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The Year In Stage

Rooms Play, A Raisin in the Sun, The Homecoming, A View From the Bridge, The Other Shore, and more.

Photo: Theresa Keil, License: N/A

Theresa Keil

Melissa Webb in her piece “the Magic Flight,” part of Copycat Theatres’ Rooms Play


The year in theater was momentous for several of the city’s more established playhouses. Everyman Theatre embarked on its final season in Station North, as construction began on its new home, a larger, loftier space on the west side. And, after 19 years, Irene Lewis stepped down as Center Stage’s artistic director. Kwame Kwei-Armah, a British playwright, actor, and director who looks to be bursting with energy and ideas, was named as her replacement and is already full steam ahead. Single Carrot has outgrown its space and is looking to move to a larger one in the coming year. And synergy is in the air: Generous Company brought WordBRIDGE, a playwrights’ laboratory, to town last summer, and three of the plays that emerged will be performed at Theatre Project—which is celebrating its 40th season—in January. Center Stage recently announced it’ll be hosting the lab next summer. (Andrea Appleton)

 

1 Rooms Play (Copycat Theatre) Like doing hallucinogens without the side effects or having to stay up all night: This year’s installment of Copycat Theatre’s monstrously participatory, consciousness-rattling Rooms Play tackled immigration and alienation in its own oblique, imaginative ways. In the process, the company—plus some 60 volunteer artists and collaborators—turned the Whole Gallery and Current Space into a real live role-playing adventure game infinitely more fun and creative than anything involving foam swords and speaking Elvish. That going through it whiplashed you from laughter to thoughtfulness and back every few minutes made it one of the cultural experiences of the year. (Bret McCabe)

 

2 A Raisin in the Sun (Everyman Theatre) Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun has been staged so many times that it’s become more famous than the Langston Hughes poem from which the title was taken. A searing portrayal of the intergenerational struggles within a family, it deserves its fame, but it takes a powerful cast and a perceptive director to make the play a triumph. Everyman Theatre had both for this season’s production (Jennifer Nelson directed). Tiny, frail-seeming Lizan Mitchell as matriarch Lena Younger anchored the production, but every detail—from the perfect period set to the unbearable, palpable tension between husband and wife—resonated with the whole. A triumph indeed. (AA)

 

3 The Homecoming (Center Stage) The last show that Irene Lewis personally directed after almost 20 years as Center Stage’s artistic director reminded us that despite her flaws she can create a powerful theater experience when she doesn’t try to be too clever. For once she allowed the set and costumes to have an understated naturalism; for once she allowed the play’s themes to emerge naturally from the dialogue rather than hitting us over the head with a big concept; for once she kept Laurence O’Dwyer’s shtick under control. As a result, her gift for drawing nuanced emotion out of her actors had a fighting chance in Harold Pinter’s acerbic drama. (Geoffrey Himes)

 

4 A View From the Bridge (Performance Workshop Theatre) In a city full of DIY and experimental theater, it’s easy to forget how satisfying it can be to watch a simply staged classic. But Performance Workshop Theatre, a professional group recently relocated from Federal Hill to a cozy spot on Harford Road, remembers. This fall it took on Arthur Miller’s portrait-of-a-man drama A View From the Bridge to great success. Marc Horwitz (also the co-artistic director) plays Eddie, an Italian dockworker with an uncomfortable relationship with his niece Catherine (Stacy Downs) that’s ruining his marriage to Beatrice (a strong Katherine Lyons). The set, costume design, and direction (with co-artistic director Marlyn G. Robinson), matched with the uniformly impressive acting, kept realistic what could have been melodramatic, and served as a reminder that while Baltimore is better for all its new theater, classic works remain important. (Laura Dattaro)

 

5 The Other Shore (Single Carrot Theatre) This production debuted in the tail end of 2010, but the experience still clings ferociously to the brain. J. Buck Jabaily directed this production of Gao Xingjian’s indelible play, which is more language game and performative sketch than conventional drama. And in the improvisational, competently freewheeling hands of the SCT ensemble and guest players—including musicians and a powerfully pliant Dennis Elkins—The Other Shore became an immersion in ontological uncertainty, a circuitous gambit about the social construction of meaning, and a beautiful scream celebrating the fleeting nature of life. (BM)

