J. Wynn Rousuck

Maryland Morning Theater Critic

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years. Her feature coverage for The Sun included a comprehensive series chronicling the development of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray.” Judy got her start at The Cleveland Press and at Cleveland’s fine arts radio station, WCLV. Her broadcasting experience also includes a year as an on-air theater critic for Maryland Public Television.

A member of the Artistic Advisory Committee of Young Audiences of Maryland, Judy is also a freelance teacher for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and the Hippodrome Foundation, Inc. (the Hippodrome’s non-profit partner, which focuses on education and outreach). She was a faculty member at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Critics Institute in Waterford, CT, for two decades; she is a former National Endowment for Humanities Journalism Fellow; and she was a visiting student at Brown University (2007-2008), under the mentorship of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Paula Vogel. Judy and her husband, Alan Fink, share their home with two dogs, who enjoy hearing their “Master’s Voice” on WYPR.

C. Stanley Photography

Arena Stage in Washington is now featuring the Pulitzer-prize winning play, Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. The play is set during a dinner party held by Amir, a successful son of South Asian immigrants. Dinner conversations spark Amir to question his career, culture, and identity.  Here's theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck's  review:

At first glance, it looks like the hippest, most sophisticated, intimate dinner party. Two young New York couples: The hosts are a Pakistani-American corporate lawyer and his white, artist wife; the guests are a Jewish curator at a prominent museum and his wife, an African-American corporate lawyer.

This small social gathering could be a picture of America at its best... 

Photo by ClintonBPhotography

Everyman Theatre is promoting this season’s final two plays as “The Great American Rep.” According to the theater, this is the first time Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” have been performed in rotating repertory.

But why these two? Besides being two of America’s greatest dramatic masterpieces, what do they have in common?

For starters, as the cover of Everyman’s program reminds us, the protagonists in both plays show up carrying suitcases. In “Death of Salesman,” Willy Loman cuts a sales trip short and returns home, lugging his suitcase and a heavy sample case. In “Streetcar,” Blanche DuBois no longer has a home and arrives at her sister’s New Orleans’ apartment, suitcase in hand.

What’s in these suitcases? Clichéd as it may sound, the suitcases are stuffed with dashed hopes and dreams. 

Photo: Richard Anderson

Dominique Morisseau’s play, “Detroit ’67,” takes place in a basement. Even though there’s some illegal activity going on in this basement, it feels like a safe haven in that particular city at that particularly incendiary time.

It’s a time and place that bear decided similarities to the unrest that arose in Baltimore a year ago in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered police custody. That’s among the reasons Center Stage selected “Detroit ’67.”

Katie Simmons-Barth

On the surface, the title of Brooke Berman’s comedy, “Hunting and Gathering,” refers to finding a place to live in New York – no easy task. The characters on stage share apartments with roommates, sleep on friends’ couches, house sit and occasionally – rarely – rent apartments of their own.

But the title also refers to personal relationships – friendships, romances, affairs. Hunting for them, gathering them up, trying to hold onto them.

The clever set at Rep Stage’s area premiere of “Hunting and Gathering” consists of walls of corrugated packing boxes. Even the stairs in designer Mollie Singer’s set are made of boxes. Some of these boxes hold surprises, which I’m not going to spoil. 

Christopher Mueller

"Film is a series of photographs separated by split-seconds of darkness.” That’s how an employee at a movie theater explains good old-fashioned celluloid film in the play, The Flick. It’s a description that also fits the structure of this 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, receiving a poignant area premiere at Arlington’s Signature Theatre. 

Playwright Annie Baker has constructed The Flick as a series of mostly brief scenes, separated by blackouts. More intriguingly, when we take our seats, we’re facing several rows of movie seats. The projection booth is above and behind those seats. This means we are theoretically sitting behind the screen. If there were a movie playing, presumably we’d be in it. 

