Vagabond's new season opens on a low

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September 09, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The Vagabond Players' new season focuses primarily on modern American masters, from Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams to Lerner and Loewe. But as its season opener, the theater has taken a risk on a relative newcomer - a cartoonist/screenwriter/playwright named Doug Stone. It's not a risk that pays off.

An account of a suburban Tupperware party in 1968, Stone's Sealed for Freshness is a pretty stale affair.

The play begins with a housewife named Bonnie (Debra Tracey) being told by her husband (Steven Michael Kovalic) that he no longer finds her sexually attractive after 20 years of marriage. She then attempts to put on a perky face as hostess of the Tupperware shindig.

The guest of honor is star saleswoman and new neighbor Diane (Laurel Burggraf), whose Tupperware triumphs make her the closest thing to a career woman in this insular world. The other guests include an aspiring saleswoman (Dyana Neal), her very pregnant sister (Kathleen Curtin) and a young newlywed (Laurel Peyrot).

Although the play appears to be attempting to send a pro-feminist message, its characters and most of its situations are hackneyed, and Bryon Predika's direction is unable to keep the action from feeling forced.

Curtin's mean-spirited character harangues Diane about the evils of rejecting family for career, and the character of the newlywed is a stereotyped "dumb blond." (Against all odds, however, Peyrot delivers Sealed for Freshness' freshest performance). The humor is especially contrived, with a gag about flatulence signaling the lowest ebb.

Granted, everyone - including the male chauvinist husband - learns something, and everything works out nicely in the end. But it'd be easier to cram a Jell-O ring back into its Tupperware mold than it is to cram a convincing, feel-good, politically correct conclusion on this misguided look at housewives at the dawn of the women's liberation movement.

In the end, the best thing about the production is the cozy living room set. In keeping with the preconceptions fostered by the script, you might expect this charmingly accessorized room to be the work of a woman. Credit for its design, however, goes to Tony Colavito, a man whose insight into the predilections of late 1960s housewives appears to be clearer than that of the playwright.

Show times at the Vagabonds, 806 S. Broadway, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 26. Tickets are $12. Call 410-563-9135.

Center Stage news

Although arts education is becoming an endangered species in many public schools, there's good news from Center Stage. An anonymous donor has underwritten tickets for more than 2,000 city pupils to attend nine student matinees throughout the season. The $25,000 donation was made after the donor learned that the federal funding that supported the matinees for almost a decade is no longer being allocated to the arts.

Center Stage's education programs are receiving support from another quarter as well. More than a dozen actors from the touring production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Hippodrome will perform a benefit cabaret at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., at 11 p.m. Sept. 17.

Titled Night School, the cabaret will be led by D.C. Anderson, who portrays Monsieur Andre, one of the new owners of the Paris Opera House in Phantom, and will include Peabody-educated Rebecca Pitcher, who stars as Christine Daae. Tickets are $25. Call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.

In other news, Center Stage is reinstating its noontime lecture series, which has been on hiatus for more than five years. Now called "Food for Thought," the lunchtime chats will be conducted by the theater's resident dramaturg, Gavin Witt.

The series will take place Wednesdays from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Clayton Books/Dark Sky Cafe, 317 N. Charles St. Attendance is free, but lunches may be bought. Here's the schedule: Sept. 15, Lady Windermere's Fan; Nov. 3, The Price; Dec. 15, Elmina's Kitchen; Jan. 26, Two Gentlemen of Verona; Feb. 23, Permanent Collection; April 13, The Voysey Inheritance.

ISO board members

After running the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre for more than four years by themselves, co-owners Bob Russell and Jonathan Claiborne are hoping to transfer ownership to a board of directors. They have also applied for 501(c)(3) non-profit status. "The only income we have comes from ticket sales. Community theaters don't make it on their own," said Russell, pointing out that Fell's Point Corner Theatre and the Vagabond Players are among area community theaters that already have the 501(c)(3) designation, which allows donations to be tax-deductible.

"We've poured thousands and thousands of dollars into it," added Russell, who, along with Claiborne, intends to serve on the board, which they hope will attract more than 20 members. "We thought maybe we could make it break even, but that didn't work. It looks like it needs support from charitable sources." People interested in serving on the board can send an e-mail to brussell@spotlight ers.org. Donors can call Russell at 410-730-4024.

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