that his uncle has murdered his father, the king, and wed his mother, the queen. The quest for vengeance results in the deaths of guilty and innocent alike.

As fascinating as Miller is to watch all through the play, there are other performances of note. Valerie Leonard's queenly presence as Gertrude is punctuated with little touches that make a performance rich. For example, she begins to show the effects of the fatal potion that does her in in a nicely subtle way without distracting from the climactic sword fight. Lawrence Redmond is smooth and dignified as Polonius. Subtlety marks his work as well as he reacts to his son's lack of care for his coat when, in the famous "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" speech, he gets to the line "the apparel oft proclaims the man."  Daniel Frith, as that son, takes a while to get into the meter of Shakespeare's verse, but he is really frightening when he goes into a rage. Kathleen Coons pulls off the famous mad scene of Ophelia very well, although the changes Campbell and Miller adopt robs her of some of the setup, making it initially questionable whether the "mad" in "mad scene" is anger or insanity.

Only in the development of Claudius does the telling of the tale really falter. At first Nigel Reed comes across as a bureaucratic usurper, not as a monster who could have murdered his brother, the king, usurped his throne, bedded his widow and plotted the death of his son all in the space of two months. Reed does make one scene work very well, however. When Hamlet approaches with hate in his heart and sword in his hand only to find Claudius on his knees in prayer, the intensity is everything it should be. Campbell does an interesting thing with the scene, taking Shakespeare's "up sword" as a cue for a sort of instant replay that makes the moment memorable.

The set is a timeless assembly of black and grey with an open grave center-stage through most of the play. With surgically precise lighting by Dan Covey, especially in the ghostly appearances of the dead King in the first scene, this is visually impressive production. The costumes are just a touch distractingly contemporary. The cigarette Miller is smoking at the start of the play is a filter tip, no less. Later he puts out a but in a Champaign flute (an act that annoys Leonard's Gertrude no end) and sits flicking his bic lighter. Black leather jackets and black jeans are fine but Claudius' brown tweed feels a bit out of step with the swords and daggers, as does the logo on the t-shirt worn by Rosencrantz.

Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Fight direction by Paul Dennhardt. Movement coaching by Jenny Male. Design: Tony Cisek (set) Kathleen Geldard (costumes) Tim J. Jones (properties) Dan Covey (lights) Chas Marsh (original music and sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Che Wernsman and Jennifer Woodham (stage managers). Cast: Grace Anastasiadis, JJ Area, Michael Avolio, Jeff Baker, Steve Beall, Kathleen Coons, Aubrey Deeker, James Denvil, Maboud "E" Ebrahimzadeh, James Flanagan, Daniel Frith, Kevin Howard, Zak Jeffries, Valerie Leonard, Jenny Leopold, Ian Lockhart, Brandon McCoy, Karl Miller, Christopher Niebling, Lawrence Redmond, Nigel Reed, Chrissy Wallace.


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February 3 - 26, 2006
Fully Committed

Reviewed February 5
Running time 1:40 - no intermission
A fast paced comedy with one performer handling forty characters

Click here to buy the script


This comedy by Becky Mode builds on an interesting concept, develops it until it seems to soar and then keeps going until it sags. The sole actor on stage, Michael Stebbins, works very hard and is both convincing and very funny, even when the material starts to give out on him. Then, under the direction of Susan Kramer, he turns to the small sentimental content of the piece to build toward a final warmth as his main character overcomes some of the obstacles that have stymied him all along.

Storyline: A struggling actors' day-job is handling the flood of calls to the reservation line of a trendy restaurant in New York. On one day as the Christmas holiday approaches, he is alone on the phones and has to deal with the egos of the callers who view admission to the hottest bistro in town as affirmation of their importance, and of the staff who call on him to perform tasks not included in his job description. The phone also puts him in touch with his agent as he hopes for the breakthrough in his career that would let him quit the reservation gig, and with his family who can't understand why he can't commit to flying home for the holiday.

Michael Stebbins returns to Rep Stage, but his face won't be that familiar to loyal audiences of this company for this is his first appearance on the stage. He's stage managed. He's directed. Now he's starred. (And, it must be noted that, in character, he has now also cleaned the bathrooms). He needs the range of experiences, because, as reported as today's Daily News Featured Item, he's to be the company's new Artistic Director and Producer. But for now, as the aspiring actor/reservation clerk named Sam he's a harried, harassed and hassled employee alone in a phone center that should have at least two and probably three co-workers. The phones never stop ringing. The gimmick here is that every time he, Sam, answers the phone, he, Michael Stebbins, has to perform the part of the caller as well. The press release says that this means he has forty characters to bring to life. We lost count, but we can't dispute the claim. Stebbins does each distinctively and, since many of them call back again and again, we get to know their quirks, which are many and varied. But the one-joke nature of the material begins to wear thin way too soon.

While the piece is billed as a solo performance piece and there is only one cast member listed in the program, the show requires an unusual amount of cooperation and coordination with the sound board operator, making it almost a two-performer show. The timing of snippets of dial tones, telephone rings, intercom buzzes can make or break many of the individual vignettes as Stebbins moves from the harried central character to each of the callers with whom he must deal. Danny Collins is credited as the sound operator. The sounds he controls in Aaron Broderick's sound design at times drive the tempo and at times match that of Stebbins. As the run continues that tempo should be even further refined.

Daniel Ettinger has provided a cluttered mess of a set which is precisely what the piece requires. The cubbyhole identified as "downstairs" under the up-scale restaurant establishes the status of the reservations phone clerk. A meal at the restaurant "upstairs" goes for "$100 - $200 per person depending . . . " while the isolated clerk scavenges for a left over pizza among the clutter accumulated by properties designer Jen Hoopes and throws it in the microwave.

