Talbot Election Results — Updated

In updated election results from the Nov. 6 General Election for Talbot County, four Republicans and one Democrat appear to have been elected to the Talbot County Council. As of the close of voting on Election Day, Laura Everngam Price, Pete Lesher, Corey W. Pack, Chuck Callahan, and Frank Divilio are the winners. Results will not be final until absentee and provisional votes are counted over the next two weeks. Divilio has a lead of 257 votes over Democrat Keasha N. Haythe.

In the District 1 Congressional race, Democrat Jesse Colvin took the Talbot County vote by nearly 500 votes over incumbent Republican Andy Harris. However, district-wide, Harris won re-election handily, scoring 60 percent of the votes cast as of the close of polls Tuesday.

Incumbents also won in the General Assembly races for District 37B, with State Senator Adelaide “Addie” Eckhart gaining 61% of the votes in Talbot and more than 60% district-wide. Delegates Johnny Mautz of Talbot and Christopher Adams of Wicomico, both Republicans, were also re-elected by comfortable margins.

In statewide races, Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Attorney General Brian Frosh, and U.S. Senator Ben Cardin were returned to office with substantial margins. However, in Talbot, Frosh trailed Republican Craig Wolf, 8,763 to 7,949. Two amendments to the Maryland State Constitution — one to restrict the use of funds raised by commercial gambling to educational purposes, and the second to allow residents to register and vote on Election Day — were approved by statewide voters.

The state Board of Elections did not release any results until after 10 p.m. Tuesday, due to polls in some parts of the state remaining open to accommodate voters still in line as of the 8 p.m. closing time.

For a complete list of Talbot County election results, see the Maryland Board of Elections website.

 

 

Vote Count in Talbot County 

 

 

Talbot County Council

 

 

Mid-Shore Arts: Sumner Hall Presents Roots of African American Music

The MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, the opening act for the Sumner Hall concert series

Chestertown’s Sumner Hall begins a new venture this fall with a stellar concert series, “African American Legacy & Heritage in Jazz, Blues & Gospel.” The series, featuring local and nationally-known performers, is produced by Tom McHugh, well known for his work at the Mainstay in Rock Hall.

Since retiring from the Mainstay, McHugh has worked with the arts programs at the Kent County public schools, bringing recognition to the art teachers and students and working to bring in artists to help expand the students’ horizons. Now, working in a volunteer capacity with Sumner Hall, he has drawn on his many contacts throughout the music world to assemble a concert series to represent the rich spectrum of African American music, from spirituals and blues to the giants of jazz. McHugh was joined by Sumner Hall President Larry Wilson for a Spy interview on the concert series.

Musician Karen Somerville with Tom McHugh, producer of the concert series and director of Arts in Motion – Photo by Jane Jewell

McHugh said the inspiration for the series came when he was at Sumner Hall for an event and read a poster on the wall that made him think about the role of music in African American life in Kent County and how that links to the mission of Sumner Hall. “It’s a poster that just makes you think,” he said. The series inspired by it “is intended to be the legacy of African American contributions to blues and jazz and folk music.”

Reggie Harris

The first performer he thought of was Reggie Harris, guitarist, songwriter and storyteller extraordinaire. McHugh said, “Reggie has this reputation of being able to pull all these currents together.” He said that whenever he brought Harris in for a concert, “I just let him roll,” knowing the result would be right for the situation and the audience. When McHugh called Harris – even before contacting anyone at Sumner Hall – to tell him about the idea of a concert series to present “snapshots” of the different musical genres, Harris said, “I’m in.”

McHugh then began looking for other performers, particularly those who could take the history “way back,” which was when he found out about the MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, a Washington DC-based group that presents the Piedmont Blues style associated with such artists as Cephas and Wiggans. McHugh said MSG had performed at Archie Edwards’ barbershop in Washington, which featured live performances while Edwards cut hair. The group was referred to McHugh by Dave Robinson, a fixture of the Washington jazz scene, who brought a DC-area youth band to the Chestertown Jazz Festival a year ago. Robinson referred McHugh to Archie Edwards Barbershop Foundation and they recommended MSG Acoustic Blues Trio. “You have to get these people…they entertain and educate the audience about the Piedmont blues traditions,” Robinson said.

Larry Wilson, president of Sumner Hall Board of Directors – Photo by Jane Jewell

Having secured those two groups, McHugh said, he felt the rest would be a matter of “filling in.” He presented the idea to some of the Sumner Hall leadership, and the project began to take shape. He said that all the artists had agreed to perform for less than their normal fees, many of them because of their previous experience with McHugh at the Mainstay.

Phil Dutton

He talked about the performers, many of whom are already familiar to local audiences – especially Philip Dutton and Karen Somerville. For their performances in this series, McHugh asked both of them to stretch beyond what audiences have come to expect. Dutton, who usually appears with his band the Alligators, will do a solo set, talking about the influences on his playing. McHugh described Dutton as “a scholar” of the different styles of New Orleans piano playing.

Somerville, best known for gospel performances with the Sombarkin trio, will pay tribute to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin – two of the most revered voices in African American music. McHugh said that he and Somerville have been friends for at least 25 years, and he described her as his main link to the Kent County African American community during his first few years here, introducing him to important members of the community and filling him in on bits of local history.

Pianist Daryl Davis and guitarist Guy Davis (no relation) have been regulars at the Mainstay, with Daryl Davis a frequent performer at Rock Hall Fall Fests. McHugh has known Guy Davis for many years, since inviting him to demonstrate slide guitar at a blues class he was teaching at Vassar. Guy Davis and Reggie Harris played a memorable concert at Sumner Hall a couple of years ago.

Guy Davis – photo by Joseph A. Rosen

One of the less familiar performers is Jason Blythe, a young tenor sax player from the jazz program at the University of Delaware, whom Mchugh heard when the U. Del. big jazz band played at the Mainstay. McHugh described Blythe as “a natural” musician. Learning that one of Blythe’s favorite tenor players is the late Lester Young, McHugh challenged him to recreate Young’s 1946 trio with Nat “King” Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums. Blythe recruited two members of the U. Del. faculty to fill out the trio.

McHugh said that each of the performers has agreed to talk about the music with the audience and to answer any questions. “It might have to do with your instrument, or it might have to do with how you got into this music, so people can take those stories out into the community,” he said. In some cases – notably with Daryl Davis, who has made an ongoing effort to meet and engage with members of the Ku Klux Klan – the discussion may range far beyond the music. That’s part of the point – as important as the music is in its own right, it has an important role as part of African American life, and draws on all aspects of the black experience in this country.

Daryl Davis

Wilson reminisced about the music he heard while growing up in Kent County. He and his friends listened to the black-run radio stations, WSID and WEBB from Baltimore and WANN from Annapolis until they went off the air at sundown, then switched to the Baltimore Top 40 station, WCAO – where much of the same music was crossing over into the pop mainstream. He said he hoped the concert series would attract more members of the local African American community – especially young listeners — to Sumner Hall

With this goal in mind, 20 tickets will be set aside for each concert for Special Guests. The concerts’ website notes that there are many members of the community who may be unable to purchase a ticket but who are either a part of the local African American music scene in the region or who are students and youth who would love to attend. Anyone interested in sponsoring one of these community members can purchase a “Sponsor a Special Guest” ticket in addition to their own, and Sumner Hall will make sure that ticket goes to a deserving local music fan. “Sponsor a Special Guest” tickets are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said of the concert series. “Each one is different in its own way but it brings a light to the music.”  The musicians will open the floor for questions and discussion at the end of each concert.  Most concerts are on Saturday, a couple on Friday evenings.  Shows begin at 7:00 pm. The complete series schedule is below.

Everyone involved in the production is spreading the word through email and other media, so anyone interested would be well advised to make advance reservations online here https://aalhconcertseries.eventbrite.com.  The series is supported in part by a generous donation from the Hedgelawn Foundation.

All shows begin at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $20 each.  The hall seats just a little over 100. Advance ticket sales only. No tickets will be sold at the door.See their website for more information on Sumner Hall and other upcoming events.

