`Partners' closing festival

THEATER

September 02, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Salesmen, a pair of brothers, an unresolved relationship with a father. These may sound like the makings of an Arthur Miller play. But in this case, the play is Paul Bogas' Partners, the final entry in this summer's Baltimore Playwrights Festival.

Miller is a tough precedent to follow, but a solid one, and Bogas is definitely on terra firma with this account of Harry and Sammy Waldman, two discontented, middle-aged brothers.

For more than a quarter century, Harry has been running his late father's hat store in Brooklyn. Sammy left the business ages ago and became a highly successful liquor salesman, but he's been propping up the hat store with loans for years.

Now Harry has a chance to sell the foundering business, and he's eager to take it. Sammy, however, turns out to be anything but a silent partner when it comes time to sign away his legacy from his father - especially when he learns the identity of the potential buyer.

Sharon Weaver's able direction at Fell's Point Corner Theatre accentuates the differences between the brothers. Richard Peck plays Harry as an easygoing, nice guy, a widower whose slovenly appearance suggests he's probably not the best candidate for selling men's fashion accessories.

In contrast, as his rich brother, Jerry Gietka is a dapper dresser who demonstrates his silver-tongued salesman's skills at several points in the hour-long play. After Harry informs him of the impending sale, Gietka's Sammy launches into a sentimental spiel about their father. Later, he does an even more impressive sales job when he nearly convinces Harry that instead of selling the store, they should expand and go into manufacturing.

Stirring up the conflict further is Lenny Lane, the prosperous rival who offers to buy the store. Lenne Sirasky portrays him as a slicker operator than even Sammy, who suspects - and dislikes - everything about Lenny, from his parentage to his motives. In one especially well-staged moment, Harry is literally caught between Sammy and Lenny, with each tugging gently on Harry's clothing, as if he were trapped by both his past and his future.

Partners is Bogas' second play in this year's festival. Both it and his earlier entry, The Throne Builders, deal with tensions between men in business. Most importantly, both reveal this festival newcomer to be a writer who creates believable characters and tackles serious subjects and themes.

Bogas also has an ability to make an audience think. Although Partners is only a one-act play, instead of a neat resolution, it leaves several key issues intriguingly open-ended. In short, at the end of what has been, for the most part, a pale Playwrights Festival, Bogas has emerged as a welcome bright light.

There's an interesting side note to Partners. The set and lighting are the work of a group called "The Perfect Stage Crew," led by John Kaluta, a communications teacher at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring and the author of a how-to book titled The Perfect Stage Crew: The Compleat Guide for High School, College, and Community Theater.

Kaluta and nine of his former and current students not only created the set and lighting, they videotaped the process in hopes of turning it into a television documentary. The set effectively conveys the feeling of a rundown store in a rundown neighborhood, and if the documentary airs, it - like Kaluta's book - will no doubt prove useful to other young people and amateur stage crews getting their start in theater.

Show times at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12. For more information, call 410-276-7837.

As the current festival draws to a close, planning for the next is already under way. Submissions for the 2005 festival are being accepted through Sept. 30. For guidelines, visit baltplayfest.com or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Baltimore Playwrights Festival, 251 S. Ann St., Baltimore, MD, 21231.

Productive season

The new theater season is starting out to be a busy and fruitful one for James Magruder. The Center Stage associate dramaturg, who was recently named an Associate Artist, has written an American adaptation of Carlo Gozzi's 18th-century comic fable, The Love of Three Oranges, which begins performances at California's La Jolla Playhouse on Sept. 14. Direction is by Romanian director Nona Ciobanu, making her American debut.

"I'm describing it as an American version of a Romanian adaptation of an Italian scenario of a Persian folktale," Magruder said this week. He added that Ciobanu's original production was "a huge sensation" in Romania, where it ran in repertory for more than three years.

In addition, Magruder's translation of Moliere's The Miser, which made its debut at Center Stage last season, will receive a second production at the People's Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, Pa., Sept. 15-Oct. 24. Although he's done a bit of rewriting, Magruder says one of the biggest differences from the Baltimore production is the set. At People's Light, he explains, the avaricious title character "has set booby traps all over the stage." Magruder's script will be published by the Dramatists Play Service in the next few months.

Nor is that all he's up to. His translation of Alain-Rene Lesage's early 18th-century French satire, Turcaret, which premiered at Washington's Catalyst Theater Company last season, will be produced at Texas' Southern Methodist University next month.

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