`For Love of Art' a jumble


Review: Confusing script, slapstick humor mar this offering by Baltimore StreetPlayers.

July 19, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"Brevity is the soul of wit," Polonius says in "Hamlet," the Shakespearean tragedy that serves as the play within a play in Elaine Beardsley's pseudo-Elizabethan comedy, "For Love of Art." And indeed, this 75-minute Baltimore Playwrights Festival offering, produced by the newly formed Baltimore StreetPlayers, does have brevity to its credit.

But for the most part, "For Love of Art" is a comedy lacking in wit. Part of the problem is a confusing script. The plot focuses on a down-at-the-heels theater troupe that hopes to perform for the queen. An equally strong plot, however, concerns a competition for the role of Hamlet.

This competition also has a tangible prize -- a "jerklet," a term that does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary but, based on the evidence in the play, refers to a vest-like garment related to a jerkin.

In addition, there's a question of identity concerning the company's apparent new patron (Michael Valentine) and his sidekick, a minstrel (Mark Dunlap). And that's not to mention subplots involving romance and a matter of gender confusion.

Because the troupe is performing "Hamlet," which contains its own play within a play, Beardsley's comedy turns out to be a play within a play within a play. Even allowing for the fact that the company is performing a greatly abridged -- and rather free-form -- version of "Hamlet," Beardsley has jammed far too much story into what is essentially a long one-act.

The playwright does include a few amusing touches. When the roles are divvied up, there's no one left to play Horatio, so the company ends up casting the entire audience in the part. Much of the rest of the humor is slapstick. The performer cast as Ophelia (Sharol Buck) shows up at one point with toilet tissue hanging from her dress. A letter from Hamlet to Ophelia is written on the back of a 1634 calendar from a Chinese restaurant. The actor playing Claudius (James Novick) appears to suffer from narcolepsy; he's asleep on stage when the play begins, and for much of the rest of the evening he wears a floppy sleep cap and carries a teddy bear. And, of course, there's the requisite slapstick prop -- a banana peel.

Liz Bliss' direction does little to sort out all the confusion or help the actors appear any less awkward than might be expected with such misguided material. Weather permitting, the Sunday matinees are performed outdoors, and a beautiful day no doubt makes this comedy a happier event. But ultimately, "For Love of Art" is a play that needs a lot more clarity than clear skies can provide.

"For Love of Art" is performed at Theatre Outback, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10. Call 410-472-6903.

`Wit' comes to Washington

"Wit," Margaret Edson's 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a professor battling ovarian cancer, has been added to the forthcoming season at Washington's Kennedy Center. The production will star Judith Light. Best known for the ABC-TV series "Who's the Boss," Light will replace "Wit's" star, Kathleen Chalfant, in New York next month.

"Wit" will play Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater Feb. 29-March 26. Tickets are $20-$65. For more information, call 800-444- 1324.

`Falling Grace' moved

A note on a future Playwrights Festival show -- the location of the Director's Choice theater company production of "Falling Grace," Aug. 6-22, has been changed to the Black Box Theatre at River Hill High School, 12101 Route 108, Clarksville. For information, call 410-418-5247.

Young theatrics

The Rising Stars Theatre Troupe, a 10-year-old company made up of teen-agers who perform original material aimed at helping young people cope with challenging issues, will perform a musical called "Peacing It Together" at the Arellano Theatre on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University at 7: 30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for students and those on a fixed income. The Rising Stars, which is under the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee, is available to perform at schools, libraries, community centers or religious institutions. For more information, call 410-323-7200.

That's not all that area teens have been up to this summer. The Jewish Community Center's Teen Theater Project will present "Guys and Dolls" at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills, at 1: 30 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m. July 28 and 7: 30 p.m. July 29. The 35-member company features students from seven area schools who have been studying all aspects of theater production. Tickets to "Guys and Dolls" are $8. Call 410-356-5200, Ext. 328.

For teens eager to learn more about theater, the Performance Workshop Theatre Company is offering a Playwriting and Performance workshop for teen-agers Aug. 16-20. Taught by Tami Simmons, the workshop is limited to 10 participants and costs $150. The sessions will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the theater, 28 E. Ostend St. Call 410-659-7830.

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