Written by Becky Mode. Directed by Susan Kramer. Design: Daniel Ettinger (set) Michael Wood (costumes) Jen Hoopes (properties) Jay Herzog (lights) Aaron Broderick (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Cambra Overend (stage manager). Cast: Michael Stebbins.


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October 28 - November 20, 2005
The Violet Hour

Reviewed October 30
Running time 2:35 - one intermission

t A Potomac Stages Pick for an at-times zany, at-times literate comedy of decisions and consequences
Click here to buy the script


When Bruce Nelson takes the stage in this regional premiere of a fast-talking comedy, the pace picks up and the laughs come with the velocity of the pages flying out of an out-of-control printing press that plays an important part in the story. Nelson's part, that of a nondescript assistant in a not-yet-published publishing house, seems a perfect fit for the kind of quirky, literate, hyperactive character he plays so well. His performance here takes an evening that would otherwise be a mixed bag to a level that deserves the designation "A Potomac Stages Pick."

Storyline: Early in the twentieth century a would-be book publisher, setting up his office while trying to pick his first book, receives a strange machine that spews out papers which turn out to be pages of books from later in the century - some of which detail the impacts of the different decisions he might make on his life and those of people about whom he cares. (The title of the play is the title of one of the books he is considering publishing, which is itself a quote from a poem by T. S. Elliot written three years after the time of the play. )

After the pure delight of this author's earlier play, Take Me Out, which had such a fine Potomac Region premiere at Studio Theatre this year, you could be excused for being disappointed by this Potomac Stages premiere of the play that followed it onto Broadway and now into our region. On Broadway, Take Me Out was rewarded with awards galore, a one year run and even a Pulitzer nomination, but this Violet Hour closed after just over a month and was forgotten by awards time. However, while the play suffers by comparison, comparison isn't the only way to approach it and there are delights aplenty here even if they don't come at you as thick and fast as in that other play. Had this been produced first, it would have been seen as a precursor to a breakthrough rather than as a let down, because its profusion of great single lines and its intriguing plot concept would have compensated for the uneven exposition, some lengthy speeches and an unsatisfying resolution.

Nelson has both the task of setting up the concept that the mysterious machine is churning out pages from the future and the opportunity of sharing the contents of those pages with the audience. His reaction to the change in the meaning of the word "gay" between the start and the end of the twentieth century is a riff on surprise, horror and denial that is a joy. However, Nelson's role isn't really at the center of the piece. The starring role is that of the publisher. Ian Lockhart stepped into that role when previously announced Karl Miller had to pull out to participate in a New York-based project. Perhaps that substitution didn't give Lockhart enough time to hone his performance, for at least on opening night, he looked sharp in the part, but seemed to move from one gesture or reaction to another rather abruptly. No such problem, however, with either Deidra Lawan Starnes as a jazz singer who wants her memoirs published or Timothy Andrés Pabon as the other author under consideration, a long time friend of the publisher who has delivered his million-page draft in three trunks. Rounding out the cast is Megan Anderson as a poor little rich girl with her own agenda.

Richard Montgomery has created a large set in the small space of Howard Community College's Theatre Outback, a black box that the company often uses with fine results. The set seems a precise recreation of a somewhat utilitarian space high in one of the towers in New York's Flatiron neighborhood, perhaps in the Flatiron Building itself which would have been getting just a bit seedy given the competition from other, larger and more opulent towers rising in New York at the time of the play which is April 1, 1919. Greenberg may have picked that date as a reference to April Fools Day but the play is no mere prank. When Nelson is on stage, it is a great treat and the rest of the time an intriguing if uneven piece.

Written by Richard Greenberg. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Design: Richard Montgomery (set and properties) Kathleen Geldard (costumes) Jenny Male (movement coach) Marianne Meadows (lights) Chas Marsh (music and sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Katherine C. Mielke (stage manager). Cast: Megan Anderson, Ian Lockhart, Bruce R. Nelson, Timothy Andrés Pabon, Deidra LaWan Starnes.


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September 23- October 9, 2005
T Bone n Weasel

Reviewed September 24
Running time 2:20 - one intermission
An inventive staging of an episodic comedy featuring three fine performances

Click here to buy the script


Jon Klein's comic tale of two losers is solidly in the time-honored tradition of male bonding flicks. Think of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon series or even Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones. The genre has a strong tradition on the stage as well. Lenny and George in Of Mice and Men or even Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot validate the concept. Klein, however, is going for comedy in making his bonding males born losers whose relationship is strengthened by each succeeding defeat at the hands of ill fortune in the guise of characters they can't believe could get the better of them.

Storyline: Having been released from prison, two down-on-their-luck losers take to the back roads of South Carolina. In a series of encounters with a store clerk, a used car dealer, a homeless man, a randy lady, a slick politician and others, their luck goes from bad to worse as they get the short end of the stick on each transaction.

The episodic nature of the script makes for repetitions of good fun. In fact it suffers from the fact that there are probably two too many repetitions. Director Jackson Phippin compensates for that with inventive use of a turntable stage, a succession of cute set pieces bearing labels such as "Inside De Sto," and a marvelous foot-powered bumper car bearing the license "DEBUIK" to lend additional humor and expedite the scene changes. Phippin, who directed Rep Stage's two-performer Fool for Love two years ago, now handles a cast of three. But here it isn't a two- or three-character play, it is at least an eight character show with two actors playing the title characters and one playing everyone else.

