J. Wynn Rousuck | WYPR

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.

Photo by Teresa Castracane

Given the unique dynamics of this presidential campaign season, it's a remarkable coincidence that the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has produced a play about the intersection of power and sexuality, with a strong, determined woman at its center.  Anne of the Thousand Days, written by Maxwell Anderson and directed by Kasi Campbell, describes the historic, 16th century romance between Anne Boleyn and King Henry the Eighth of England, who was desperately seeking a woman who could give him what his lawful wife, Catherine of Aragon, had failed to deliver:  a male heir.   The daughter Anne bore the King as his Church-defying second wife would eventually become Elizabeth the First, England's greatest monarch, but things didn't work out so well between Anne and Henry.  It's a great story and true, brought to life on the CSC stage with the help of sumptuously detailed costumes by Kristina Lambdin.

Our theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck, who stops by Midday every  Thursday,  joins Tom with her review.

Their conversation also turns to this weekend's Charm City Fringe Festival, an 11-day "explosion" of theater events around the city.  Click here to check out the events and schedules. 

Anne of the Thousand Days continues at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company on South Calvert Street in Baltimore through Sunday, November 13.

Shealyn Jae Photography

Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the Midday studio most every Thursday. She's here today with her review of Das Barbecu, a fast-paced musical theater version of Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle.” Written in 1991 by Jim Luigs and composed by Scott Warrender, it premiered in Seattle and has been produced by theater companies across the US, including Baltimore's Center Stage.  Now, the popular musical is back in Baltimore, at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre.

Wagner's famed operatic masterwork is actually four long operas with a ton of plot. Spotlighters' new production of Das Barbecu (directed by Greg Bell, with musical direction by Michael Tan) is set in contemporary, twangy Texas.  It boils the vast Wagnerian storyline down to one evening of musical theater, with five actors frenetically playing more than 30 characters. Major plot-lines in this tuneful, light-hearted Western include mismatched lovers, feuding families, western rope tricks, a synchronized swimming scene, a tribute to guacamole, and of course, a magic ring of power.

Das Barbecu continues at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre through Oct. 30 

Photo by Joan Marcus

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a play adapted from the 2003 mystery novel by British writer Mark Haddon. The novel is told from a first-person perspective by Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy living in suburban England who describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties."

Christopher's condition is never identified, but he appears to fit the profile of someone living on the autism spectrum, with a condition once referred to as Asperger's syndrome.  Haddon has blogged that he is not an expert on autism, and that "Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger's....if anything, it's a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way."

Photo: Rob Clatterbuck

As she does most every Thursday on Midday, veteran theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the Midday studio, this week with her review of  The Wild Party, the latest production by Iron Crow Theatre company, now on stage at the Theatre Project.  The musical is based on a lusty -- and lengthy --narrative poem from the 1920s by a writer named Joseph Moncure March.

Iron Crow's script moves the action out of the 1920s and closer to present-day, and the music, too, is more contemporary.  As Ms. Rousuck explains, this high-spirited musical also deals with some pretty  contemporary themes.

The Iron Crow Theatre’s production of “The Wild Party” continues at the Theatre Project tonight through Sunday (Oct. 9).

Photo by ClintonB Photography

Veteran theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom with a review of Everyman Theatre's new production of "Wait Until Dark."  While most people might know that title from the Oscar-nominated 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn as the blind protagonist, the tense thriller was originally a play -- Frederick Knott's 1966 Broadway hit, which also had a short-lived 1998 revival.  Then came Jeffrey Hatcher's 2013 adaptation of the Knott play, in which the story is given a new setting in 1944 Greenwich Village.  That's the version now on stage at Everyman, with Donald Hicken directing and Megan Anderson starring in the lead role as Susan. 

"Wait Until Dark" continues at Everyman Theatre through Sunday, October 9.   Click here for ticket information.

Walters Art Museum

Dr. Gary Vikan, who retired in 2013 as director of the Walters Art Museum here in Baltimore, has spent more than 40 years -- nearly 30 of them at the Walters -- overseeing prestigious collections of some of the world’s most precious art and artifacts.  Vikan  joins Tom this afternoon to talk about the memoir he’s written of those years, and about the challenges he often faced from the dark underworld of the global art trade. The book is called Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director.  

Then, veteran theater critic  J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio, as she does every Thursday here on Midday, to preview some of the exciting new plays and musicals that will be gracing stages in Baltimore and around the region during the 2016-2017 season. 

