Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Olney’s 'The 39 Steps' is a Fun-filled Escape

No one is safe as Olney Theatre Center presents THE 39 STEPS. Photo Credit: Stan Barouh.

If you were told that a play about violent murders, espionage, romance, hairbreadth escapes, and stealing national security secrets would be a laugh-a-minute, you would definitely raise your eyebrows in wonderment. But in the Olney Theatre Center’s presentation of The 39 Steps on the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab stage, that is exactly what happens.
Here the spoof of the classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock adventure thriller with the same title is theatre at its best. Director Clay Hopper, who is also Olney’s associate artistic director, took the adaptation of the film by Patrick Barlow and had as much fun with it as the audience did. To augment the farce, several references to other famous Hitchcock movies made cameo appearances throughout the plot, notably Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and Rear Window.
A kiss can mean many things in Hitchcock's suspenseful farce, THE 39 STEPS starring Jeffries Thaiss & Susan Lynskey. Photo Credit: Stan Barouh.

Following successful runs in London and Madrid, The 39 Steps did well on Broadway with 771 performances under its belt until it closed in January 2010. In that time the play garnered two Tony Awards in 2008—one for lighting design and the other for sound design—and was nominated for four others. It also received the Drama Desk Award in 2008 for Unique Theatrical Experience. The play ran off-Broadway for another year until January 2011.

What distinguishes this production from other plays—comedies or dramas—is the fact that only four actors play some 150 roles. At Olney they do it flawlessly and with precision. Jeffries Thaiss (Witness for the Prosecution, Dinner with Friends at Olney) plays the central character Richard Hannay. He is onstage virtually the entire length of the play, and is simply superb.

Evan Casey, Jason Lott and Susan Lynskey are remarkable in their ability to take on multiple roles with varying English or Scottish dialects. They burnish their talents not only in assuming a wide range of characters that demands lightning fast costume changes, but they also work their tails off doubling as stagehands to execute the myriad scene changes by moving props and scenery around in all different ways.

Sometimes the actors play several characters all in the same scene, rapidly exchanging coats and hats with one another at an eye-popping, vaudevillian pace. They accomplished these frenetic feats without missing a beat. Major credit goes to director Hopper for guiding this mayhem to deliver a cohesive outcome. Even with the chaotic staging, the plot was easy enough to follow, whether one saw the Hitchcock movie or not.
Jason Lott & Evan Casey portray over 100 characters while chasing in their pursuit of Richard Hannay (Jeffries Thaiss) in Olney Theatre Center's THE 39 STEPS. Photo Credit: Stan Barouh.
This farce mirrors the plot of the film. Richard Hannay, a solid but ordinary Londoner, went to the theater one evening to witness the extraordinary, superhuman abilities of “Mr. Memory” who can absorb even the most arcane facts and spew them out robotically to the audience. A gunshot is fired in the theater, and Hannay then encounters a woman, Annabella Schmidt, who claims that she is a spy. She is being pursued by assassins who found out she uncovered a scheme to steal British military secrets. This caper is led by a man with the top joint missing from one of his fingers, who heads an espionage organization called the “39 Steps.”

Annabella convinces Hannay to take her back to his flat to spend the night. The next morning he finds her with a bread knife in her back, dead. Hannay, realizing he will be blamed for the murder, participates in a string of action-packed escapes from police and foreign agents that includes the famous train escape and an airplane chase while at the same time, pursuing the head of the “39 Steps.”

Hannay gets involved with another woman named Pamela who had turned him in to police, not once but twice, until she realizes at the end he had been telling the truth from the start. Without delving further into the plot, what ensues on stage are masterful performances by the actors and superb technical work under the direction of Eric Knauss and his crew.

Though the set is spartan, it is made to resemble a big production primarily as a result of the plethora of different characters appearing throughout and the clever use of lighting, sound, costuming and props. The actors make use of the entire stage, and there are scenes where the actors venture off the stage and engage the audience. Credit veteran Production Stage Manager Renee E. Yancee, along with Hopper, for pulling the pieces together so effectively.

