A modern-day twist on a 16th-century tale

Play: From the Colonial Players comes a spellbinding performance of complex `Gloriana.'

Arundel Live

Arts and entertainment in Anne Arundel County

July 15, 2005|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Gloriana, the Colonial Players' current production, is a fascinating new work that fulfills the organization's mission to educate and entertain. Its mature themes should delight the aficionado, but the play is not for the timid or casual theatergoer.

Gloriana, playing through Sunday at the East Street Theater, won this year's Colonial Players' Promising Playwright Contest for its author, Goucher College lecturer Chuck Spoler. The contest began in 1973 as an effort to encourage playwrights to write for theater in the round. Limited to residents of the original colonies, the contest drew 170 entries for 2005. The prize consists of cash and a workshop with a finished production.

Spoler's first play, Blood Memories, won the 1999 Arts and Letters Prize in drama. With Gloriana he builds on his reputation for creating intensely human characters living fascinating lives within a unique premise.

In this first production of Spoler's play, director Carol Youmans has brought us moving theater filled with the joy of discovery. She has assembled a first-rate cast that breathes life into well-drawn characters.

In addition to her talented cast, Youmans was assisted in creating this exciting premiere by Dottie Meggers, who designed the sensitive lighting with the help of Joe Emmerich; sound designer David Colburn; fine costume designers Bonnie Gabel, Fran Marchand and Tori Walker; set designer JoAnn Gidos; and an excellent stage crew.

Inspired by the cult of England's 16th-century Virgin Queen Elizabeth I, Gloriana is set in present-day America in the home of Walt and Mary Cromwell. Their 17-year-old daughter, Beth, is convinced that she is Queen Elizabeth and her parents are Sir Walter Raleigh and Mary Queen of Scots. Beth spends most of her time in her room with an invisible companion, the court jester Trigolid.

Desperate to rid Beth of her delusions, her parents enlist psychiatrist Dr. Burger, a therapist who is also an expert in 16th-century British history.

Through a series of fascinating twists, the play reveals what Beth is hiding from in her delusional state and how each character's efforts eventually result in the beginning of a solution.

Annapolitan Emily Trent Dickens gives a tour de force performance as Beth Cromwell, delivering reams of dialogue in Shakespearean English, while conveying a nimble wit behind flawed reasoning. Dickens' arresting portrayal of Beth conveys a vulnerability beneath her mercurial moods.

Richard Koster, in his debut with the Colonial Players, brings a swaggering sensuality to the role of Walt Cromwell that disguises a tormented father inside. Koster's Shakespearean eloquence is matched by his modern-day jargon to create a multi-dimensional character.

Mary C. Rogers plays Mary Cromwell, who is unable to comprehend her daughter's delusional state and has been rejected by her husband, with a tenuous bravado covering her multiple insecurities. Rogers' character, an alcoholic, holds us spellbound with her combined self-deception and honesty, weakness covering a powerful, submerged maternal strength.

Greg Garcia is convincing as the profoundly wise Dr. Burger, seeming an expert in Elizabethan history and contemporary psychiatry.

Much-needed humor and warmth is provided by Josh Baker as Trigolid. And Officer Greenburg, played by Joe Del Balzo, sets things right at the end.

Performances continue tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Call 410-268-7373 to order tickets.

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