Calling the Bard into question

THEATER

October 07, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Think you know who wrote Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet?

Think again.

In certain scholarly circles, the identity of the author of these and the other 30-plus plays and sonnets in the Shakespeare canon is open to question. Cases have been made for writers including Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Beginning today and continuing through the weekend, the Shakespeare Fellowship - whose members support the Earl of Oxford theory - will hold its third annual conference in Baltimore.

"The more we learn about [Shakespeare], the less possible it seems that he really can have been the creator of this work," says Roger Stritmatter, a founder of the fellowship, co-chairman of the conference and an assistant professor of English at Coppin State University.

Noting an example, he explains, "We have a writer who set well over half of his plays in Italy or the Mediterranean and writes about Italy with a detailed knowledge that suggests that he had firsthand knowledge of it, and yet there's no evidence that he ever left the country."

On the other hand, he continues, "What we see with Oxford is quite the opposite of the Stratford man. We see a life that resonates at the most profound level with what we read in the Shakespeare works."

As the fellowship's literature proudly points out, prominent "Oxfordians" have included Sigmund Freud, Walt Whitman and, more recently, Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Harry A. Blackmun, as well as actors Sir Derek Jacobi and Michael York, both of whom are honorary fellowship trustees.

Fifty fellowship members from across the country are expected to attend the conference, which is also open to the public. Two events, in particular, appear to be good starting points for the layman.

"No Holds Bard: Whodunnit?," a free debate co-sponsored by the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, will be held from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Saturday at St. Mary's Outreach Center, 3900 Roland Ave. And Shake-speare: Who Was He? A Demasquerade - a two-part historical drama by Australia's Kinetic Energy Theatre Company exploring the connection between de Vere's life and Shakespeare's work - will be performed at 8 p.m. Tomorrow (Part 1) and (Part 2) at 8.p.m. Sunday at the Baltimore School for the Arts' Black Box Theatre, 712 Cathedral St. Admission is $15.

In addition, a roster of lectures and discussions will be offered each day at the Doubletree Inn at the Colonnade, 4 W. University Parkway; admission is $15 a day. And, by a happy coincidence, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's production of Julius Caesar begins its four-week run tomorrow at St. Mary's Outreach Center; tickets are $20. For information on the conference, call Stritmatter at 410-951-4171 or visit www.shakespearefellowship.org. For information on Julius Caesar, call 410-366-8594 or visit www.baltimoreshakespeare.org.

Showtime Theatre

Baltimore playwright, actress and director Sherry Grant struck gold with her first play, Preacher's Kid. The gospel musical, which featured the group Destiny's Child, premiered at the Baltimore Arena in June 2000, then set off on a 10-city tour.

Since then, Grant has written a dozen more plays, which have been staged at the Maximum Life Christian Church in Woodlawn, where her father, Carroll Johnson, is bishop, and her mother, Muriel Johnson, is a pastor.

Eager for her plays to reach a wider audience, Grant says that for a long time she had her eye on the former movie theater at 9 W. 25th St. Then, last spring she noticed a "for lease" sign. (Most recently, the space was the home of Paragon Theatre.)

In August, Grant opened her latest show, Can a Good Woman Change a Bad Man, at the West 25th Street theater, which she has rechristened Showtime Theatre. The show ran for two weeks, and Grant is bringing it back for one weekend each month, through December.

Directed by Grant, who is also in the cast, the production stars R&B singer Chinky from Sisqo's group, LovHer, and features 92Q deejay K-Swift. The score includes "How It's Gonna Be," Chinky's song from the movie Rush Hour 2, and original music by Grant's brother, Keith Johnson.

The plot concerns a marriage between an abusive, cheating husband and a wife who "sees all the negatives about her husband, but she stays because of her commitment to her marriage," says the playwright, who adds, "It's a leave-you-thinking kind of play for people who are in situations like that."

Grant hopes her new theater will serve as a launching pad for tours of her plays, and she's also planning various family activities such as a Halloween haunted house and a Christmas show. This past summer the theater became the site for Grant's summer arts camp, and next month she will begin another children's program there. She's also renting the space out to other theater groups.

"It's always been a dream of mine to do what I've been doing, so it's just a place where people can get their dreams going - even kids," she says.

Can a Good Woman continues tomorrow-Sunday and again Nov. 4-6 and Dec. 3-5. Curtain time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. For information, call 410-235-0100.

Open house

Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., will hold its annual open house, Backstage @ Center Stage, from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday. The event will include backstage tours, hands-on exhibits for youngsters, and a chance to be photographed in costume. Admission is free, but reservations are recommended for the tours. Call 410-332-0033 or e-mail backstage@centerstage.org.

Set design talk

Broadway and opera set designer Jerome Sirlin will give a free talk at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center, 1301 Mount Royal Ave., at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Sirlin's set for Kiss of the Spider Woman was nominated for a Tony Award. He is working on Air II, the sequel to the sci-fi music drama 1000 Airplanes on the Roof. For more information, visit www.mica.edu or call 410-225-2300.

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