Whenever a part is best described as "everybody else" the actor involved has the opportunity to steal the show. It takes a high sense of ensemble responsibility to refrain from unbalancing a team effort, and Peter Wray meets that responsibility while convincingly demonstrating that he could steal each of his scenes away if he really wanted to. He's a lot of fun to watch, especially as a bumbling store clerk whose malapropisms include such gems as "Guns don't kill people. People kill guns. (A pause of just the right duration.) No, that ain't right."

The two main characters are played with quite a bit of congenial chemistry by Joseph Andrew Mills, III as the more mature, more grounded and more criminally experienced "T-Bone." Timothy Andrés Pabon brings a brightness to the role of the slightly fawning more clueless youngster called "Weasel." Their interaction is sharp and their timing is fine and each has individual moments that delight. Pabon's effort to put on his shirt as if it were a pair of trousers and Mills' reaction to the racism of one of Wray's characters are particularly good.

Written by Jon Klein. Directed by Jackson Phippin. Dialect and violence coaching by Jenny Male. Design: Richard Montgomery (set and properties) Sally Montgomery (costumes) Marianne Meadows (lights) Aaron Broderick (music and sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Benjamin Royer (stage manager). Cast: Joseph Andrew Mills, III, Timothy Andrés Pabon, Peter Wray.


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February 25 - March 13, 2005
The Children's Hour

Reviewed Marcy 6
Running time 2:30
t A Potomac Stages Pick for emotional power
Click here to buy the script


Lillian Hellman's 1934 drama established her as a major playwright, setting the stage for The Little Foxes, Watch on the Rhine, and Candide. Donald Hicken mounts a superb revival of this searing play with a cast that carries the audience on an emotional journey on one of Rep Stage's finest set designs. The production is a cooperative effort with Baltimore's Everyman Theatre where it first played before transferring to Columbia. It is a marvelous addition to the credits of both companies. The entire project has a feeling of heft that matches the literary accomplishment of Hellman's first effort as a playwright. It was a notable debut in its day and is a notable theatrical experience today.

Storyline: A disturbed student at a struggling private girls prep school destroys the lives of the school's proprietors by making allegations of sexual impropriety.

Hicken, who directed The Bell of Amherst at Rep Stage last season and who has multiple credits at Everyman including Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris as well as Ms. Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, mounts a clean and clear staging of this example of the kind of naturalistic writing so popular in the second third of the twentieth century: strongly plotted, peopled with characters with marked strengths and weaknesses, told in a series of scenes that are both interesting in their own right and carry the story forward in a literal, linear manner building to an emotional climax all the more affecting because the audience has come to care deeply for the people to whom it is happening. Hicken allows it to take its own sweet time building toward that climax, letting it work on its own terms. That is the intelligent way to approach it, allowing the play to cast its spell just as it must have back in 1934, when its themes were so controversial that the Pulitzer Prize selection committee is reported to have refused even to see the show.

Tess Hartman and Stephanie Burden create an onstage partnership, playing the two women who have built this private school for girls, which is effective in portraying their characters' professional and personal relationship as clear, strong and deeply satisfying. Lance Coadie Williams handles his emotionally strong scenes well as Hartman's intended, but tends to mumble a bit through the lighter moments which set up the heavy ones. Paige Hernandez is mesmerizing as the emotionally crippled control freak of a student who spews forth accusations as a tool of manipulation. At one point she says she'll come up with some story to cover her behavior and that she is at her best when she makes it up on the spur of the moment. It is so chillingly effective as a preshadowing of the tragedy to come. Both Barbara Pinolini as Hernandez's  grandmother and Rosemary Knower as one of the teacher's aunt are very good as well.

Modern audiences are used to what has been termed "color blind casting" in which the race of an actor or actress is ignored while his or her talent and skill is considered. This has allowed many talented performers to take on roles that would otherwise be closed to them and has provided audiences the opportunity to see some memorable work. Such casting is pushed too far here, not simply because the time period and locale of the play makes it improbable that the student body and adults would be racially mixed, but because it draws attention away from the theme of the play in a false distraction. This is, after all, a play about societal intolerance. Had the student body of a struggling, newly established preparatory school for young ladies in the 1930s been racially mixed, and had the headmistress of such a school been a white woman engaged to a black man, there would be controversy enough for a two full plays. But that isn't the controversy about which Hellman was writing. By introducing such casting here, director Hicken serves the social and artistic goals of today at the expense of the play's exploration of the social realities of another time, pulling focus away from the play's major reason for being.

Written by Lillian Hellman. Directed by Donald Hicken. Fight choreography by Lewis Shaw. Design: Daniel Ettinger (set) Debra Kim Sivigny (costumes) Liza Davies (properties) Jay A. Herzog (lights) Chas Marsh (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Amanda M. Hall (stage manager). Cast: Hallie Angelella, Marianne Angelella, Stephanie Burden, Lex Davis or Buddy Pease, Lucia Diaz-French, Mikaela Feely-Lehmann, Shalita Grant, Paula Gruskiewicz or Barbara Pinolini, Tess Hartman, Page Hernandez, Sarah Hinderberger, Christina Irby, Erica Jones, Christa Kilduff, Rosemary Knower, Krénee Tolson, Lance Coadie Williams, Dory Zeitler.


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January 28 - February 20, 2005
Kimberly Akimbo

Reviewed January 30
Running time 2:15 - one intermission
General admission seating

Click here to buy the script


Helen Hedman tackles the tricky task of acting teenage while appearing elderly in this screwball comedy/drama by Fuddy Meers and Wonder of the World author David Lindsay-Abaire. It is no mean trick but a crucial one for this play, because the plot revolves around the fact that by her 16th birthday her body has reached the physical equivalent of the age of seventy. Director Kasi Campbell keeps the narrative clear, the energy varied and the humor focused as her cast of five take the audience through a story that is alternately sweet, funny, touching, screwball and outlandish. What it never is is mean spirited. Hedman is solidly entertaining as sixteen going on seventy although, given the decision to go without makeup to enhance her apparent age, it takes a while to get used to the concept.

