Fell's Point Corner presents readings of three full plays

Ancient Greece, early America and today's news

Stage: theater, music, dance

January 22, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

For an original, inexpensive theater experience, consider Saturday's minimarathon of stage readings. Three full-length plays will be read at the Fell's Point Corner Theatre. After the readings, the writers will take questions.

The readings are part of a series sponsored by the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. The only requirement for submitting a play: The writer must have some connection to Maryland. Here is a preview of the works that will be read.

Patricia Montley - a free-lance writer living in Lutherville, - adds a twist to the classic Greek comedy by Aristophanes in her Adaptation of Lysistrata. Montley's play - like the original - is set in ancient Greece as the armies of Athens and Sparta are locked in battle. Lysistrata, the main character, is an Athenian woman who organizes a strike on sexual intercourse to end the conflict. She hopes ultimately men would rather make love than war.

Drawing on language from eight translations of the play, Montley added her own touches to the work. She gives Lampito - an "enemy" Spartan woman in cahoots with Lysistrata - a Baltimore accent. She substitutes this character - in drag - for the Spartan ambassador who negotiates the end of the war at the end of the play.

"It puts another joke into it," she said. She also drastically reduces the chorus - cutting it from 24 people in the original Greek play to two - one man and one woman.

Montley - who spent 17 years chairing the theater department at Chatham College in Pittsburgh - chose to do this adaptation after last year's "Lysistrata Project" received widespread attention. The project was a grass-roots effort that staged thousands of readings of the play to oppose the war in Iraq.

For Montley, the reading will be part of the creative process. "I plan to take the script and a pencil and sit down and take notes. I watch the audience during readings - if they cross and uncross their legs, if they cough - I think that place needs work. If they are laughing at the funny parts then you think, `I nailed it.' "

Lisa Voss' play, Tiny Madmen, is taken from news stories. It is about Fadeke, a 12-year-old Nigerian girl who is brought to the United States by a wealthy man as his domestic servant. She is abused by her master. The play opens as Fadeke runs away. It then tracks her experience through a maze of social workers, lawyers and judges.

The play examines "how our society helps them or not when women are in this situation," Voss said. "Abuse of women doesn't happen in a vacuum. We all share the responsibility." Voss said the play was inspired by several news stories on exploitation of juvenile workers.

This will be the fifth reading of Voss' play. It has been read twice in Washington, once in New York and once in Hollywood. After the New York and Washington readings, Voss made changes to the play. "It is better ... I've resolved some conflicts, shortened it up," Voss said.

By day, he is a physician in the Federal Drug Agency's Division of Counter Terrorism, and by night he is a writer. "I'm sort of a black sheep [at work]; there aren't any other playwrights," said Lewis Schrager of Bethesda.

His play -Levy's Ghost - is based on real events. It begins on a day in 1857 at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello as main character Uriah Levy is preparing to defend his career before a Naval Board of Inquiry. Levy, a Jewish naval officer, is about to be booted from the service. The Navy says it wants to dismiss Levy because he has not commanded a ship. But Levy, who has applied 16 times for a command, believes the Navy wants to get rid him because of his religion.

"On one level, this play is about writer's block," said Schrager. "Levy is under such stress - he's trying to write something [for his defense] that will move the hearts and minds of the country, and in the stress of the moment he conjures up Jefferson - who is Levy's Ghost. In so doing, he gets to know Jefferson, not as a godlike figure but as a man," he said.

This will be the first time any of Schrager's plays is read. "I'm too old to be nervous - just curious, and I'm excited about it," he said.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see page 31.


What: Play readings sponsored by the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. Each play will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the playwright.

Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: Saturday. Adaptation of Lysistrata, 11 a.m.; Tiny Madmen, 1 p.m.; Levy's Ghost, 3 p.m.

Cost: Free of charge

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