Variety of shows on tap on local stages

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Robert Friedman

Twin brothers who’ve grown up apart cross paths with hilarious results in William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, a zany play about mistaken identity. Here, Matthew Ancarrow and Robby Rose, who play the twins, are shown on the “set” of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company production — at the outdoor ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City.
Photo by Teresa Castracane

It’s summer theater time in Howard County, which means that audiences may be led Into the Woods, glide along to The Baltimore Waltz and get caught up in The Comedy of Errors.

Into the Woods, the now-classic musical by Stephen Sondheim, will relate its not-so-happily-ever-after fairy tales at Toby’s Dinner Theater July 9 through Sept. 6.

The Rep Stage opens its 2015-2016 season with The Baltimore Waltz, a by turns farcical-comic-tragic play. It plays Aug. 26 to Sept. 13 at Howard County Community College’s Studio Theater.

And local playgoers have until July 19 to be drawn into the Bard’s high-and-low Comedy of Errors, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production that opened June 12 among the outdoor ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City.

Into the Woods

Toby Orenstein, who runs the dinner theater in Columbia and will co-direct (with Mark Minnick) the far-out fairy-tale musical, said the play will be presented exactly as written.

This issue has arisen — to a degree — because of some criticism of the recent Disney Company film version. Some critics said that while highly entertaining, the movie — featuring among others, Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp — did not fully include the tragic elements in the story.

The last local staging of the play, a 2012 production by Center Stage in Baltimore, was considered by Washington Post drama critic Peter Marks a “disappointingly clawless revival” because of “too-delicate treatment” of some of the more dark funny business in the play. But Orenstein said the claws, fangs and other parts of the Big Bad Wolf, and other characters, will be intact for the upcoming production.

Part of the deal for putting on the play, she said, is that we have to do what the script tells us. We can’t do what we want to change the script.

The play, she said, is “really about life, loving one another, appreciating what you have, and being careful what you wish for.”

Many see that last point about wishing and getting as key to the book by James Lapine and the songs of Stephen Sondheim. 

In the First Act, a baker and his wife join several of their Grimm Brothers acquaintances — Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack (of the beanstalk) and Rapunzel, as well as a nice-enough witch, considering her occupation, and a couple of outwardly charming  princes — as they go through some tough times in the woods, but come out more or less getting what they wished for.

In the Second Act, however, when the characters return to the woods, things really fall apart: the princes prove unfaithful to Cinderella and Rapunzel, the witch loses her powers, and the giant wife of the giant that Jack killed takes revenge and spills blood all over the place.

The show was written in the mid-1980s, when the AIDS epidemic was at its peak, most prominently on Broadway. A prevailing belief is that the somewhat twisted tragedy was written as a response to the crisis. Asked about this, Sondheim has just said: “We never meant this to be specific.” 

He also has noted: “All fairy tales are parables about steps to maturity. The final step is when you become responsible for the people around you.

The play’s musical coda, “No One is Alone,” is, said Sondheim, the play’s main message: we are all connected.

Toby’s Dinner Theatre is located at 5900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia. Ticket prices range from $53 to $58 and include an all-you-can-eat brunch or dinner buffet. Call (410) 730-8311 or see www.tobysdinnertheatre.com for more information and tickets. [Return coupon on page B-7 for chance at free tickets.]

The Baltimore Waltz

The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel opens the new season for Rep Stage, which is billed as the Year of the Woman. The company will present works by four American female playwrights.

The Vogel play revolves around the European odyssey of a sister and brother in search of romance and a cure for the sister’s terminal illness. That happens to be the fictitious Acquired Toilet Disease (ATD) she contracted by using the bathrooms at the elementary school where she teaches.

A short resume: Knowing her life is nearing its end, Anna (the sister) is driven by a lust that compels her to have casual sex with as many men as possible during their travels — a passion shared by her gay brother. Assisting the pair is the mysterious Third Man, a reference to the classic suspense film to which Vogel frequently alludes in detail. 

TheNew York Times called the Obie (Off Broadway)-winning work, which previewed 25 years ago, a crazy-quilt patchwork of hyperventilating language, erotic jokes, movie kitsch that spins before the audience in Viennese waltz time, replete with a dizzying fall.

The play will be performed at the Studio Theatre at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia. General admission is $40; $38 for those 60 and over. See www.repstage.org or call (443) 518-1500 for tickets or more information.

The Comedy of Errors

Now for Shakespeare in the park: The Comedy of Errors is about as farcical as the Bard ever got, when he planted two sets of separated twins in the same town to confuse everyone around them, including themselves.

Here’s the start of the plot: Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, is condemned to death in Ephesus for violating the ban against travel between the two rival cities. As he is led to his execution, he tells the Ephesian Duke, Solinus, that he has come to Syracuse in search of his wife and one of his twin sons, who were separated from him 25 years ago in a shipwreck.

The other twin, who grew up with Egeon, is also traveling the world in search of the missing half of their family. The twins are identical, and each has an identical twin slave named Dromio.

As the plot unfolds, mistaken identities abound, as do the puns, the word play, the demonic possessions, and assorted other wild and woolly happenings under the stars at Patapsco Park. (The performances are postponed if it rains.) 

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, while moving its indoor presentations earlier in the year to Baltimore, still mounts its summer performances outdoors in the picturesque Ellicott City locale.

Performances are Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. Tickets are $38 for adults on Fridays and Saturdays; $29 on Thursdays. Those 65 and over pay $29 for all performances, students 19 to 25 pay $15, and admission is free for those 18 or younger accompanied by a paying adult. Gates open 90 minutes before the show, to enjoy food (bring a picnic) as well as music and other entertainment before the play becomes the thing.

For more information, call (410) 244-8570 or visit www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com.