Play uses reality TV to explore emotions

Review

Arundel Live

August 26, 2005|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The premise of a dying woman seeking authentication of her life by becoming the focus of a probing reality series hosted by an egocentric TV personality might well portend our television future.

Such is the world created by Chesapeake Arts Center-based playwright C.J. Crowe's Real to Reel, which continues in the Studio Theatre at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Crowe's original script is being showcased as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival.

This summer, the festival is presenting new works by Maryland playwrights produced by amateur theater companies.

Best known for her interactive Do or Die Productions - murder mysteries she writes, directs and in which she performs - Crowe has turned to a serious subject, thankfully without abandoning her dry, often sardonic humor. Her concept shows how a dying woman's situation profoundly affects her family.

In Real to Reel, Crowe brings the audience into the home of Mary Baker, who has terminal cancer. A television series on life's challenges is eager to cover a family facing the impending death of a loved one. Questioning the impact her life has had on others, Mary decides to subject her family to this painful ordeal because she feels they are a perfect fit for the program.

Jack, her husband of 32 years, is initially opposed to the idea, as are her three children, but Mary persuades her spouse to grant her this dying wish among a series of dying wishes he has given her.

Director Jason Kimmell has selected a cast of nine actors to play the Baker couple and their three children - a 23-year-old son and teenage twins - an ambitious automaton interviewer and her cameraman, Mary's friend Helen and caregiver Alice. They evolve through dramatic action, gradually revealing their feelings and themselves.

La Don Hart Hall seems to inhabit the terminally ill Mary Baker, conveying her character's love and respect for her husband and family, her empathy to her friends and her innate courtesy to acquaintances. Hall's impeccable timing is evident in delivering zany, offbeat humor that is often a trial for her family. Hall's Mary is gradually transformed from the positive woman who attempts to provide for her family's future without her to an exhausted, bedridden patient.

Patrick McPartlin is convincing as her husband, Jack. As teenage twins Colin and Colleen, Matthew Wetzel and Ashlyn Thompson are excellent. Darrell Conley plays the difficult role of the oldest son, J.B.

JaHipster plays Paulette Marino to irritating perfection, revealing an ambitious television personality so interested in promoting her career that she has lost all empathy.

Mark Tyler brings cameraman Brian Granger to life, and Cybele Pomeroy is delightful as Mary's loser friend, Helen Mrozowski. Samantha Yon is convincing as caregiver Alice White, delivering some of the play's best lines.

Real to Reel is a thought-provoking play that digs deep into feelings and confronts an agonizing situation with warmth, compassion, humanity and needed humor. The audience comes to know the family members, and through their trials can reflect on today's hunger for insensitive probing into personal lives to reveal what many would prefer to keep private.

Reservations: 410-636-6597.

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