Two Minutes' Traffic: As You Like It (Center Stage), Collaborators (Spooky Action Theater)

As You Like It, Center Stage Although Wendy Goldberg's heartfelt and stylish production of Shakespeare's As You Like It closed on February 14, it's no less important to take note of savvy, sensitive renderings of Shakespeare even after their runs end. The production has been particularly notable as an entry into the world of cross-gendered Shakespeare, a practice which always makes the most sense in plays where the lenses through which characters perform their gender are doubled and tripled. Goldberg wisely doesn't worry about having her actresses perform masculinity any more than Julia Coffey as Rosalind worries about performing her femininity when her character is ostensibly playing Rosalind while presenting as a young man named Ganymede (it makes sense when you know the show). The always-captivating Sofia Jean Gomez as Orlando brings an easy strength and appeal to her character-- it's easy to see just why Rosalind falls as hard as she does for this handsome stranger when they meet. Mattie Hawkinson's Celia favors fashionable feminine attire (Anne Kennedy's designs across the board are a wonderful complement to the wide array of characters) because those particular clothes suit who her character is, just as naturally as do the clothes we choose to present ourselves to the world each day. Goldberg's production uses the gender of its company as any other tool at her disposal, to be deployed strategically in ways that expand the audience's understanding of character and story, but never AS the story itself. Center Stage, currently undergoing renovations, is housing its productions at Towson University, so I do hope that some of you were able to make the trek up to see this production.

Collaborators, Spooky Action Theater John Hodge's play about politics and the responsibility we have over our own power in troubled times is a fascinating and wonderfully weird play, currently running at Spooky Action Theater, directed by Richard Henrich. Hodge's story mixes fact and fiction as it imagines a theatrical collaboration conducted in secret nights between playwright Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Stalin himself. Along the way, Bulgakov finds himself more culpable for harm, and more entwined in the nightmares of Stalin's tyrannical policies than he'd ever dreamed possible. The play uses a gallows humor that never forgets the terror of the gallows itself, mixing jokes and dread into a strange and terrible cocktail. Henrich's cast does a wonderful job with the humor of the story, finding the laughter in the absurdity of the situation Bulgakov stumbles into, and the performances of Paul Reisman as Bulgakov and MacKenzie Beyer as his wife, Yelena, are deeply heartfelt and moving. Unfortunately, the cast struggles to find the real menace that must haunt Bulgakov at every turn. While Joe Duquette manages the seemingly impossible task of giving us a Stalin with a twinkle in his eye, it can at times be difficult to believe he's truly capable of the kind of terrible actions we must believe. I like this play very much, and there's a lot of good work in the ensemble; I'm just not sure that the production ever quite manages to balance both sides of the scale of menace and humor equally.


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