Storyline: The least dysfunctional member of the Levaco family is daughter Kimberly despite a genetic condition that causes her to age a four and a half times the normal rate. She copes with her condition much better than do her pregnant mother, her underemployed father or her homeless aunt with a fresh approach to forgery. Kimberly, and a young man from her high school, seek escape from their wacky world.

Lindsay-Abaire demonstrates a deft touch with a script that could easily veer beyond the wacky into a realm where the bizarre obscures the human -- but it never does. Each of the characters here have deep seated peculiarities, with the exception of the young man from Kimberly's school who simply evidences the normal peculiarities of adolescence. And yet, Lindsay-Abaire manages to raise serious issues of societal expectations, roles and responsibilities and familial relationships within the context of very funny and frequently flippant exchanges overlaying a plot with both intriguing complications and surprising twists.

Hedman gets close to the line of too cute with her sweet-sixteen mannerisms from time to time, but she avoids stepping over it and is quite good at letting the audience understand her relationship first with Bruce Nelson, who, as her father, lands some of Lindsay-Abaire's zingers with uncanny accuracy, then with Sherri Edelen as her self-centered pregnant mother recovering from carpal tunnel surgery, and finally with Kerry Rambow as her homeless aunt who wants her help running a scam. Through it all, however, it is the relationship with her sixteen-year old boy friend, played with absolute believability by James Flanagan, that is the core of the piece. That relationship is seen from start through full blossoming and it is both charming and extremely funny.

Milargros Ponce de Leon provides a superbly functional and nicely whimsical set consisting of three rotating structures lit in part from within on a floor with embedded light panels as well. Portions of the set are blank in order to show off a projected snowfall which works much better than the practically ineffectual snow machine which is supposed to augment the effect. The family's home seems a bit too neat and a touch too prosperous while Kathleen Geldard's costumes stick strictly within the economic resources of the family. Chas Marsh's sound design gives the piece a richer feeling with some subtle touches like the windshield wiper swish in the scenes that take place in a car. 

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Design: Milagros Ponce de Leon (set) Kathleen Geldard (costumes) Dre Suchoski (properties) Alex Cooper (lights) Chas Marsh (music and sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Cary Louise Gillett (stage manager). Cast: Sherri L. Edelen, James Flanagan, Helen Hedman, Bruce R. Nelson, Kerri Rambow. 


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September 24 - October 10, 2004
The Seagull
 

Reviewed September 26
Running time 2:50 - two intermissions
t A Potomac Stages Pick for ensemble acting and atmospheric staging

Click here to buy the Script


Chekhov’s play is a difficult thing to pull off. It is a tragic comedy. It is a humorous tragedy. Not much happens and it has very little plot but what does happen is intricately intertwined. It is an atmosphere piece. It is a character piece. How to reconcile all these characteristics? Director Kasi Campbell knows the secret to mounting a superb Seagull is casting. Get the right people in the right roles and you're half way home. Well, she got the right cast and then she deployed their considerable talents in a solid, uniform approach to a piece that requires both standout individual performances and strong ensemble work. The result is a fascinating production that progresses from the warmly witty early segments filled with Chekhov's signature whispers of foreboding through to the painfully sad conclusion of what the author called "a comedy" in part to avoid letting the audience know what to expect too soon.


Storyline: In the last decades of Tsarist Russia, a young would-be-playwright puts on a show for his family and  guests at a country house by a lake. It stars a neighbor girl with whom he is hopelessly in love. She, on the other hand, is infatuated with his mother’s lover, while the daughter of the family steward, who is actually in love with the would-be-playwright, marries the local schoolmaster out of spite. While all the young people are thus conflicted, their elders are doing no better conducting their lives.

Karl Miller is as attractive and earnest as could be wanted as the young playwright, and he is matched marvelously by the two women who define his life, the lovely Megan Anderson as the neighbor girl and the striking Helen Hedman as his mother. Hedman in particular is spectacular in a way that is entirely consistent with her character who made a life out of an ability to be spectacular on stage and off. Nigel Reed is the writer/lover who is as much of the man in her life as she would permit, and whose sardonic view of life reflects the essence of Chekhov.

In the smaller roles, Campbell has the services of the likes of Bruce Nelson as the school teacher whose life has become so meaningless, Bill Largess as the doctor who has used up all his passion for life and empathy for others, Bill Hamlin as the aging uncle whose estate is the setting of the play, and, as the manager of that estate who hates it when the owners are in residence because that remind him that he doesn't own it himself, an earthy Robert Leembruggen. Nelson's final exit, which goes unnoticed and unacknowledged by the entire company, could be the prototype for Kander and Ebb's "Mr. Cellophane" from Chicago, who went to school one day and, when he came home, his family had moved.

In this instance, these sterling players are using a new "version" by Tom Stoppard in which Stoppard's legendary way with words in the English language seems to facilitate rather than detract from the semi-formality of familiar versions of Chekhov's text. This is most definitely Chekhov's The Seagull, not Stoppard's. Rep Stage's solid reputation for attention to scenic design is upheld in all elements as well. Most notable are Tony Cisek's set of furniture and door units moved about among the trunks of trees on the country estate, Dan Covey's lovely lighting, Chas Marsh's musical selections which progress from light and easy, to dark and complex as the play makes the same transition, and Kathleen Geldard's carefully considered wardrobe which tells so much about each character's self image. The stunning black and rust gown for Hedman in the final act silently screams the essential fault of her character, that she never even thinks that her lavish expenditures on herself are at odds with her parsimony toward her friends, her servants or even her son.