Lighting Designer Nicholas Houfek employs perfect lighting sequences to denote “dramatic” moments. Projections Designer JJ Kaczynski presents outstanding background silhouettes.

Sound Designer Alex Neumann adds fabulous sound effects manifested by the sounds of water, broken glass, gun shots and other accessories to the plot. He also pipes in lively background music to augment each scene.

Costume designer Pei Lee must have had fun putting together the 1930’s London and Scotland wardrobe for all those characters. She did an outstanding job in creating apparel that can easily be stripped off and replaced rapidly for the numerous costume changes.

And then there are the props, with credit going to Scenic Designer Cristina Todesco for creativity and economy. Not many props onstage to be sure, but oh, so creative! Two battered trunks are used not only as storage for other props but also double as the roof of the train, car seats, airplane, hotel desk, tables and beds—just to name a few applications. These trunks are as integral to the presentation as any of the other play’s elements.

As mentioned previously, Jeffries Thaiss is tremendous as Hannay. His abundant background on the Olney stage and other regional theatre productions as well as daytime television (As the World Turns, One Life to Live) serve him well with a polished performance.
Jason Lott and Evan Casey also have considerable experience performing at Olney and other regional theatre venues. Officially, their character names were Clown One and Clown Two, respectively, but they played dozens of roles in The 39 Steps. They were extraordinary as well as over-the-top (in a good way) with their dialects, voice inflections, movements, comical timing, and quick costume and scene changes.

Susan Lynskey has “only” three parts to play but they are critical to the story. She played them convincingly and competently. Lynskey, too, has substantial experience in theatre (Helen Hayes nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in The Laramie Project) and television including The Wire. Her only flaw was that in a few dialogues, she did not project her voice to the extent the other actors did. Nonetheless, she was perfectly suited for this production.

While the story is entertaining in its own right, the manner in which this farce is presented IS the story. With its stellar acting and imaginative, polished theatrical elements, The 39 Steps at Olney is amusing and a triumph through and through.
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Olney Theatre’s production of The 39 Steps plays through May 27, 2012 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD. For tickets call 301-924-3400 or order online.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'Dolly' Matches Up Well at the Spotlighters

Mounting a big splashy musical such as Hello, Dolly!  on the cozy 13 by 16-foot in-the-round stage of the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre was sure to be an ambitious, if not impossible, challenge to say the least.  But anyone who knows the type of magic Director Fuzz Roark can bring to theatre should not have any doubts. 
“There is nothing like tackling an iconic show like Hello, Dolly!  to make even the bravest and most experienced of directors a bit wary,” Roark wrote in the program notes. “Well, let’s just say that I love a challenge!”  He as well as his talented cast and crew met that challenge and more.

As such, the Spotlighters 50th anniversary season, which brought to Baltimore theatre lovers Tea & Sympathy, The Fantastiks, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Agnes of God thus far continued its celebration with a joyous, effervescent production of Hello, Dolly! 
A mega-hit on Broadway, Hello, Dolly! starring the incomparable Carol Channing, boasted a run of 2,844 consecutive performances that began in 1964, making it at the time the longest running musical. The 10-time Tony Award winner called the St. James Theatre its home for seven years. 

Jerry Herman (Mame, La Cage aux Folles) penned the tuneful music and lyrics, and Michael Stewart wrote the book for the show that had its origins in Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, which he later re-titled to The Matchmaker in 1955.  And the plot itself stemmed from an 1835 English play, A Day Well Spent. 
Set in New York during the Gay Nineties, the story centers around Dolly Gallagher Levi (Maribeth Eckinrode), the well-known matchmaker, who seeks a husband in the half-millionaire Horace VanderGelder (Bob Ahrens). While that quest is in progress, she matches a rich widow, Irene Molloy (Eileen del Valle), the owner of a hat shop with VanderGelder's stock clerk, Cornelius Hackl (Bart Debicki). Dolly also sets up Molloy's assistant, Minnie Fay (Holly Gibbs), with Cornelius's assistant, Barnaby Tucker (Jeff Baker).  Then she matches the poor artist, Ambrose Kemper (Justin Johnson), with VanderGelder's niece, Ermengarde (Rachel Vehaaren).

