Hopkins charms with Shaw

Theater

Reviews: Troupe begins its season on a high note with a nicely done "You Never Can Tell"

October 25, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Theatre Hopkins has opened its season with a thoroughly engaging production of one of George Bernard Shaw's most engaging plays, "You Never Can Tell."

Part farce, part Shakespearean comedy, part Shaw's version of an Oscar Wilde play, "You Never Can Tell" is set at a British seaside resort where Mrs. Lanfrey Clandon, a proto-feminist, has brought her three grown children, who have been raised abroad with no knowledge of their father's identity.

The author of numerous treatises on what she forecasts as modern, 20th century life, Mrs. Clandon (Cherie Weinert) believes she has raised her children to eschew sentiment and embrace reason. However, her outspoken twins (Tyler Zeisloft and effervescent Molly Moores) -- and even their seemingly restrained older sister, Gloria (Erika Juengst) -- yearn to meet their father, and Gloria turns out to be far from immune to romance.

Director John Lehmeyer has staged this Shavian delight with a high degree of athleticism that suits the high spirits of the play.

At one point Harry B. Turner, who delivers a wonderfully deadpan turn as the play's comic waiter, does an impressive gymnastic-style flip. Later, Valentine (a cocky Phillip Juengst), the dentist who falls in love with Gloria, rolls over the top of a restaurant table while declaring his love. And, in a subsequent scene, an outraged Gloria bangs Valentine's head on the floor, proving perhaps that she is not only her mother's daughter, but also the daughter of the seemingly brutish man (Dan Baileys) who is revealed to be her father.

In the end, the play recognizes the necessity of acknowledging family ties, while also recognizing how disparate parents and their offspring may be, a point reinforced by the deus ex machina appearance of a stuffy legal expert (Jake Riggs, in one of the production's only overwrought performances), who turns out to be the son of the jovial, easygoing waiter.

In addition to Lehmeyer's adept direction and the lovely Theatre Hopkins' debuts of the Juengsts -- a husband-and-wife pair whose previous experience is primarily on the musical stage -- the production benefits from Dennis Malat's attractive robin's egg blue set, which converts from a dentist's office to a terrace restaurant to a hotel suite.

Shaw wrote "You Never Can Tell" to prove he could "humanize" the fashionable comedies of his day. Even so, the play initially had a troubled production history. Still not as well-known as his earlier play, "Arms and the Man," or his subsequent "Man and Superman," "You Never Can Tell" contains elements of both and deserves at least as much acclaim, as this charming production aptly proves.

Theatre Hopkins performs in the Merrick Barn on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University, 3900 N. Charles St. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2: 15 Sunday. Tickets are $10 and $12. Call 410-516-7159.

Stylized `Macbeth'

"Macbeth" is one of Shakespeare's best-known plays as well as one of his shortest, but that doesn't mean it's easy to stage. Performance Workshop Theatre Company adopts a stylized approach that augments the drama in some respects and detracts in others -- particularly in the final scene.

Most of the stylization involves the trio of witches, who can certainly handle a bit of excess. Martha Watt, Marianne Angelella and Juliet Vacirca Brown enter writhing and creeping like injured animals stalking their prey -- not an inappropriate image. After intermission, when Macbeth returns to hear more prophecies, the weird sisters chillingly display props ranging from a bearded skull to a bloodied baby doll.

The witches also make two unscripted appearances. The first comes after Banquo's death, when their disembodied hands reach out to him from the wings, again an effective image.

However, their reappearance at the end of the play, though not an original interpolation, is a disturbing one. By repeating their line from the opening scene, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair," the witches negate the sense of order that has been restored by valiant Macduff's murder of villainous Macbeth. Director Marlyn G. Robinson apparently wants us to think the bloodbath is only beginning, but this conclusion in not justified by the text.

This unwise choice aside, the production features a number of strong performances. Deep-voiced Marc Horwitz delivers an intense portrayal of the title character, and Katherine Lyons is determined, and later properly distracted -- without going overboard -- as his power-hungry wife. Duncan Hood is also noteworthy as the crotchety porter, the tragedy's sole comic relief.

The fight choreography, credited to Tim Marrone (who also plays Banquo, with all due nobility), is surprisingly energetic given the cramped stage; the final combat scene between Macduff and Macbeth is especially nasty and brutal.

Much of the production, however, suffers from a tendency of the actors to strike self-consciously dramatic poses. In addition, the extensive use of blackouts between scenes stretches this relatively short play out longer than necessary.

With a cast that numbers more than half the seating capacity of this tiny, 28-seat South Baltimore theater, "Macbeth" is a decidedly ambitious venture -- at times, like its title character, a little too much so.

Performance Workshop Theatre Company performs at 28 E. Ostend St. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 7: 30 p.m. Thursdays, beginning Oct. 28; matinees are at 2 p.m. Nov. 7, 14 and 21, through Nov. 21. Tickets are $14. Call 410-659-7830.

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