Written by Anton Checkhov, a new version by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Design: Tony Cisek (set) Kathleen Geldard (costumes) Tim Jones (properties) Dan Covey (lights) Chas Marsh (sound) Stan Barouh (photography) Che Wernsman (stage manager). Cast: Megan Anderson, Danny Collins, Jeff Consoletti, Bill Hamlin, Helen Hedman, Annie Houston, Bill Largess, Robert Leembruggen, Karl Miller, Bruce Nelson, Nigel Reed, Cheryl Resor.


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March 12 - 28, 2004
Arcadia

Reviewed March 14
Running time 3 hours 10 minutes
t A Potomac Stages Pick for style, wit
and spirited performances


When this play first opened in London in 1993 it is reported that some newspapers sent both theater critics and science reporters to opening night, the better to judge both its theatrical and its academic values. Yes, there are lengthy speeches on topics ranging from mathematics (what is an iterative algorithm?) to physics (what happens when cream hits the coffee?) to the nature of time (you can't un-stir that coffee). But it is all in service to a very theatrical and very entertaining telling of a story. We will assume that playwright Tom Stoppard got the science right since the science reporters didn't make much of a fuss. We can testify that, at least in Kasi Campbell's elegant and sprightly staging, he got the storytelling right. Don't let the the over-three-hours duration bother you in the slightest. With about ten minutes to go, I looked around the theater and found nothing but alert, interested faces in the audience. No one was tired or bored or impatient - they were all totally engrossed in the action on the stage in front of them.  

Storyline: The action switches back and forth in time as the events set in motion in a very large English country house in the early nineteenth century affect the fortunes of people in the late twentieth. In the earlier time a tutor instructs the daughter of the mansion's owner while scandal threatens to rock the house. In the present day, the descendants of the family are visited by two authors, one researching the history of the house's famous gardens and the other following up on a theory that the poet Lord Byron had been drawn into scandal and fought a duel as a result which led to his fleeing the country.

Stoppard writes marvelously precise prose for intelligent and/or literate characters. In this play he has both and the words he gives them are a delight. The wit and wordplay works best in the scenes set in the early 1800s as the formality of the language seems more natural and acceptable coming from people living in what is presumed to have been a more formal, status-conscious time. The flippant, partially slang affected tone of the modern characters, especially the younger ones, seems just a little artificial. But whether it is now or then, the conversations are all lively, intellectually stimulating and filled with thoughts or expressions to be savored.

The portion of the cast portraying nineteenth century characters make the most of the verbal opportunities. Karl Miller as the tutor is a pure delight as he talks circles around Bruce Nelson who is marvelous as a foppish second-rate poet, or engages his student in challenging conversation. The student is played with precocious panache by Rana Kay. Their scenes together, as she seeks knowledge regarding as wide a range of subjects as pure mathematics (he's assigned her a project involving Fermat's Theorem) and the meaning of the term "carnal embrace." It is the genius of both Stoppard and of this cast that both discussions are equally comprehensible, interesting and entertaining.

The twentieth century contingent is ably created by Alex Miller as the researcher bent on making a name for himself out of a theory of scandal whether it turns out to be true or not, Shannon Parks as the writer with slightly higher standards and Daniel Frith as the scion of the household whose devotion to scientific integrity is palpable. When Frith's character speaks of the joy of discovery and the thrill of living in an age that knows that it doesn't know all there is to know, he generates an excitement that would be good to find in classrooms in schools and colleges today. That excitement over things intellectual permeates this handsomely mounted production.  It's marvelously done!

Written by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Design: Tony Cisek (set) Kathleen Geldard (costumes) David Cunningham and Andrea Suchoski (properties) Dan Covey (lights) Mark Anduss (video and sound) Stan Barouh (photography)  Che Wernsman (stage manager). Cast: Chris Davenport, James Flanagan, Daniel Frith, Kari L. Ginsburg, Deborah Hazlett, Rana Kay, Karl Miller, Alex Miller, Bruce Nelson, Shannon Parks, Jack E. Vernon.


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October 31 - November 23, 2003
The Dazzle

Reviewed November 2
Running time 2 hours 25 minutes
t Potomac Stages Pick


When Rep Stage gets its hands on an intriguing and literate script the results are almost always fascinating. Here they have a script filled with dialogue that crackles with word play and wit as it tells a unique story built on a fascinating side bar of American urban history. The story of two exceptional men is entrusted to two exceptional actors who give distinctive performances without succumbing to the temptation to turn their decidedly dysfunctional characters into caricatures or cartoons, infusing them instead with strengths that make their odd existence fascinating if not completely understandable. The results, starting off brightly humorous and gradually becoming darkly moving, are as intriguing and entertaining as you could want.

Storyline:  Based on what little is known about the lives of two brothers who died in 1947 amid the collection of junk they amassed over a quarter century of reclusive living in their home in a once-fashionable neighborhood of New York, the story of their increasing reclusiveness is seen from the start, with the events that the author imagines may have triggered their withdrawal into a world of detritus, and from the end as they succumb to what one describes as “suicide by things.”

