More bathroom than humor

THEATER

September 15, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Willy Russell's Stags and Hens is set in a bathroom, and despite some talented performances by the young actors from Britain's SongTime Theatre, the production at the Theatre Project never ascends above the level of the loo.

To be precise, the play takes place in two lavatories - the men's and ladies' rooms of the Liverpool club that, unintentionally, turns out to be the site of the bachelor and bachelorette parties of a couple on the eve of their marriage. Because it's supposed to be bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other the night before the wedding - as we're repeatedly told - much of the spindly plot concerns trying to keep the two apart.

Russell, who is best known as the author of Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine and the musical Blood Brothers, calls Stags and Hens a comedy. But based on director John Payton's production, it's more of a sad commentary on dead-end, blue-collar, superstition-laden, small-town life - a commentary strewn with profanity, sexual references and a smattering of violence.

The playwright, a Liverpudlian himself, knows this territory well (the small-town, blue-collar part, that is; I can't speak for the bathroom aspect). And SongTime's actors revel in their loud, coarse characters, portrayed by, among others, Hayley Hills as the gals' ringleader; Lee Thomas as her brutish, bullying male counterpart; Michael Harrison as a sweet but dim hanger-on; and Jamie Leaves as a self-professed ladies' man.

The only character who undergoes any perceptible change is the bride, Linda, and Katie King's sly depiction of her is the most interesting on stage. A brief reunion scene with a former beau-turned-rock singer (Sam Underwood) is one of the evening's rare genuinely dramatic moments - it's also the quietest, which says a lot about all the bluff and bluster that surrounds it.

I can't say much about the portrayal of the groom. That's because Brent Ford, who plays this wordless part, spends most of the evening with his head in the toilet (that's the type of play this is). I can say that if these nasty, self-obsessed characters are truly each others' closest friends - as they repeatedly claim to be - then they embody the adage: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

According to his Web site, Russell wrote Stags and Hens in 1978 as an in-house television play for students at Manchester Polytechnic, where he was teaching creative writing. This may be why it seemed appropriate for SongTime Theatre, which is the performing company of a British theater school. Most of the cast members at the Theatre Project are under the age of 22, and they almost all show promise. But while they are the proper ages for their roles, their material is far more seamy than seemly.

I don't think it will give too much away to reveal that one of the celebrants manages to escape at the end of the play. Personally, this critic was tempted to escape long before that.

Show times at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., are 8 p.m. tonight-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $16. For more information, call 410-752-8558.

`Yankees' devil

Former Marylander Brad Oscar, a Tony Award nominee for his portrayal of Franz Liebkind in The Producers, will star as the devil in Damn Yankees at Washington's Arena Stage, Dec. 9-Feb. 5. Oscar, who won the role of Liebkind after the actor who was originally cast injured his knee, subsequently played the lead role of Max Bialystock.

Based on The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, Douglass Wallop's novel, Damn Yankees is a modern-day Faust story. Arena's production will be directed by Molly Smith with choreography by Baayork Lee. Matt Bogart, who starred as Lancelot in Smith's 2003 production of Camelot and as Val in her 2004 staging of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending, will play Joe Hardy, the fan who sells his soul to play ball for the Yankees.

Cabaret series

Beginning Sunday, the Baltimore Theatre Alliance will launch a cabaret series showcasing local performers. The program will feature comedy and improvisation as well as scenes and songs from coming area productions.

The cabaret performances, called "Sundays Near the Park with George!", will take place at 6 p.m. in the Rooftop Conservatory of the Peabody Court Hotel, 612 Cathedral St. Cover charge is $6. Doors open at 5 p.m.

This Sunday's roster of performers will include Harriette Bush Clark, Liz Boyer Hunnicutt and Dyana Neal, among others. Future cabarets are scheduled for Oct. 23, Dec. 11, Jan. 15, Feb. 26, April 9 and May 21. For more information call, 410-662-9945 or visit www.balti moreperforms.org.

At Strathmore

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