The complete schedule:

November 10 – MSG Acoustic Blues Trio Showcases the Piedmont Blues
December 8 – Daryl Davis Offers Boogie Woogie and a Message
February 9 – Phil Dutton Plays New Orleans Piano
March 1 – Guy Davis is on the Road with Blues and Songster Ramblings
April 13 – Jason Blythe & University of Delaware Band Re-create the Lester Young Trio
May 11 – Karen Somerville Sings Mahalia, Aretha. . . and More
June 1 – Reggie Harris Wraps It Up

Sumner Hall
206 S. Queen Street
Chestertown, MD 21620
phone 443 282 0023. 

Review: Tred Avon’s Little Shop of Horrors — A Must-See!

Florist Mushnik (Bill Gross) and his adopted son Seymour (Mike Sousa) sing of their new-found success. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Little Shop of Horrors, performed by the Tred Avon Players, is now playing at Oxford Community Center. Based on an unabashedly schlocky black-and-white horror film by the legendary Roger Corman, the musical takes us to the Skid Row Florist shop, where a low-paid assistant makes a strange new plant flourish – with unexpected results.

Directed by Marcia Gilliam, the Tred Avon production does a first-class job with the show’s musical score, which draws heavily on the sound and ambiance of 1950s’ rock ‘n’ roll. With a strong cast and toe-tapping music, Gilliam and the TAP gang have put on a delightful show, well worth a trip to Oxford for playgoers all across the Shore.

The Corman film, which was produced on a budget of $28,000 in 1960, mixed the story of a man-eating plant with a generous helping of dark comedy and satire. With a cast of B-film stalwarts including Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, and Mel Welles – and a very minor part by Jack Nicholson – the film was reportedly shot in only two days, using a left-over set from Corman’s previous horror-comedy, “A Bucket of Blood.” It gradually gained a cult following, with late-night TV showings helping to build its popularity.

“Feed me!” demands the plant Audrey Two – voiced by Kathy Jones.  Note the feet of Audrey’s latest victim as he slides down the plant’s carnivorous maw!        – photo by Jane Jewell

Little Shop of Horrors, the musical, was created in 1982 by composer Alan Menken and script-writer Howard Ashman. Originally an off-off-Broadway production, it moved to the Orpheum Theater where it ran for five years, ending up as the highest-grossing off-Broadway musical to date. However, because it did not appear on Broadway, it was ineligible for the Tony Awards. It finally appeared on Broadway in 2003, in a million-dollar production that ran for 372 regular performances. The musical has also been made into a film in its own right, directed by Frank Oz (of “Muppet Show” fame) in 1986. Bill Murray and Steve Martin play minor roles in the film.

The plot, which is somewhat changed from the Corman film, introduces the Skid Row Florist shop, a failing business in the worst part of town. Mr. Mushnik, the shop’s owner, is ready to close his doors for good when Seymour, his geeky assistant, says he has an interesting new plant that might attract customers. Mushnik is skeptical, but no sooner does Seymour put the plant by the window than a customer comes in and spends $100 on a bouquet of roses.

Down on Skid Row — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Mushnik decides the business isn’t washed up after all, and with the strange plant in the window, the shop takes off.  Seymour names the plant Audrey Two, after the shop’s other employee, for whom he has a secret crush.  But there’s a downside to everything, as Seymour learns when he accidentally spills a few drops of blood from a fresh cut into Audrey Two’s “mouth.” The plant has a craving for food – human flesh and blood, to be exact – and that discovery propels the rest of the plot. Seymour must keep the plant, which has grown to enormous size, fed – and it will only accept fresh food.

We won’t give away all the twists and turns – which range from gruesome to outright comic. The play has an infectious momentum, helped along by a likable set of songs that draw on the music of the era in which it’s set. The production also has a fair amount of fun with the social milieu of the late ‘50s, as in the song “Someplace That’s Green,” where Seymour and Audrey pine for a suburban lifestyle straight out of the TV sitcoms of the day.

The TAP production’s strong cast presents Mike Sousa as Seymour, the florist’s assistant. Sousa, who has several other credits at TAP, does a good job of portraying the earnest protagonist as well as a good job with the musical numbers. A nice performance in the key role.

Shelby Swann plays Audrey, Seymour’s love interest, and she brings a strong singing voice to the role, along with a nice New York accent to bring out the character. Most of her work at TAP has been backstage, but judging by her performance here, she should be encouraged to take more onstage roles.

The trio of Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronette, played by Rachel Elaina, Beth Anne Langrell, and Erinne Lewis, respectively, are near the heart of the play.  The trio’s names play on the names of popular “girl groups” of the early ‘60s, and that’s a good hint of the nature of their musical contribution. All have fabulous voices and they authentically re-create the music and mood of the ’60s. But in addition to delivering some of the most infectious tunes in the show, they act as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the action and delivering narrative hooks as necessary.  Lewis also created the choreography for the show – a good complement to the overall effect.  They have all the right moves as they shimmy and shake, stepping in time to the music – just like all the popular girl groups of the ’60s.  And their costumes are perfect.  They may live on Skid Row but they are always in style.

Ricky Viranovec gets the role of the play’s villain, dentist Orin Scrivello – Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend. He makes the most of the role, all but chewing on the scenery – a nice piece of casting.  He is a natural comic and his “death by laughing gas” scene is hilarious. Viranoves also plays several other small roles including the various agents who try to get Seymour to sign contracts with them.   Viranovec, who has appeared in a number of roles in Shore theaters, teaches theater at Easton High School.

The mad dentist (Ricky Vitanovec) enjoys his work.  Seymour (Mike Sousa) is not so sure. 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Bill Gross, who played the role of Oscar Madison in TAP’s The Odd Couple last summer, takes the role of Mr. Mushnik, the gruff owner of the flower shop. He gives a polish to the likeable curmudgeon who gleefully collects the money as Audrey Two brings in the customers.

Kathy Jones, in heavy makeup and wearing a crown of leaves, voices Audrey Two, the cannibalistic plant, with an appropriately sinister air. An excellent job by one of the regulars at Church Hill and the Garfield.  Her maniacal laughter at the climax of the play is awesome — and chill-inducing

The band for the show is led by pianist Ellen Barry Grunden, who does a great job of recapturing the doo-wop and ‘50s rock feel of the musical numbers. Ray Remesch on guitar and Jon Jacobs on bass add to the mix.

Costumes – including the deliciously period-perfect matching outfits of the trio – are by that fabulous costumer Barbi Bedell. Gilliam and Tom Lemm share the credit for puppet design and construction, and the set was designed by Lawrie Jessup and constructed with help from Lemm.

As already noted, this is a thoroughly enjoyable performance with great music and great acting – kudos to Gilliam and everyone involved.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through August 26, with performances at 7:30 p.m, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for students. Oxford Community Center is at 200 Oxford Road, Oxford, MD.  If you come to one of the Sunday matinees, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in the “talk-back” with the actors after the show, meet all four of the Audrey Two plant puppets and their puppeteers, and get a backstage tour.

For reservations or other information, call 410-266-0061 or visit the TAP websitePhoto Gallery by Jane Jewell 

Some more photos:

Everyone wants a piece of Seymour and the exotic Audrey Two — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Mushnik & Seymour celebrate their success and their new father-son relationship – 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Audrey &  Seymour – oh yes, and Audrey Two — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

“Somewhere That’s Green” 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

A Spy Chat with Comptroller of Maryland Peter Franchot

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot

Peter Franchot, Comptroller of Maryland, is up for re-election this fall. In a recent visit to Chestertown, Franchot met with the Spy editorial team for a free-wheeling interview. The session took place in the back room of the BookPlate bookstore on Cross Street, and Franchot took the opportunity to purchase several recent political books recommended by bookseller Tom Martin.  The store cat, KeKe, circled around once or twice to supervise the interview.

The Spy began by asking what issues Franchot saw as central to the upcoming election.