 

6 Private Lives (Everyman Theatre) Noël Coward’s stylish comedy Private Lives, with its characteristic rapier wit, came hilariously to life at Everyman Theatre this fall. Bruce Nelson and Deborah Hazlett were great together—alternately world weary and absurdly, hopelessly romantic. It was a treat to follow the ins and outs of their star-crossed divorce, especially since it wended its way through such fabulous art deco sets, the kind we’d really not mind living in (especially if we also had silk dressing gowns for lounging). Oh, and the British accents? They could have been a disaster, but we were chuffed as nuts with every single one. (AA)

 

7 The Dog and Pony Show (Bring Your Own Pony) (GLCCB Pride in the Arts Space) Thank you, thank you, thank you, Iron Crow Theatre, for bringing performance superstar Holly Hughes to town last April. One of the pioneers of 1980s-inspired autobiographical storytelling in performance art, for The Dog and Pony Show (Bring Your Own Pony) Hughes comically recounts her adventures in the competitive dog-show circuit, of the Westminster Kennel Club variety. It was painfully funny but, as is often the case with her, the laughs built to emotional crests. Dog people, cat people, whatever: We like to think we’re pet owners when, really, they’re very often the creatures emotionally taking care of us. (BM)

 

8 American Buffalo (Center Stage) Drugs are just the most obvious way to mask male insecurity, and playwright David Mamet gives us vivid examples of two more strategies in American Buffalo, which came to Center Stage this fall. Bobby (Rusty Ross), the sweet kid with the heroin habit, was joined by Don (William Hill), the overly careful owner of a pawn shop, and Teach (Jordan Lage), a recklessly flamboyant street hustler. The too zonked, too tentative and too loud are universal types, but director Leisl Tommy and scenic designer Neil Patel grounded these archetypes in the details of the haphazard planning for a rare-coin robbery and a stunningly detailed pawn-shop setting. (GH)

 

9 Barrymore (Rep Stage) Nigel Reed has been one of Maryland’s better actors for many years now, but never has he shone quite as brightly as he did in William Luce’s Barrymore at Rep Stage this fall. With raffish, aristocratic looks and a wry, purring delivery, he’s an actor in the British tradition. In this almost one-person show (D. Grant Cloyd played a small but crucial supporting role), Reed portrayed the real-life Lionel Barrymore, the American actor at the hind end of a starring career on Broadway and in Hollywood, attempting a comeback in 1942. The trick in this show is to project not only the charisma and confidence that made Barrymore a star in the first place but also the delusions and self-indulgence that unraveled his career. Reed does both. In his sexist, profane, drunken rambles, he is seductive and repellent in equal measure. (GH)

10 Order (The Un Saddest Factory’s 10-Minute Play Festival) Order, written by Cricket Arrison, takes the audience through the inner lives of four different people—all played to perfection by Arrison herself. Though each have their own agenda, their lives intersect and we see how their obsessive compulsions tie them all together. One character plots to de-squeak the computer mice (you know, those old relics with the balls inside) at his local library, while another categorizes every person in her life based on the Dewey Decimal System. Arrison, in collaboration with director Justin Durel, presented a series of both fascinating and funny character sketches, all within the span of 10 minutes. It’s safe to say that the late Mr. Dewey would admire the work’s efficiency. Of course, the play itself would probably freak him out. (Erin Gleeson)

 

Guest List

J. Wynn Rousuck, theater critic on WYPR-FM’s Maryland Morning With Sheilah Kast and former theater critic at The Baltimore Sun

1 Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) (Single Carrot Theatre)

2 The Homecoming (Center Stage)

3 One Flea Spare (Strand Theater Company)

4 Love and Human Remains (Iron Crow Theatre Company)

5 Stick Fly (Everyman Theatre)

6 Linus and Alora (Single Carrot Theatre)

7 The Secret Garden (Cockpit in Court [The Community College of Baltimore County])

8 Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them (Maryland Ensemble Theatre,Frederick)

9 Mauritius (Fells Point Corner Theatre)

10 Private Lives (Everyman Theatre)

 

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