`Mame' lights up the stage

THEATER

Cockpit production a notable tribute to womanhood

Theater Column

August 01, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck and Mary Carole McCauley | J. Wynn Rousuck and Mary Carole McCauley,SUN STAFF

Mame is about a larger-than-life woman, and the musical itself is a large-scale affair.

Cockpit in Court's production is directed and choreographed by Todd Pearthree, who has a proven ability for gracefully navigating sizable casts. And it stars Shannon Wollman, who has played her share of imposing dames, from Fanny Brice to Eva Peron.

In Mame (score by Jerry Herman; book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee), Wollman gets to strut her stuff as an indomitable, free-spirited 1920s New Yorker, and she takes to it with gusto.

Mame refuses to let the Depression get her down (even though it wipes her out financially). And when she unexpectedly becomes the guardian of her young orphaned nephew, Patrick, she greets the boy with open arms.

With a big voice and a brash sensibility to match, Wollman ably conveys Mame's unquenchable optimism in such numbers as "Open a New Window" and "We Need a Little Christmas." She also leaves no doubt about Mame's affection for Patrick (played by Christopher Somerville as a boy, and by Tom Burns as a young man).

But when Wollman sings the score's most moving song, "If He Walked Into My Life," in which Mame fears she has alienated Patrick, she makes the mistake of belting the number, instead of letting us see the quieter recesses of her character's breaking heart.

For the most part, however, big is better in this show, and Pearthree does a swell job with scenes ranging from the opening Roaring '20s party (featuring some Charleston-inspired dancing), to a fox hunt (which segues into the title song, complete with imitation horseback riding and a kickline), to a Connecticut cookout (where the young folk kick up their heels Lindy-hop-style).

The supporting players are strong, particularly Liz Boyer Hunnicutt as Mame's perpetually inebriated "bosom buddy," actress Vera Charles; John Ford as Patrick's stuffy trustee; John Desmone as the wealthy Southern gentleman who marries Mame; and Cindy Rinaldi in various roles, including Mame's mother-in-law and a bigoted Connecticut society matron. As Agnes Gooch, Patrick's bashful nanny, Holly Pasciullo displays the right degree of awkward timidity, but this wallflower undergoes too abrupt a change when Mame gives her a glamorous makeover.

Cockpit started its season with a glowing musical salute to 18th-century American history in 1776. It's ending its season with an equally sparkling tribute to 20th-century liberated American womanhood. The summer theater trimmed its season this year, but what it lost in quantity, it has gained in quality.

Show times at Cockpit, on the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7201 Rossville Blvd., are 8 p.m. tonight-Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $13 and $15. Call 410-780-6369.

- J.W.R.

Stirring up trouble

Emilio Iasiello's play is described as the story of "two wives, tired of abuse, who reawaken to chart a new course of action." The play's title is Cannibals.

Can you guess the plot twist? And can you guess which portion of the male anatomy is the tastiest? Unfortunately, you probably can. All I know is that after watching Cannibals, an offering in this year's Baltimore Playwrights Festival, I'll never think of chicken fingers in the same way again.

Cannibals wants to be a madcap dark comedy, but it's more mad than cap. Two couples go camping in the woods. There's William, a workaholic on the verge of landing a major account, and Doris, who gave up her real estate career to iron hubby's shirts. And there's Henry, who constantly mocks and belittles his childlike wife, Marge, and has driven her to a nervous breakdown.

Barely are the tents erected when the bickering begins. It seems that the guys want to talk about their careers, while the gals want to talk about - masturbation. That makes the men frown. And they frown even more when the women start talking about a cannibalism cult running around these very woods. Doris knows all about it because she read an article on page 3 of the Metro section. Page 3? Of the Metro section? At least they can't accuse the media of sensationalizing this story.

Meanwhile, the corporate snakehead that William wants to hook is at a company retreat in the woods; William has planned this trip in hopes of running into him. He tells Doris repeatedly: "Success is nothing but a simple equation."

Not always. Witness Iasiello, who puts lots of simple equations into his play: Women = Victims. Men = Jerks. Big Business = Corrupt.

Human beings are about a zillion times more complex than these characters. Presumably, the playwright is a guy - at least, all the Emilios I know are guys. Presumably, he doesn't think of himself as a Neanderthal. So couldn't he have put a sympathetic man into the story? And can Doris and Marge be as smart as Iasiello would have us believe if they buy into the argument that eating a hamburger is morally equivalent to eating your spouse?

The actors deserve better, especially Brian K. Irons (Henry), who demonstrates a persuasive level of rage, and Rebecca Parry (Doris), who lends her character a strength and dignity absent from the script.

Someone (the playwright? the director?) was misguided enough to claim in the plot summary that Cannibals is "reminiscent of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, a satiric essay advocating selling Irish infants as food.

I'm sorry, but no, it's not.

Cannibals runs through Aug. 11 at Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $10. Call 410-563-9135.

- M.C.M.

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