Considerable zaniness and chaos ensues amidst the solid acting, dancing and vocal performances by the cast, and in the end, all the characters carve out new paths for their lives and, spoiler alert—Dolly gets her man.   
Spectacular, colorful period costumes were created by Laura Nicholson.  Her attention to detail was astounding, and in every scene it was as though a palette of bright hues donned by the cast members was splashed across the stage.

Roark’s skill for spatial economy helped utilize every nook and cranny on and around the stage to accommodate a 16-member cast needed to pull off this magical fast-paced show.  Set Designer Alan Zemela as well as Roark managed to make the production look big even in a small venue.  The clever trap door to simulate a cellar at VanderGelder’s Hay & Feed, Irene Molloy’s hat shop and the scene in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant were excellent examples of this creativity.  Choreographer Kristen Cooley also made good use of the limited space with her creative formations for the dance numbers.
And what would Hello, Dolly! be without the music?  “It Takes a Woman,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Dancing,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes a Moment,” and, of course, the classic title song, “Hello Dolly” were stirring, sentimental and tuneful.  All the numbers amplified the plot splendidly and were performed well.

When there is a live orchestra, the maestro follows the vocalists as they perform their numbers.  When the music is not live, as in this case, the vocalists must keep pace with the music.  It’s a challenge for the cast but overall they succeeded.
But several solo performances were drowned out by the volume of the off-stage music.  Both Maribeth Eckenrode (“I Put my Hand In”) and Bob Ahrens (“It Takes a Woman”) were victims of the volume mismatch.  The best musical performances occurred when the ensemble kicked in.  With the multiple voices, they deftly overcame that hurdle.

Nonetheless, Eckenrode, a veteran of the Spotlighters (The Great American Trailer Park Musical) and Toby’s Dinner Theatre (Mid-life! The Crisis Musical) delivered a fine performance as the mischievous, scheming Dolly and sang admirably considering the volume issue.  She hit some big notes in her numbers and was fun from the start.
Bob Ahrens (Man of LaMancha, Tea & Sympathy) played the cranky VanderGelder role well but his vocals were not particularly strong.

Eileen del Valle (The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Sweeney Todd) as Irene Molloy is a powerful vocalist.  Her rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back” was exceptional, with her voice rising over the volume of the background music.

Justin Johnson (Tea & Sympathy) as Ambrose and Holly Gibbs as Minnie exude enough energy to light up a small town.  They each have commanding stage presence and timing.  

My apologies for the pun, but “hats off” to Gibbs for seamlessly ad-libbing when a snafu on the set occurred.  A large hat in the millenary shop accidentally fell from the pillar it was mounted on.  In character, Gibbs didn’t miss a beat. “I’m so sorry Miss Molloy,” she repeated as she attempted to fix the prop.

Much of the comedy was manifested by the duo of Cornelius and Barnaby, played to the hilt by Bart Debicki (The Fantasticks) and Jeff Baker (The Rocky Horror Show), respectively.  They fed off each other precisely, and with their over-the-top style and their brightly colored suits, these guys provided laughter throughout.
Steve Avelleyra (West Side Story) as Rudolph, the Head Waiter, also added to the comedy and showed off some skilled tap dancing as well.
Small stage notwithstanding, this fun-filled, well-performed, beautifully costumed, tuneful production of Hello, Dolly!  is a good match for the Spotlighters and is highly recommended.  Dolly would agree.

Hello, Dolly!  runs through May 20 at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.

Photos: Ken Stanek—Ken Stanek Photography

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It Gets Better for Gay Athletes Too

When we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day in baseball each April —the anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodger’s breaking the color barrier—I always wonder if a gay ballplayer would summon up the courage of the late Hall of Famer who dealt with overt racism in baseball and in the U.S. and come out.  We are still waiting for a gay athlete as strong as Robinson who would be willing to endure a potential barrage of taunts from teammates, opponents and fans.