Bruce Nelson plays the stranger of the two strange brothers with an otherworldliness that is compelling precisely because it is so hard to figure out. Is he a savant? Is he borderline autistic? Is he sane? His career as a concert pianist is destroyed by his ever diminishing tempos as, in the words of his more rational brother, “he couldn’t bear to part with the notes.” Nelson captures your imagination from the first moment of the show and keeps it to the end. Bill Largess, on the other hand, builds his characterization of the brother who might have been able to survive in the world had it not been for his sense of duty to the other with slow, sure additions to the portrait that culminates in a heart-touching completion. Starting out with a prim and proper sense of exasperation (who knew Bill Largess could look like a 1908 version of George Will?) he deepens his portrayal with each passing scene until, in a prologue to the second act gorgeously underscored by the music of Chas Marsh, his dilemma overtakes Nelson’s in its capacity to captivate. Together, they are a marvelous team.

There is a third member of the cast, Cheryl Resor, who does good work but who may not necessarily feel slighted if her performance isn’t placed in the same category as those of Nelson and Largess. After all, even the script refers to her character as “a catalyst - reactions happen when you are present.” Her intrusions into the brothers’ world at both ends of the story bring focus to their different disabilities. Director Kasi Campbell uses her as does the author, as a center of gravity around which these two fascinating characters orbit.

The script is the work of Richard Greenberg whose treatise on homosexuality and the national pastime, Take Me Out, won last year’s Tony Award for Best Play. The Dazzle has the strengths of his big hit - literate dialogue, well constructed characters and nimble plotting - with little of the sense of assembly-by-the-numbers that the director of Take Me Out had to disguise with dexterous staging. Both scripts are replete with eminently quotable lines that flit past you so quickly you feel you should read the script rather than watch the show so you can linger over the pithy observations. But if you did that, you’d miss the magic that Messrs Nelson and Largess bring to this tiny stage. Solution? Go see the show, then buy the script to savor the wordplay.

Written by Richard Greenberg. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Design: Richard Montgomery (set) Marianne Meadows (lights) Lisa Parkel Burgess (costumes) Chas Marsh (sound design and original music) Stan Barouh (photography) Che Wernsman (stage manager). Cast: Bill Largess, Bruce Nelson, Cheryl Resor.


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September 26 - October 12, 2003
Fool for Love

Reviewed September 28
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes


Actor/writer Sam Shepard writes compelling portraits of people in distress. His short one-act
play, which was made into a full length movie back in 1985 starring himself and Kim Basinger, is an opportunity for actors to sink their teeth into highly emotional roles while, working within the design of a strong director, bringing deeper psychological issues to the fore. In Rep Stage’s new production, it is Jarvis George and Shannon Parks who get these plumb roles and director Jackson Phippin takes them for the expected wild ride as individuals. While they get the distress right and each creates a forceful, even gripping portrayal of their individual characters, together they don’t generate quite the level of sexual compulsion that drives the story as Shepard has written it.

Storyline: In a seedy motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert, a down on his luck rodeo rider and occasional stunt man and an equally unlucky waitress reunite for the umpteenth time. They have shared a past and can’t stay away from each other, nor can they get along with each other. A dark secret binds them and repels them at the same time. An old man sipping tequila on the side of the stage breaks into their consciousness at key points in their struggle to separate.

George gets the swagger of the rodeo rider and the western twang of Shepard’s speech patterns just right. He also builds the emotional internal pressure quite well. Similarly, Parks creates a very believable picture of a woman disintegrating, declining from a not-very-high point of personal development. These people have been injured by the hard knocks of life, but it was their own reactions that have done the most damage and they share that guilt. Their attraction to each other is a shared bond of a past and an inability to envision anything desirable in a future without the other. All that becomes clear in the actors’ work, but somehow they don’t spark the sexual tension that Shepard’s script requires. Here, they don’t seem to be fascinated with each other’s bodies so much as with each other’s heads - it is their shared history and their shared revulsion over the secret that links them, not a physical force.

Charles Matheny gives a suitably inscrutable performance as The Old Man, a presence that hovers on the sidelines but is very much a part of the minds of these two. Added to the mix are two outsiders, the current attempts of each to establish a relationship with a member of the opposite sex other than the flame of their past. The rodeo rider’s current “flame” is so much of an outsider she never actually appears on stage although her actions make an impression. The waitress’s “insignificant other” is very much present on stage in the person of Lance Lewman who does a fine job of illustrating just how low she has had to set her sights.

Richard Montgomery has designed a set in which each of the walls of the seedy room is a separate entity, unconnected and at a slightly separate angle. This little slice of the couple’s world is as disconnected as ever. Aaron Broderick provides a very effective artificiality for the amplification of the voice of The Old Man. His design gets just a bit too unworldly with the amplification of the sound of the bathroom door taking on a strange prominence, but he includes some nicely evocative effects as the outside world intrudes in the confines of the motel room.

Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Jackson Phippin. Design: Richard Montomery (set) Sally Montgomery (costumes) Jay A. Herzog (lights) BettyAnn Leeseberg-Lange (dialect and vocal coach) Lewis Shaw (fight choreography) Aaron Broderick (sound) Stand Barouh (photography) Marjie Hashmall (stage manager). Cast: Jarvis George, Lance Lewman, Charles Matheny, Shannon Parks.


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March 14 – 30, 2003
The Return to Morality
(a political fable)

Reviewed March 16
Running time 2 hours 10 minutes
t Potomac Stages Pick


Original, bright, funny, thought-provoking and featuring interesting characters with recognizable traits: what else could you want from a satire? There are two classic definitions of satire. One,  “the use of wit, especially irony, sarcasm, and ridicule, to attack the vices and follies of humankind,” is particularly appropriate here because that is precisely what this witty play does. It results in a fun evening of theatre, one that should overcome the other classic definition of satire: George S. Kauffman’s dictum that satire “is what closes on Saturday night.”

