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.

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.

Shealyn Jae Photography

Last month Center Stage brought us an all-female As You Like It, and now Cohesion Theatre Company has produced a gender-blind production of Shakespeare’s most challenging play, Hamlet.

Hamlet is played by a woman, Caitlin Carbone – and the character is portrayed as a woman; female pronouns are used. Women also play Laertes and Horatio, though those characters remain male. I’ll get to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in a minute.

Women have been portraying Hamlet at least since Sarah Siddons in 1775.  Sarah Bernhardt is probably the best known, but there have been many others -- including some who portrayed the troubled Dane as female.

Of course, good actors should be able to play, well, just about anything. And, Caitlin Carbone delivers a solid, thoughtful performance as the heir to the Danish throne.

Joan Marcus

After 19 months on Broadway, the touring production of Motown the Musical is in Baltimore at The Hippodrome Theatre through March 13th.

Adapted from Motown Records founder Berry Gordy’s 1994 memoir To Be Loved, the production is a walk down memory lane that features notable Motown hits and original music.

Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio to discuss the musical’s highs and lows.

Forty years ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company rediscovered a late 18th century comedy and gave it a new production that transferred to the West End. It helped turn a young actor named Jeremy Irons into a star.

The play was John O’Keeffe’s “Wild Oats.” Despite its hit revival, it’s still not widely produced. But the 1791 rom-com is receiving a jaunty production at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, under Ian Gallanar’s direction.

“Wild Oats” is a good fit for a Shakespeare company: two of its main characters are actors, and one – an itinerant actor who calls himself Jack Rover – quotes the Bard every chance he gets.

One of the production’s most amusing elements is that it never lets us forget we’re watching a play. Jack’s best friend and fellow actor occasionally turns to the audience and identifies the play Jack’s quoting. In one case, he tells us, “It’s a dated reference.” 

Olney Theatre Center

Carmen: An Afro-Cuban Jazz Musical, the world-premier production on stage now through March 6th at the Olney Theatre Center, takes Bizet's famous opera, which was set in 1820s Spain, and moves it to 1950s Cuba.  The result is a contemporary and politically resonant re-imagining of the classic love story.  Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio to explain why this latest of many adaptations of the original opera is an artistic standout.

C. Stanley Photography

Lynn Nottage’s newest play, Sweat -- like her Pulitzer Prize winner, Ruined -- takes place primarily in a bar. The bar in “Ruined” is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The bar in Sweat is closer to home -- Reading, Pennsylvania, ranked this country’s poorest city by the 2011 census.

In Ruined, the conflict is war. In Sweat -- receiving a powerful East Coast premiere at Washington’s Arena Stage -- the conflict is between cost-cutting industry and struggling workers.