Meet the Neighbors: Rep Stage

A journal like the Little Patuxent Review requires a vibrant literary and artistic community to thrive–and even survive. In appreciation of the cultural organizations around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” where we provide you with some personal introductions.

Rep Stage Barrie's The New Word

Scene from the Rep Stage production of Barrie’s The New Word

Please meet the Rep Stage, located at the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Howard Community College, mere minutes away from where the Little Patuxent Review is published.

It is the only professional Equity theater situated on a community college campus and enjoys the same relationship that companies like the Trinity Rep and the Yale Rep have with universities. Students are involved in every aspect of production, working in the shop, on electrical crews, in wardrobe, as production and director’s assistants and on stage.

Founded in 1993 by Artistic Director Valerie Lash, the Rep Stage under Michael Stebbins is about to start its 19th season. During this remarkable run, it has won seven Helen Hayes Awards, picked up six Greater Baltimore Theater Awards and received critical acclaim for diverse programming and choice of challenging literature.

Allow Ann Bracken, a member of the LPR Review Committee, to show you around:

I have been attending plays at the Rep Stage since 1998 and have relished the variety that is so much a part of the productions. I’ve seen everything from Brian Friehl’s Translations, which is about Irish hedge schools, to the classic The Philadelphia Story and the edgy Hysteria: Or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis, an exploration of imagined encounters between Freud, Dali and a disillusioned patient. The past season illustrates the skillful mix of tradition and innovation that is the hallmark of Michael Stebbins, a veteran actor, director and professor who has served as Producing Artistic Director since 2006.

When I hear the name J. M. Barrie, his character Peter Pan immediately comes to mind, closely followed by images of his life in the film Finding Neverland. I was intrigued when the 2010-2011 season led off with two of Barrie’s one-act plays, The New Word and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals. Both are set in the United Kingdom during World War I and provide close-ups on the timeless theme of wartime’s stress on family bonds.

The New Word depicts a father and son who have never been able to articulate their feelings as they struggle to break that boundary the night before the son leaves for France. The actors worked their understated magic through a series of conversations that drew you into the web of a family that has never been comfortable with overt shows of emotion. By the end of the play, silent tears streamed down my face at the depth of affection I felt as the father and son shared barely perceptible hugs. That closing scene signaled the unspoken bonds of love the father and son were finally able to communicate.

In The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, Barrie explores the lives of lonely charwomen in a small Scottish town who are left behind to write letters and hope for the return of their husbands and sons. In the opening scene, the women are taking tea together when Mrs. Dowey, the old lady of the play’s title, shares her soldier-son’s stack of loving, detail-filled letters. Her friends, in turn, lob volleys of jealous remarks that seem to blanket the room like cannon smoke on a battlefield. When the minister brings news of sighting Mrs. Dowey’s son at the train station, the other charwomen pick up their pails and mops and storm off, albeit good-naturedly, leaving Mrs. Dowey to prepare for her reunion. The rest of the play explores the relationship between Mrs. Dowey and her son Jamie.

When Jamie enters the apartment in full Black Watch kilt and kit, he greets his mother with a gruff remark about all of his fine letters. When a solid and coiled Jamie stands accusingly over Mrs. Dowey, you hold your breath. Then the story pours out. Mrs. Dowey confesses that she only claimed to be a widow with a son fighting in the war because she wanted the support and respect of the larger community. In reality, neither she nor her “son” belong to a traditional family, and she winds up providing the only home Jamie has ever known.

During Jamie’s three day leave, you witness the two of them sharing tea every day, exchanging ideas about how their lives will be after the war and, finally, sharing a night at the opera together. As you watch the story unfold, you can sense the mother-son bond develop and see the affection they have for each other etched on their faces. After Jamie leaves, he sends several letters and, eventually, Mrs. Dowey receives Jamie’s medals and his soldier’s pension when he dies. This story was especially moving in light of the current wars that force loneliness and isolation on families and soldiers during any protracted military conflict.

In Speech and Debate by Stephen Karam, director Eve Muson explores the mayhem that ensues when three teens discover that one of their high school teachers is involved in a sex scandal. I was especially interested in this since I have worked with teens for the past eleven years and have strong ethical concerns about teachers crossing boundaries with their students. The subject was handled with a skillful mix of humor, wisdom and song. As the editor of the school newspaper, Diwata and her two male friends wrestled with the dilemma of publishing the teacher’s name and the repercussions for both teacher and student that could ensue.

Both the dialog and the songs were unexpectedly funny, with Florrie Bagel as Diwata absolutely stealing the show. Diwata danced, vamped and finally revealed her ample curves in a flesh-toned bodysuit during the finale of the play. While Bagel delivered her lines with aplomb, it was her ease with movement and comedy that made her the star of the show. She is a young actress at the beginning of her career and I hope Rep Stage will feature her often.

The 2011-2012 season is packed with a promising mix of plays that explore topics as wide-ranging as a faded movie actor’s career (William Luce’s Barrymore) and the Gullah secrets of South Carolina’s Sea Islands (Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman) and includes an Off-Broadway farce (Liz Duffy Adams’ OR,) that features romps through Restoration England.

I have my season tickets in hand and hope to see many of you there. The magic of Rep Stage’s new season awaits.

Ann Bracken is an educator, writer, poet and expressive arts consultant. She currently teaches in the University of Maryland’s Professional Writing Program. Her essays, articles and interviews have appeared in The Museletter, The Baltimore Chronicle and the Little Patuxent Review. Her poems have appeared in the Little Patuxent Review, Praxilla and the anthology Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems

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