Tailor-made for the stage

Debut: The Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts is the venue for the opening of a Maryland playwright's work set within the fashion industry.

July 11, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The fashion industry -- one of the few areas where women have been able to reach the top -- seems an ideal setting for a play revealing the complexities and challenges faced by its top achievers.

Award-winning playwright Kathleen Barber chose this setting for her new play Amanda's Line, entered in this season's Baltimore Playwrights Festival and premiering tomorrow at Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts in Brooklyn Park.

For the second summer, a play from the current season of the Fells Point-based 21-year-old Playwrights Festival will be showcased at the center. Last July, in its first season, it played host to Theodore Groll's Run Past the Sun, with Chesapeake executive director Wayne Shipley directing.

Shipley continues to access this exciting aspect of Baltimore's culture, this time inviting Momoe Nakamura, who acted in last year's play and has assisted in directing at the center, to select a new work.

Nakamura said she attended "95 percent of the readings at the Baltimore Playwrights' Festival, reading over many of them, before narrowing my choices to three. Then I talked to Wayne, who advised me to pick the play I really liked. So I chose this one that I liked the most and because its subject is women."

Barber, a Towson University graduate, has written plays for the past 22 years, garnering numerous awards. She twice won the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in playwriting, and several of her previous entries to the Baltimore Playwrights' Festivals finished in first or second place. She has also authored short stories published in national magazines.

The 51-year-old playwright said she has thought off and on about the dynamics of women in the fashion industry for perhaps 20 years and began seriously researching the subject two years ago, when she visited people in the fashion industry.

"This play took longer than most. Last summer I wrote the story of six women who range in age from mid-20s to 70s, the two main characters in their early 50s. They fought their way to the top of the fashion industry by working together," Barber said.

"Amanda's Line ... traces designer Amanda's actions after having trouble getting her spring line out. To help Amanda meet the deadline, her mother calls her friend and former partner," she said.

"I rewrote the play twice after hearing it read. And I rewrote a final version after rehearsals began at the Chesapeake arts center in late May," the playwright said. "Improving a play is always a pleasure."

Some of the latest changes came about after consulting with director Nakamura, who says she's so in sync with Barber that it's "scary."

The off-stage dynamics sometimes seem to mirror what is happening between the actors on stage.

"I want to show the procedure of working together and the conflicts. I want to raise questions like which one really deserves fame? Does the young assistant who Amanda picked off the street deserve fame?" Barber explained. "Other issues are revealed through the model Monica, who understands how having a second child changes one's figure."

The playwright added secondary characters such as the long-time socialite client Edwina, whose husband has been railroaded out of his prestigious job, forcing Edwina to demand the latest fashion to prove they can still afford their lifestyle.

Amanda's mother, Elaine, is a strong woman in her 70s who gave her daughter the backbone she needs to pursue a career in this demanding industry.

Barber and Nakamura agree that they have a cast of six terrific actors. The writer and director are clearly enjoying the rehearsal process, as are the cast members.

Both women caution that discretion should be used in attending this play because of the adult content, including nudity.

Amanda's Line opens tomorrow and will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays through July 27. Tickets are $12 for members and $15 for nonmembers, and may be reserved by calling the box office at 410-636-6597.

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