Storyline: A died in the wool liberal, a professor at a small college who went to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam war, attempts to expose what he sees as the rampant rise of right wing politics in America by writing the definitive satirical book, humorously taking every political theme he finds objectionable to its ultimate logical conclusion. But his publisher misses the point and issues the book not as a satire but as “non-fiction.” What’s worse, the reviewers miss the point and praise his “ultimate statement of conservative morality” and it becomes a best seller. He’s an instant star enjoying fame and fortune, but he’s the hero of those he believes are all the wrong people and it's for all the wrong reasons.

Director Kasi Campbell keeps things moving along at a swift pace but never lets it seem frenetic. People come and people go, scenes shift and time passes but it doesn’t seemed rushed. It just seems to be the pace of the real world today with no time to pause, reflect and think. True, the final third of the play isn’t quite as well structured as is the first two thirds and not all the predicaments spun in the first half are as well resolved. But by the time it begins to falter, Campbell has the entire project humming right along. The fluid scene changes are facilitated by Milagros Ponce deLeón’s bare but extremely efficient set which relies on Dan Covey’s lighting design and projections of static images, film clips and real-time video. She moves people, props and furniture about with a sense of playfulness in between the 17 scenes in the two-act play.

Jack E. Vernon plays the hapless author with a sad faced confusion that fits nicely. It is easy to believe he had higher expectations for his life than the reality he confronts at mid-life, and that he could be torn between his sense of himself and the reality of celebrity, power and wealth. Allyson Currin does a nice job of avoiding the potentially preachy elements of her role as his wife who values his values more than his fame, while Nigel Reed comes up with a number of sharp supporting roles including the publisher and a spaced out disc jockey a la Howard Stern. Jeanne Dillon is fabulous as a makeup artist backstage for a talk show appearance and is just as as a girl whose seductive charms draw the hero even further into his quandry.

The most impressive of the media projection effects comes when our hero gets his big chance either to set things straight or muck them up beyond retrieval while delivering the keynote address at the national convention of the party that has taken his book seriously and to heart. With his face filling the entire back wall while he delivers his speech center stage, the contrast between the image he has created and allowed to take control of his life and his smaller, life sized self is presented visually at just the moment the play presents it textually. It is, as is most of this production, in just the right proportion.

Written by Jamie Pachino. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Design: Milagros Ponce deLeón (set) Dan Covey (lights) Barbara Payne (costumes) Patrick Ryan (props) Mark K. Anduss (sound and original music) Stan Barouh (photography) Che Wernsman (stage manager). Cast: Jack E. Vernon, Allyson Currin, Nigel Reed, Jeanne Dillon, Foster Solomon, Helen Hedman, Michael Avolio, Ashanti Cooper.


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November 1 – 24, 2002
Faith Healer

Reviewed November 3
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes
t Potomac Stages Pick


Irish playwright Brian Friel’s monologue play presents great opportunities for three actors and these three take full advantage. But the magic of this evening of theater is in the cumulative effect of the elements under the steady hand of director Kasi Campbell. She manages to connect the monologues through subtle touches so that these individually interesting characters become a group, a team, a unit – even though no two of them are ever on the stage at the same time.

Storyline: An Irishman who has made something of a career traveling the back roads of Wales and Scotland, holding healing sessions, often with no more than a dozen or so participants, tells the story of when he returned to Ireland with his wife (if wife she was) and his manager for what turned out to be his final tour.

Monologue plays are always tricky because, while one monologue can be fascinating, four can be too much of a good thing. Each monologue must have a dramatic structure of its own, building to a climax as well as creating a character. The challenge for a playwright is to give the entire play a dramatic structure building to its own climax. Friel is best known for his language. His ability to capture the lyric beauty of the Irish way of speaking has never been more evident than it is here. His language works on three levels: There is the beauty of the sound; there is the joy of the wordplay; there is the story itself. Friel’s other plays often feel a bit mechanical in their plots and a monologue play could fall prey to this weakness. Instead, the formal structure of four monologues (the faith healer opens and closes the play with the wife and the manager flanking the intermission) turns out to be a help as he places plot details within the narratives.

Nigel Reed, who earned his Helen Hayes Award for the Outstanding Performance by an Actor at Rep Stage last year in The Judas Kiss, creates a very different but no less fascinating character than his award winning Oscar Wilde. Here he takes his time, adding little physical touches as the evening progresses much as Friel adds little details to the narrative in slow, measured doses. Julie-Ann Elliott holds just short of the limit as her character smokes and drinks her way toward final collapse. Bruce Nelson takes the character that could be the driest, most mechanical of them all and adds bits of humor that set up his revelations, making them all the more touching.

The single-set play is being performed in Howard Community College’s small black box facility, the Theater Out Back. Milagros Ponce de Leon devised a set of planking and picket fences that works well as a playing space and also provides dramatic visual impact. The structures at the back of the main floor seem to imply different things at different times as the monologues progress – a cross, a door, a solid wall. With Dan Covey’s lovely lights, especially his subtle dusk effect, and Neil McFadden’s soulful piano, violin and cello score, the atmosphere for the play is just right. But the theater is a noisy one with the sound of activities outside and the unwrapping of candy inside. They had to struggle to maintain that atmosphere.

Written by Brian Friel. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Design: Milagros Ponce de Leon (set) Rosemary Pardee (costumes) Dan Covey (lights) Neil McFadden (sound). Cast: Nigel Reed, Julie-Ann Elliott, Bruce Nelson.