No professional male athlete has ever come out of the closet while actively playing.  It has happened at the collegiate level, but not professionally.  Most likely the reason is centered on the fear of reaction from the teammates.  How will he be perceived in the locker room?
In one sport, hockey, the environment may be improving.

When Brendan Burke, 21, a former hockey goalie and student manager of the Miami (Ohio) University ice hockey team and son of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke came out as gay in November 2009, there was also a flood of international support by news outlets and fans.  Brendan advocated tolerance and spoke out against homophobia in professional sports.
His father, who was also the GM for the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team in Vancouver, issued a statement: “I had a million good reasons to love and admire Brendan. This news didn’t alter any of them… There are gay men in professional hockey. We would be fools to think otherwise. And it’s sad that they feel the need to conceal this. I understand why they do so, however… Since he wishes to blaze this trail, I stand beside him with an axe! I simply could not be more proud of Brendan than I am, and I love him as much as I admire him.”  Tragically, young Brendan Burke was killed in a car accident two months later. 

Patrick and Brian Burke
Recently, Brendan’s brother Patrick, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers; Brian Kitts, a former marketing official for the Colorado Avalanche; and Glen Witman, founder and president of Gforcesports.org formed a project called YouCan Play. 
Using testimonials through videos from a growing cadre of current players in the National Hockey League, You Can Play’s primary goal is to change the mindset so many believe controls pro locker rooms today and make the environment safer for a gay pro athlete to be out—not just in hockey but all sports pro and amateur.
In an exclusive interview I had with one of the co-founders of You Can Play, Brian Kitts, we learn that for gay pro athletes, it may be getting better.

Steve Charing:  We know that Brendan Burke's coming out and later his tragic death inspired You Can Play. Were there any plans afoot prior to these events that may have led to a similar project? 

Brian Kitts: We share a platform with a number of projects goals of erasing intolerance and promoting equality, including programs founded by other athletes.  You Can Play is different in that the partnership is between gay and straight allies, and that the focus is solely on changing the culture of sport.  We don’t ask our supporters or video messengers to take a stand on marriage or workplace equality, for instance.  We’re specifically trying to change the culture of locker rooms and arenas.

SC: The roster of supporters from NHL players seems to be growing steadily.  How are the team members contacted? 

BK: Brian and Patrick Burke have done the heavy lifting of contacting general managers and individual players to participate.  We’ve been honored to have a number of players volunteer after having heard about You Can Play.  There’s something truly inspirational about some of the guys who just showed up unannounced Ottawa to shoot a video segment.  And, players who take time out to make videos while they’re on the road – Brooks Orpik and Cal Clutterbuck on visits to Denver, for example, have gone the extra mile.  And, standouts like Tommy Wingels and Andy Miele made part of the effort possible by being the first to volunteer and the first to write checks.

SC:  To what extent has there been resistance? That is, was any overt homophobia encountered in attempting to enlist supporters? Are those players who are participating experiencing any "harassment" or are they generally receiving support? 

BK: We’ve heard nothing but positive response from fans and other players and executives for those who have participated.  Frankly, if there has been resistance, it’s been limited and silent.  You learn as much from those who ignore your requests than those who say yes or tell you no from the start.  We can count those men on one hand.

SC:  Obviously, I'm not asking to name names, but do you believe there is at least one active NHL player who is gay?

BK: Of course, there have been and are gay and lesbian players at all levels of hockey.  The percentages point to a number of gay teammates in the NHL and any sport – let’s be clear that You Can Play started with hockey, but the issues and opportunities for acceptance apply to any sport at any level.    

SC:  A campaign such as this one would surely help ease the burden of a gay player to come out. What do you see as the likelihood such a revelation would take place in the next couple of years? 

BK: Gay players will be visible soon.  Film, music, the military and corporate life are now places where men and women can be openly gay.  Sports, incredibly, remains [a place] where discrimination is tolerated and assumed.  We’ve found that many, many players aren’t homophobic, but have never been asked to say otherwise.