Here are links to the theaters Judy mentions in today's season preview:  Center Stage;  Le Mondo;  Strand Theater Company;  Chesapeake Shakespeare Company;  Everyman Theatre;  Iron Crow Theatre Hippodrome Theatre;  Single Carrot Theatre.

Veteran theater critic  J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio, as she does every Thursday here on Midday, to preview some of the exciting new plays and musicals that will be gracing stages in Baltimore and around the region during the 2016-2017 season. 

Here are links to the theaters Judy mentions in today's season preview:  Center Stage;  Le Mondo;  Strand Theater Company;  Chesapeake Shakespeare Company;  Everyman Theatre;  Iron Crow Theatre Hippodrome Theatre;  Single Carrot Theatre.

Carol Rosegg

Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio to talk about the new Broadway-bound musical, Come From Away, now playing at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.. The musical drama recalls the horrors of 9/11 and the fact that moments after those terrorist attacks, the US government closed US airspace and ordered thousands of airborne jetliners to land immediately at the nearest airports. 

Thirty-eight planes, carrying more than 6,500 passengers, were diverted to Gander, a small town in the Canadian province of Newfoundland, doubling the community's population overnight.  Come From Away tells the story of how Gander residents offered these stranded passengers -- complete strangers -- food, shelter and friendship during the difficult days following 9/11. 

Come From Away is playing through October 16 at the Ford's Theatre in Washington.  For tickets or more information click here

Photo by Joshua McKerrow

Every Monday,  theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck graces the Maryland Morning studio with her reviews of the most noteworthy stage productions in Baltimore and across Maryland.  This morning, she's come with news of a funny and high-spirited production by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company of a three-decades old classic, The Complete Worlds of Shakespeare (Abridged)

The rotating three-actor cast manages to embrace all of the Bard's 37-plays in a hilarious, 90-minute roller-coaster ride of skits, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield and directed by ASC's Artistic Director, Sally Boyett.  The fast-paced show sends up the Bard's most famous tragedies, comedies, histories and everything in between, and spotlights the talents of both Mr. Shakespeare and the Annapolis troupe.

ASC presents "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)" in the outdoor Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, every Tuesday evening, now through September 27th. 

photo by Tina Revazi Studio Theater

Every Monday on Maryland Morning, our theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio to share her thoughts on some of the best (and sometimes not the best) stage productions in Baltimore and throughout the Maryland region. This morning, she arrives with her knit hand puppet Chaussette ​(photo below) to tell us about a remarkable new production of the 2015 Broadway hit and multiple Tony-nominee, Hand to God, now playing an extended run at Washington, D.C.'s Studio Theatre until October 2.

 Set in a church basement in a Texas backwater town, it takes us into the world of a Christian puppet ministry, where one puppet becomes the very black sheep of this hapless flock.  The puppet's demonic energies trigger a torrent of angry and lustful epiphanies among the town's denizens, in what Studio Theater calls "a ruthless comedy about sex, sinners and sock puppets."

Photo by Will Kirk/BSF

There are two striking non-traditional elements in the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s production of “Julius Caesar.” First, it’s set at the time of the American Revolution. And second, although almost all of the characters are men, women play more than half the roles.

The reason for the changed time period, to paraphrase director Chris Cotterman’s program notes, is that the story of Julius Caesar was distant – but relatable – history to Shakespeare’s original audiences. So why not create a similar link – okay, not quite as distant – that would resonate with American audiences?

Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is dedicated to “recreating the experience that Shakespeare’s audiences would have had.” I can’t say how relevant his audiences might have found the hubris of the title character – the presumptive king. But I suspect it might touch a chord with audiences here.

Photo by harry Bechkes

Now in its 35th year, the Baltimore Playwrights Festival has been going through structural and organizational changes. This summer’s season consists almost entirely of script-in-hand, staged readings, which continue into September.

The only full production is “Crash & Burn, P.A.,” written by festival veteran Robert R. Bowie, Jr., and produced by the Theatrical Mining Company. Bowie is a lawyer and like several of his previous plays, “Crash & Burn” is set in the legal world.

But unlike some of those earlier plays – which tackled subjects ranging from slavery to repressed memory – “Crash & Burn” is a farce, a farce that takes place in the office of a pair of bottom-feeding lawyers. Mark Crash is a low-level criminal attorney; his partner, Mike Burn, apparently prefers dead clients – he specializes in wills.

