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Castaways Repertory Theatre - ARCHIVE
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October 28 - November 13, 2004

Reviewed October 28
Running time 2:30 - one intermission
Click here to buy the novel

Director Zina T. Bleck and her team approach this new version of the classic horror thriller as something of a Halloween lark, apparently having great fun in the mounting of the show, the cavorting in horror costumes and makeup and pulling some of the stunts of a seasonal haunted house ride. While there's nothing wrong with a production team having fun, it appears they may have lost sight of the goal of giving the audience rather than the participants a pleasurable experience. In this instance, it appeared that the cast and crew were having more fun than the audience as the familiar tale unfolded. The notable exception was the performance of Mary-Anne Sullivan in the role of the count's certifiably mad henchman, Renfield. Her manic, over-the-top turn was a standout, especially the opening narration. However, in the final scene she was placed too far upstage for her voice to carry to the full audience.

Storyline: Transylvanian vampire, Count Dracula, travels to London in search of new blood, while his nemesis, Van Helsing, enlists the aid of the Count's new accountant and the accountant's fiancé in an effort to bring an end to the undead once and for all.

Castaways is working from a new text. It is not the script that has thrice been mounted on Broadway since its debut in 1927 which is still well remembered for its revival with Frank Langella in the title role. It is also not the musical version which has just opened to poor reviews (click here to read our review). This new script is taken, as the others were, from Bram Stokers' 1897 novel from which so much of the current genre of horror story stems. It is by Steven Dietz whose Private Eyes is currently playing at the Church Street Playhouse in a production of the Journeymen Theatre Ensemble. It is difficult to assess this new script from the performances in this production but it appears to have less of the difficulties of plot points either insufficiently established or left unresolved than does the new version on Broadway.

Krista Poole and Alexia Poe are both attractive and effervescent subjects of the vampire's bloodlust, especially in the early scenes before they come under the spell of supernatural powers. Bill Byrnes makes about as much as possible out of the character of Van Helsing, but it never became clear where his expertise in things vampiric came from or just what a vampire-hunter does when not explaining the arcane details of garlic, stakes and mirrors to attentive gentle folk and, through them, the audience.

Doug Nelson has the role of the fanged menace. The role may not be written with much depth or complexity but Nelson plays it entirely as a cartoon, which robs the character of any sympathetic aspects. Without these, the entire story becomes one not of unrequited (and unrequitable) love, or even uncontrollable lust, but of danger and mayhem fitting for Halloween revels but lacking as a theatrical presentation.

Written by Seven Dietz. Directed by Zina T. Bleck. Design: Tom Hannon, Tom Galloway and Ryan Johnston (set) Mary-Anne Sullivan (costumes, make-up, hair and photography) Debbie Lunceford (properties) Ryan Johnston (lights) Lynn Lacey (sound)  Stephanie Souders (stage manager). Cast: Bill Byrnes, Nathan Clark, Britt Fucito, Harry Kantrovich, Cathlyn Macaulay, Jo Murray, Doug Nelson, Alexia Poe, Krista Poole, Adrienne Schowker, Mary-Anne Sullivan, Juli Tarabek.

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January 10 - 31, 2003
The Eighth Order

Reviewed January 31
Running time2 hours 20 minutes

Sometimes what is going on off stage has a great impact on what is going on in a performance. On this night every mind was concentrated not so much on the play as on the human drama of the theater company. The production of this human-interest drama was enhanced by the real-life human-interest drama as this was to be the final performance by co-star Brad Minus before reporting for active duty in the Middle East
. In fact, the run is ending prematurely as he must report the next day. Still, the entire company performed at a high level of professionalism even if they weren’t being paid for this community theater activity. The curtain call was marked by tears but the performances were strictly of the “the show must go on” caliber.

Storyline: In mid-depression middle-America, a single mother of two struggles with both her daughter’s engagement to an older man whose lack of prospects appall her and her son’s increasing withdrawal from the world and into a religious fascination. The mother has suppressed her own memories of the details of the boy’s father’s own religious background in the story of how she had to have him committed to an institution and raise the children herself. She is forced to confront the impact of the prediction of the past that her son would speak with an angel and have the power to heal.

Minus wasn’t the only effective performer in the first rate cast. Kimberly A. Gowland embodied embittered disillusion as the mother. Standout supporting performances came from Jennifer Reitz and Scott Olson as Minus’ sister and her older, unsuitable suitor. But the drama of the fact that this was Minus’ final performance before departure kept the focus on him and he did very well, especially in the revelation scene which opens the second act. Here he related his vision to his mother and sister, saying that the angel that appeared before him addressed him by a name he didn’t recognize. His mother and sister are the only two people who knew that his father had given him that name at birth but the mother had suppressed it. They are thus convinced that something other than hysterical wish-fulfillment is involved in the revelation. The scene’s spell is enhanced by Lynn Lacey’s tasteful and subtle sound design, using underscoring for the first half of the scene to set the tone but fading it out to allow Minus to carry the spell forward. 