SC: In your view, is hockey better suited for this development than other sports and if so, why? 

BK: Hockey, like many sports, is a big family.  All sports stress the same things:  teamwork, hard work, talent and skill – all things that You Can Play wants recognized ahead of sexual orientation or other factors.  There’s an irony in hockey being the sometimes rough sport it is being asked to take the lead with You Can Play and we’re all grateful.  Patrick, Glenn and I all have some background in hockey and it made perfect sense to us to start there.  But, you’re going to see the same terrific response in lacrosse, soccer, rowing, baseball, football and any sport where effort and winning are valued.

SC:  We have seen a few pro athletes come out as gay after their active careers ended. If a gay hockey player comes out while actively playing, what impact do you believe this would have on other professional sports?

BK: The first several players to come out, in any sport, will have tremendous impact and serve as role models for gay and straight athletes alike.  The history of sport is highlighted by “firsts” among races, religions and other factors that we think make us different.  They set standards for success that gay and lesbian athletes will follow.  At some point, a player’s sexual orientation will be a footnote in the history of an athlete’s or team’s success.

And in their own words, some of the NHL participants' comments.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Iron Crow Delivers 'Dream' Production

The Baltimore-based Iron Crow Theatre Company that brought us such works as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Swimming in the Shallows, and Love and Human Remains proved convincingly that you don’t need an elaborate set to mount a top-notch play. In fact, in The Soldier Dreams, the only piece of scenery offered is a single bed on the Theatre Project’s stage. But while the set may be sparse, the stage is filled by the talents of the superb cast and an engaging story.

Iron Crow’s Artistic Director Steven J. Satta-Fleming deftly directed Canadian Daniel MacIvor’s play and captured the audience’s attention with a riveting one-hour production that alternated between the sadness of a dying young gay man and the sometimes humorous interactions of his family members as they come to terms with their loss and their conflicts within their own world.

The dying man in a coma is the beloved David (Alec Weinberg) who, by dint of his charismatic lively personality as well as his penchant for dancing, all family members believe as individuals that they were most important and closest to him. Through some deceit on David’s part, he allows them to feel that way. The “soldier” reference in the play’s title pertains to David’s ongoing war against homophobia and his struggles with his family.

An uptight sister Tish (Marsha Becker) and her nerdy husband Sam (Steve Sawicki) along with the younger free-spirit sister Judy (Karen Crighton) invade the home of David’s devoted lover Richard (Joseph Ritsch) to not only dote over David but also to reflect upon the relationships they have with one another and with David himself. Throughout the play, David lies on the bed unseen by the audience, comatose. But while dreaming of his secret life, David still manages to utter individual words depicting events that were important to him but a mystery to the family members hovering over him.

These words come to life as the “dream” David (Paul Wissman) appears in out-of body form to portray the evolution of an encounter he had with an attractive German medical student (Rich Buchanan) while he was in Ottawa the night before Trish and Sam’s wedding. The significance of this tryst is not clear, but it demonstrates the dreams David is having while in the coma are more focused on this episode—a one-night stand—than his more complex relationships with family members or his current partner. His interaction with the student displays a good connection though the dialogue is largely presented by the actors’ looking straight ahead to the audience and not each other.

As each family member looks inward to assess his or her own special bond with David, they perform separate monologues, often funny, that are delivered directly to the audience. And although different in the way they each open their hearts, they all have a common thread. This enlightens the audience as to the depth of each character, and they all do it well.

The actors are as believable as they are proficient. There were no over-the-top interpretations of the play, and Satta-Fleming should be credited for maintaining the evenness necessary to capture MacIvor’s blend of melancholy and sunshine.

Iron Crow veterans Joseph Ritsch, Paul Wissman and Marsha Becker were standouts. They were ably supported by Rich Buchanan, Steve Sawicki, Karin Crighton and Sarah Lynn Taylor as the Nurse who was attending to David. And yes, Alec Weinberg, playing the role of the reality David, was quite effective in being the family members’ centerpiece in the play.

