I’ve seen two terrific plays at Center Stage Baltimore recently.
A Wonder in My Soul
In late December I saw A Wonder in My Soul. I came out of the theater thinking this was one of the best plays I had ever seen at Center Stage. Written by Marcus Gardley and directed by Daniel Bryant, the play is about two black women who open a beauty shop in their neighborhood. Many years later the neighborhood has changed, and Pen Lucy and Swann Park are behind in their rent; the building where their salon is will be sold.
The playbook talks about the importance of beauty parlors in black communities. I remember when I was in school getting my Master of Social Work degree, we often talked about the fact that beauticians provide therapy for many of their clients.
This production was in the Pearlstone Theater at Center Stage. This is a proscenium theater although it doesn’t have a curtain. I’m always looking at staging. In this play the salon had two styling chairs, a loveseat in the reception area of the stage, a door which led to outside and a slightly lower apron area on which some “flashback” scenes were performed. The door was clearly the entrance to the salon and when people left the stage, they opened the door and walked through. It defined an action more clearly than just going off stage.
All the actors were wonderful, but Kalilah Black and Harriett D. Foy were exceptional.
Our tickets always seem to be the last performance in the runs. I need to try to change that. I would have gone to see this show twice – or more.
Then last Sunday I saw Fun Home, a musical memoir based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The book and lyrics were by Lisa Kron and the music was by Jeanine Tesori.
Billed as a play about a dysfunctional family, I wondered if I even wanted to see it. I get enough dysfunction these days watching the news.
It was another stellar show. A closeted gay father raising three children with his increasingly angry wife. One of the daughters is gay but only understands that when she goes to college. Oh, and the father teaches literature at a local college, but runs a funeral home on the side. Hence the title of the play, Fun Home.
In this show the gay daughter is depicted as a ten-year-old, a college student and a woman in her forties. It was the actress who played the ten-year-old who caught my eye. Molly Lyons is her name and she’s nine. Someday I’m going to see her on Broadway.
Fun Home was performed in the Head Theater which is a thrust theatre—a stage surrounded by audience on three sides. The fourth side serves as the background. Hydraulic lifts in the floor raised and lowered part of the sets. If only the community theaters that produce the play I wrote with Laura Ambler (The Santa Diaries) had those kinds of options. Another staging tool that could be translated to community theaters was a slightly raised platform with furniture that was rolled onto the stage when the scene took place in the living room. Faster than having stage hands carry furniture on and off stage. A similar platform on the other side of the stage was a kitchen area that rolled on and off. Of course this only works if you have off stage areas that will accomodate the platforms. Many community theaters don’t.
Watching live theater is enjoyable (I go with some girlfriends) and educational. I always come away with some ideas about improving the plays Laura Ambler and I write.