Playwrights Festival lists summer lineup

THEATER

May 06, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Ten plays, on subjects ranging from pre-Civil Rights era racism to a family business, will be produced by seven local theater companies in this summer's Baltimore Playwrights Festival.

It may be indicative of how institutionalized the 23-year-old festival has become that all but three of this year's playwrights are festival veterans. Two of those - Mark Scharf (who is also the festival chairman) and Joe Dennison - will each be shepherding their 11th festival productions.

At the same time, the roster of participating theaters includes a newcomer - the Invisible Theatre Company, founded in the late 1990s by a group of Roland Park Country School alumnae.

"I'm very gratified that we have a new company of younger people joining us," said Scharf. "It's always nice to get that fresh point of view."

Looking for shared themes among this year's plays, Scharf commented, "There's a lot of uneasiness. There's an edge and, in my opinion, an anxiety. There are plays that involve stalking or are coming out of 9/11. I think [the festival] sort of picked up on the zeitgeist of what's in the air around us right now."

Here's a look at the lineup:

A double bill of one-acts. Empires Fall, by Scharf. A drama about a home invasion that shatters the world - and fundamental beliefs - of a young couple about to be married. In My Tribe, by Kimberley Lynne. An account of a woman who is threatened by a stalker and discovers she is capable of more than she ever imagined. Mobtown Players at Meadow Mill, 3600 Clipper Mill Road. June 10-27.

The Throne Builders, by Paul Bogas. A black artisan and a Jewish carpenter attempt to overcome their differences as they work together on a new cathedral in the pre-Civil Rights South. Uncommon Voices at Mobtown Players. July 8-25.

Air/Ice, by Dennison. The recurring protagonist in a series of spy novels comes to the aid of the dying novelist who created him. Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. July 15-Aug. 1.

A Different Kind of Love, by Kathleen Barber. A comedy in which a mother's concern that her daughter is marrying too young leads the mother to rediscover love. The Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway. July 23-Aug. 8.

Woman on the Edge, by Rosemary Frisino Toohey. A retired schoolteacher suddenly becomes armed and dangerous in this comedy set on the eve of a family reunion. Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park. July 30-Aug. 15.

The Picture Wall, by James Yamakawa. A young woman scarred by the death of her mother in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, relearns the meaning of compassion. Invisible Theatre at Mobtown Players. Aug. 5-22.

A double bill. My Play About My Wife, by Dennison. A Baltimorean named Chill Corrigan goes through a number of "what-if" scenarios as he examines the ways in which his life might have been different. The Eyes Have It, by Eton F. Churchill. An artist and his blind model grapple with the true nature of vision. Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St. Aug. 6-28.

Partners, by Bogas. Two brothers struggle over the fate of their family hat business and their duty to their late father. Fell's Point Corner. Aug. 19-Sept. 5.

Individual tickets cost $10-$15. A book of six tickets that can be used for any performance costs $45. Call 410-276-2153 or visit www.baltplayfest.org.

`Bounce' on CD

It's only been out for two days, but the much-anticipated CD of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's short-lived musical Bounce (Nonesuch) is already destined to become a cult classic. On the basis of this lush score, listeners may be perplexed about why Sondheim's first new musical in almost a decade failed to make it to New York.

Instead, the show about the colorful turn-of-the-20th-century Mizner brothers - Addison, an architect, and Wilson, a con man - closed after a monthlong engagement at Washington's Kennedy Center last fall. (It previously played a two-month engagement in Chicago.)

Recorded at the headquarters of National Public Radio in Washington, the cast album features an orchestra conducted by David Caddick and augmented by a dozen extra players. Bounce was conceived as an old-fashioned musical comedy, and the expanded pit orchestra helps reinforce the golden-era feel. This is especially evident in the overture and the title song, with its jaunty, indeed bouncy, flavor.

Bounce is a Sondheim musical, however, so listeners will also recognize some weighty recurring themes in the lyrics as well as the music. "Isn't He Something," for example, revisits the theme of troubled parent-child relationships common to Sondheim musicals ranging from Gypsy to Into the Woods. And strains of melody reminiscent of other Sondheim scores, from Passion to Assassins, haunt several songs.

The show's loveliest number, "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened," threads its way into several tracks on the disk. With a lilting melody and a lyric about what could've, should've or might've been, it's among the most poignant ballads in the Sondheim canon.

As the title suggests, the central theme in Bounce is resiliency. This recording could give the show resiliency by helping it resurface in concert form. And who knows where that may lead? With sharpened focus and some further tweaking of Weidman's book, the musical might one day bounce, full-fledged, into New York after all.

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