Nostalgic Look At Old Annapolis Is An Audience Favorite

Music, Photographs Bring 'The Annapolis I Remember' To Life

July 09, 1991|By Phil Greenfield

"The Annapolis I Remember," a theatrical presentation that brings oral histories and photographs of 20th-century Annapolis to the stage, has been performed previously, but Sunday's show before a packed house at Key Auditorium was my first go at it.

What an enchanting piece of theater it is. Derived from Mame Warren's remarkable pictorial history of our town, "Then Again . . . Annapolis, 1900-1965," which also has just made my acquaintance, the piece employs a talented sextetof actors plus pianist Loraine Shaw to bring home the message that the defining energy of Annapolis is the sum of the people who've made their lives here.

"Annapolis," the characters tell us, "is not easy to define." Is this a cosmopolitan Athens on the Severn, a college town, Navy town, government town or a typical "small town USA where anything you do orsay could become tomorrow's headline?"

The answer, of course, is all of the above -- depending on which human book of this living library a researcher happens to pick off the shelf.

The actors portraynumerous members of the Annapolis citizenry -- an Eastport waterman,a Greek immigrant, black businessmen and workers, members of the "codfish aristocracy" -- as they fashion this living collage of an earlier time.

The pictures are absorbingly eloquent. Houses, faces, street scenes, storefronts -- what a vibrant account they provide. I couldn't help but be reminded of the extraordinary PBS "Civil War" series, in which the soul of a nation at arms was bared to the camera's unassuming eye.

The events here are less momentous, but the effect is similar. Faces, personalities and urban characters are captured in solitary, far-off moments of time that can still connect with those who seek the inspiration and wisdom of the past.

The cast consists of Mac Bogert, Carol Cohen, Lois Evans, Vivian Gist, Richard Jackson and Phil Meeder. Each is assertive, animated and unfailingly interesting to listen to. Numerous cobwebs were in evidence Sunday, however. Some entrances were muffed and lighting cues blown, but the total effect was still quite positive.

Shari Valerio's direction keeps things varied and moving. The characters, thankfully, do far more than stand and talk.

The show's future is somewhat in the air. But judging from the crowd that attended this weekend, I venture to say it willbe revived.

When it is, I suggest that a bit of attention be paidto musical numbers like the hymn and Bogert's concluding song. All of these people can sing, yet the harmonies were all over the place and sounded grim. No one expects a madrigal group, but a bit of polishing could make the music seem less incidental and more an attractive part of the show.

What is truly special about "The Annapolis I Remember" is the audience's response. As the pictures change, non-stop murmurs, laughs and "ahs" of recognition resound. When on-stage characters ask each other "Do you remember that?" heads in the audience nod almost involuntarily.

This is a production that touches people, a show that is as intimate, unpretentious and engaging as the city thatinspired it.

I could almost feel the oyster shells crunching under my feet as I walked back to my car.

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