Dale Stein is smooth and original in 1-woman show at Theatre Project

May 09, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

Performance artist Dale Stein is staging her charming one-woman show at the Theatre Project through May 19. Uniquely titled "A Fresh of Breath Air" Stein brings a refreshingly fey and surrealistic slant to her parade of eccentric characters struggling to survive outside the mainstream.

The show premiered at the Church Street Theatre in Washington and received 1991 Helen Hayes Award nominations for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Lead Actress.

Stein wrote the script and lyrics and composed the music with Charles Goldbeck. Directed by Christopher Ashley the show features piano by Goldbeck and drums and percussion alternately by Brian Alpert and Chuck Sullivan.

The work is well timed and smoothly executed. The songs are amusingly original and sometimes rather haunting. Adding only a hat, wig or scarf to her basic costume, Stein slips into each character with remarkable ease.

Her mellifluous voice swings from its soft, dulcet sounds to deep-toned resonance as she fills the stage with varied screwballs. An accomplished actress and singer she manages to show us the tender vulnerability that lies at the core of each personality.

The play is set in Fifi's Oui Cafe, a Twilight Zone establishment that features food that walks and chairs and tables with minds of their own. A pianist and percussionist are always on the premises.

First we meet Fifi, a daft, other worldly presence, who is constantly accompanied by her invisible dog. Then there is Alexandria Vertu, the lonely existential architect who, frustrated by her inability to connect with people, is determined to build the ultimate skyscraper.

Lenny, a shady Blues Brothers type, leads the band, The Loungettes, and besides some token singing takes audience requests while helping himself to whatever he can steal. Shane, a former druggie equipped with an artificial brain, is convinced she is a successful pop artist but the only sounds coming from her throat are a squeak and a squeal.

In a later segment Shane really lets loose in a compelling, poignant number but in this abstract comedy form we never know if the performance is real or a dream of what could have been.

Finally there is the has-been actress, Miss Nina Navarre, who drunkenly reveals her tawdry "memoirs" to an imaginary ghost writer.

During a high school point in the play some of Stein's characters cleverly interact with each other. This very entertaining yet gentle satire (which could have more bite) emphasizes the isolation of the individual seeking answers, no matter how bizarre, in a frenzied, neurotic universe.

The outstanding choreography of Todd Pearthree and a virtuoso performance by Ira Jay Gershman as Tevye distinguishes the very entertaining Dundalk Community Theatre production of "Fiddler on the Roof."

Based on the stories by Sholem Aleichem, the musical which, is known for such classic songs as "Tradition" and "Sunrise, Sunset," has excellently staged production numbers. Notably, the best is probably the joyous "To Life" sequence in which a troupe of Ukrainian dancers expertly execute the Russian dance steps.

The story tells of a poor Jewish dairyman, his wife and five daughters and the conflicts of old and new ways in a small Eastern European town at the turn of the century.

A mostly solid cast directed by Nancy Lynn Powichroski, fine orchestration under the baton of musical director Jari Villanueva featuring the lilting sounds of Jennifer Leshnower's violin (for the fiddler on the roof segments), contribute to the success of this well paced show.

The fine singing voices of Nadine Haas, Tiffany A. Walker, Heather Hollingsworth, Ernie Ritchey and Barbara Lutz are professionally pleasing. Liz Boyer and Everett Rose do well in cameo roles.

However, Michael P. Beltran as a revolutionary student has to imbue his role with a smoldering dedication. Matthew C. Pritchard as an understanding Russian suitor needs much greater projection of his character.

But the high point of the show is the subtle, endearing performance of Ira Jay Gershman as the beleagured Tevye resisting the winds of change.

Noteworthy: Theatre Hopkins' hilarious performance of A. R. Gurney's "The Cocktail Hour" will run for three extra performances at the Merrick Barn on the Johns Hopkins University campus the weekend of May 31-June 2.

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