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Review: ‘The Gift of the Mad Guy’ at Building Better People Productions

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Christmastime is promoted by many as a time to let go of, at least temporarily, the practice of excessive self-cherishing. It is a time to reflect on the wants and needs of others. Many Christmas-themed plays and films have at their center a character who practices self-cherishing to a high degree. That central character must learn to send love and to cherish others. The Gift of the Mad Guy by Maryland-area playwright Leslie Gray Streeter is a show that fits that cast. As Directed by Dahjn Maria Gomez, The Gift of the Mad Guy gives audiences old and young the gift of Christmas cheer and charitable lessons.

The show teaches its lessons using two characters, a Narrator named Aloysius and the self-centered, irrepressible Jack. Jack, who thinks “charity and sacrifice” is a store— and being the type of person who fast-forwards to the end of movies—wants everything now. Jack is the poster-boy taker in life, never a giver.

Amna Geko and Lynne Childress. Photograph by Robertson & Co Photography.

Jack gets put to the test when the Narrator offers Jack one big gift if he gives three gifts to audience-members. This turns out to be a daunting challenge for a person who not only has a long gift list, but loves getting gifts a lot more than giving them. The show asks: Will jack learn to be generous in word, thought, and deed?

Lynne Childress, the Founder and Artistic Director of Building Better People Productions and Streeter’s twin sister, played Jack with mischievousness and dashes of charm. Dressed in a cap and a black 19th-Century-school-boy uniform, thanks to Costume Designer Renee Vergauwen, Childress channeled the insatiable spirit of a child wanting as many gifts as possible on a Christmas morning.

Amna Geko played Narrator/Aloysius as a fair and tough “straight woman” to Childress’ Jack. Resplendent in her green dress—again the work of Vergauwen—-Geko, a Towson University BFA graduate, delivered her lines with a crisp authority.

The cues and energy were on time and high throughout the show, thanks to Gomez’s direction. Gomez brought her skills as an actor—she has a lead role on an audio theater production entitled The Burbs—to the show, making the performances a joy to watch.

Vergauwen’s most impressive prop in the show was Jack’s gift list, which was at least a yard wide by 15 feet long. I also liked the gift box props and Christmas tree, which sat in front of a real fireplace, which was a part of the venue.

Building Better People Productions, according to Childress, “was born out of the realization that people need to truly seek to understand each other more, while affirming their own value and worth. Through the arts, we can share this important truth to the littlest of us.” With upcoming shows like Friendlier Fables & Thoughtful Tales (opening April 20, 2018), The Imaginators (opening July 21, 2018), and We Got It! (opening September 2017), Building Better People Productions is a theater company to watch. The Gift of the Mad Guy will hopefully become a Christmas tradition for this theater company for years on end.

Running Time: 50 minutes, with no intermission.

The Gift of the Mad Guy played from December 9th through December 16, 2017, at Building Better People Productions, performing at Annapolis Friends Meeting House – 351 Dubois Road, Annapolis, Maryland. For tickets to future Building Better People Productions performances call 443-906-0099 or purchase them at the door or online.

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