`Democracy' for the Fourth

THEATER

Show effectively uses skits, other devices

June 30, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Just in time for Independence Day, the Maryland Ensemble Theatre has revived Democracy: A Work in Progress, a show that the Frederick-based company debuted last fall as a prelude to the presidential election.

Created collaboratively, then scripted by Don Thompson and directed and designed by Tad Janes, Democracy - at Johns Hopkins University's Mattin Center - uses a series of skits, images, movement and projections to offer a selective survey of democracy from the time of the ancient Greeks onward.

The most effective imagery and choreography comes near the beginning when the seven cast members remove the red stripes from an American flag on the back wall, then use these stripes as everything from banners to rifles. In an especially moving segment, a tearful Rona Mensah portrays an ex-slave who believes in love and forgiveness - even after seeing her husband and sons killed.

Later, Matt Baughman does a comic turn as a motor-mouthed, right-wing talk-show host (a cross between Bill O'Reilly and Martin Short's Jiminy Glick), who interviews Thomas Jefferson (Clayton Myers) and discovers, to his dismay, that in Jefferson's day, he would have been dubbed a liberal.

Not all of the segments are equally effective, in terms of writing or performance. But in the end, when the actors come out dressed as characters throughout history and fold an American flag, the audience gets a clear picture of democracy as an ever-evolving form of government, made up of highly diverse individuals.

Showtimes at the Mattin Center, 33rd and Charles streets, are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through July 9. Tickets are $15. Call 410-516-4695.

Festival production

Are the sins of the mothers visited on the daughters? That's the central question in Blue Mermaid, a Baltimore Playwrights Festival production by Mark Scharf.

Directed by Alex Willis at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, the play focuses on three generations of women in one family. The grandmother and her recently deceased, drug-addicted daughter both became pregnant out of wedlock. Because of this history, the aunt who is raising her dead sister's daughter is terrified that the now-teenage girl will make the same mistake.

The drama begins when the girl arrives at her grandmother's Ocean City home. Played by Susan Scher as a prickly independent spirit, the grandmother, an artist named Anne, doesn't want company and doesn't really know her mixed-race granddaughter, Keisha.

But Keisha - portrayed by Tiffany James with just enough attitude to suggest she's more in need of love than rebellion - discovers that she and Anne have a few things in common. By the time Keisha finally opens up, however, her furious aunt (overplayed by Pam Feldman) shows up, leaving no doubt about the contentious home life Keisha is trying to escape.

Scharf includes some overly obvious metaphors (for example, Anne's sculptor/fisherman boyfriend tells Keisha, "I can't make the wood into something it's not"). And the play's ending - in which Anne finally finds the right face for her painting of a mermaid - is too pat. But Scharf wisely leaves some of the plot's larger issues intriguingly open-ended, and it's also intriguing to watch Anne and Keisha's relationship bloom.

Showtimes at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays, through July 10. Tickets are $14. Call 410-276-7837.

Hambleton fellowship

A new fellowship program for theatrical producers at Columbia University in New York has been named in honor of T. Edward Hambleton, the Baltimorean who was a pioneer of the off-Broadway and nonprofit theater movements. The brainchild of director/producer Harold Prince, one of Hambleton's proteges, the year-long "T Fellowship," as it will be called, will "help further train a new generation of creative producers," said Steven Chaikelson, head of the university's theater division.

"It's a wonderful tribute to name a program that's dedicated to producers who really care about the quality of theater after someone who essentially spent his entire life helping to develop the kind of voices that have meant so much to theater in the 20th century," he said.

Hambleton, 94, has attended planning meetings in New York and calls himself the program's "database." Speaking of what he hopes the fellowship might achieve, he said, "You've got to have some genius and something of the poet in you, but I think that some more interesting plays will come out of this."

To learn more about the fellowship, which will begin in fall 2006 and will be initially offered to one fellow per year, visit www.tfellowship.com.

`Lion King' performance

As part of Harborplace's 25th anniversary celebration, at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, cast members from The Lion King, at the Hippodrome Theatre, will perform two numbers from the show at the Harborplace amphitheater. The performance is free.

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