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‘Fortune’s Child’ at Baltimore Theatre Project

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Playwright Mark Scharf.

Playwright Mark Scharf.

For the world premiere of Mark Scharf’s play, Fortune’s Child, the weather outside Baltimore’s Theatre Project was, indeed, “frightful,” yet inside the historic 1887 building, the atmosphere, “delightful,” to quote Sammy Cahn’s “Let It Snow” lyrics. Snuggled in our unobstructed stadium seats – some of us sipping hot toddies – we were warmly greeted by the play’s director Yvonne Erickson who thanked the donors and paid tribute to her “colleagues in this caper,” the company members who share the roles of producers, directors, and performers.

Fortune’s Child could not have a more perfect home than inclusive Theatre Project, presented for too-short-a-run under the auspices of the Actors’ Equity Association Members Project. Soon after the story was pitched to Lead Producer Michael Stebbins (who left Rep Stage last year and currently lives in Wisconsin), a Kickstarter campaign was organized; now Facebook continues the support with daily postings.

Cast members Marianne Gazzola Angelella and Lance Lewman are members of Actors’ Equity Association, while Kathryn Zoerb and Travis Hudson are candidates. Everyone involved has long associations with the Maryland theater community, so it was especially nice to see familiar faces on stage as well as in the audience, some so comfortable to laugh loudly in the comic scenes and clap vigorously for a favorite quip or two.

Well deserved, indeed.

Scene from Fortune's Child. Photo by Rich Riggins.

Scene from Fortune’s Child. Photo by Rich Riggins.

Witty, thoughtful, sad, and perplexing, Fortune’s Child has qualities to be admired. Even the couple of subpar episodes are elevated by Angella’s performance of Susan, a woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer who chooses to live her remaining days in grand style. Yes, this show made me laugh – a lot! To people who claim it’s not funny to write about the “Big C,” they are obviously letting the dramatic moments overshadow everything else. It’s a dark comedy, in the same vein as the television show with Laura Linney as the irrepressible cancer survivor. Both stories deal with the bittersweet tale of letting go of the misfortunes and living life to the fullest for as long as possible.

Fortune’s Child opens in a cemetery in the rain – talk about a dark comedic moment! Things brighten with Susan’s decision to leave her over-protective, widowed brother (Lewman as a kind guy) and take off with her snarky teenage niece (Zoerb augments authentic angst to the teenager character). Brian/Patrick/Dude, (creatively played by Travis Hudson) add to the list of offbeat characters in the show. The backdrop of a willow tree plays a significant role in the story, though it’s unclear until the final scene on what the message is. No spoiler alert here.

With a few more performances, perhaps in a climate that allows the scantily dressed young heroine to keep warm and the pace to quicken, the story will jell and the actors will have mastered the dialogue, coached by Leo Erickson, another local talent in this production. Kudos to Choreographer Sarah Olmsted Thomas for her zany horse-riding antics. Lighting and Scenic Projection by Terry Cobb kept our eyes on that large tree that loomed over the characters, and the sound design by Ann Warren worked well in the acoustic dome, the largest in Baltimore area theaters.

Scene from Fortune's Child. Photo by Rich Riggins.

Scene from Fortune’s Child. Photo by Rich Riggins.

Baltimore’s Theatre Project was founded by Philip Arnoult in 1971, and the early years hosted presentations of artists such as Pilobolus, Urban Bush Women, and Bread and Puppet Theatre, as well as community outreach programs. The theater was crucial to the selection of Baltimore as the 1986 site of the prestigious International Theatre of Nations Festival, and continues to reach out to performers who sometimes fall through the cracks of the more corporate shows. Once known as “Baltimore’s Free Theatre,” no tickets were sold; after performances a hat was passed for audience members to donate to the artists and theatre. Even today, there are generous discounts for students, seniors, and theatrical union members.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.

Fortune’s Child plays through Sunday, January 18, 2015 at the Baltimore Theatre Project – 45 Preston Street, Baltimore, MD  For tickets, purchase them online.

RATING: FOUR-AND-A-HALF-STARS8.gif

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