Talent abounds in one-act plays

Baltimore Playwrights Festival veterans collaborate to stage `The Past Is Present'

Theater Column

July 13, 2006|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

From Shakespeare to transit systems, from language usage to landscaping. The four one-act plays at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, jointly titled The Past Is Present, tackle diverse subjects at the same time that they showcase some of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival's more talented writing and acting.

All four are by festival veterans. The middle two -Memory Garden and Wilderness, both by Mark Scharf - are distinguished by strong naturalistic dialogue and character development. In the first, a young widow (portrayed by Janise Whelan with a convincing blend of sensitivity and anger) visits the roadside memorial to her husband, who died in a motorcycle accident. Soon a man (Richard Peck) approaches, claiming to be a reporter who has been watching her here each week. His true identity soon becomes obvious. Less obvious is the revelation that there can be two sides to even the most seemingly black-and-white event.

Wilderness also focuses on a widowed spouse - an elderly man who has let his yard go after his wife's death. Steve Lichtenstein is appropriately crusty as the widower, and Whelan returns as a prim, officious emissary from the neighborhood. Here again, Scharf gives credible voice to a minority viewpoint.

Rich Espey's Miss Alice Plays are three sketches, connected by references to an unseen kindergarten teacher. Two of the sketches make clever use of language. In Old Maids Never Worry, a young couple (edgy Jennifer A. Mikulski and laid-back Josh Watters) riding the train in Philadelphia discuss the title phrase, a mnemonic acronym for the stops on their Main Line train route. As the scene progresses, everything they say begins with the letters of the acronym. But they turn out to have more control over their wordplay than their relationship.

In Espey's Time Out, a woman (Mikulski) lives life at such a fast pace, she ends up a day ahead. This time warp lands her at a kindergarten reunion organized by a classmate (Watters) who is unable to pronounce words of more than five letters or one syllable. Unlike her, he's a stop-and-smell-the-roses type and would like nothing more than a return to his halcyon kindergarten days. The third sketch, Freedom of Information, focuses on a chatty telemarketer (Deborah Bennett) who has way too much information about the stranger she has called. It's the least original of Espey's triple-header, but with privacy increasingly under threat, it's also the most topical.

Credited to three writers - Kimberley Lynne, Joe Dennison and the late Carol Weinberg - the remaining one-act on the bill, Willie Baby, exemplifies the festival's collaborative spirit. The action stems from the amusing premise that Shakespeare's agent - specifically, an agent representing his heirs - shows up at a community theater demanding royalties.

The script includes various Shakespearean quotations, colorful curse words and an impassioned discussion about the true authorship of the plays. Willie Baby could have been an engaging look at the authorship question and artists' rights. But the production is hampered by uneven pacing and a shaky performance by Mike Moran in the crucial role of the agent. If the agent doesn't pose a genuine threat, this modern-day Shakespearean duel becomes all parry and no thrust.

The Past Is Present continues through July 23 at Fell's Point Corner, 251 S. Ann St. Tickets are $14. Call 410-276-7837.

A look at the bard

In conjunction with the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Evergreen House (in whose meadow the show is being performed) is offering a look at its Shakespeare collection. Three groups of 20 will be given a curator-led viewing of all four 17th-century folio collections of Shakespeare's plays as well as 17th-century quarto editions of individual plays.

The viewings will take place at Evergreen, 4545 N. Charles St., at 3:15 p.m., 3:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. July 23. Admission is free with a ticket or ticket stub to A Midsummer Night's Dream. For more information or to make reservation, call 410-366-8596.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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