The key issue for me as Comptroller is customer service,” Franchot said. “People expect to get their refunds quickly. We returned $3 billion in refunds this year to Maryland families. We averaged 2.1 business days upon receiving their refund claim and putting their money back in their bank account. That’s a big operation. People expect that money. It’s their money, so we do a lot of bells and whistles as far as making sure they get good customer service. We answer 800,000 phone calls a year on the 800-MDTAXES number. We average 40 seconds from the first ring to getting a live, friendly helpful employee of my agency on the line. And that’s pretty unusual these days. I’m just emphasizing from my agency’s perspective that we have a top priority. I carry that across the state as a reason for people to reelect me. It’s not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue – it’s just a service issue, and I think that people are hungry for that in government.”

Asked if he has goals for another term – if re-elected, it would be his fourth – Franchot said, “Well, we’re going to continue obviously doing the things we’ve been doing. And it depends on who the next governor is. If it’s Larry Hogan, he and I have developed a very strong relationship around fiscal issues, and I’ll continue to look for areas where we can agree and work together. I think that’s the lighted path forward for American politics, for the parties to drop a lot of their partisanship, where we can. We’re different parties and different kinds of people, but where we can combine on things like procurement reform on the Board of Public Works, school maintenance on the Board of Public Works, doing things like starting school after Labor Day, which I think is a great thing for the state, I’m happy to work with Gov. Hogan. If the Democrat is elected, whoever that may be, that creates a different climate for me on the Board of Public Works.”

Speaking of the Board of Public Works, consisting of Franchot, Hogan, and state Treasurer Nancy Kopp, the General Assembly made two changes in that body’s responsibilities at the end of the 2018 session. Franchot characterized the actions as “what happens when legislative leaders are all-powerful and have no checks and balances,” and expressed hope that Hogan will veto them. One was a statute barring the Comptroller from serving as chairman of the board of trustees of the state retirement system – a $51 billion fund that covers some 400,000 current and former state employees. Franchot has been vice-chair for his entire term (12 years to date) in office. “It jeopardizes the triple-A bond rating of the state,” Franchot said. “It injects a lot of politics into the pension system,” he added, hinting that the change also directly benefits one of the leaders of the Assembly.

The other change, which Franchot said annoyed Hogan more than it did himself, was an amendment removing the Board of Public Works from jurisdiction over school construction. He said, “Gov. Hogan and I together have revolutionized the procurement system for school construction, and we’ve emphasized taking care of school buildings so we don’t have to constantly build new ones. (…) We made a lot of progress, but it irritated some of the local political bosses so this is what they served up – once again, behind closed doors, backroom. I don’t take it personally, I just take it as the dying spasms of a political boss system that is alive and well for, hopefully, just a short time more in Annapolis.”

Franchot has some ideas how the General Assembly could be made more responsive to the wishes of the voters. “I tell people if we could have independent redistricting and open primary voting, we’d have a lot better legislature. They’d be a lot more moderate and a lot less partisan, and a lot less dependent on the extremes of either party. I certainly hope we advance to that point at some time, so everybody’s not invulnerable. I mean, right now we have Democrats and Republicans and so-called “un-enrolled,” who are generally young people who don’t want to sign up to be Democrats or Republicans. There’s 700,000 of them in the state, and my suggestion is that we allow them to go to vote on primary day. They can either vote in the Republican primary or the Democratic primary – whatever they want to do – and that day they can vote in that party’s primary. I don’t know how you’d do it – some states allow an independent, as they’re called, to register, literally on the day, by picking the party. They go and vote. On their way out of the poll, they re-enroll as independents. But the key is, get them involved. I don’t care what party they pick; I just want them involved. They deserve to vote.”

Asked what he saw as important economic drivers for rural counties like Kent to pursue, Franchot turned to a favorite topic. “I’ve told Chestertown and Kent County that they’re doing great as far as getting new craft breweries, craft distilleries – there are a couple of wineries, I think, in the county. That’s terrific, that’s a manufacturing sector currently in Maryland that produces $650 million in economic activity from the beer side alone. We’re talking a billion and a half dollars when you put in the wine industry and the distillery business. So emphasizing Maryland-based craft alcohol products is a great sector for the Shore, because not only do you generate economic activity that stays local, but you also attract a lot of people from New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania who want to come down and visit.” He noted, “We’re not talking about more alcohol; we’re talking about substituting in-state produced, wonderful craft alcohol products for out-of-state stuff that gets imported.”

While his efforts to pass a bill making life easier for craft breweries were stymied in the 2018 Assembly session, Franchot was optimistic about the future of the industry. “We’re going to go right back in with a big bill that’s got even more provisions in it. We’re going to let the brewers – because they’re maturing as far as their presence in Annapolis – we’re going to let them take the leadership role in it. And I think that they’ll be very successful in terms of getting rid of some of the antiquated laws and statutes that stand in the way. As I mentioned, they already have 6,500 jobs in the state; it could be five times that within five years if we just let them brew good beer and sell it to consumers. The funny system we have – it’s called capitalism – it might actually work if we ever let it.”

Franchot said Hogan supports the craft brewers, but that the Governor decided to stay out of the issue because of the politics involved. “I think next year we’re going to send back the bill, it’s going to be stronger, it’s going to get a much better reception. I think the legislature realizes that not only did they miss the opportunity to make us the number one state in the country; because of what they did, it’s the worst state in the country for craft beer. I mean, we have breweries that are ready to pack up and move out to Virginia and Pennsylvania, right now.”

On a broader scale, Franchot suggested a new way for Maryland to invest in the future of its youth – many of who, in rural counties like Kent, leave home after high school and never return. “We need a state-wide youth employment program where veterans are brought in as team leaders. They’re assigned 15 to 20 kids. The kids come in at $10 an hour pay; they work for a year or two years, they learn skills, they get educated about the state, about the country. It’s as if they were in the army, but. They’re doing some kind of infrastructure work, and the state and the federal government should put an extra $10 in a trust fund for them, so at the end of two years, they actually have something to show for it. And the key is that we offer full employment and a real serious environment for these young people. A lot of kids will jump at it. If we can get them to be serious about their future in Maryland, they’ll stay in Maryland. No more “you have to go apply for a job” – you have a job. You’re going to have a former drill sergeant as your team leader, so it’s not going to be a gift. You’ve got to show up, you’ve got to conduct yourself with some direction, but if you do, you’re going to get $20,000 at the end, and you’ll make $10 an hour, say. And God knows, we have enough to do.”

Franchot also had some observations on the impact of the new federal tax laws on Maryland residents. “We did a very innovative analysis. We took two-and-a-half million returns, real returns from the year 2014 and ran them through a simulated version of the federal tax law and gave that information to the legislature and the Governor. They made some small adjustments, but what we found was very interesting. For example, the federal tax cut is going to benefit a lot more people than we thought. It’s going to total a net of 2.7 billion new consumer dollars in the state of Maryland this calendar year. Combined with the $3 billion in refunds that I mentioned, that’s almost $6 billion in disposable income going into consumers’ pockets. I anticipate it’ll have a big impact on small businesses, like this wonderful bookstore that we’re in.”

How does that break down for individual taxpayers per income bracket? Franchot said, “I’m a Democrat – I was told the federal tax cut was terrible, it’ll hurt the middle class. Well, facts are facts: 71 percent of Marylanders, almost the entire middle class, benefit from the tax cut. Some of it is smaller, on a percentage basis, than some of the rich people are getting. But only eight percent of Maryland individuals are going to pay more, net, on their taxes – federal and state taxes combined. Half of them are very, very, very wealthy; and the other half are people that have big business losses. But anyway, the middle class does better than I thought in the overall. We’re going to see a lot of disposable income being put in people’s pockets, and I’m hopeful they’ll spend it in Maryland.”

In closing, Franchot said, “I’d like to thank everybody for paying my salary — literally. I’m honored and privileged to be the Comptroller of the state of Maryland. We spend a lot of time on the three R’s – respect the taxpayer, respond to the taxpayer, get results for the taxpayer. And our 1,200 employees are very sensitive about that and try to do the best they can. I’m not the IRS; I’m your Comptroller. You elect me. Well, I don’t have an opponent really, this year, in the primary. In the general election, I have a very nice person who I think said she wants to beat me. And when she does beat me – she’s a Republican – she actually kind of thinks I did a good job and she’s going to hire me back as a consultant. So I figure I win either way, this election.” He smiled at this closing observation.

