Playwrights festival includes 11 plays

Theater

Lineup: Scripts include stories about an immigrant family, a reluctant faith healer and comic playlets about modern women.

May 03, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The 18th annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival has announced an 11-play season featuring a mix of veterans and newcomers, both in terms of playwrights and participating theaters.

Selected from more than 60 submissions, this year's offerings are "the highest quality group of scripts that we've gotten in the last several years," according to festival president Rodney Bonds.

Here's the lineup:

* An evening of one-acts: "Peter Pandemonium," a curtain-raiser by Gloriane Garth, and "Women in Collision," four comic playlets about modern-day women by Geoffrey Bond. Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St., June 4-26.

* "The Rim of the Wheel," by Daphne Hull. A drama based on the real-life story of a Russian family that immigrated to Baltimore. Director's Choice Theatre Co. at Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City, June 11-27.

* "Urban Breakdown," by Mimi Teahan. A play about a young urban couple. Mobtown Players at Fell's Point Corner Theatre (second-floor theater), 251 S. Ann St., June 11-27.

* "Snow," by Gordon Porterfield. A look at two lonely people falling in love. Fell's Point Corner (main stage), July 1-18.

* "Aquarium," by Joe Dennison. A quartet of diverse one-acts. Spotlighters, July 9-31.

* "For Love of Art," by Elaine Beardsley. A comedy about the attempts of an inept Elizabethan theater company to produce "Hamlet."

Baltimore Street Players at Theatre Outback, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, July 9-25. (An additional performance is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 26 at the Harborplace amphitheater.)

* "Caz," by Kathleen Barber. A man's creativity conflicts with the corporate world. Uncommon Voices Theatre Company at Fell's Point Corner (second-floor theater), July 22-Aug. 8.

* "Keeping the Faith," by Carol Weinberg. A drama about the relationship between a Jewish Big Brother and a biracial teen. Spotlighters, Aug. 6-28.

* "Falling Grace," by Mark Scharf. A play about a reluctant faith healer. Director's Choice at Oella Mill, 840 Oella Ave., Oella. Aug. 6-22.

* "Joe Pete," by Jim Sizemore. A barroom comedy with a dark edge. Fell's Point Corner (main stage), Aug. 12-29.

* "Gladys in Wonderland," by Rosemary Frisino Toohey. An octogenarian is confronted by her personal angel of death. Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway, Aug. 13-29.

Subscriptions to the festival are $40 for six tickets, which can be used for any performances. For more information, call 410-276-2153.

`Spider Woman' a marvel

It takes a tough theater to produce a tender musical about cellmates in a Latin American prison. "Kiss of the Spider Woman" -- based on the Manuel Puig novel that was also the source for the 1985 movie -- is a risky choice for conservative Theatre Hopkins.

But with one notable exception, director/choreographer Todd Pearthree's production is a small marvel, capturing the difficult, dark, distinctive flavor of this John Kander-Fred Ebb-Terrence McNally musical.

The first of many things Pearthree gets right is the chorus of male prisoners who come out banging poles on the floor to the fierce rhythm of Kander's music. These poles, which symbolize prison bars, are especially effective in the number, "Over the Wall." Held horizontally and raised higher and higher, they represent the wall an escaping prisoner attempts to climb.

The chorus lays the gritty groundwork for the more personal tensions in the jail cell shared by a gay window dresser named Molina and a political prisoner named Valentin. Edward J. Peters' effeminate Molina and Christopher Millard's Marxist revolutionary leave no doubt about the fundamental differences between these men.

The production's sole weakness is the casting of Lanor Long as Aurora, a movie goddess idolized by Molina, whose recollections of her greatest roles -- including a character called the Spider Woman -- are all that save him from despair. Long lacks Aurora's essential dramatic and vocal charisma, and her alluring gestures appear more threatening than inviting.

Still, Pearthree's production has enough assets -- including the excellent music direction of K.J. Davis -- to compensate for this shortcoming. Indeed, some of the numbers are simply splendid, most notably "Dear One" -- a quartet beautifully sung by Peters, Millard, Audrey Cimino (as Molina's devoted mother) and Jennifer Raimondi (as Valentin's bourgeois girlfriend).

The crux of the musical, however, is the bond between the formerly antagonistic Valentin and Molina, and Millard and Peters convey that bond with credibility and poignancy.

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