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September 27 – October 13, 2002
Anna Lucasta

Reviewed September 29
Running time 2 hours 55 minutes


An intriguing play with an intriguing history gets a solid production in one of the Potomac Region’s comfortable intimate theaters. The play was written just before the outbreak of World War II. But its author, Philip Yordan, couldn’t find a producer who would mount it on Broadway. While the characters had been written as being Polish-Americans, ethnicity wasn’t an issue in the play, so with minor changes the American Negro Theater was willing to stage it at its theater in Harlem with an all African-American cast. The production in Harlem was such a critical success it transferred to Broadway in 1944, running for 957 performances, which qualified it as one of the longest running plays in Broadway history to that time.

Storyline: A couple in Pennsylvania has two of their grown children and their spouses living with them. A third child was banished from the home as a bad woman and is working as a prostitute in the waterfront dives of Brooklyn. When an old friend of the father writes from Alabama to ask for help for the son he is sending north in search of a wife, the couple’s son and son-in-law see an opportunity to bilk the young man out of the money his father gave him. The banished daughter returns and the young man falls instantly in love with her and proposes marriage. She sees a chance to leave her past behind if only she can keep the truth from him.

Director Jennifer L. Nelson has cast this revival in the all-black tradition of its Broadway run. She has assembled a solid group of actors and gets performances of nearly uniform quality from them, giving the piece the feeling of an ensemble production like those found in repertory theater companies. There are standouts, but they come in the roles which the text highlights. Deidra LaWan Starnes makes the most of both the delight and the anguish of the banished daughter, the titular Anna, when she first sees a chance for a new life and then sees it slipping away. J.J. Johnson takes the part of the would-be husband and smoothes out some of the excesses in the text so that the transition from a semi-comic character to a highly emotional one seems a logical transition.

Like repertory ensembles, there are smaller parts that enrich a few scenes or moments. Charlene Harris makes the mother more than a stock character and Addison Switzer finds just the right balance of humanity to keep the bartender at the Brooklyn dive from being either schmaltz or shtick, which must not have been easy given the extremes he has to hit with very little set-up in the text. Two of the three pivotal male supporting roles draw well balanced work (Bus Howard as the father and Kevin Jiggetts as the man from Anna’s past) but Jefferson A. Russell overdoes the quirky mannerisms of the scheming son-in-law.

Greg Mitchell’s sets revolve on Rep Stage’s turntable stage revealing both a well detailed home and a somewhat overly constricted Brooklyn dive where the actors have to cheat a bit as they maneuver through its tight spaces. But the illusions created by the entire design team are thoroughly satisfying and special note should be made of yet another fine piece of work by fight coordinator Lewis Shaw who makes the emotional flare-ups that punctuate this play seem natural and real. Less natural and less real are the efforts of the cast to recreate the smoking habits of the 1940’s using non-tobacco cigarettes and recalcitrant matches.

Written by Philip Yordan. Directed by Jennifer L. Nelson. Design: Greg Mitchell (set) Dan Covey (lights) Kristina Lambdin (costumes) Mark Anduss (sound) Timothy J. Jones (properties) Lewis Shaw (fights). Cast Deidra LaWan Starnes, J.J. Johnson, Jefferson A. Russell, Kevin Jiggetts, Bus Howard, Charlene Harris Rachel Spaght, Addison Swtizer, Dawn Ursula, Willette Thompson, Cleo Pizana, Kelly Gardner, Jamel (Michael) wade, Shawn Douglas.


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February 1 – 24, 2002
The Swan

Reviewed February 3
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes


Unlike practically anything else you will see on a theater stage, The Swan fascinates with an unorthodox storyline, a vision of an impossible reality, two very good performances and one unforgettably impressive performance.

Storyline: Termed a "bedtime story for grown-ups," Elizabeth Egloff’s play is a mixture of fantasy and reality on the edge of sanity as a lonely woman develops a fixation on a swan that hits the picture window of her home – and the swan develops a fixation on her.

Christopher Lane is the swan . . . literally. He isn’t a man pretending to be a swan. He isn’t a poetic invention alluding to a swan. He isn’t an allegorical representation of a swan. He is the swan. What is more, his swan undergoes a metamorphosis over the course of the evening from "mere" bird to much more. Being a creature of a different species is enough of a challenge for a human actor. Going further to portray that creature’s growth and evolution into a thinking/feeling/communicating being while retaining its "swan-ness" is nothing short of phenomenal. His vocalization of swan sounds matches his performance of swan movements. Be aware that Lane covers nothing up so is naked while the bird is in a state of nature. Only as he begins his metamorphosis is a stitch of clothing donned.

Lane throws himself into the task with such energy, such intensity and such physical inventiveness that only extremely powerful performances by the other two actors in the piece could keep pace. Director Kasi Campbell gets such performances from Sherri L. Edelen as the three-time looser in the matrimonial department whose life is upended by the crash of the swan into her window, and Jack E. Vernon as the milk man who keeps her as his mistress. Edelen displays all the strength of stage presence Potomac audiences have come to recognize from the Helen Hayes Award winner. This non-musical benefits from her trademark intensity so often displayed in musicals such as Side Show and Tell Me on a Sunday. Vernon adds his own sense of pathos to the part of the abused, taken for granted suitor who finds that his competition is a bird.

Tony Cisek comes up with another striking set for Rep Stage where his design for The Judas Kiss provided two of the finest visual memories of last season. Brian Keating’s sound design would be notable as well if it weren’t for the fact that it is Lane who provides the most memorable sounds of the evening.

Written by Elizabeth Egloff. Directed by Kasi Campbell. Choreography by Lewis Shaw. Design: Tony Cizek (set) Dan Covey (lights) Mary Ann Powell (costumes) Brian Keating (sound) Ann Chismar (properties.) Cast: Christopher Lane, Sherri L. Edelen, Jack E. Vernon.