Director continues four-year plan and brings `Strategem' to the stage

Naval Academy troupe ending play cycle with 18th-century romantic comedy

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October 28, 2005|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In her fourth year leading the Naval Academy's Masqueraders theater troupe, Christy Stanlake again is offering extraordinary theatrical fare with Hannah Cowley's 18th-century romantic comedy, The Belle's Stratagem, opening tonight in the academy's Mahan Hall.

Stanlake, 33, has established a reputation for her exceptional theatrical choices of works not often done.

In her first year with the Masqueraders, Stanlake brought George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan to the overwhelmingly male academy because, she said, she wanted "to get students thinking of theater as reflective of their lives, with a military leader connected to her troops leading in battle but serving her people."

This year's production ends Stanlake's planned four-year cycle of a classic, an experimental work, a Shakespeare production, then a comedy. St. Joan was followed by John Guare's contemporary satire, Chaucer in Rome, in which pilgrims visit Rome in the year 2000. Guare's work gave the Masqueraders a chance to use advanced multimedia technology, with which the Naval Academy has expertise.

Last year, the troupe put on the artistically acclaimed Macbeth.

Macbeth marked Stanlake's second collaboration with set and costume designer Richard Montgomery, who has worked with such luminaries as Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, Tony Award-winning director Tyrone Guthrie, director Jackson Phippin and playwright Bill Gaskill.

Stanlake said she couldn't believe it when she received Montgomery's resume in the summer of 2003.

"I thought it was a practical joke because I couldn't figure out why anyone who had worked as Derek Walcott's personal designer and done film and video series design for both BBC and PBS would want to work with us," she said.

"When I contacted people in theater to ask about Richard Montgomery, every single one had wonderful things to say about working with him. This man, who is a true artist in every sense, offered to bring me samples of his work. His designs were beautiful; he makes everything out of nothing. Later, Richard taught the students painting techniques to create the massive cross that formed the Macbeth set, and constructed kits for costumes so that the student actors could create their own."

Montgomery, who began working with the Masqueraders during rehearsals for Chaucer in Rome, also has nice things to say about Stanlake.

"Christy is certainly one of the best directors I've ever worked with," he said.

The Belle's Stratagem is a comedy that centers on the impending marriage of two characters, with the groom trying to get the engagement annulled. Satirizing fashionable society, subplots include a wife's attempts to gain social acceptance and her jealous husband's fear that she'll be corrupted by fashion.

Stanlake said she was attracted to the play partly because she felt the characters' preoccupation with finding a mate and their obsession with fashion and flirting would prove accessible to her student actors, who are acquainted with the importance of image.

Describing the subject as "flirting within the swirling winds of avian society," Stanlake envisioned a single set that is a fusion of 18th-century architecture and a bird cage easily entered or exited. The costumes blend 18th-century style with birdlike features with feathers, headdresses and bright splashes of color.

Montgomery set about to create the avian world of Belle's Stratagem, finding his earlier work organizing rock concerts applicable to "creating images for the characters of this society."

"Christy gives one an idea, and one can run with it unharnessed," Montgomery said.

"The Belle's Stratagem" will be presented at 8 o' clock tonight, tomorrow, Nov. 4 and Nov. 5. The final performance will be Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. For tickets: 410-293-8497.

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