Spy Review: Finding Family “On Golden Pond” by Peter Heck

“On Golden Pond” Cast & Crew Kneeling – Pat Fee & Kathy Jones Standing – Steve Atkinson, Paul Briggs, Nita Wieczoreck,, Brian McGunigle,, Bonnie Hill, Jeff Daly, Doug Kaufmann, Heather Oland, John Crook, Meg Lenher      Photo by Jane Jewell

“On Golden Pond,” now playing at Church Hill Theatre, is the story of an old married couple enjoying a vacation at their Maine summer home. It’s a poignant family story with characters who love one another but need to negotiate rough spots and deal with ghosts from their past.

The play by Ernest Thompson is probably most familiar from the 1981 film version in which the lead parts were played by Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, with Jane Fonda as their daughter. Jane Fonda acquired the film rights to the play, seeing it as an ideal vehicle for her and her father, for whom it was his last appearance on-screen. Henry Fonda and Hepburn both won Oscars for their performances – his first, her fourth.

Thompson’s theatrical version, which premiered in 1979, featured Tom Aldredge and Frances Sternhagen and ran for 382 performances; Craig Anderson directed. The Church Hill production is directed by Bonnie Hill.

The plot revolves around Norman and Ethel Thayer, who arrive at their country house in April, finding it in need of repairs. It becomes evident early that Norman is beginning to lose his short-term memory. Although he is retired from a position as an English professor, he makes a production of searching for jobs in the local paper – one gets the impression he is doing it to tease Ethel, who has evidently had to put up with such behavior more than once in the past. Later, Charlie, the mailman – whom they’ve known since he was a teenager – drops by and, over a cup of coffee, reminisces about the Thayer’s daughter Chelsea, on whom he had a crush when they were both young. And as it happens, he brings a letter from Chelsea, who promises to visit later that summer, bringing her new boyfriend Bill and his young son Billy.

Chelsea introduces young Billy to her parents Ethel and Norman.      Photo by Steve Atkinson

The plot revolves around the relationships between the central couple and the various visitors who come to their lakeside home. Norman’s sometimes prickly exterior is balanced by Ethel’s ability to smooth things over and jolly him along. Chelsea, on the other hand, still nurses resentment over the way her father treated her when she was growing up. Chelsea’s new boyfriend Bill refuses to get drawn into the mind games Norman plays with everyone. On the other hand, young Billy, who stays with the Thayers while Chelsea and Bill vacation in Europe, soon finds himself adapting to the older couple’s ways and the country lifestyle.  Billy loves going fishing with Norman — and teaching the older man the latest teenage slang.

In the Church Hill production, Brian McGunigle and Nita Wieczoreck are cast as the central characters. McGunigle, who is making his CHT debut as Norman, has numerous credits with the Tred Avon Players, including “A Man of No Importance,” and with Shore Shakespeare, including “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He makes the lead character–whose biting wit and cynical worldview might make him unpleasant company in real life–sympathetic and in the end, quite likable.

Wieczoreck is familiar to CHT audiences from numerous appearances in everything from musicals and comedies to dramatic roles, including “Is He Dead?” and “Oliver,” as well as backstage work, especially in costuming. She is warm and outgoing in the role of Ethel, putting up with her husband’s cranky side while showing concern for his lapses of memory; a good choice for the role. A particularly fun scene is where she and her daughter join in singing the songs of the summer camp on Golden Pond that they both attended as young girls.

Ethel and Norman listen to the loons and watch the sunset on Golden Pond      Photo by Jane Jewell

Paul Briggs, who is establishing himself as a versatile character actor both at CHT and the Garfield, takes the role of Charlie the mailman, a local institution. He does a fine Down East accent, and effectively shows a character who is neither bright nor a deep thinker without stereotyping him as a local yokel.

Heather Oland, another CHT regular, has also appeared with Shore Shakespeare, most recently as Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She gives a strong performance as Chelsea, conveying both the warmth she feels for her mother and the tensions with her father. She calls her father “Norman” not “dad” while always calling her mother “Mommy.” While the role is less central than the two parents, it brings together several of the play’s key themes, and Oland’s performance makes the emotional connections clear.

Jeff Daly, takes the role of Bill Ray, Chelsea’s new boyfriend – a California dentist with a son from a previous marriage. The character is a bit reserved, not really hitting it off with Norman. The tension between the two is a prime example of the competitive stance Norman seems to bring to every relationship, whether in Monopoly games with Ethel, fishing with young Billy, or his entire relationship with Chelsea.

Norman and Billy prepare for a day of fishing on the lake while Ethel looks on.   Photo by Steve Atkinson

The role of Billy Ray Jr. is played by John Crook, a veteran of CHT’s Green Room Gang summer theater camp. His experience shows itself in a solid performance. He captures the young boy’s varying moods, from his initial boredom at the idea of spending the summer with two elderly people to his eventual enthusiastic joining Norman in competition over who can catch the biggest fish.

The setting for the play – a single room in the Thayer’s summer home – is quite appealing. The audience can see through the windows as characters enter and leave by the front door, and the lighting of the sky outside the windows evokes the mood of scenes with great effect. And close observers may notice a photo of Hepburn to one side of the living room. Kudos to Earl Lewin for the design, Carmen Grasso and Tom Rhodes for the construction, and Doug Kaufmann for the lighting design. The soundtrack by Patrick Fee – with a recurring motif of loon calls – adds to the overall mood, as well.

Mock-up of the set made by Earl Lewin         Photo by Jane Jewell

“On Golden Pond” will naturally appeal to older audiences, many of whom will see echoes of their own lives in the main characters’ relationships.  But younger people will also relate to this story of growing up and growing old.  “On Golden Pond” resonates with anyone who has fond memories of a summer spent at the lake or beach or had a special time with grandparents. A warm, nostalgic play with a fine director and cast to bring out the emotional nuances of the script,  this is a production any theater-lover will want to see.

The play will continue for two more weekends, through April 22. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for adults, with a $5 discount for CHT members; admission for students is $10. For reservations, call 410-556-5003 or visit the theater website, www.churchilltheatre.org.

Norman and Charlie the postman and Ethel      Photo by Jane Jewell

Norman calls the operator.      Photo by Jane Jewell

The March for Our Lives in Chestertown Report

The march started at noon on High St at the corner of Mill St. in front of the old elementary school now the Kent County offices building.      Photo by Peter Heck.

Chestertown’s March for Our Lives was held on Saturday, March 24 to coincide with the big national march in Washington, DC. The local event was one of more than 800 nationwide and around the world in response to gun violence in schools, especially the murder of 17 students in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day earlier this year.

Around 500 marchers assembled at noon in front of the Kent County government office on High Street, then proceeded down High Street and Cross Street to Wilmer Park, where they heard speakers and musical selections. Marchers, carrying signs and banners, remained on sidewalks so as not to interfere with traffic. The line of marchers was at least two blocks long as it made its way through town. Along the route, many of them chanted, “Enough is enough,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, school shooting’s got to go,” referring to the epidemic of shootings that have plagued the country in recent years.

At the park, Paul Tue, one of the organizers of the march, greeted the crowd and invited them to move closer to Hynson Pavilion, where a PA system was set up. Tue, who works with local youth as one of the founders of the Bayside HOYAS, said he was “blown away” by the turnout. He told attendees that if anyone was overcome with the emotions of the event, there were several therapists on hand for them to talk to. He asked the therapists to raise their hands so people would know who and where they were in the audience.

Tue said there had been 209 school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999, and gave a list of several of the more notorious, concluding with the Parkland shooting and the murder of a schoolgirl by a classmate just a few days ago in St. Mary’s County here in Maryland. “I believe I live in the greatest country in the world,” Tue said, “but today is a day to put our point across.” He asked how many shootings would have to take place on Capitol Hill itself before lawmakers were willing to change the laws governing weapons. He said there was a booth set up to register voters at the rally and urged attendees to call their representatives in Congress and the Maryland General Assembly.

Barbie Glenn, who acted as master of ceremonies for the event, then took the microphone to introduce the speakers.