A special nod goes to Ritsch because the audience could easily identify with what he was going through. His impatience and utter frustration followed by reconciliation with David’s family members were on target; he played the role perfectly.

The lighting, designed by Conor Mulligan and Daniel Ettinger, smoothly set up the scene changes with the needed darkening of the stage when the actors stepped forward away from the bed.

The cause of David’s illness was not explicitly disclosed. Yet the audience is led to assume that he was dying from AIDS. “I reject the categorization of The Soldier Dreams as an ‘AIDS play,” said Director Satta-Fleming. “It is no more a play about AIDS than The Wizard of Oz is the story of a cyclone. AIDS is merely the dramatic device that confronts these characters with loss.”

The Soldier Dreams is a flawless, well-acted and expertly directed production. It’s highly recommended. The play runs through April 21. Tickets can be purchased here.

Next up for Iron Crow is Adam Bock’s Typographer’s Dream from May 31 to June 16 at Johns Hopkins University’s Swirnow Theater.

Photos by Katie Ellen Simmons-Barth

Monday, April 02, 2012

Game Changer-in-Chief

Would Obama’s support for marriage equality affect the referendum battle?

A recent story in the Washington Blade suggests that President Barack Obama may be publicly proclaiming his support for same-sex marriage before the election. Citing an “informed source” who spoke to the Blade on the condition of anonymity, “active conversations” are taking place between the White House and the campaign about whether Obama should complete his evolution on marriage and that the chances of his making an announcement are about 50-50.
The Administration, the source noted, would like to roll out another LGBT initiative before the November election, and support for marriage equality would certainly qualify. But there are political concerns that need to be addressed, especially how such an announcement would be received in battleground states. “We’re talking about the Michigans, the Ohios, the Illinois of the world; the real battleground states in which voters are already conflicted and may factor this into their judgment,” the source said.
In what is shaping up to be a tight presidential election, to say these calculations are significant would be a gross understatement. There are myriad factors that can affect the outcome of the election over the next seven months. The economy for sure will be front and center. And tied to that are rising gas prices and how the president is viewed as a result. Then you have international economic concerns as well as geopolitical tensions that could alter the domestic political landscape. And thanks to the GOP candidates, social issues, particularly those that impact women’s rights, have found a renewed place in our politics.
The president’s decision to express his support for marriage equality will depend on his standing in the race at the time as well as his considering the risks with blue-collar Democrats and Independents in swing states against the rewards of mobilizing a portion of his base.
To be sure, Obama’s initiatives in support for LGBT rights have exceeded any other administration in history. The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and his opposition to defending DOMA in Federal court are landmarks of his first term. Nobody will be shocked—not even in the battleground states—that Obama takes a positive stance on marriage equality given his pro-LGBT record. He would only be following a trend in the country that indicates increasing acceptance of marriage for same-sex couples.
So, if the president makes that leap and announces his support for marriage equality, how will this revelation play out in Maryland?
An independent poll conducted by OpinionWorks of 601 registered Maryland voters from March 16-19 was telling. (For complete results visit here.)
It shows a slight tilt towards opposition to marriage equality (3 percent) but within the margin of error. Therefore, it’s a dead heat statistically—split evenly among voters—although the intensity levels favor marriage equality opponents. For example, 37 percent of those polled “strongly” want to repeal the Civil Marriage Protection Act that had been signed by Governor Martin O’Malley on March 1. On the other hand, 31 percent “strongly” support the law.
Beneath those results there are numbers that cannot be ignored. In Baltimore City, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, voters oppose marriage equality 49 to 35 percent. And among African-Americans statewide, those who oppose the law outweigh supporters by a margin of 48 to 29 percent.
To be sure, the polling data contain other breakouts, such as frequency of attending worship services, jurisdiction, age, gender, and party affiliation. For instance, weekly churchgoers oppose the law by 58 to 28 percent. Voters on the Eastern Shore are heavily against the law by 72 to 14 percent. And those over age 65 oppose marriage equality by 54 to 32 percent. But women favor the law over men by a solid 47-33 margin. And Democrats and Independents out-support Republicans 46 to 26 percent.
But with African-Americans comprising nearly 30 percent of Maryland’s population, many believe that group should be the focus of a strategy to defeat the referendum. If a fair number of churchgoing African-Americans can be convinced to support the law, it could result in a victory for pro-marriage equality advocates.
Steve Raabe, President of OpinionWorks, told me that because the polling data reveal a close contest, any major action to change the current dynamic could result in the defeat of the referendum effort. He said if President Obama were to publicly embrace marriage equality, it could influence those African-Americans who are “soft” on the issue.
“It is likely that people with the strongest feelings on this issue have already declared
themselves, so that the referendum battle will be waged over the small number in the middle who may be coming out to vote in the presidential race, but for whom this issue is not do or die,” Raabe said in releasing the poll.
Raabe also suggested that if religious leaders of all races but particularly African-Americans would overtly defend marriage equality, it could convince enough voters. Governor O’Malley could also be beneficial if he vigorously campaigns for marriage equality as he did in the legislature. And if some “mainstream individuals with broad appeal and stature” would publicly declare their support it could help swing the vote favorably.
But the real game changer could be President Obama. His re-election attempt will drive a large number of African-Americans to the polls. For those who aren’t motivated by deep-seated religious convictions, his “evolution” having been complete could convince those uncertain voters in sufficient numbers to allow marriage equality to stand in the Free State.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

