"Everything in this world comes to an end."
So says one of the supporting characters in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. The upper-class world of the Russian gentry is collapsing, and its inhabitants have no idea how to cope. I drove up to Everyman Theatre in Baltimore the other night, and was treated to a terrific production of Chekhov's final play. The design elements of the show were superb, and I am sure it's the strongest sound design I have ever heard at Everyman. The performances are swell, and in particular, Deborah Hazlett, Carl Schurr, Wil Love, Clinton Brandhagen, and Megan Anderson gave dynamic life to their roles. Mysteriously, all five actors are friends of mine, proving yet again that old adage: my friends are always the best things in their shows.
I caught a couple more theatrical treats last week as well. I've already whined about missing out on Fords Theatre's current musical, The Civil War, because I refuse to pay their ridiculous service charges accompanying their tickets. But Fords is also providing two one-act plays during the day, to entertain and enlighten the hundreds of tourists who flow through the building. Those performances are free, and I popped over to catch The Road From Appomattox. It seems that, right after Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate army at Appomattox, he met face-to-face with the Union's general, Ulysses S. Grant. The meeting was personal and private; though it is mentioned in contemporary histories of the time, no one was within earshot when the two generals met. Playwright Richard Helleson has provided an engaging dialogue between the two military men, who attempt to end the hostilities with grace for both sides. All this is quite interesting, but the real reason I went to see the show was two-fold: I wanted to catch a glimpse of the renovations which have kept Fords closed for almost two years, and the two actors in the piece are my friends Steve Carpenter and John Dow.
As for the renovations to the theatre, thank god those rickety cane chairs are gone. The most noticeable change in the theatre, apart from the seats, is in the brand new lobby, which is roomy and accessible; the previous lobby was gloomy and cramped. And as for the show itself, both cast members are worth seeing. Steve is an old grad-school chum of mine with whom I have appeared onstage many times (we played brothers in The Importance of Being Earnest, among other projects), and who has directed me in two of my favorite performances. In one of those shows, Thief River, Steve's current costar John Dow actually played me, twenty years from now. Never mind, it's too hard to explain. In addition, I've worked with John at Olney Theatre, the Smithsonian, and in readings at the Washington Stage Guild. I count both the guys as friends, and, what are the odds, they both give terrific performances.
Wayside Theatre in Middletown, VA, has also undergone a renovation since my previous visits, and, like Fords, the most obvious improvements were The Chairs. I drove out to see their current revival of Harry Chapin's Cotton Patch Gospel, and had a grand time. I have two friends in the cast and, go figure, they both give the best performances in the show. Larry Dahlke, with whom I appeared in Black Coffee at Wayside several years ago, is very impressive as he plays the fiddle and sings at the same time. These are two skills which are not harmonious, singing and fiddling, but Larry somehow accomplishes the feat. (Larry, by the way, has a fun little blog, and is responsible for my silly Friday Dance Party entries here in these pages: Larry invented the idea.)
My buddy Ray Ficca is the main character in Cotton Patch Gospel, narrating this version of the life of Jesus, transplanted to rural Georgia and accompanied by bluegrass music. It's an interesting take on the gospel, where Herod and Pilate become state governors, and Judas becomes a good ol' boy named "Jud." There are a couple of conspicuous absences in the story, namely, Mary Magdalene and anybody Jewish. I grew up in Atlanta, and can attest to the fact that, in rural Georgia, nobody every heard of a prostitute or a Hebrew. (Or if they did, they didn't talk about it.)
Ray did a fantastic job with the text, and, as always, the physicality he gives to his performance is quite exciting. This production will be transferring to Totem Pole Playhouse in Pennsylvania next month.