First up was Dr. Kathryn Seifert, CEO of Eastern Shore Psychological Services. “We know the way to prevent violence,” she said, It will require identifying young people at risk and providing services to help them. A lot of scientific research has been done, and the causes — though complex – are clear. It’s not just mental illness, but “a perfect storm of multiple problems.” Most school shooters are white males, who find their guns at home – not at gun shows. The majority of shooters were identified as unstable before they picked up a gun, she said. She recommended a mental health program in every school, to allow evaluation and early treatment of the problems that lead to gun violence. The U.S. has the second highest rate of child abuse worldwide, and is in the top five nations for its rate of sexual abuse of children, she said. Both have been shown to cause personality disorders including violent tendencies in later life. The victims need treatment “before something happens,” she said. “Let’s get started.”

A trio consisting of Clark Bjorke on guitar, Phil Dutton on keyboard, and Mary Simmons sang a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” with new lyrics targeting the problem of gun violence. The group later returned for two other numbers, including Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” Many crowd members sang along with the familiar protest songs from the 1960s.

Taking the microphone next was a group of Kent County Middle School students, Alana Fithian Wilson, Riley Glenn, Tilera Wright, and Ty-Juan Billingslea. They are members of Students Talking About Racism, a group formed after a racial incident at the school. Each gave a personal reaction to the issue of gun violence, with an equal helping of emotion and evidence. Wilson said that violence is one of America’s biggest problems, with racism as a leading cause. “We need people like you to get involved,” she told the crowd. “It’s time to take a stand, and it needs to be unified.”

Photo by Jeff Weber

Glenn said that gun violence has a devastating impact on American youth, backing the assertation with statistics. Particularly telling was the observation that more students have been killed in U.S. schools since Columbine in 1999 than American soldiers killed in combat since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Billingslea said guns are the third leading cause of childhood deaths, with 40 percent the result of suicides. Black children are three times as likely to die from a shooting as their white peers. Exposure to gun violence leads to greater likelihood of drug or alcohol use and criminal activity later in life, he said.
Wright said students at KCMS are being asked to perform “active shooter” drills. She said she would like to see more school resource officers and metal detectors at school. Parents need to take their children’s concerns seriously, she said. “Politicians need to pass stricter gun laws,” she concluded.
Tue praised the students’ passionate advocacy. “Activism has no age limit,” he said.
The concluding speaker was Grenville Whitman of Rock Hall, representing Kent County Citizens to Prevent Gun Violence. Gun violence kills Americans every day, Whitman said. “We’re here to petition our government for redress,” he said, noting that the right to do so is guaranteed by the Consitution. “It’s also our right not to be shot and killed,” he added and went on to say that the same right extends to our families, our children and our neighbors. “It’s everyone’s right.” He noted that some think that gun ownership is equally important, and the issue is being fought out in Congress and 50 state legislatures, with the Maryland General Assembly passing some sensible firearms regulations in the current session, making the state one of the safest in the nation. Whitman noted that the local assembly delegation voted for a ban on “bump stocks,” which transform semi-automatic firearms into fully-automatic weapons.  He said the delegates should be congratulated for their votes, noting that they will undoubtedly be criticized for it by pro-gun constituents.

Photo by Jeff Weber

Relaxing after the march outside of Sam’s coffee shop are Leah Schell, Brook Schumann, Ilex Hoy (on lap) and Japhy Hoy (holding sign).      Photo by Jane Jewell

“Make America Safe Again” made and carried by Penny Block.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Whitman noted that 2018 is an election year and urged participants in the march to register and vote. The crowd responded by chanting, “Vote, vote!” Many local offices are up for election, Whitman said, noting the presence of several elected officials and candidates in the crowd, including County Commissioner Ron Fithian and commission candidate Tom Timberman, as well as Andy Meehan, a candidate for State’s Attorney. Whitman said voters should ask all candidates about gun safety, and cast their votes accordingly. “(Rep.) Andy Harris…” he began — to be interrupted by a loud chorus of “Boos”– “Andy Harris is the only Maryland congressman to accept NRA donations. “Vote him out! Vote him out,” the crowd responded.

A last-moment addition to the list of speakers was Casey McQueen of Dover, Delaware, who said he had come to the march because students in his school had been shot. “Blow guns away,” he said, to applause.

Bishop Charles Tilghman, head of the Kent County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, closed the rally with a prayer. He urged the audience to continue rallying and marching to attain the goals of a country free of gun violence.

There was a multitude of signs in the crowd – both printed and hand-made – with clever and often very pointed slogans.  Some were slogans that are being used nationally while others represented the heartfelt responses of the individual marcher.  Slogans included “Protect Our Kids, Not Guns”, “Bullets Are Not School Supplies”, “Make America Safe Again”, “We Deserve to Live”, “Students Demand Action”, “Moms Demand Action”, “Civilians Don’t Need Assault Weapons”, “Love Not Guns”, and “Fear Has No Place in Schools”.

The Chestertown march was reportedly the only one on the Eastern Shore, though there were a couple in Delaware.The  Chestertown event drew over 500 people, which amounts to approximately 10% of Chestertown’s population.  However, not all participants were from Chestertown or Kent County.  Several marchers, including some from the Unitarian Universalist church, came from Easton to take part.  Marchers were there from other Maryland counties and from Delaware. The event in D.C. was estimated as high as 800,000 strong, making it the largest single-day march in the city’s history. Across the country, in addition to the originating Washington, D.C. march, there were marches and other events in most of the major US cities including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, Seattle,  Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis. Every state had at least one “March for Our Lives” event. Around the world, there were many more with most but not all in Europe.   Events in these cities were attended by both local citizens and Americans living or visiting in the various foreign countries.  In Canada, over a dozen cities, including Toronto and Montreal, held rallies. There were rallies in London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, and Paris plus other European cities. In Japan, a large march was held in Tokyo, while in Australia, events were held in Sydney and Brisbane  There were two in Africa, one each in Ghana and Mozambique as well as some in various Asian and South American locales.

On average, more than 90 people are killed by guns in the US every day.

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

Photo by Jeff Weber

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

“March for Our Lives” participants at Wilmer Park — from left, standing, former US Congressional Rep. for the Eastern Shore Wayne Gilchrest, Sherrie Tilghman, Wanda Boyer, Barbie Glenn, (all three of Eastern Shore Psychological Services in Chestertown), Corrine Harvey and Brooke Schultz of the Washington College student newspaper, the Elm; in front, Greg Glenn. Barbi Glenn was the MC for the rally in the park.      Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spy Review: Biloxi Blues at the Church Hill Theatre

Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey (John Haas, left) addresses his boot camp squad in Church Hill Theatre’s “Biloxi Blues” –  Top Bunk – Robbie Spray & James Rank; Middle bunk – Timothy Daly & Troy Strootman,  Bottom Bunk – Anthony Daly & Morgan Jung.  Photo by Steve Atkinson

Biloxi Blues, by Neil Simon, is a semi-autobiographical play about young soldiers undergoing basic training during World War II. Directed by Michael Whitehill, it is currently playing at Church Hill Theatre.

Set almost entirely in an Army training camp near Biloxi, Mississippi, the play focuses on six soldiers in one platoon and their hard-nosed drill sergeant. Like other comedies with a military setting, it gains much of its humor by contrasting the raw recruits — a motley crew with different backgrounds and personalities — with the Army’s demand for discipline and adherence to an apparently irrational set of rules.

Originally produced at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway in 1985, Biloxi Blues ran for 524 performances. It is the middle piece in Simon’s “Eugene trilogy,” featuring a young Brooklyn Jew whose experiences roughly follow Simon’s own early life. The other two segments are Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway BoundBiloxi Blues won Tony awards for best play, best actor (Barry Miller as Arnold Epstein) and best director (Gene Saks); Miller also won a Drama Desk award. Others in the original production were Matthew Broderick as Eugene, Simon’s self-portrait character, and William Sadler as drill sergeant Toomey. 

A 1988 film adaptation, directed by Mike Nichols, brought back Broderick as Eugene and featured Christopher Walken in the role of Sgt. Toomey.

