The Variations Project is an annual event in Baltimore. But this time, for the first time ever, there was an EXTRA weekend of staged readings- plays that came from the 70+ submissions that Rapid Lemon received this year. These didn’t make the final cut for the first two week performances, but have merit and potential, thus a enjoyable night of local theaterJ
The first of the night was “Round About the Cauldron Go” by Ali Mark and Nell Quinn-Gibeny. Three witches are in the woods trying to make a spell and need a human sacrifice. They have one! A kidnapped Tad Cleaves as the Sacrifice, a firefighter and father of three adopted children. One of the witches, Crystal Sewell, has been taking yoga classes and sort of commiserates with the humans- much to the dismay of the other two witches- Valerie Lewis and Theresa Terry. A good comedy with very funny moments shines through a macabre nuisanced script.
Second was “A Simple Pot of Soup,” by Andrea Fine Carey, and a 180 from the first play. Crystal Sewell plays Hannah Goldblum, a Jewish woman who has brought Matzo ball soup to a mourning mother in a rough part of Baltimore. The catch- she has never met her before. She saw on the news that her son was killed and felt compelled to do a small kindness. What starts off as an awkward and mistrusting encounter, turns into a friendship. The dialogue in this one and characterization was realistic to a fault. I forgot at one point I was watching a play. Superbly written- I would like to see more from Andrea Fine Carey.
Next was “Sandalwood” by Tom Piccin- a relationship in turmoil due to outside issues. Emily, played by Aladrian C. Wetzel, has had a good friend commit suicide, and is having trouble with intimacy and trust since the incident. This is a strain on her partner Eric, played by Tyrone Chapman. They find a small comfort in the reminisce of things that once made them both happy, including the smell of a sandalwood candle. The onstage kiss was handled by intertwining fingers- interesting. I also felt the connection in the actors but the dialogue was shaky in points.
“Boris and Bozica” by Zoe DiGiorgio is the story of two bears in a zoo enclosure waking from their hibernation. It takes a little while to realize they are bears- and when you do the smiles from the charming adorable script only widen. Bozica, played by Valerie Lewis, is concerned she will forger her family and her real name before being renamed and mated with Boris. Boris is sweet and tender, even if a little slow and misguided. All in all and feel good playJ
“Losing It’ by Deidre CreativeSoul is about a family who has left the city for the suburbs. The daughter Sade (Aladrian Wetzel), has returned from school and has questions about the migration to the burbs. Her mother, Nina (Valerie Lewis) is trying to keep the family together and take care of her senile but quick-tongued aunt Ella (Theresa Terry). Although Ella is old and a bit crazy, her quips cut to the bone. She is carelessly crass and knows how to push buttons. Another example of extremely realistic dialogue and family struggles. I will be on the look out for more from this playwright.
“Upright and Blameless” by Steffi Rubin a modern re-telling/adaptation of the book of Job. Tad Cleaves takes the soapbox in front and tells the audience that “no one names their kids Job anymore.” And for good reason if Satan (Aladrian Wetzel) and God’s Angels (Tyrone Chapman and Crystal Sewell) are going to one by one dismantle all the things he has- he says he didn’t ask for this- but sometimes his privilege is showing. It is a bold look at a disturbing biblical tale and a redemption for man. I left with a gut-wrenching urge to talk to the playwright about it more.
“Just Sayin” by Katana L. Hall Banks is an odd premise to two really powerful monologues. A couple, Jeanette (Valerie Lewis) and Brandon (Tyrone Chapman) are reading aloud the soliloquies written by Jeanette for her play. The soliloquies are chunky but effective. The premise to build to them seemed very forced. I would love to see the writer just write the monologues into a production without the framing context. I see why this was staged though- the truths uttered by the “characters” are hard to hear and harder to ignore.
“The New News” by Gabe Fremuth is a 1984-esque news program that has taken out everything bad and offensive about our society and is only delivering the sweetest kindest form of positive appreciation. Aladrian’s infectious smile as Trustworthy is affable. And Tad Cleaves as Non-Partisan is neutral to a fault. A variety of character do guest spots, but the comedic gold of the play was when the show went to commercial and the two hosts hit a flask and container of pills as hard as possible in 30 seconds. It appears even fabricated nonchalance takes a toll.
The real shout outs here go to the director, Donna Ibale, assistant director, Aladrian c. Wetzel, and stage manager Amanda J. Halcott. These scenes were cut by a very brief piece of music and an announcement of the title and playwright on the screen. But otherwise all these actors had to switch personas quickly and adeptly. The direction is commendable, because for a “staged read” it was impressive with costume shifts, props, and several moments of intensity that made me negate the scripts in their hands.
The cast is also award-winning. I love Valerie Lewis and watch her go from a bear named Bozica with a Slim Jim in her bra to a no-nonsense Mom trying her best in two seconds only made me love her more. The cast is tremendous all the way around!
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? You are running out of time to go and see local playwrights showcase new works! If you went to the first two weeks of Variations, do yourself a favor, and hit this as well. If you missed the first two weeks (shame shame), check this out! And don’t forget to vote for next year’s theme in the lobby! Rapid Lemon is supporting Baltimore artists and that alone should make you want to support them<3 (I)
Running time about 90 minutes with no intermission. At Theater Project through Sun 8/19.