'Baltimore Project' falls short Theater review: This 50-minute graduate student production fails to capture the flavor of the city.

February 14, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Any theatrical production that requires a statement of explanation beforehand is probably in trouble. So, when cast member Susan J. Rotkovitz steps on stage and reads a prepared statement about "The Baltimore Project," things do not look promising.

As it turns out, however, it isn't the explanation that's the problem, it's the realization that this 50-minute piece is more an exercise than a finished work.

Created by graduate students in Towson State University's theater program under the direction of the professional Touchstone Theatre Ensemble of Bethlehem, Pa., "The Baltimore Project" purports to capture "the textures, rhythms, and colors of Baltimore's everyday life," according to the program.

OK, relying on an explanation in the program is only slightly less objectionable than relying on one spoken on stage. But in this case, the statements don't merely explain the work, they point up its primary deficiency.

Of the seven ensemble members who perform "The Baltimore Project," only two have created characters that seem distinctly Baltimorean: brandon j l welch, who plays a Bawlamerese-spouting sports fan, and Lucie Poirier, who impersonates the subject of a painting in the Walters Art Gallery -- Claude Monet's "Springtime," a picture of the artist's wife reading.

As the proud subject of Monet's famous painting, Poirier spouts off against a Frank Stella painting at the Walters, claiming Stella belongs in the Baltimore Museum of Art. It's a valid point -- except that the Stella painting isn't in the Walters' permanent collection; it was included in the temporary exhibit "Going for Baroque." And if you are making a point of distinguishing between the museums, you should select art from a period for which the Walters is best known -- antiquity or the Middle Ages, perhaps, but not French Impressionism.

It may seem unfair to pick on details of one of the best performances in the show -- particularly since the troupe's living tableaux of other Walters paintings are a high point of the production. But the failure to get minor points correct emphasizes how much "The Baltimore Project" misses the mark.

Maybe that's why most of the other performers don't even try for exacting details.

Leslie Baker, who plays a little girl and also serves as narrator, and Marty Miklusek, who plays a thief named Clyde, could be citizens of any city anywhere.

There is a plot to this brief show. Clyde and a cohort named Craig (Justin E. Skinner) steal "Springtime" from the Walters and take it to a restaurant presided over by a waitress named Donna (Kate Howard).

The story line continues at the Inner Harbor, to my mind the most tourist-oriented locale in Charm City. But then, "The Baltimore Project" has so little true Baltimore flavor, it could have been created by tourists. For that matter, a tourist's view of Baltimore might have been a more successful approach. Either way, it's not satisfying theater. TSU's graduate students may have gained something from the experience, but that experience belongs in the classroom.

The Baltimore Project'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 752-8558

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