On the train to boot camp in Biloxi! Photo by Steve Atkinson

While there is a great deal of broad, often profane comedy, the play also has at its core a serious story about growing up and learning about the world. The narrator, Eugene, has ambitions of being a writer, and he keeps a journal in which he writes his impressions of his fellow recruits and their experiences. Right at the beginning, Eugene says that he has four goals for the near future – to fall in love, to lose his virginity, (not necessarily in that order), to become a writer and to make it out of the army alive.  Like much comedy, the play draws its materials from events that may seem far from amusing to those caught up in them, but that with time and experience become funny even to those involved.

Recruits Arnold Epstein, Don Carney, and Eugene Jerome are berated by Sgt. Toomey.     Photo by Jane Jewell

At the center of the play is Arnold Epstein, a gentle misfit who draws the wrath of Sgt. Toomey almost from the minute he arrives in camp. Even though he considers Arnold his closest friend in the army, Eugene can do little more than watch as Epstein is assigned endless KP and latrine duty as a result of his failure to meet the sergeant’s standards. Epstein, for his part, continues to assert his humanity, even as other recruits mock him (and Eugene) for being Jewish.

The plot, on the whole, is episodic. We see the recruits’ first reactions to the demands of Army life and learn their backgrounds and quirks. We follow them through confrontations — one soldier in particular, Wykowski, is especially scornful of the two Jews in the squad — though that attitude softens somewhat throughout the play as the six recruits go from being strangers to being a unit, soldiers together.  We see the six going to visit a prostitute for their first sexual experience. Eventually, all of them — even the sergeant, who has a plate in his head where he was wounded in battle — gain a degree of humanity and sympathy by the end of the play.

Whitehill has assembled a cast dominated by young actors —  — just right, given the age of the characters they are portraying. He said after the opening night performance that the youngest cast member is only 13 while the oldest is in his early 40s,  most are in their teens or early twenties. Almost all have some previous theatrical experience, though this is the Church Hill debut for several of them. While there were a few first-night glitches, the performance was, on the whole, up to the high standards local audiences have come to expect.  Be sure to read the Director’s Notes in the Play Bill as he gives some interesting information on the production and using memoir as a narrative technique.

Whitehill also noted that he broke in the young cast by having them do push-ups as punishment for arriving late to rehearsals — 15 push-ups for each minute late! It was all good-natured, Whitehill said, with the young actors often running in just on time, pointing at their watches and shouting “I’m here! I’m here!” Not only did it improve promptness, it got the recruits in shape to perform push-ups at the sergeant’s command during the show! 

Troy Strootman, who has appeared at the Garfield Center and with Shore Shakespeare, makes his CHT debut as Eugene. He effectively strikes the balance between the character’s youthful naivete and his innate intelligence and insight into his fellow recruits — this is, after all, someone who is going to grow up to become Neil Simon. A good job in an important part.

Robert Spray takes the role of Arnold Epstein, in many ways the focus of the play’s main drama. He brings out the awkward recruit’s genuine distaste for the dehumanizing aspects of military training, and makes his confrontations with the sergeant appropriately comic.

John Haas, a CHT veteran, is well cast as Sgt. Toomey, who turns out to be a more complex and sympathetic character than the stereotypical drill sergeant he appears to be when the soldiers arrive at boot camp. Haas is convincing as the hard-nosed drillmaster, but when the opportunity arises for the character to demonstrate genuine concern for his men, he makes the switch believable – not an easy thing to do!

Daisy and Eugene dance at the USO. (Kendall Davis & Troy Strootman with Carney (Morgan Jung) and hostess Scarlett Chappell dancing in background)    Photo by Jane Jewell

Daisy Hannigan, Eugene’s love interest, is played by Kendall Davis, a 2o16 Washington College graduate who is appearing in her fourth CHT production. She convincingly projects the sweetness and innocence of the Catholic school girl who meets the soldier at a USO dance, winning him over with her knowledge of the literary world he aches to become part of. A very warm performance, given an extra dimension by Davis’s dancing.

Brothers Anthony and Timothy Daly play Roy Seldridge and Joseph Wykowsky, two of the recruits in the squad. The sons of Jeff Daly, who has many CHT credits in his own right, they give solid performances. Timothy’s character, at first a somewhat dim-witted anti-Semite, comes to recognize that he is part of a team, and all the members need to work together if they are to survive the coming ordeal of wartime. Anthony’s character thinks of himself as the comedian of the bunch, though he’s not as witty as he thinks.

Morgan Jung and Jeffrey Rank fill out the boot camp squad with portrayals of Don Carney and James Hennessy. Carney sings — off key! — in his sleep, to the annoyance of his bunk mates. and Hennesey, who is the oldest recruit and who claims to be part African-American, comes across as slightly more attuned to Army life.  Good jobs by both.

The boys are initiated in the mysteries of sex by the local prostitute Rowena , played by Christine Kinlock. Biloxi Blues Photo by Jane Jewell

Christine Kinlock, who has become a regular in the local theater scene, has a meaty if brief part as Rowena, a prostitute. Again, the character, who might have been a stereotype, turns out to have depths that Kinlock nicely brings out.

Scarlett Chapell appears as another USO hostess, dancing with the soldiers. The character is not in the original script, but Chapell, who is in her first show at CHT, makes good use of the opportunity to create a character without speaking a word.  Beautiful dancing in a shadowed background.

Given that the majority of the cast is in uniform for the entire length of the play, the only real chance for costuming flash is in the three women’s outfits — which nicely distinguish the three characters.  Both USO girls are wearing distinctive 1940s dress styles. Note that the recruits are all wearing realistic, WWII “dogtags” around their necks.

The sets are quite effective, creating a believable 1940s army camp and surrounding scenes. The main set is a surprisingly realistic two-sided unit with the soldier’s three-tiered bunks on one side and a latrine on the other. The set not only swings around to give two different scenes, it rolls offstage when a less specific scene is needed — for example the open floor of the USO dance.  A side portion of the stage is used for a train car, Toomey’s office, and Rowena’s bedroom. While not as spectacular as some of CHT’s past sets, it does an excellent job of creating the atmosphere of the time and place. Kudos to Whitehill and Brian Draper, who designed and built it.

Not surprisingly, given its subject and setting, Biloxi Blues has its share of adult situations and language — and a good number of the characters share the prejudices of the time and express them in the language of the era. Parents might think twice about bringing very young children to the production. But adult audiences, or even teens, will appreciate the larger message of the play — how growing up involves surviving harsh experiences and making something bigger than any one individual’s feelings or abilities. And there is plenty to laugh about, along the way.

Biloxi Blues runs through Feb. 4, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, with special prices for groups of ten or more. The audience was packed on opening night and there were also  sizable crowds for the Saturday evening and Sunday matinee of the opening week.  For reservations, call the theater at 410-556-6003 or visit the theater website.

Photo Credits: Steve Atkinson and Jane Jewell

Biloxi Blues second side of reversible, rolling set.         Photo credit: Jane Jewell

 

&nbs

The Legacy of Fireworks at Washington College Transitions to Sculpture

An artist’s rendering of “Radiant Echo,” the light sculpture to be installed  at Washington College as seen from the green

Former Washington College President Joseph McLain is remembered for many things – but his most enduring legacy may well be the tradition of fireworks displays at the college.

Joseph McLain shares a laugh with students

McLain, a chemistry professor with a lifelong interest in pyrotechnics, attended Washington College as an undergraduate. After college, he served in the World War II chemical corps, working on such projects as an improved hand grenade fuse and underwater cutting torches. After the war, he earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at Johns Hopkins, then returned to Washington College to teach. Over the course of his career, he made the college a center for the study of fireworks, both in the academic community and in the commercial fireworks industry. His work focused, among other things, on improving fireworks ignition systems so as to avoid timing errors, which can be dangerous as well as spoiling the artistic effect of a display. He became the 22nd president of the college in 1973 and served until his death in 1981 — the only alumnus ever to fill the position. McLain was also responsible for establishing the annual Fourth of July fireworks show in Chestertown, which he staged on the Washington College campus.