New Take on 'Little Red Riding Hood' at Olney

It’s always a roll of the dice when you bring children under age 10 to the theater. You never know if the action on the stage will keep them interested or will they be fidgety. A dandy little production of Red Riding Hood: A New Fable, being served up by Olney Theatre Center Institute, the education division of the Olney Theatre Center, kept those kids well entertained.

In bringing children’s programming back to the Olney campus, Education Associate Michael E. Kelly wrote a neat one-hour adaptation of the popular Grimm Brothers tale that featured versatile performances by three young actors. The entire show, which is geared to children from ages 3 and up, was produced by the intern class of Olney Theatre Center, and it appears these up-and-comers have a bright future in theatre.

Frequent interaction with the audience kept the children focused on the story that centered on a bookish six year-old named Millie. Even before her first day in the first grade, Millie had read more books than most adults. And this unique interest for such a young person made it harder for her to fit in with her peers and for making new friends. She resorts to reading books as an escape.

As a school assignment, Millie must write a presentation on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, and through imagination, she becomes a part of the story. She ventures from her familiar terrain of nonfiction to a world of fantasy. “Millie/Red weaves in and out of fantasy and reality, linked by the pages of the stories we grew up with,” says Casting Associate Ashleigh Millett, who directed the show.

The cast came from a pool of local talent. Baltimore native and Messiah College graduate, Dorea Schmidt, plays Millie, while recent University of Maryland graduate Chelsie Lloyd of Laurel plays Millie’s friend Amy, Millie’s Mother, and Red’s Grandmother. Virginia Tech grad Jared Mason Murray of Fairfax, VA plays Millie’s friend Dewey, Millie’s teacher Mr. Randolph, and the Wolf.

The actors showcased their developing talents by demonstrating their versatility. All were very effective in their roles and they, as well as the Production Staff, used this opportunity to progress in the development of their craft.

The Olney Theatre Center should be commended for presenting a fun production such as Red Riding Hood for children, which should keep them interested in theatre. It bodes well for the future of this genre and the arts in general if kids can enjoy their experiences watching actors perform on stage as well as appreciating the technical enhancements of lighting, music, sound effects and costuming. They will learn to value the work of directors as they become more experienced members of the audience.

Red Riding Hood: A New Fable runs through April 7. Next up at Olney is The 39 Steps, a farce on the Hitchcock movie that will run April 18 – May 20. For information, visit olneytheatre.org or call 301-924-3400.