Kate Erin Gibson

There’s a new play being produced by the Strand Theater in Baltimore. It’s called "Harry and the Thief," and it involves... a time machine. Theater Critic J Wynn Rousuck spent some time last week checking it out. Here’s her review:

There’s some fairly complex, imaginative stuff going on in Sigrid Gilmer’s play, “Harry and the Thief” -- the play receiving an area premiere produced by the Strand Theater -- is set in two different centuries, and it mixes real and fictitious characters, as well as history and science fiction.

The premise concerns a scientist – he’s played by Mike Smith – who has found a way to time travel and has a specific task in mind -- to “deliver a cache of arms to Harriet Tubman.”

Yes, the “Harry” in the title refers to Harriet Tubman, the famed, Maryland-born abolitionist who guided more than 700 slaves to freedom. The “thief” in the title is Mimi, the scientist’s cousin – played with great spunk by Aladrian Wetzel. Mimi is on the lam from her criminal gang, and where better to hide than the 19th century?

The Hippodrome

Our theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck is back working her magic as she   a new magic revue, The Illusionists, that's anything but ordinary.

The show features seven magicians showcasing their unique talents, such as levitation, illusion, mind-reading and disappearance. The traveling show will be at the Hippodrome in Baltimore until April 3rd.  Rousuck joins Tom in the studio to explain some of the many ways this unique revue isn't like most other Hippodrome productions.

Is the line blurring between human and artificial intelligence? Jordan Harrison’s play “Marjorie Prime” – receiving its area premiere at Olney Theatre Center – straddles that line.

Marjorie is an 85-year-old with increasing memory loss. Her husband, Walter, died 10 years ago. Modern science hasn’t found a way to bring him back. But it’s come pretty close.

Marjorie shares her home with a carbon copy of Walter -- at age 30. Walter’s artificial doppelganger, which is called a “prime,” looks surprisingly lifelike, although, as played by Michael Glenn, he moves and speaks stiffly. When he’s not talking to Marjorie, he sits motionless in a chair off to the side -- his head lowered, his eyes fixed on the floor.

Marjorie’s grown daughter, Tess, is skeptical about this whole prime thing. Tess’ husband, Jon – played by Michael Willis -- tries to persuade her that the prime helps her mother with her memory and provides company. It’s almost human.

But skeptical as Tess is, in the second part of the play she’s the one who needs the comfort of talking to a prime. Only this time it’s a prime of her mother – “Marjorie Prime.”

Phoebe Stein, Dr. Sheri Parks

So if it’s true that every person has a story, is it also true that every city has one too? What is Baltimore’s story? What narratives have emerged following the cataclysmic events following the death of Freddie Gray, and what do those narratives tell us about Baltimore’s identity? These are the questions that a new series of public events will tackle. It’s called Baltimore Stories: Narratives and the Life of an American City. Dr. Sheri Parks from the University of Maryland and Phoebe Stein from the Maryland Humanities Council give us a preview. 

Then, Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr., of Princeton University says that for African Americans, gaps in values and opportunity have been pernicious and longstanding, and the reason black politics need to be transformed. He talks with Tom about his new book, Democracy in Black

Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck reviews "Something Like Jazz Music," on stage at the Single Carrot Theater until March 27th. 

Plus, novelist John Irving on writing, aging, and America's dark politics. 

Britt Olsen-Ecker

In 1995, a worker at a recently closed New York state mental institution discovered what became known as the Willard Suitcases – more than 400 suitcases, still packed with the belongings of former patients, dating back to 1910. These suitcases became the inspiration for Single Carrot Theatre’s latest ensemble-created work, “Something Like Jazz Music.”

Instead of a mental hospital, however, the action takes place in a Baltimore shipping warehouse after a mysterious, undocumented container shows up. When it’s opened, raucous jazz pours out.

The workers remove the contents – luggage, steamer trunks, a dresser. As they try on a hat or a piece of clothing, they’re transported back – at times with a physical jolt – to 1920s Baltimore. There, they find themselves transformed into everyone from an African-American jazz musician to a Russian Jewish doctor to a Ku Klux Klansman.

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