Poetry and murder collide in CP's 'Earth and Sky'

November 06, 2010|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Despite the title "Earth and Sky," audiences will not see a nature study during Colonial Players' current production of Douglas Post's 1989 drama. Instead, they can expect to find a fast-paced murder mystery that transforms CP's in-the-round theater space into a poetic film-noir setting.

Post has created a poet heroine devoted to the works of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, whose poem, "This Side of Truth," provides the play's title.

His poetry consoles the heroine when she is in doubt: "They are only dead who did not love."

Poetry is found throughout the production, brought to life by veteran director Barry Bach and his cast and crew. Together they create believable characters in continuous, fast-paced action, in a setting reminiscent of a classic 1950s black-and-white film.

Set design and lighting was handled by CP President Terry Averill, who created the atmosphere using black and neutral colors. The action moves swiftly and seamlessly through time and space, in multiple locations and styles, from utilitarian to subtly poetic, each scene individually and sensitively lighted.

Set in the 1950s, the story centers on poet and part-time librarian Sara McKeon, whose lover of two months, David Ames, has been murdered. With police investigators seemingly incapable of finding Ames' killer, Sara is determined to find the murderer herself.

In addition to finding the culprit, Sara wants to find the truth about her brief relationship. When Weber, the detective working the case, reveals David's criminal past to her, Sara cannot reconcile the information with her feelings. She decides to redouble her efforts to discover David's killer.

And through flashbacks, the audience learns about Sara's and David's developing relationship, eventually appreciating its depth.

In a series of fast and sometimes-baffling twists and turns, the audience is introduced to hard-boiled cops, menacing criminals and a bartender who dislikes tourists yet surprisingly spouts Thomas' poetry to Sara. Other players include Sara's pragmatic librarian colleague Joyce Lazlo, along with femme fatale Marie, who knew David and could offer valuable clues.

Each character seems to possess opposing traits, such as initially shy Sara's later tough aggressiveness, David's darkness brightening in his relationship with Sara, Weber's initial disinterest in the murder case turning into near-revenge, and vulnerable Marie also being a scheming survivor.

Erin Leigh Casy returns to Colonial Players as Sara, conveying reflective sensitivity and intense determination to discover her lover's killer despite the inherent dangers.

Pat Reynolds creates another multi-dimensional, fully nuanced portrayal, here as the enigmatic David, suggesting his character's darker side, his alienation from his career and his initial enchantment with Sara. Later he develops protective tenderness and affection for her, along with an expanded hopefulness for their future together.

Bill Deck is convincing as Weber, who starts as a disinterested detective but eventually becomes concerned for Sara's welfare. And Joe Del Balzo brings warmth to Weber's more likeable partner, Al Kersnowski.

Holly Hendrickson makes a strong CP debut as sensible, realistic librarian Lazlo, who wisely counsels Sara and tries to dissuade her from exploring unsavory neighborhoods as she searches for David's murdered.

Another strong CP debut comes from Jillian Marcum as Marie, who gradually reveals her conflicted and complex past relationship with David.

Dann Alagna offers one more memorable CP debut as bartender Billy Hart, who skillfully mixes the poetry of Dylan Thomas with his bar concoctions.

Completing the cast are Timothy Sayles as criminal Julius Gatz and multi-tasking Averill as fearsome killer Carl Eisenstadt.

If you go

"Earth and Sky" continues Thursdays-Sundays through Nov. 20. Tickets: 410-268-7373 or thecolonialplayers.org.

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