Feeling of family gives troupe a rough charm

Discovery: Merely Players gives inexperienced actors a chance to put on classic stories at low cost with a lot of help from family and friends - all of which makes it a treat.

May 25, 2000|By Mary P. Johnson | Mary P. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Last weekend, I discovered Merely Players.

Formed in 1991, the group chooses plays from classic literature to entertain audiences while providing young people the opportunity to develop acting skills and grow socially.

Aware of the wide variety of theater offered in Annapolis, Merely Players brings its offerings to a venue off the beaten track with inexpensive entertainment in the intimate and charming setting of historic Baldwin Hall in Millersville.

The current production is the Dave Barton-Matt Bond musical version of Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer."

First produced in Long Beach, Calif., in 1975, "Tom Sawyer: An American Legend with Music" has been performed in every state and abroad.

All of the classic Tom and Huck adventures are portrayed - the fence-painting, viewing their own funeral, and the frightening battle with Injun Joe.

Synthesizer music did little damage to what struck me as a lackluster score, with several of the eight songs reminiscent of '70s show tunes.

Yet, when delivered by a lively ensemble of kids, the songs acquire a certain sparkle, as in "Paintin' the Fence," which had an energetic group of boys harmonizing.

The fact that Merely Players is dedicated to giving acting opportunities to inexperienced performers and stresses "process over product" should be kept in mind by audiences viewing its productions.

Inevitably, lines will be flubbed, cues missed and songs performed less than perfectly. But this becomes part of the charm in an informal theater that seats less than 100, and they're mostly family and friends at that.

Merely Players also gives family members a chance to act together. Making his debut as town drunk Muff Potter, software engineer and teetotaler Ken Ahern joins wife Sandy and their daughters Mary and Melissa.

Another debuting dad is attorney Carl Alexis, who plays Judge Thatcher, joined by his children Beth and Erik - the latter as the judge's son, Jeff.

Other families on stage include: siblings Heather and Michael Cohn, and Brandon, Emily and Kerry Deitrick; Linda Delmege and son Kevin; Leslie Everitt with children Alison and Stephen; Barbara Floyd and daughter Susan; Robert French and son Ryan; and Marcie Shenton and daughter Amanda.

Unaffected, disarmingly natural 14-year-old Chris Chambers makes a fine singing and dancing Tom Sawyer.

In his second show with Merely Players, Buddy Pease gives a solid performance as Huckleberry Finn.

A veteran of nine previous shows, 14-year-old Amy Leslie is excellent as Amy Lawrence. Becky Thatcher is well played by 15-year-old Kerry Deitrick.

And I was struck by the commanding stage presence of 9-year-old Chase Bergeson, who plays Faith Harper.

Adults who deliver polished performances include Leslie Everitt as Mrs. Thatcher, Julie Howard as Cousin Mary, Barbara Floyd as Widder Douglas, Carl Alexis as Judge Thatcher, Kevin Wallace as Injun Joe and Ken Ahern as Muff Potter.

Their performances illustrate what a largely inexperienced cast can do when rehearsed three times a week for four months.

Jerry Vess directs the show.

Veteran actor David B. Reynolds makes his musical directing debut with this production.

"Tom Sawyer: An American Legend with Music" continues this weekend at Baldwin Hall at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $7 and can be ordered by calling 410-987-8150.

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