Slow 'Slower Delaware' shows promise

June 10, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

It's probably not realistic to expect every play in the Baltimore Playwrights Festival to be in polished, completed form. Instead, theatergoers should look at the festival -- which this summer unites six community theaters in the common cause of producing new scripts -- as a place to identify promising Maryland writers.

That's exactly the reward in the first offering of the festival's 13th season -- Mark Scharf's "Slower Delaware," produced by Harbour Theatre.

Scharf, a resident of Gaithersburg, has a number of other produced plays to his credit as well as several awards, according to the program. And, there's definitely a play -- a fairly solid one at that -- tucked away in "Slower Delaware," despite being obscured by repetitive dialogue and direction whose pacing has taken a cue from the play's title.

Set primarily at a produce stand in lower Delaware, the play is a character study of two brothers who appear as different as apples and oranges. The older one, Dean (Michael Sullivan), is settled and responsible -- married with a child on the way and running the farm he inherited from his father. In contrast, Matt (Tony Reda) is a drifter who feels "disconnected" -- when he's able to feel anything at all. Recently fired from his lumberyard job, Matt has also been kicked out by his wife and is freeloading at the farm.

The events of the play, which include the bank's calling in several loans on the farm, are ultimately of less consequence than the brothers' eventual role reversal. In this sense, the plot also seems connected to the title, which Matt explains by saying, "Not much ever happens down in lower Delaware, so we just call it 'slower.' "

But the lack of a riveting plot, and even the predictability of the role reversal, are not necessarily faults.

Scharf isn't trying to spin a yarn as much as reveal some truths about human nature, in particular about sibling relationships. And, except for his tendency to repeat himself, he demonstrates a respectable grasp of script construction.

For example, in the opening scene the brothers engage in a kind of mock swearing match that foreshadows an out-and-out physical brawl in the second act. The playwright also handles language well, coming up with natural-sounding speech that includes a number of amusing lines.

Most of the performances have a naturalistic feel as well, which ++ helps lend authenticity to the ending, in which the brothers discover they have more in common than they realized. Besides Sullivan and Reda in the lead roles, Janise Bonds is refreshing as a young woman reluctantly pursued by Matt. Other able performances are delivered by Kendra Keiser as Dean's pregnant wife, Pam Kraemer as Matt's soon-to-be ex-wife and Devon Osborne as his jovial drinking buddy.

Bill Kamberger's sluggish direction is accentuated by slow scene changes -- a frequent shortcoming in little-theater productions. But his work with the actors helps bring out the realism of the material. This further emphasizes the playwright's ability to create strong, believable characters capable of earning an audience's interest and respect.

"Slower Delaware"

Where: Harbour Theatre, Catonsville Recreation Center, 106 Bloomsbury Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with one matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday. Through June 25

Tickets: $8

Call: (410) 358-3014

** 1/2

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