Photo by Mackenzie Smith

When William Golding's novel "Lord of the Flies" was first published in 1954, it was a sensational but disturbing best-seller. The dark allegory tells the story of a group of British schoolboys stranded on a remote island, who find that in their struggle to survive, the veneer of civilization can prove very thin indeed.

Annex Theater's new production of "The Lord of Flies," purposely departs from the plotlines (and the precise title) of the Golding novel, moves the venue to a high-security animal disease research center, and dives into another dark and troubling issue: how technology can become both a protector and a menace. Adapted by M. Coan, and collectively directed and acted by S. Jacklin, J. Budenz, S. Lamar, and R. Kidwell.,

The Lord of Flies continues at Baltimore's Annex Theater until August 7.

Photo by Laurie Sentman Starkey

Once a week, theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio to review some of the best local and regional theater productions. This morning, she's talking Spamalot, the Tony Award-winning musical based on the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The satirical and unrepentantly silly tale, based loosely on the King Arthur legend, is directed by Laurie Starkey, with book and lyrics by legendary Python co-founder Eric Idle, and music by John Du Prez. 

Spamalot is on stage now through July 31st at the College Community Center Mainstage Theater, at Cockpit in Court Summer Theater, 7201 Rossville Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21237.  For ticket information, click here.

The Republican convention gets underway today in Cleveland. Elizabeth Copeland, a Baltimore Republican who is the founder of the Urban Conservative Project, gives a preview.

Photo by Seth Freeman, CATF 2016

For this week's review, our theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck traveled, as she has every year for more than two decades, to Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, host for the annual Contemporary American Theater Festival.  For the Festival's 2016 season, five new plays are being staged in a rotating repertory:   pen/man/ship, by Christina Anderson; Not Medea, by Allison Gregory; The Wedding Gift, by Chisa Hutchinson; 20th Century Blues, by Susan Miller; and The Second Girl, by Ronan Noone.  Notable this year is that four of the five plays are by women playwrights; three of the plays are having their world premieres.  

J. Wynn Rousuck talks with host Tom Hall about some of the standout features of this repertory feast.

[Full disclosure from J. Wynn Rousuck: She and playwright Christina Anderson were fellow students in the graduate playwriting program at Brown University in 2007-2008.]

Teresa Castracane

The Alexandre Dumas classic, The Three Musketeers, has found new  life in the forests of Ellicott City. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company puts a fresh spin on the classic tale of runaway D'Artagnan as he ventures through 17th century France with the legendary three musketeers of the King's court: Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in-studio with her review of the live-action outdoor performance.  

And she waxes poetic about how the experience was, truly, tempest-tossed by the vagaries of weather.

MATTHEW MURPHY

The Tony Award-winning musical production of The Bridges of Madison County is now playing at The Kennedy Center. 

The 1992 book of the same name spent three years on the New York Times best-seller list and was made into a movie in 1995 starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Bridges tells the story of Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson and her whirlwind, forbidden romance with traveling photographer Robert Kincaid. Composer Jason Robert Brown won a Tony Award in 2014 for the musical’s original score.  Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in-studio to give her take on The Bridges of Madison County.

Olney Theatre Center

If you didn’t know that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote “Evita” four decades ago, you might think this musical about the role of celebrity in politics was brand new.

The idea of a celebrity running for office is the overriding theme of Olney Theatre Center’s re-imagined, eye-opening production of this musical look at the life of former Argentine first lady Eva Peron.

Unlike director Harold Prince’s original interpretation of the show as an examination of media manipulation, at Olney we see Evita manufacturing her own fame and using it to catapult her husband, Juan Peron, to the presidency.

A microphone on a stand becomes a major prop in director Will Davis’ inspired interpretation. Commandeer the mike, get into power, win over the people – as Evita does – and you can tell them just about anything.

Photo by Tom Lauer

Godspell is a high-spirited, musical re-telling of the life and passion of Jesus Christ, created in 1971 by a 23-year-old wunderkind named Stephen Schwartz (who would later go on to score many more musical hits), with a book by John-Michael Tebelak. Since its Off-Broadway debut, Godspell has become an iconic and seemingly timeless work, played in numerous community theaters, touring companies and revivals, including a successful 2011 run on Broadway. Now, a new production of Godspell by Cockpit in Court is playing through Sunday (June 26) at the Essex Campus of the Community College of Baltimore.  Maryland Morning theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck caught the show and joins Tom in the studio with her review.

