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 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. 

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?

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