By Andy Arnold
Amanda Spellman, a DC-area theater veteran, is sensational as pregnant wife Beth Wells in The Quickening, now playing its world premiere at Fells Point Corner Theatre. Beth had to explore a depth of emotions, nearly going crazy as she realized her house is haunted by the ghost (Patrick Gorirossi) of a boy killed in the Civil War. Beth eventually realizes the ghost’s spirit wants to be reincarnated through her baby.
Beth calls on her occult-believing mother, Rosemary DiPaula (Marianne Gazzola Angelella), a physics-loving neighbor, Philomena Johnson (Debbie Bennett) and unbelieving husband, Matt Wells (David Shoemaker) to save her unborn child. You must see The Quickening to see whether or not the group is successful. Playwright Mark Scharf has written a suspenseful, shocking conclusion I won’t give away here. Director Ann Turiano called on the Wells’ to give everything they had in the agonizing penultimate scene in the play.
Empowered women are key to this production and Shoemaker’s character suffers as a consequence. Still, Scharf does a masterful job of weaving Matt’s character, from buying the house on a Civil War battle site to his enthusiasm as a rebel war reenactor, who dies every time Pickett charges, into a role the play needs.
Bennett has had practically no formal training, outside of the on-the-job experience she has picked up on in 35 plays in the Washington-Baltimore area for more than 20 years. She makes Phil courageous for challenging the rebel soldier who shows up in the kitchen while she and a new neighbor are sharing a cup of coffee. Later, Phil’s open-mindedness to even consider a ghost’s presence is put to the test.
Phil, a math instructor at a community college, opens the show with a monologue on physics and the gray uncertainty of science. She prepares the audience asking “What if” a brain isn’t the beginning of conscience, rather conscience moves into the brain. If the latter is true, the physicist hypothesizes, why can’t the conscience, or soul, move on after the brain dies?
Gazzola Angelella’s character doesn’t appear until after intermission. Once Mrs. DiPaula hits the stage, she is a threat to steal the scene every time. Her acting is wonderful and she fits into the cast splendidly. Her Baltimore accent was perfect and the Baltimore crowd loved it. The crowd often laughed at her early dialogues. Would you expect less from a Baltimore-based actor and theater teacher, Hon?
The experienced thespians paused appropriately, but not everything was a gag line. But the accent was just so Bawlmer. By the way, Shoemaker’s Richmond accent was similarly outstanding though not nearly as appreciated.
There is nothing special about the set or costumes. In the first act, a living room and kitchen are cluttered with unpacked boxes. In the second scene, the boxes are gone and the house is neat. The lightning, on the other hand, is special and helps to tell the story. Lighting Director Tabetha White often has an influence with unseen shades shining on the house to give the effect of time. Also, periods of darkness play an important role in Scharf’s creation; Turiano and White handle that very well. Special effect lighting was timed perfectly. Devyn Deguzman’s sound effects all hit their cues.
However, the best drama and literature traditionally demonstrate the age-old battle between good and evil. Consider Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, C.S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism to name just a few. I left Scharf’s play wondering what the good was. Maybe that is his intention.
Warning: If you are not open to the supernatural, The Quickening is not for you. If the unearthly is your cup of tea, alternatively, you may enjoy this drama.