Acting Troupe Continues To Break New Artistic Ground

September 12, 1990|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Actors tend to dream simultaneously in different directions.

On the one hand, there is the burning desire to play the ultimate role in their all-time favorite show; to go onstage before a large house and speak lines and sing songs memorized long before, in the private rehearsals of childhood.

But the companion dream is animated by the thrill of innovation; the unearthing of new plays, playwrights and theatrical techniques. The bright lights of Broadway may beckon to all committed Thespians, but the experimental electricity of the off-Broadway production is nothing to sneeze at.

Which explains what the Annapolis Theater Project (ATP) is all about. Morey Norkin, Stephen Evans and Michael Gilles are familiar local actors who, among them, have landed more than a few of those plum roles since their days together in high school over in Montgomery County.

Eighteen months ago, they formed the Annapolis Theater Project with the intent of taking local theater-goers in new, unfamiliar artistic directions. A noble undertaking indeed.

The ATP's 1990-1991 season has begun with a production of "The Ghost Writer," an original play written by Stephen Evans of the founding triumvirate. It will run weekend evenings through Sept. 30 at the Summer Garden Theater in downtown Annapolis.

Subtitled "a spirited comedy," "The Ghost Writer" tells the story of Michael, a devotee of Shakespeare and a failed playwright of epic proportion; Harry, his manipulative, shlock-happy producer; and Kate, their rather strange agent who somehow manages to love them both.

Ever on the alert for the gimmick that will spell SRO, Harry suggests that Michael electrify the world with the revelation that his next play will actually be written by the ghost of William Shakespeare -- as told to the nebbishy playwright.

Imagine everyone's surprise when Shakespeare actually ... well, I won't give it all away.

Certainly there are things to admire in Evans' play. There are many clever lines ("How simple life is for the tautologically impaired") and the characters are ultimately likable. Enjoyable, yes.

But consistent, no. Evans' play seems to have been inspired by several sources. The wisecracking boy-girl, agent-writer patter seems heavy on the Neil Simon with only mixed comedic results ("I feel like bread that's found itself in the day-old-loaf bin of life"). Woody Allen also takes a bow; the Shakespeare visible only to Michael reprises Bogie's role in "Play It Again Sam."

And when "The Ghost Writer" becomes an orgy of self-revelation (as all modern plays must, I guess), with characters unburdening themselves at the slightest pretext, the emotional pieces don't always add up.

Kate's revelations seemed particularly labored, as though as much profundity as possible was being crammed into the fewest number of lines. Why was she attracted to Harry in the first place? Why did they break it off? These questions seem germane, but I found little in the way of convincing answers.

Saturday's level of performance was generally admirable. Pacing and timing in Act I will presumably tighten through the run. Michael, played by Ron George, has the unfortunate tendency to drop his voice and adopt a radio announcer's timbre when quoting Shakespeare, which makes these homages to the Bard quite unintelligible.

In George's capable hands, Michael becomes a funny, dominant character with some interesting dimension to him. Though I didn't understand M.J. Rafalko's Kate, I liked her. And Jeff Miller is so appealing as Harry that his energy and vivacity almost obscure his character's manipulative, shlocky tendencies. He's more of a cute rogue than the hard-core jerk he's made out to be.

Morey Norkin, as William You-Know-Who, is spirited and funny, and delivers his little existential homily with sincerity and goodwill.

"The Ghost Writer" may stumble at times in its quest for profundity, but there can be no questioning the importance of the Annapolis Theater Project's mission. "What, shall this speech be spoke for our excuse?" asks Romeo. "Or shall we on without apology?" By all means, gentlemen, continue on.

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