`Shallowford' is amusing, well-acted, a little slow

Colonial Players season opens with play set in Depression era


Arundel Live

Arts and entertainment in Anne Arundel County

September 02, 2005|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Colonial Players' 57th season is off to an amusingly nostalgic start with Ed Simpson's low-key comedy The Battle of Shallowford, which is set in rural North Carolina on the evening of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast in 1938 that brought fears of a Martian invasion.

The action takes place in a general store where proprietor Burton Mock and his 17-year-old daughter, Ruthie, host weekly regulars that include Roy, a feisty World War I veteran; garrulous, gossipy, excitable Clunette; stoic Newsome Jarvis; and Jarvis' even quieter - and dim - brother, Doodad.

Lonny, a teenage science-fiction fan, hangs around the store to be near Ruthie, as does football hero Dewey Somers. Despite having little in common with the others, urbane choir director Fred Martin eventually assumes brief leadership of the group.

Single parent Burton is content with his small-town predictable life and discourages Ruthie from pursuing her dream of finding a secretarial job in New York. Lonny also dreams of big-city life, while the older characters comfortably enjoy their camaraderie. They engage in good-natured banter with Roy and delight in baiting Clunette, who reacts with comic predictability.

Colonial's version is directed by Joe Thompson, who has gathered a mostly talented cast. As Ruthie, Chelsea Hunt makes a stunning Colonial debut, conveying her character's yearning for a better life, developing Ruthie's character as she decides to experience life fully before it ends. Another excellent actor making his Colonial debut is Rick Hall, who plays the likable Burton Mock.

Danny Brooks, a veteran of five Colonial productions, is masterful as Roy Sprinkle, especially when sparring with Clunette. Other noteworthy performances are given by Glenn Singer as choirmaster Fred Martin, Vince Van Joop as Newsome Jarvis and Steven Cohen as Doodad.

Robby Rose generally does well as Lonny and is completely convincing when conveying a 17-year-old boy experiencing first love.

In the juicy role of Clunette Campbell, John Ritch provides most of the comedy, although he occasionally overacted in the performance we attended.

All the performers are more than adequate in this comedy, but the material falls short. The characters are well-defined, unique and believable, but they are not fully developed by the playwright.

The Depression era is authentically evoked, but the action is slow. My primary objection is that War of the Worlds should be central to the story, not presented in snippets of the broadcast that come shortly before intermission, and then only as near-mute Newsome listens alone.

The other characters are told about the Martian invasion off-stage, making their reactions seem less grounded or credible.

Slow pacing results in an hour going by before we hear any of the legendary broadcast and then not enough to establish its historical impact.

Set designers Edd Miller and Joe Thompson created an authentic Depression-era general store filled with pieces that bring 1938 to vivid life.

The Battle of Shallowford continues Thursdays to Sundays through Sept. 24. Reservations: 410-268-7373.

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