Multisided look at a tragedy

THEATER

Elegant drama taps current events, but not sensationally

Theater Column

February 27, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Rosemary Frisino Toohey's School Shooter is an examination of ugly, heinous tragedies that overtake ordinary lives. But this fictional drama about the murder of four high school students by a fellow student is carefully crafted and elegantly written with a reasoned tone that eschews sensationalism.

Bearing strong similarities to events such as the multiple murders at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, the play is an issue-driven drama told in a documentary style. Far from a dry docu-drama, however, the result is a moving, thought-provoking account that makes good use of such theatrical devices as direct address, multiple casting and occasional non-naturalistic touches, such as allowing the deceased to share the stage with the living.

A Baltimore Playwrights Festival veteran, Toohey wrote School Shooters specifically for the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, and it fits the small, square stage with its four prominent pillars to a "T." The first act begins with the four victims preparing for a routine Monday at school. The second act starts with their ghosts beside their parents at each of the pillars, and similar staging wraps up the final scene.

Directed with perceptive understatement by Sharon Weaver, eight protean actors play multiple roles on all sides of the tragedy. For example, Deborah Newman and Paul Craley portray the parents of the killer as well as the parents of two of his victims. Claire Bromwell delivers a spot-on portrayal of a Valley Girl-ish teen and also brings verisimilitude to depictions of an over-taxed teacher and a brusque psychiatrist. And Babs Dentz plays a grief-stricken parent and the embattled school principal, while also lending humor to the grim proceedings as a good-natured homemaker.

Although we eventually see the killer, he never speaks - a choice that typifies the way Toohey resists the temptation to tie things up neatly in the end, either by supplying pat answers or preaching. The playwright may not bring any particularly fresh insights to the issue, but the varied angles from which she explores it offer a powerful testament to the wide-ranging impact of a seemingly senseless, horrific event.

Show times at Spotlighters, 817 St. Paul St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 15. Tickets are $12. Cal 410-752-1225.

Make war? No love

On Monday, 10 Baltimore institutions will be among nearly 800 organizations worldwide presenting readings of Aristophanes' anti-war comedy, Lysistrata, as part of a project condemning war in Iraq.

Conceived by a pair of New York actresses, Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower, The Lysistrata Project has what Blume has described as a simple message: "If you oppose this war, then speak up!" Set during the Peloponnesian War, the play is about wives who refuse to have sex with their husbands until the men forsake the battlefield.

Internationally, readings are scheduled in cities ranging from London, Paris and Berlin to Beirut and Jerusalem, as well as all-star presentations in New York and Los Angeles.

Among the Baltimore readings are two scheduled only a few blocks apart - 7:30 p.m. at the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Auditorium, 1420 Maryland Ave., by artists from the Baltimore Theatre Alliance, and 8 p.m. at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Proceeds from donations to the various local readings will benefit such organizations as Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders.

For a complete listing of local readings, visit the Theatre Alliance Web site, www.baltimore performs.org and click on "Bulletin Board," or call 410-342-4416. For general information, visit www.lysistrataproject.com.

Readings

Three final days of marathon readings of plays under consideration for the 2003 Baltimore Playwrights Festival will take place in March.

Here's the lineup: Lester W. Osband's More Than a Handful, Rich Espey's Turn Signals, and Jim W. Cary's Ella's Song are scheduled for March 2 at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road. Steven M. Klepper's Hell Incorporated, P.S. Lorio and Dahlia Kaminsky's Ten Reasons Big Betty is Stuck on the Side of the Road in a Little Pink Dress, and Kimberley Lynne's CYA are scheduled for March 8 at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann Street. Peter Toran's Wheel of Fortune, Molly Best Tinsley's The Practice Baby, and Nick Sanzo's American Fairytale. are scheduled for March 15 at Fell's Point Corner

Each day's session begins at 11 a.m. Admission is free. Call 410-276-2153.

`The water falls'

Baltimore-born playwright Willy Conley's The water falls, will be produced at Olney Theatre Center's Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, by Quest: arts for everyone, March 6-15. An associate artist at Center Stage, Conley is also an affiliate artist with Quest, a Lanham-based arts and arts education organization.

The water falls, which received a staged reading at Center Stage in 1997, focuses on a young deaf man's anguish after the death of his grandfather. In May, Conley will serve as director of a two-week Quest Playwright Retreat at Washington's Gallaudet University, where he is an associate professor. Show times for The water falls at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, are 8 p.m. March 6-8 and 13-15, with matinees at 2 p.m. March 9 and 10:30 a.m. March 14. Tickets are $15. Call 800-494-8497 or visit www.boxofficetickets.com.

The water falls isn't Conley's only play coming to the area next month. The National Theatre of the Deaf is currently touring Oh, Figaro!, which he and playwright John Augustine adapted from two 18th-century Beaumarchais farces. Updated to the modern day, the comic adventures of Figaro come to Montgomery College in Rockville on March 29. Call 301-279-5301.

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