Performances ring true in `Falsettos' at Corner Theatre

Theater Column

May 24, 2007|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

There's a song in the second act of William Finn and James Lapine's musical Falsettos called "Year of the Child," and the title applies to more than the sole child in the show.

Director Bill Kamberger's strong production at Fell's Point Corner Theatre presents a topsy-turvy world in which adults often behave like children, and vice versa. In the end, it's not only Jason - a little boy caught in the middle of his parents' complicated relationship - who grows up, but also his troubled dad.

Falsettos is actually a knitting together of two one-act musicals about the same characters - Jason, adorably and maturely played by Benjamin Miller; his earnest mom, Trina, beautifully sung by Shelly Work; and his angry, complex dad, Marvin, powerfully portrayed by Larry Munsey in one of the best performances I've seen on a small stage in some time.

In the first act, March of the Falsettos, set in 1979, Marvin has fallen in love with a man named "Whizzer" (David Gregory) and left his wife and son. In the second, Falsettoland, set two years later, Jason is preparing for his bar mitzvah when Whizzer contracts a mysterious disease that would later be identified as AIDS. Along the way, Marvin and Whizzer break up and get back together, and Trina marries Marvin's psychiatrist (Stuart Goldstone).

Suggesting new definitions of "family values," and indeed, of family itself, the musical makes the point that caring about each other is the single most important value. This is movingly realized in the final duet, "What Would I Do," soaringly sung by Munsey's Marvin and Gregory's Whizzer.

Under the adept musical direction of Michael Tan, whose hands rarely leave the keyboard, the voices of all the principals blend stirringly. And, there's a good bit of humor threaded throughout, whether in the opening number, "Four Jews in a Room Bitching," which is augmented by sock puppets sporting beards and skullcaps, or the jaunty "Everyone Hates His Parents."

The sock puppets help establish the design concept of the show, in which many elements are toys; the floor is a giant chessboard, for example, and the psychiatrist's couch is a seesaw. Producing Falsettos is hardly child's play, however; this is sophisticated material, and at Fell's Point Corner it shines.

Falsettos runs through June 10 at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. Tickets are $20. Call 410-276-7837.

Plays on `Justice'

In 2005, it was desire. In 2006, it was fear.

This year, it's justice.

For the third year in a row, Run of the Mill Theater has produced a bill of short plays based on a shared theme selected by patrons.

In Variations on Justice, at the Theatre Project, 10 local playwrights address this theme with settings and characters ranging from the mundane to the metaphorical.

Rosemary Frisino Toohey's The Body Washer, which offers the best writing and performances, interweaves monologues by three women in Iraq: an American soldier (Tekee Wilkes), a journalist (Holly Gibbs) and a Muslim woman (Stacey A. Matthews) who explains in detail the ritual of washing bodies for burial.

Stacey Lane's Alien to Antiquity has a clever premise: Two "suits" (David D. Mitchell and Alan Kootsher) summon the blindfolded, scale-bearing goddess of justice (Belinda Panelo) to their office to evaluate her performance. "There is confusion about what my actual duties consist of," the goddess says in a rare example of cleverly handled didacticism.

An instructive tone overtakes many of these pieces. For instance, in Dwight R.B. Cook's C.P.R. Productions, a pair of office workers (Daren Ohiokpehai and Gibbs) with a hot line to the Almighty, decide whether to tackle or recycle various atrocities. And in John Conley's Armchair and Picket, a daughter (Panelo), eager to march for almost any cause, is lectured by her phlegmatic dad (Kootsher).

Starting with a theme is difficult, and often less dramatic, than starting with people and plot, and many of these miniplays do not overcome this difficulty. Admirably democratic as it may be to produce a wide swath of work, fewer selections might pack more punch.

Variations on Justice runs through Sunday at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Tickets are $16. Call 800-760-9008 or visit runofthemilltheater.org.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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