Shealyn Jae Photography

In the world of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere,” there are talking rats, duplicitous angels and immortal assassins.

Most of the action takes place below ground in the London sewers and subway, or “tube.” The supernatural goings-on include a girl who can walk through doors -- where there are no doors.

With so much imaginative material, you might expect the theatrical adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel to take its own leaps of fantasy. But ambitious as Cohesion Theatre Company’s efforts may be, in many respects, director Brad Norris’ production and playwright Robert Kauzlaric’s script are too literal an interpretation of the book  (a book that was, itself, adapted from Gaiman’s BBC-TV series).

Jason Gillman

It is the season of love here in Baltimore as the classic play Love Letters by A.R. Gurney takes the stage at the Hippodrome Theatre. Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, stars of the 1970 film, Love Story, rekindle old flames in this charming story of an artist and a lawyer who fall in love through pen and paper.  Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in-studio to give her take on this tale of distant lovers.

Mónica López-González, PhD

A windowless room, a few hardback chairs and a table with a bare bulb overhead. A female police Detective interrogates a murder suspect. The Suspect is also a woman. She was arrested at a party held to celebrate a book about – and supposedly written by -- a prominent, but notorious man.

He’s identified only as “the president,” though whether that refers to the political or corporate world is left unsaid. Now he’s been murdered. The Suspect was his ghostwriter. Was she also his killer? Does she have something to hide? Does the Detective?

Human communication has its limitations. And, when people deliberately conceal information – at a police interrogation, for example – understanding may boil down to a matter of perception.

Perception -- and its flaws -- is the central theme of Framed Illusion. This latest work by La Petite Noiseuse Productions is premiering at the Theatre Project. The one-act play is written, directed and stars the company’s artistic and scientific director, Mónica López-González.

Terry Richardson

    

John Waters celebrated his 70th birthday in April. From his early days as an enfant terrible film maker and the King of Sleaze, he has sustained a remarkable career as an author, a stand-up comedian, a visual artist, and one of America’s most thoughtful observers on the cultural landscape. He is the master of re-invention, and no work is more emblematic of that than Hairspray, which was a movie, a musical, and then a movie of a musical. This weekend, he’ll narrate Hairspray in yet another iteration: a Symphonic Production with the BSO. John Waters joins me this morning to talk about art, politics, and how to keep looking ahead.

Then, WYPR’s Lisa Morgan talks to Andrew Och, who goes on the road with America's First Ladies,and J. Wynn Rousuck previews the Baltimore Playwright’s Festival.

Photo by Rob Sivak WYPR

The Baltimore Playwrights Festival is one of the older new-play festivals in America.  It has produced more than 300 plays since it began in 1982.  Joining Maryland Morning theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck in our studio to talk about the festival’s history, goals, and new directions as it begins its 35th season, are two of its leading lights: Michael Stricker, the festival’s new chair, and Kimberley Lynne, one of its co-chairs. 

Joe Williams

You wouldn’t expect it from the title, but there’s a lot of violence in the play, Superior Donuts. The opening scene takes place the morning after this Chicago donut shop has been vandalized. And there’s a fight in the second act that almost has you ducking for cover. 

Playwright Tracy Letts started writing Superior Donuts right before his 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, August: Osage County, had its first production.

He set out to write something very different from that sprawling Oklahoma family saga. And he did. In many respects, Superior Donuts is the superior play.

Photo: Nick Griner

Maybe you heard about the Rembrandt that was discovered in a New Jersey basement. Or, maybe you remember the little painting that was purchased at a West Virginia flea market and turned out to be a Renoir – a Renoir that was stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art.

So there’s precedent for the unwanted, the overlooked, the discarded – let’s face it, someone’s trash – turning out to be a masterpiece. In the case of Stephen Sachs’ play, “Bakersfield Mist,” there’s a very direct precedent. 

Josh Loock

I hope that when the world ends, we’re surrounded by friends and take some joy in companionship. Maybe there will even be some songs, a bit of dancing and a toast or two at a place called the Apocalypse Café.

That’s what goes on in BrouHaHa, the ensemble-created work by Washington’s Happenstance Theater, now at the Theatre Project.

Happenstance subtitles BrouHaHa: “A clownesque escapade.” A clown piece about the apocalypse may sound like a contradiction in terms. But there’s something surprisingly comforting – and charming -- about BrouHaHa

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. 

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