The play itself is extremely well structured, telling its fairly simple story straight out with little embellishment or confusing excursions into subplots or side stories. It could, therefore, become dull and seem a kind of paint-by-the-numbers dramatic construction. Not under Director Mary-Anne Sullivan’s guidance.  She found ways to smooth over the at times awkward transitions between significant plot points to give the evening some variety while keeping the focus right where it should be -- on the story. Only the scene breaks seemed to drag on excessively. 

Sullivan is also responsible for a distinctive set design. The 1930’s middle-class home is represented primarily by the traditional flats so ubiquitous in community theater with door openings as dictated by the staging and decorated with appropriate framed pictures and wall hangings and provided with the requisite chairs, tables and a couch. Sullivan makes much more of it in two ways. First she brings out front  the crossbars that frequently support such a structure from behind and connects them to a pillar center-stage, creating a structure suggestive of Christian crosses which actually throws subtle cross-like shadows to reinforce the theme of the show. Then, sharing set-painting credit with Thomas J. Sullivan III, she uses a sponge painting technique on those flats that concentrates the depth of color center-stage, drawing the eye toward the cross structure. Subtle but very effective. There was an announcement prior to the show that the lighting system had suffered a malfunction and that the lighting design would not be able to be executed as planned. As it was, however, the lighting for the performance was more than adequate, actually working much better than many found in small professional houses. 

Written by Nancy Kiefer. Directed by Mary-Anne Sullivan. Design: Mary-Anne Sullivan (set) Amy Grebe (costumes) Jo Murray (properties) Jeff Kumanga (lights) Lynn Lacey (sound) Allen Lebowitz (photography). Cast: Kimberley A. Gowland, Brad Minus, Scott Olson, Jennifer Reitz, Mary Brick, Rose Declercq. 

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October 26 - November 17, 2001
Bus Stop

Reviewed November 16
Running Time 2 hours 5 minutes

The plays William Inge wrote in the 1950s like Picnic and Come Back Little Sheba all dealt with a view of sexuality that seems somehow quaint and almost innocent in these more libidinous times. Bus Stop is no exception, but it has the benefit of a pair of leading roles that have stories that go beyond their physical relationship and a few well-developed supporting characters. The Castaways production emphasizes those strengths but doesn’t generate much heat in the sexual attractions between three couples out of the cast of eight.

Storyline: A snowstorm strands a bus for the night at a small town café in Kansas. Its passengers include a night club singer who claims to be being abducted by a cowboy, the cowboy in question and his sidekick, and an elderly former professor with a taste for alcohol in this dry state. The bus driver has an eye for the café’s owner while the professor makes overtures to the younger waitress. The town’s sheriff keeps order.

Shannon Benton, a veteran of community theaters throughout northern Virginia, does some of her best work to date as the night club singer. She builds her character as a decent kid with a past in the way it was written rather than trying to recreate the more comic take on it that Marilyn Monroe gave it for the movie version. She’s nicely vulnerable but still has enough inner strength to make her independence believable. The small "if looks could kill" glance she gives the cowboy at the end of a short song in Act II is a revealing flash of self-reliance.

Alex Kozushin as the cowboy has a rougher time because it is his part that seems most dated half a century after the play was written. He’s got the individual elements down but can’t resolve the conflict between the strutting braggart of the rodeo cowboy portion of his character and the nearly virginal ranch owner he is revealed to be. Mary-Anne Sullivan is marvelously down-to-earth the as the café owner and Brian Miller is effective as the sheriff. Tom Flatt is solid in support as the sidekick but gives his cute knowing glance just a bit too often.

Castaways mounts a solid visual production. Costumes by Jo Murray and Amy M. Grebe are just right for a busload in the 1950’s and Jay Burdick designed a solidly realistic set. The snow effect out the café’s window is striking even though the snow seems impervious to the wind described in the dialogue and howling in Lynn Lacey’s sound effects.

Written by William Inge. Directed by Terri L. Caretti. Designers: Jay Burdick (set) Brad Minus (Lights) Lynn Lacey (Sound) Jo Murray and Amy M. Grebe (Costumes) Lisa M. Johston (Effects.) Cast: Shannon Benton, Alex Kozushin, Mary-Anne Sullivan, Tom Flatt, Brian Miller, Jim Howard, Tim Hattwick, Jennifer Reitz.