John Conkling

In 1969, McLain hired one of his former students – John Conkling, also a Hopkins Ph.D. – to join the chemistry faculty at the college. McLain steered Conkling toward the study of pyrotechnics, which resulted in the first federal safety standards for fireworks, jointly created by the two and enacted in 1976 by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. In 1985, Conkling resigned his full-time teaching position to become Executive Director of the APA – a position he held until 1998. He continued to teach adjunct courses without taking a salary, and hosted the annual Summer Pyrotechnics Seminars at Washington College.

Largely because of the legacy of McLain and Conkling, fireworks displays have become a tradition at Washington College, welcoming students back to campus in the fall and celebrating graduation and other occasions such as the inauguration of current president Kurt Landgraf. Residents near the college often come out to see the shows, which are visible and audible from a wide area of the town.

Chestertown also had a history of fireworks before McLain, most notably with the Kent Manufacturing plant, which, beginning in 1941, produced defense materiel for World War II and then added fireworks to its line after the war. After his return to Chestertown, McLain became a partner in the business, along with founder Tony Fabrizi, whom he had met during his time in the service. That venture came to an end when a fire and explosion destroyed the plant in 1954. But McLain continued to work with the pyrotechnics industry, with a special interest in safety standards.

Now, to create a more permanent monument to McLain, Conkling and their pyrotechnics work, McLain’s daughter Lynn McLain, is raising funds for “Radiant  Echo,” an innovative art installation planned for the atrium of the Toll Science Center at the college. Intended to serve as an enduring art piece for the college and the town of Chestertown, “Radant Echo,” designed by Flux Studio of Baltimore, will be a three- dimensional grid of LED fixtures suspended in the 3-story atrium. The fixtures, which will hang to within 14 feet of the floor, will flash and flicker in emulation of a fireworks display, with chrome spheres suspended within the field to reflect and amplify the lights. According to a prospectus for the program, “As with fireworks, spectators will know that something will happen, but they won’t know exactly what, or exactly when.”

An artist’s rendering of”Radiant Echo” as seen from inside the atrium

The prospectus adds, “The choreography of the sculpture will draw from both the chemical behavior of fireworks and the phenomenal experience of observing them, contrasting familiar aerial exploding with inward collapsing at the atomic scale.” It will be programmed to operate in two states, depending on the time of day. Its default, resting state will feature short bursts of light at the outer edges of the sculpture, a “momentary flickering at the corner of one’s eye that vanishes almost as soon as it appears.” In its nighttime, or active, state, the tentative flickerings will “crescendo and then explode, piercing the darkness and dissolving into a cascading shower of light. At times the whole sculpture will erupt in a cacophony of explosions, recalling the grand finale of a fireworks show.” The displays will be visible from the campus green outside Toll Science Center and from Washington Avenue.as well as to those inside the building.

“Radiant Echo” will also have an educational function. Glenn Shrum, who designed the sculpture, plans to teach an interdisciplinary workshop while the piece is being installed. Also, college faculty will be able to use the sculpture in their classes on physics, chemistry, psychology, computer programming, and art. And as part of its installation, there will be a symposium on fireworks drawing on many different disciplines. There will also be a public honoring of Dr. Conkling and his wife Sandy.

Lynn McLain said on Jan. 7 that she hopes fundraising for the project will be completed within the year. Installation of the project is expected to take 14 to 16 months, she said. The final contacts for the construction of the project are in process.

To help promote the project, Lynn McLain has written an illustrated coffee-table book, For the Love of Fireworks, published in 2017. Proceeds from the book will help to fund the creation of “Radiant Echo.” The book is full of fascinating detail and would make a great gift. The book explores the history and cultural associations of fireworks, and includes a series of trivia questions such as when fireworks were invented, where the largest fireworks display on record took place, components used in their manufacture, and so forth. For the Love of Fireworks is available online at $56.99 or from Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.  Or buy the book, hard or softcover, directly from author McLain at http://www.loveoffireworks.com .   The price is the same and a direct purchase, McLain said, will result in a larger contribution to the project.

Fundraising is underway to cover the estimated $250,000 cost of building and installing “Raidant Echo.” McLain said on Jan 7 that the campaign had raised just over $100,000. To contribute to the effort, contact Lynn McLain at 410-778-4515 or lmclain@ubalt.edu.  You can also contribute through the Washington College Office of Advancement at 410-778-7801. Checks can be made out to the Washington College Office of Advancement, with “Atrium Sculpture Project” in the memo line. The address is Washington College Office of Advancement,  300 Washington Ave.,  Chestertown MD 21620.

And then look forward to fabulous firework displays on Washington College campus, both real and simulated via Radiant Echo.

 

 

 

Threatre Review: Wacky Neil Simon Classic ‘The Odd Couple’ at TAP

Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” produced by Tred Avon Players (TAP) and currently playing at Oxford Community Center, may be one of the most successful of Simon’s plays – and considering his long and fruitful career, that’s saying a lot.

The basic concept is simple – two friends who are very different and the conflicts that occur when they become roommates.  One is fastidious, the other a carefree slob. But how many Broadway plays of any era have spawned not only a hit movie but three TV sitcoms – plus various other spin-offs including an animated cartoon and a TV sitcom version (by Simon himself!)

Simon’s play, which premiered in 1965, features mismatched roommates Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison – the one an uptight “neat freak,” the other an easy-going slob.

The original production starred Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix. The play took home four Tony Awards: Best Actor (Matthau), Best Author (Simon), Best Director (Mike Nichols) and Best Scenic Design (Oliver Smith). Matthau reprised his role in the 1968 film, with Jack Lemmon taking the role of Felix. And in the long-running TV series (1970-75), Matthau was replaced by Jack Klugman and Tony Randall played Felix. For some unknown reason, the TV series changed the spelling of Felix’s name from “Ungar” to “Unger.”  At TAP, they stick to the original.

In this female version, the fastidious roommate was played by Sally Struthers of “All in the Family” fame where she played Gloria, the ditzy daughter of Archie and Edith Bunker and “Meathead’s” wife.  Rita Moreno, who is well-known for her role in “West Side Story” played the messy roommate.  Moreno is one of only twelve performers who have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony.  This is definitely a story concept with characters that have drawn major talents over the decades.

The plot revolves around the personality clash between the two roommates – Oscar’s life, like his apartment, is a shambles, with unpaid bills, broken appliances, and a failed marriage, but he takes it all in stride, although he gets a bit misty eyed when his five-year-old son calls him on the phone. Meanwhile, his fellow journalist Felix is a hypochondriac who fusses over every detail of his life.  Everything must be  just so! Felix upbraids himself – and everyone around him – when things are not up to his impossible standards.  Every glass must have a coaster. But he’s a terrific cook!  The situation is ideal for comedy – in fact, it’s been used or adapted many times, including in the current TV hit, “The Big Bang Theory.”

Best friends, Oscar and Felix, have at it!    

The play opens at the Friday night poker game in Oscar’s apartment in New York City, sometime in the early 1960s. Four of the six regulars are at the table. The interplay between the characters and several comic bits – the soggy potato chips and “green” sandwiches Oscar brings the other players, due to a broken refrigerator – make it clear that Oscar is a complete slob and living on the edge of financial disaster.  As the evening goes on, it becomes evident that one of the regular players, Felix, is missing – and then they find out that Felix and his wife are getting separated.  Now they’re really worried.

The weekly poker game

But then Felix shows up, quite late, and everyone feigns indifference as he wanders about the room, clearly at his wits’ end. Oscar offers him a bed for the night, and Felix accepts – and after the other players leave, he offers him a place to stay. The basic premise of the play is now set up – in effect lighting the fuse for an explosion the audience senses is bound to happen. But, of course, it would spoil the fun to give much more away.

Cast and crew of “The Odd Couple”

The Tred Avon Players’ production, directed by Ed Langrell, assembles a reliable cast of regulars from local theater productions. Click on link for a Spy interview with the two lead actors, Bill Gross as Oscar and Bob Chauncey as Felix.

Bill Gross takes the role of Oscar,  Loud and physical, he is convincing as a macho ‘60s sportswriter. He does a good job of portraying the character’s growing annoyance with his fastidious roommate, despite his carefree attitude toward most of the rest of his daily life.

