'Cookie' mixes humor, soap opera Kickoff: Joe Dennison's play is the first of several in the BaltimorePlaywrights Festival this summer.

Theater

June 15, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The 17th annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival is under way at the Spotlighters Theatre with Joe Dennison's "Cookie," the first of six full-length plays and five one-acts scheduled at five theaters throughout the summer.

"Cookie" has something of a split personality. Part of it is a sitcom, part a soap opera and part a rather touching, if superficial, psychological study.

In its broadest terms, the play blends elements from Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" and Mary C. Chase's classic comedy, "Harvey," both of which are referred to repeatedly in the script.

Protagonist Wally Plunk (Chris Ehrich) is agoraphobic, and his girlfriend Cookie (Laura K. Cosner) keeps trying to get him out of the house.

Cookie has some hang-ups of her own, however. At the start of the play she seems to think she's Lucy Ricardo; later on she impersonates Norma Desmond -- and these are just two of the fictitious characters in her repertoire.

Meanwhile, Wally's older sister Sophie (Maria Lakkala) has become increasingly concerned about his welfare and has even brought a rather wacky New Age psychologist (John Sadowsky) to examine him. As we soon discover, however, Sophie's concern is prompted, at least in part, by her desire to sell their mother's house, which Wally has refused to leave since their mother died 13 years ago.

Sophie's big, 11th-hour revelation about her relationship with Wally seems too abrupt, however. This is no doubt partly because we never really get to know Sophie -- even though Lakkala is more at ease on stage than the other actors in director Mike Moran's cast.

Still, Dennison, a festival veteran, knows how to write funny lines, and the play's ending is especially amusing.

The playwright also deserves credit for trying to achieve a somewhat difficult combination of tones -- from madcap to sentimental -- as well as a more serious look at the meaning of mature happiness.

If he doesn't quite pull it off, he nonetheless provides an evening that is not without its entertaining moments.

"Cookie" continues at the Spot- lighters, 817 St. Paul St., at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through June 27. Tickets are $10. Call 410-752-1225.

Black to step down

F. Scott Black, one of the founders of Cockpit in Court, the summer theater in residence at Essex Community College, has announced that he will step down at the end of the season, after 26 years as managing director. Black's final production in that capacity, the Agatha Christie mystery, "Murder at the Vicarage," opens Friday at Cockpit's Upstairs Cabaret. Black, who is also a theater professor at Essex and runs F. Scott Black's Dinner Theatre in Towson, has said that after a quarter century at Cockpit, he has decided to focus on other activities, including writing. A new Cockpit managing director is expected to be named soon.

"Murder at the Vicarage" runs through June 28. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and June 24-27, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12. Call 410-780-6369.

The killer was Tony

The Tony Awards always leave some bodies in their wake, and sure enough, three Broadway shows closed yesterday. "Honour," British play about infidelity, starring Jane Alexander, had the distinction of announcing its demise first -- only 13 hours after the show failed to win either of the two Tonys for which it was

nominated. The other closings were the revivals of "1776" and "The Diary of Anne Frank," which also came up empty at the Tonys. ("The Chairs," another Tony-less revival, played its last performance Saturday, but that was the scheduled end of a limited run.)

A season for Everyman

Everyman Theatre, Baltimore's small, but ambitious Equity theater, has announced a 1998-1999 season that is a mix of the old and the new. A co-production with the Round House Theatre of Silver Spring, James Goldman's "The Lion in Winter" (Oct. 9-Nov. 1), opens the season. Round House artistic director Jerry Whiddon co-stars opposite Tana Hicken, an actress who lives in Baltimore but has been seen more at Washington's Arena Stage in recent years.

The rest of the season includes: Joe Sutton's courtroom drama, "Voir Dire" (Jan. 8-31); "The Price" (March 5-28), Arthur Miller's drama about a pair of estranged brothers trying to dispose of their late father's belongings; and Romulus Linney's "Heathen Valley" (April 30-May 23), a play about religion in rural America.

Subscriptions to the four-play season are $45. Call 410-752-2208.

Four new plays

Rehearsals began last week for the four new plays to be presented in rotating repertory by the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., next month. The line-up includes two scripts commissioned by the 8-year-old festival, which is in residence at Shepherd College. The two commissions are Cherylene Lee's "Carry the Tiger to the Mountain," based on the true story of Lily Chin, whose son, Vincent, was beaten to death by two Detroit auto workers in 1982; and Preston Foerder's "Interesting Times," a wordless tragi-comedy performed with Bunraku-style puppets.

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