November 7, 2012

Rep Stage revives another neglected gem by J.M. Barrie

J.M. Barrie may only be remembered for creating “Peter Pan,” but not if Rep Stage can do anything about it.

Two years ago, the company effectively dug up two rare one-acters by Barrie, “The New Word” and “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals,” both from the World War I era. This month, Rep Stage’s 20th anniversary season continues with another thoughtful revival, “Mary Rose,” written a year after that horrid war, when wounds and memories were still very fresh, tainting everyone and everything.

"You know how just a touch of frost may stop the growth of a plant and yet leave it blooming? It has sometimes seemed to me as if a cold finger had once touched my Mary Rose,” says her mother early in the play.

That chilling description of the title character must have hit audiences hard in 1920 when the play was premiered. So many people would have had images in their heads and hearts of the men who remained perpetually young, captured in the last photos taken of them before they headed to the fatal trenches of France.

Although the war is not front and center in “Mary Rose,” it’s always there. One of the first characters to appear is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage

September 6, 2012

Review: Rep Stage explores early gay rights history in 'The Temperamentals'

In those sage words of L. P. Hartley, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

For gay people, living in that "foreign country" meant camouflage, super-discretion, constant worry about what others might see or say.

Gays also developed their own foreign language of sorts, with code words that could prove useful in social settings. One such word, applied as a noun or adjective in the 1940s and '50s, was "temperamental," a substitute for "homosexual" (another, equally droll term in that period was "musical").

Jon Marans' 2009 play "The Temperamentals," which has been given an affecting production to open the 20th anniversary season of Rep Stage, shines a light on some of the most important and least known figures in mid-century gay history.

Today, the campaign for gay rights is widely considered to have been triggered in 1969 by the unexpected and fierce resistance to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village. But the struggle started much earlier, most notably in 1950 across the country in Los Angeles.

There, in an act as daring in its way as the Stonewall riot, Harry Hay and a handful of friends formed the Mattachine Society to advocate for the right of homosexuals to live freely and openly.

Marans explores this story in a way that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage

May 3, 2012

Rep Stage closes season with intriguing 'Las Meninas'

I'm not sure what is more intriguing about "Las Meninas," the 2002 Lynn Nottage play on the boards of Rep Stage -- the strange plot itself, or the fact that it might all be grounded in fact.

Seizing on some hard facts and tantalizing gossip from the time, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nottage spins a tale of Louis XIV and his Spanish-born queen, Marie-Therese. When the neglected, frustrated queen receives an off-beat gift -- an African dwarf named Nabo -- things get curiouser and curiouser.

Adding to the fascination is the presence of a nun, Louise Marie-Therese, who serves as ..

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage

November 3, 2011

Nigel Reed triumphs as doomed actor in 'Barrymore' at Rep Stage

So he drank a little too much. And fooled around a little too much. And recited some wonderfully off-color stories or limericks a little too often. Oh yes, and forgot his lines a lot.

But John Barrymore sure was fun, as audiences can rediscover in a welcome production from Rep Stage that brings the storied actor to life for a couple of hours.

"Barrymore," a play by William Luce that became a notable vehicle for Christopher Plummer on Broadway in 1996, in this case provides a terrific showcase for a regional favorite, Nigel Reed. He enjoys quite a triumph.

The play effectively provides a biographical sketch within a plausible framework. The set-up is that Barrymore, starved for cash and a comeback ("I have enough money to last the rest of my life," he says, "provided I die right now"), arrives ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage

September 7, 2011

Rep Stage opens season with a romp through the Restoration

It seems unlikely that many Americans are well up on the Restoration period in England.

We know something of the Puritans who had their heyday before that period, primarily because of their legacy on these shores (a legacy that seems to rise up again with every few election cycles).

But we know little, I suspect, of Charles II, let alone Aphra Behn, the first woman in England to make a living from poetry and plays.

Those historical figures (or, at least, approximations) and some heated issues from the Restoration get a work out in "Or," a recent play by Liz Duffy Adams that serves as the 19th season-opener for Rep Stage.

Part of the fun comes from the way Adams weaves the 1960s into that 1660s milieu, with assorted political, economic and, especially, sexual references that have a way of connecting the two eras. There are some obvious connections to the early 2000s as well.

In an intermission-less stretch of 90 minutes, the play largely succeeds in providing context and fleshing out characters, although it would be nice to get more of a sense of Behn's theatrical career (the plot concerns her steps toward that career). The story is deliverered in between bursts of farce -- lots of doors opening and closing, confused identities, sudden plot twists.

Whether all the details packed into the work have a ring of truth is beside the point. For all of the comedy in the piece, it is, at heart ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage

September 2, 2011

In today's Sun: Rep Stage goes back to the future with 'Or'

You know how I worry about my faithful band of readers not being able to find my non-blog writing. So, in case any of you theater-inclined types missed it, I thought I should mention a preview in Friday's paper of Rep Stage's season-opening production -- Liz Duffy Adams' "Or."

The play, with one foot in Restoration England and the other closer to our time, sounds fun, especially given the cast. Performers include Jason Odell Williams and Christine Demuth, who were featured last season in the company's presentation of works by J. M. Barrie. Completing the "Or" cast is Charlotte Cohn, Williams' wife.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage

April 27, 2011

Rep Stage explores teen secrets, sexual identity in provocative 'Speech & Debate'

This spring, plays with gay characters and issues have been sprouting up all over our area. Not that there’s anything wrong with that -- I’d say it's a case of fortuitous, even fabulous, serendipity.

Closing recently were stagings of Paula Vogel's bittersweet "The Long Christmas Ride Home" at Single Carrot Theatre and Adam Bock's offbeat comedy “Swimming in the Shallows” at Iron Crow Theatre. Still on the boards for another few weeks at the Vagabond Players is John Guare’s still-potent “Six Degrees of Separation.”

And Rep Stage is closing its season in provocative form with a dynamic and telling production of Stephen Karam’s “Speech & Debate,” which has much to say about what it means to be young and gay and alone.

Propelled by a darkly comic streak, Karam's fast-paced play concerns three high-school outsiders. What they have most in common is a deep-set need to know if anyone else out is out there like them -- and if anyone else out there might actually like them.

There’s Diwata (a name practically begging to be mangled by others, especially clueless adults). She’s a bit overweight and seriously over-eager. Determined to be an actress, despite the unwillingness of drama teachers to notice her vast talent, Diwata finds an ideal outlet online, unaware of just how out-there a blog can be. In short order, her life entwines with those of two others at her school in Salem, Ore.

Solomon is a 16-year-old would-be reporter fascinated with the local scandals involving anti-gay rights Republican politicians outed for relationships with young males. Solomon thinks this hypocrisy would make a great story for his student paper.

Things get much more complicated, though, when ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Rep Stage

October 20, 2010

Revival of J.M. Barrie plays shines light again on songs of World War I

One of the many pleasures of the current Rep Stage double bill of J.M Bartie plays -- you ought to catch it -- is hearing snippets of World War I songs. They're used as background before each play and put to particularly effective service during "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals," a poignant tale of two lives brought together under the most unlikely and mutually rewarding of circumstances.

Both world wars produced an awful lot of popular music, including patriotic tunes, comic ditties and the sweetest of ballads. Many songs associated with WW I may sound very dated and terribly sentimental to a lot of folks now, but there's some wonderful stuff there, in melody and lyrics. Hearing some of them at Rep Stage got me thinking about that whole genre and a piece of sheet music I bought at an antique store years ago called

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:48 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Rep Stage
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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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