Two tales of strained relations

THEATER

Plays explore troubled family, working women

July 18, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Last weekend, the Baltimore Playwrights Festival premiered plays by two of its veteran writers. The Whispers of Saints is Mark Scharf's 10th festival production, Amanda's Line is Kathleen Barber's eighth.

Neither play is its author's best work. Both, however, display flashes of talent and are well cast. And, coincidentally, both concern relationships between women.

Scharf focuses on the troubled bond between a mother and her grown daughter. Each of these women is dealing with a crisis stemming from a relationship with a man. Reeling from the unexpected news that her husband wants a divorce, Laura (the daughter) retreats to her mother's beach house for solace.

Meanwhile, her psychiatrist mother, Catherine, is living with a man young enough to be her grandson. If that's not troubling enough, the man, David, is a former patient, and their affair caused Catherine to lose her medical license.

Laura and her mother have never been close, and the affair with David infuriates her. Although Laura says she's come to the beach house because it's the closest thing she has to a family home, it's difficult to believe she would expect to find comfort there.

And sure enough, Laura, her mother and David are soon at each other's throats. Even more predictable, Laura's enmity toward David turns into something quite different before the play is over.

Though the age difference between Bethany Brown's Catherine and Yvonne Erickson's Laura doesn't seem great enough for mother and daughter, the tension between them is unmistakable (this is partly due to the playwright's tendency for overstatement).

But it is Drew Childers' sensitive depiction of David as a charming social outcast that is the high point of director Miriam Bazensky's production for the Uncommon Voices company. Even so, it seems unlikely that Catherine would have sacrificed her career to live with this man whom, we are led to believe, openly and regularly cheats on her.

In the end, David turns out to be the only interest Catherine and Laura share, and Childers' portrayal also makes him the most interesting aspect of Scharf's uneven play.

Uncommon Voices' production is being performed at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays, through July 28. Tickets are $12. Call 410-655-4826.

Designing women

Playwright Barber frequently writes about working women. She continues this tradition in her latest play, Amanda's Line, at the Chesapeake Center for Creative Arts.

The title refers to a high-fashion label, and the protagonists are a pair of former childhood friends turned fashion designers. When the play begins, Amanda is battling creative block, and her mother has summoned Amanda's old friend, Terri, all the way from Italy to help out.

At first glance, Debbie Bennett's abrupt, imperious Terri and Binnie Ritchie Holum's emotionally wounded Amanda appear to be polar opposites. Not surprisingly, this will change before the evening ends.

This role reversal is one of the play's many about-faces - some so sudden that the characters seem to have split personalities. Amanda announces she's quitting work for the day, then immediately gets back to work; her assistant (Jane Steffen) storms out in a huff, then shows up again eager to work.

And why are the characters so worried that other people will laugh at them? Considering the serious problems these women face, being laughed at should be the least of their fears.

In addition to writing about working women, Barber has always made a point of actually showing them at work. That holds true here as well. She includes several details of the fashion trade, and Holum turns out to have genuine skill when it comes to draping fabric.

Amanda's and Terri's strained friendship, set against the backdrop of the cut-throat fashion industry, is ample subject matter for a play. But Barber doesn't seem to trust her own material. She throws in too much plot, including an off-stage murder mystery and a soap opera subplot involving Amanda's assistant, whose mood swings and ruthless determination brand her as Amanda's ideal protege.

Director Momoe Nakamura does her best to keep the action moving, despite some slow, repetitive patches in the script. And designer Norma Dobrikow-O'Hep has created a lovely penthouse set.

But like a dress cluttered with too many frills and sequins, Amanda's Line nearly gets lost under the extraneous trim.

Show times at the Chesapeake Center for Creative Arts, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, through July 27. Tickets are $15. Call 410-636-6597.

Auditions

The Matthew Players. Auditions for Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. 7:30 p.m. July 28 and Aug. 5 in the lower church hall, 5401 Loch Raven Blvd. All roles open. Must have song prepared and be ready to dance and recite from script. Performance dates are Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 4-6. Call 410-665-3682.

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