Arena Players back in tent of Playwrights Festival


Come summer, find histories, mysteries and comedies on stage

Theater Column

May 02, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Ten new plays by Marylanders will be produced by eight area theaters in this summer's Baltimore Playwrights Festival. The list of theaters includes one newcomer, Baltimore's newest community theater, Paragon, and one former participant returning to the fold, Arena Players.

"I think this is the year of diversity," festival chairman Rodney S. Bonds said, referring not only to the fact that the plays range from historical dramas to romantic comedies to a murder mystery, but also to their racially diverse dramatis personae.

With this in mind, Bonds is especially pleased by the return of Arena Players after a 15-year absence. "One of the things that I wanted to do as soon as I became the chairman of the festival was to get the Arena Players back," Bonds said. "Considering the number of African-American citizens we have in Baltimore, not to have the city's oldest African-American theater involved was simply a travesty."

Here's the 2002 lineup:

The Blue Eye of Robert Oppenheimer, by Victoria Danos. Set at Los Alamos, it's an examination of the philosophical and political challenges confronted by the former head of the Atomic Energy Commission. Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. June 20-July 7.

Connections, by Devorah Namm. A romantic comedy about a pair of Jewish senior citizens. Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St. July 5-27.

The Whispers of Saints, by Mark Scharf. A drama about a mother-daughter conflict precipitated by the mother's relationship with a younger man. Uncommon Voices Theatre Company at Fell's Point Corner. July 11-28.

Amanda's Line, by Kathleen Barber. A look at three ambitious women in the world of high fashion. Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park. July 12-27.

Short Stops, by Michael Cookson. A bill of short comic playlets. Mobtown Players at LeClerc Hall, College of Notre Dame, 4701 N. Charles St. July 18-Aug. 4.

Cannibals, by Emilio Iasiello. A dark comedy about two fed-up wives who plot revenge. Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway. July 26-Aug. 11.

OK, OK, by Gene Gately. A comedy set in a mountaintop hospital in Laos. Fell's Point Corner. Aug. 1-18.

Watching Lotus Flowers Blossom, by Chuck Spoler. A sequel to Memorial Day (last season's festival award winner), traveling back in time to the Vietnam War. Spotlighters. Aug. 2-24.

A Certain Mystery, by Brad Rogers. A mystery focusing on the murder of a controversial college professor. Paragon Theatre Company, 9 W. 25th St. Aug. 9-25.

Interstices, by Kermit Frazier. Three former American college students become entangled in political unrest on a Caribbean island. Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St., Aug. 23-31.

Individual tickets cost $10-$15. A book of six tickets that can be used for any performance costs $45. For more information, call 410-276-2153.

A haunting `Diary'

The story of Anne Frank, the Jewish teen-ager whose family hid from the Nazis for two years in a few cramped upper-story rooms in Amsterdam, is a well-known chronicle among the annals of World War II.

But familiar as the account may be, its power to rouse an audience's grief is undiminished by time. That power is demonstrated in director John Sadowsky's moving production of The Diary of Anne Frank at Spotlighters.

Sadowsky uses Wendy Kesselman's recent adaptation of the 1956 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. The revised script incorporates material from the unexpurgated version of the diary published in 1995 and attempts to replace some of the play's sentimentality with realism.

Although eliminating all the sentimentality is probably impossible, at least Anne's wide-eyed proclamation that "people are really good at heart" is no longer the final line. Instead, there's a much grimmer epilogue delivered by her father.

In addition, the 1995 edition of the diary included more material about Anne's strained relationship with her mother, and that subplot is poignantly realized at the Spotlighters by Lauren Ciarpella's precocious Anne and Sherrionne Brown as her earnest, confounded mother.

Ciarpella, who displays poise and a lively intelligence in the large title role, is one of three Baltimore School for the Arts students showcased in the production. (The others are Ariel Schloss as Anne's older sister and Christopher Wicks as Anne's eventual love interest, Peter Van Daan.)

Among their adult counterparts, Bill Molnar stunningly uncovers the humanity in Anne's noble paragon of a father. But, whether due to the script or the production, there's a lack of depth in the three other adults with whom the Franks share their hiding place. And though the performance reviewed came more than halfway into the run, there were several lags in pacing and delivery after intermission.

In a director's note, Sadowsky mentions the suitability of the small Spotlighters Theatre for giving a sense of the tight quarters in the "secret annex." The director's instincts are correct on that score, but hanging Nazi banners at the entrance of the theater is a rare instance of overstatement in an otherwise sensitively staged production.

Show times at the Spotlighters, 817 St. Paul St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through May 11. Tickets are $12.

For more information, call 410-752-1225.

Spirits most `Blithe'

For those who want to get into some "spirits" after seeing Center Stage's production of Blithe Spirit, the cast will demonstrate the art of making the perfect martini at 10:30 p.m. tomorrow. The mixology session will be held in the theater's mezzanine, and a selection of martinis will be for sale.

For more information, call 410-332-0033.

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