‘Death Takes a Holiday’ at Laurel Mill Playhouse

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Directed by Mark T. Allen and produced by Maureen Rogers, Death Takes a Holiday follows the fate of a group of aristocrats at the mansion of Duke Lambert, played by Larry Simmons. We hear that death was barely avoided by various characters when suddenly Death himself pays the Duke a visit. Death wants to feel what it is like to be a mortal if only for a few days.  He makes a bargain with the terrified Duke not to tell his real identity to the others, in exchange promising the Duke to do no harm to his family and guests. Death assumes the identity of a recently deceased friend of the Duke who, of course, no one else knows.

Steve Bruun and Tara Wynn. Photo by John Cholod.
Steve Bruun and Tara Wynn. Photo by John Cholod.

During this holiday, we find bizarre things are happening on earth. No one is dying, war is on pause and even flowers are losing no leaves. Roses on the table do not lose their bloom. Meanwhile, Death looks for the meaning of life through love. The play written in Italy by Alberto Casseia when Europe was still under the “shadow” of death from World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Mr. Allen not only directed but designed the set, lights and sound. He also did props and was part of set construction. I really liked the set. The stage at LMP is very small, but Mr. Allen did make you feel you could be at royal person’s home. I particularly appreciated the moon and garden he created past the back French doors. The moon had an eeriness that established the mood for Death’s entrance. The garden plays a more symbolic role in Act II and III.  However, the volume of the music in Act II was too loud and distracting. The costumes by Jean Berard were both regal and time appropriate. The costume for the Shadow combined the elements of fear and passion, and especially with the face cover, used fabrics that did not hinder the actor’s performance.

The problem with the director doing most of the technical aspects in a play is you miss things. There should have been more props. The actors seemed at a loss to do anything much more than stand around. The sitting areas needed more levels. The interesting period couch seemed awkward to the actors because of the blocking and nothing was done to use the multiple levels it offered.

Maureen Rogers and Tim Evans. Photo by John Cholod.
Maureen Rogers and Tim Evans. Photo by John Cholod.

The performance of Steve Bruun as Prince Sirki/Shadow was energetic and commanding. After a shaky first half to Act I, partly due to the play’s long expository dialogue, but partly do the slow pace of the performances and the actors’ obviously forgetting lines or stepping on the lines of others, Bruun enters, and the play picks up steam. Hopefully, this problem with the opening Act was just opening night jitters.

When he is on stage, Bruun energizes the others as well. Standing out in the rather large cast were Jennifer Harvey as Alda and James Raymond as Eric Fenton. In Act II as Alda, Jennifer did show some of the passion toward the Shadow that others were lacking. James seemed quite comfortable in his role as one of the two young men, especially in the opening of the play, and that he did understand his character’s position in this intricate plot.

Larry Simmons and Maureen Roult. Photo by John Cholod.
Larry Simmons and Maureen Roult. Photo by John Cholod.

Rounding out the cast were Lori Bruun (Cora), Tim Evans (Baron Cesarea), David McCrary (Fidele/Major Whitread), Eli Pendry (Corrado), Maureen Rogers as (Princess of San Luca), Maureen Roult (Duchess Stephanie), Alexis Thompson (Grazia) and Terra Wynnc (Rhoda). I am confident that as they continue to perform during the run, they will tighten up their performances and continue to develop their characters.

Try to attend one of the remaining performances of Death Takes a Holiday during the next three weekends. Steve Bruun’s performance alone is well worth the price of admission.

Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, with one intermission.

Death Takes a Holiday plays through November 23, 2014 at Laurel Mill Playhouse- 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online.