Teen-age volunteer grows up to be boss

Changes: Anne Cantler Fulwiler is the new executive director of Theatre Project.

November 29, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

There've been some changes at the Theatre Project, starting at the top. Anne Cantler Fulwiler has been named executive director, replacing Robert P. Mrozek, who led the Preston Street experimental theater for the past decade.

Fulwiler, 40, a Baltimore native who became involved with Theatre Project as a 15-year-old volunteer, is only the third person to lead the institution. Founded in 1971 by Philip Arnoult, Theatre Project has brought troupes and performers ranging from Pilobolus Dance Theater to Karen Finley and Danny Hoch for three decades.

Associate director of development at Center Stage for the past four years, Fulwiler has been a Theatre Project board member for six years and was director of special projects in 1991-1992. She also has experience at the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and with such New York companies as MCC Theater and LaMama E.T.C.

Her primary goal is "staying true to Philip's original mission of being a hospitable venue for work that may have difficulty finding its audiences" because it's new or avant-garde. Other goals include increasing contributions and marketing.

"The Theatre Project is in good hands," said Arnoult, director of the Eastern & Central European Theatre Initiative, speaking from Warsaw. "I've always believed that either Anne had to have the Theatre Project or some other theater. I think she can put it all together."

Mrozek, who is moving to New York where he hopes to work as an independent theater producer, also began at Theatre Project as a young volunteer. Under his leadership, the theater has presented works that went on to New York including Squonk Opera, produced on Broadway in 2000, and Daniel McIvor's Monster, produced off-off-Broadway in 1999. He also helped arrange David Drake's The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me to be filmed at the theater in 1999.

Although Mrozek kept the theater from incurring new debt during his tenure, he inherited financial difficulties that are being resolved by selling its two adjacent buildings at 41 and 43 W. Preston St. The buildings had provided office space and artist housing, but were underused in recent years.

In a further effort to balance artistic and business needs, the theater's board is undergoing restructuring, beginning with the appointment of a new chairman, Dr. Gary Pasternack. Head of the division of molecular pathology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a member of the theater's board for a half dozen years, Pasternack praised Fulwiler as "someone who can work well with the private sector and foundations while continuing the very vibrant mission that the Theatre Project has."

To help support Fulwiler's appointment, the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund of the Baltimore Community Organization has awarded the Theatre Project a two-year, $25,000 grant.

Drama at Arena Players

Alice Childress' 1960s drama, Wedding Band, is about an interracial love affair in 1918 South Carolina - a time and place when miscegenation was illegal. Despite the charged subject and intriguingly diverse characters, Wedding Band holds few surprises, and director Michael A. Kane's production at Arena Players is unable to heighten the tension.

Part of the difficulty is a lack of chemistry between the otherwise competent Cheryl Pasteur and Dave Manning in the lead roles of Julia, a black seamstress, and Herman, a white baker.

Julia and Herman's romance is paralleled by an all-black marriage that is sanctioned socially, but not legally. Cynthia Forbes' sweet, illiterate Mattie is married to a member of the Merchant Marine, who is serving abroad during World War I. But she cannot receive his military benefits because she was married once before, and divorce also is illegal in 1918 South Carolina.

Early on in Wedding Band, Mattie receives a letter from her husband in which he says there are "two things a man can give the woman he loves ... his name and his protection." Mattie and Julia each have men who love them, but the state denies both women a husband's name and protection.

Childress draws another interesting and unsettling parallel between Julia's self-important black landlady (Debbie Bennett) and Herman's white racist mother (Irene Patton). Both share an unhealthy obsession with appearances.

Although the law, Herman's passive nature and a flu epidemic conspire against Julia's happiness, her love for Herman endures. Nor is that the play's only ray of hope. In the end, Julia extends a helping hand that gives Mattie a chance to create the type of stable family Julia will never know.

A play whose title should more accurately be "Wedding Banned," Childress' drama reminds us that love and concern for others can transcend hatred - a message more vital today than ever.

Show times at Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St., are 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 9. Tickets are $15. Call 410-728-6500.

Free readings

On Saturday at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St., the Baltimore Playwrights Festival will present free readings of three new plays: The Lotus Flower Blossom, by Chuck Spoler at 11 a.m.; Whispers of the Saints, by Mark Scharf at 1 p.m.; and Seroconversions, by James Hsiao, at 3 p.m. Call 410-276-2153.

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