Oscar, Vinnie, and Murray the cop listen at the bathroom door, ready to bust in in case Felix tries to “harm himself.”  

Bob Chauncey projects a nice nervous energy as Felix, capturing the suggestions of femininity as the character cooks, cleans, and performs the other duties of Oscar’s missing wife – and reveals an emotional softness that must have seemed far stranger in 1964 than it does now. He is a snappy dresser and his hair looks perfectly sculpted. Chauncey is hilarious when he loudly attempts to clear his sinuses,

While Felix and Oscar get star billing, the rest of the ensemble plays an important part in the play. The four poker buddies – all recognizable New York character types – are very well cast.

Patrick Fee does a fine job as Murray, the street-wise cop with a heart of gold. His mobile face and physical presence are just right for the character. A solid job by one of the Shore’s more versatile character actors.  Most recently, he played Bottom the Weaver in Shore Shakespeare’s production of “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.”

Felix makes sure that each poker player has a napkin and a coaster – and uses them!

Roy, Oscar’s accountant, is played by Paul Briggs who deftly shows his character’s exasperation and concern about Oscar’s irresponsible finances. Briggs holds his nose and drops the stinky garbage out the window.  But he keeps his feelings  in check when Felix appears, becoming reasonable and pragmatic when it is needed, just like an accountant.

The cynical Speed is played by Brian McGunigle, who is now completing  an impressive run of five roles in a row in plays varying from Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” to Tred Avon’s “A Man of No Importance.” His character’s feigned indifference is well conveyed. But of course, Speed really does have compassion for Felix and McGunigle makes these two seemingly opposite emotions believable.

Zach Schlag is cast as mild-mannered Vinnie, whose henpecked home life is a contrast to the broken marriages of the two main characters. The character’s pliability is the source of several entertaining bits, providing great physical comedy as Vinnie slips and falls while frantically racing around the room to help save Felix.  Although he doesn’t have as many lines as some others, his expressions can be hilarious as he reacts to the other characters.

Felix and the two sisters have a good cry. He’s such a sensitive man!

Lisa Roth and Anna Kusinitz-Dietz play the Pigeon sisters, Gwendolyn and Cecily.  The sisters, a divorcee and a widow,  are originally from England and now live in a neighboring apartment.  They have taken quite a shine to the roommates. Their interactions with Felix and Oscar are a fine bit of Neil Simon comedy, well acted by the sisters as they flirt mischievously or cry copiously.  Their giggles and glances are infectious and the audience loved them. On Thursday night when we were there, the audience broke into spontaneous applause as the sisters left the stage.  It was not the end of the scene.

The set, consisting entirely of Oscar’s living room, is worth walking up for a closer look at intermission or after the play closes – details such as an old manual typewriter and a beat-up baseball glove are letter-perfect. The subtle changes in the room as Felix’s “neatnik” influence begins to be seen are nicely done, as well. The costumes are also right on – especially the Pigeon sisters’ early-‘60s colorful dresses with bright, shiny pocketbooks and knee-high boots, Oscar’s #7 Yankees jersey and Speed’s Hawaiian shirts. The soundtrack – designed by Fee – has a nice selection of period-perfect music. A pleasure to see the little touches so well taken care of.

The 50-plus years since the play was written are evident in many details of the plot and dialogue. For example, it’s no longer that unusual for a man to be a good cook – as Felix is. The sums of money mentioned – 34 cents for a pack of cigarettes, for example — are vivid reminders of what inflation has done, while the characters’ concern over the cost of a long-distance phone call is a historical curiosity in today’s era of unlimited cell phone plans.

And hints – quite humorous hints! – that the relationship between Felix and Oscar echoes their failed marriages, probably seemed edgy if not outright taboo in the early ‘60s.  The uptight culture associated with the 1950s lingered into the early ’60s. Hippies hadn’t happened yet and the sexual revolution was still on the horizon. Simon was exploring new territory. He used comedy to explore relationships and situations that would raise few eyebrows today but were uncomfortable for most people at the time. Divorce, separation, alimony, all these were looked upon very differently then than now. Those who lived through those times will find the contrast from today both interesting and amusing; younger audiences may find it an entertaining history lesson. But this is all subtext, the play is a comedy about relationships and surviving breakups, whether it be with spouses or friends. It asks whether people can change and grow. And it ends with hope and a laugh.

There were plenty of laughs in the large audience for Thursday’s performance, which director Langrell described as a “pre-opening” opening. If you’re in the mood for a classic comedy, with  nostalgia for a different time, it’s well worth the trip to Oxford Community Center, 200 Oxford Road. It’s about an hour from Chestertown or 15 minutes from Easton. The play runs just over two hours.  Remember it starts at 7:30 not 8 p.m.!

“The Odd Couple” is playing through August 20. Shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday are at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students. Call 410-226-0061 for reservations – which are strongly recommended, judging by the sizable audience Thursday.  This Sunday’s matinee, we are told, is practically sold out already!

Photos in this article are courtesy of Randy Bachand. Thank you, Randy!

Check back – we’ll be posting more photos.

Felix straightens a picture. It was just a tiny bit off-kilter. And it was driving him crazy!

She likes me!

L-R Standing: Speed, (Hawaiian shirt), Murray, Vinnie, Briggs, Oscar,  Seated – Felix

Murray, Speed, and Oscar

Vinnie tries to sweet-talk Felix into some sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is George Smiling?

Don’t Worry.  We’re Happy! Say Washington College students.

The Princeton Review ranks Washington College among the top twenty schools in the nation with the happiest undergraduates.

According to The Princeton Review, Washington College is among the nation’s very best institutions for undergraduate education, but its distinctive approach to mentoring students has propelled the college to the top of the chart that measures the happiness factor. Washington College is ranked 16th in the nation for Student Happiness, as noted in the 2018 edition of The Best 382 Colleges released Aug. 1.

Only about 15 percent of America’s 2,500 four-year colleges and two colleges outside the U.S. are profiled in the book, which is one of The Princeton Review’s most popular guides. Published annually since 1992, it has detailed profiles of the colleges with rating scores in eight categories. The book also has ranking lists of top 20 schools in 62 categories, including the Happiest Students category. The Princeton Review’s results are valuable since they are based on surveys of actual students attending the colleges.

Happy WC students on the deck of the Literary House during the 2017 Cherry Tree Young Writers’ Conference.

“I’m delighted to see Washington College featured in The Princeton Review as one of the best 382 colleges for 2018,” said college President Kurt Landgraf. “Washington College is all about the students, and I am proud to know that our high ‘Student Happiness’ ranking reflects that student-centric focus. This cornerstone of who we are and what we do results in memorable experiences that have a positive impact on students’ personal and professional lives.”

In its profile on Washington College, The Princeton Review praises the college for its “truly personalized education,” and quotes extensively from Washington College students. Among their comments: “Living at Washington College is as good as a college experience can get.”

What a smile! Intern Hebs Guerra-Recinos expresses his approval!

“We chose Washington College for this book because it offers outstanding academics,” said Robert Franek, Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief and author of The Best 382 Colleges. “Our selections are primarily based on our surveys of administrators at several hundred four-year colleges. We also visit dozens of colleges each year and give considerable weight to opinions of our staff and our 24-member National College Counselor Advisory Board. Most importantly, we look at the valuable feedback we get from each school’s customers—our surveys of students attending them. We also keep a wide representation of colleges in the book by region, size, selectivity, and character.”

The Princeton Review does not rank the colleges from 1 to 382 in any category. Instead, it uses students’ ratings of their schools to compile 62 ranking lists of top 20 colleges in the book in various categories. The lists in this edition are entirely based on The Princeton Review’s survey of 137,000 students (358 per campus on average) attending the colleges. The 80-question survey asks students to rate their schools on several topics and report on their campus experiences at them. Topics range from their assessments of their professors as teachers to opinions about their school’s career services. The Princeton Review explains the basis for each ranking list here.

Other “Happy Schools” include Rice University, College of William and Mary, Colby College, and Vanderbilt.  The University of California at Santa Barbara is also in top twenty happy schools but they’re practically on the beach so, of course, they’re happy.  St. John’s in Annapolis also made the list.

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