Playwrights fest begins

Review: Evening of one-acts includes `Pandemonium,' `Hog Calling' and `Proof Positive.'

June 14, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The 18th annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival is off to an encouraging start with an evening of one-acts, breezily directed by Mike Moran, at the Spotlighters Theatre.

The curtain-raiser is a whimsical piece by Gloriane Garth called "Peter Pandemonium." A conductor, played by a prim Lisa Biddle, stands behind a music stand leading five performers in a recitation of "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers."

However, Biddle's efforts to maintain control over her quintet begin to evaporate when one of the performers burps. Soon the rest are substituting words in the tongue twister, at one point turning it into: "Peter Piper puked a pound of putrid prosciutto."

Soon the rebellious ensemble is launching into everything from cliches to "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." "If you think this is silly now, just wait," a performer says. Silliness seems to be the point -- that and perhaps a slightly deeper comment on freedom of expression and the impossibility of suppressing individuality. It's a fitting prologue for a festival of new plays.

"Pandemonium" is followed by four short plays by Geoffrey Bond, jointly titled "Women in Collision." Each of the four deals with a different type of relationship -- racial, marital, business and romantic, and two involve lawsuits, which says a great deal about the nature of human interaction in 1990s America.

In "Hog Calling," a white male college student (Brad Mendenhall) has been threatened with expulsion after calling a black female student (Tennelia Engram) a "wart hog." The students turn out to be fairly reasonable sorts; they even share ideas about strategy for the college hearing.

Their adult counterparts, however -- the dean (Jim Mills) and the boy's father (Daniel Ferris) -- are considerably less reasonable. In the end, both of the students grow a little, which is more than can be said for the rigid adults.

"Bitter & Angry," the second offering, is a skit with a clever twist as a radio psychologist (Julie Kurzava) descends on the home of a pair of newlyweds (Ferris and Julie Teahan). "Dr. Laurel" seems to know everything about the husband, and, irritated as he is by her presence, she turns out to have a positive effect on the couple.

"Proof Positive" examines sexual discrimination in the workplace when a middle-aged woman (Kathy Dotter) suddenly finds herself demoted after she becomes pregnant. The most impressive aspect of this playlet is the way the playwright captures the generational differences between Dotter's character and her young friend (Biddle), the company receptionist. He also works a nice bit of role reversal into the piece, which ends with each woman learning from the other.

The evening ends with "Windfall," about a young woman (Lauren Shapiro) who wins the lottery and is apprehensive about the effect her sudden riches will have on her on-again, off-again relationship with a male friend (Ferris). Shapiro's character would rather have the relationship than the money, but without the money, she's not sure Ferris would be interested. Bond ends this story on a welcome note of ambiguity, allowing the audience to continue the discussion the play raises.

Show times at the Spotlighters, 817 St. Paul St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through June 26. Tickets are $10. Call 410-752-1225.

Tears from the Tonys

The Tony Awards are certainly good news for some shows, but they always spell curtains for others. Yesterday marked the final Broadway performances of four shows -- "Lonesome West," which received no awards; "The Civil War," which also came up empty; "Not About Nightingales," whose sole Tony was for set design; and "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown," despite Tony wins for actors Kristin Chenoweth and Roger Bart. Two other shows, "Night Must Fall" and "The Sound of Music," will play their last performances at the end of the month.

The final Broadway curtain doesn't mean all these shows are disappearing, however. "The Civil War" and "The Sound of Music" have national tours lined up, both of which will play Baltimore next season.

In other news stemming from the awards ceremony, the producers of "It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues" are singing the blues because a production number from their show, a nominee for best musical, was cut at the last minute to keep the broadcast from running long. Actually, they're doing more than just singing the blues; they've hired a lawyer. Meanwhile, viewers of last Wednesday's "Late Show with David Letterman" got a chance to see what the Tony viewers missed. Not only did actor Kevin Spacey introduce the number -- as he was supposed to do at the Tonys -- but Letterman had a grand time ribbing his network about the omission.

And oh, yes, what effect is all this having on the show? The brouhaha resulted in "The Blues' " biggest weekly ticket sales to date.

Costume and prop sale

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