If you’re looking for a little something different this fall, if you need a change of pace but still want to support local theatre then The Woodbrook Players have your ticket. They’re actually offering up four one-act plays of the 20th century all gently squeezed together and bundled up as an evening— or afternoon’s— entertainment. While the through-line of what ties these four specific works together is a bit of a stretch, the performances are solid, there is humor to be had, and a good sampling of the faithful faces of The Woodbrook Players featured throughout the evening. Directed and curated by Ron Oaks, this selection of four pieces, plus some musical framework, will delight the casual theatergoer as well as the more deeply invested.
While settling into their new home at Govans Presbyterian, The Woodbrook Players are learning to play to their strengths. They have a tremendous bench of strong choir and operatic singers, which generally have no placement in a straight show, or even a series of straight one-acts. But Director Ron Oaks has put this talent to good use here. Knowing full well while their stage space is still being erected by the church, that a proper quay-side in a seaport town in Ireland would be a difficult set to come by, Oaks encourages the audiences’ imaginations into the first play’s setting by song. Before The Rising of the Moon by Lady Gregory gets underway, the audience is treated to three lilting Irish tunes— “The Star of County Down” performed in glorious robust full voice with Irish accent by Paul Ballard, “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go” performed sweetly and boldly by Jocelyn Taylor and Ron Oaks, and “The Rising of the Moon” performed with Irish speed and charm by Stephen Gaede. This is a delightful frameup that could have well-served the second show before the intermission had it been employed there.
The play by Lady Gregory features just four characters, two dismissible Policemen (Paul Ballard and Yitzi Turniansky), a Sergeant (Rodney Bonds) and A Ragged Man (Brad Harris.) Ron Oaks’ directorial approach to working out those tricky Irish accents should be commended. It isn’t often in community theatre that foreign accents are achieved with any kind of consistency or accuracy so to hear both from this opening Irish sketch is a delight, especially when it comes to Bonds’ Sergeant, who has a thick brogue but not so terribly thick as to muddle what he’s saying. Brad Harris is the quirky comic relief in this easily dark endeavor, flouncing about like a truly spirited lad. But there is something a bit dark about his ways, which is made clear by the play’s conclusion. All in all a simple dramatic series of moments masked with a bit of mystery and humor. Costume Designer Sherry Peck should be commended for how authentic and dated the uniforms of the Irish bobbies look, complete with their round-pop caps.
The second theatrical offering of the evening, The Twelve-Pound Look, by James M. Barrie, has somewhat of a darker edge of humor to it. The one-act has four parts— or rather, four people. The Butler, self-identified as Tombes (Yitzi Turniansky), who serves as a conduit between story and audience is the first encounter in this piece. He speaks plainly with great reserve, informing the audience that they are to pretend that they are in fact Mr. Sims and that this is their house, their wife, etc. Turniansky delivers his part well and wins a few chuckles from the house before the scene gets underway. Lady Sims (HanaLyn Colvin) is steeped in melancholy, a meager moroseness hanging about her countenance the way clouds often hang over London on any day that ends in -Y. She squeaks about, obeying her rather chauvinistically inclined husband without thinking twice, but does alight when certain prospects are brought to mind. The problem with this particular play is its pacing. While the gaping pauses between Sir Harry Sims (Paul Ballard) and Kate (Jocelyn Taylor) are clearly intended to be momentary contemplation, they linger a bit too long and add this clunky awkwardness to the delivery of their text. When the barbs that zing back and forth between them have elongated silences between them, it reads as though the pair might be lost in script— which clearly isn’t’ the case as when they do each speak their piece it’s quite edgy and zingy. A truncation of these “thoughtful, contemplative pauses” would better serve the overall humor and action of the show. Taylor and Ballard make quite the match, with Taylor zinging him every chance she gets and Ballard having airs that would make the Queen of England herself look rather dull. It’s a humorous little piece, particularly with the ending.
Intermission offers some light refreshments in the lobby before welcoming in the latter half of the evening’s program, which includes a poetic recitation by Jocelyn Taylor and a ballad sung by HanaLyn Colvin, both are done preceding The Dear Departed by Stanley Houghton. Miraculous, this piece is accomplished. There is some ripe humor laced within and everyone fluffs their way through the bits that get sent up. With six characters (the largest on stage in character-speaking roles over the course of the evening) there’s lots that happens. Cris Fluke and Marc Rehr, playing Mrs. and Mr. Ben Jordan, arrive at their sister’s home in full mourning (again compliments to Sherry Peck for her impeccable sartorial selection) to the dreadful news that grandfather has passed. A great deal of family bickering ensues between Rehr and Fluke and The Slaters (Sherry Peck and Ron Zyna.) It’s one of those knock-down, drag-out, bitter-sister, family affairs. Playing adorable little Victoria, HanaLyn Colvin watches the bickering and biting a bit the way one watches a tennis match, with polite but troubled intrigue. When Dave Guy arrives on the scene, chaos and hilarity ensue. It’s a real trip and a double-take too!
The final offering of the evening, which features all of the players as silent background populators who mime their way through a funeral, is a piece by Christopher Durang entitled Funeral Parlor. Making her debut for the evening as a grieving widow, Mickey Mullany has quite the tall order to stand up to Brad Harris’ antics as he portrays Marcus, a clearly off-kilter individual who seems to have gate-crashed this funeral. It’s an odd, darkly humorous, and surprisingly cathartic way to end the program of four short one-acts.
Charming and quaint and an evening of fun, Politics, Pomp & Proprieties is just the change of pace one needs on this cool, cold autumn evenings.
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission
Politics, Pomp & Proprieties plays through November 17, 2019 with The Woodbrook Players at Govans Presbyterian Church— 5828 York Road near Belvedere Square & The Senator Theatre in Towson, MD. Due to limited seating, tickets are available in advance only. You can email for tickets or purchase them ahead of time online.