Review: ‘Variations on Myth’ at Rapid Lemon Productions

This weekend at Baltimore Theatre Project, Rapid Lemon Productions opened Variations on Myth, both the second show in RLP’s Season of Belief and the historic 15th annual production of The Variations Project, the region’s original ten-minute play festival. Playwrights from across the Mid-Atlantic purpose-wrote short plays; of the 54 plays submitted, 12 were selected for production under the innovative direction of T.P. Huth, the creative mind behind Inkubator New Works Development Laboratory.

Noah Silas and Valerie Lewis in ‘(Un)Veiled,’ by Crystal Sewell. Photo by Rapid Lemon Productions.

An ensemble cast of six – Christine Demuth, Crystal Sewell, Mani Yangilmau, Noah Silas, Rachel Reckling, and Valerie Lewis – played all the roles and did a good job of bringing these new works to life. The challenge of learning 12 plays worth of dialog in a brief rehearsal period showed in a couple of the pieces, but I’m confident with this first weekend behind them, those issues will be ironed out.

It’s no coincidence that Mani Yangilmau was in three of my favorite pieces. They brought just the right sleepy gravitas to Baldie in Emile Feldenzer’s clever Throwing Stuff at a God; they were puppariffic in Casey Jacobs’ The Hounds of Actaeon, a play that used shadow puppetry to good effect; and they touched my heart as Cora, the art-loving sister in the compelling two-hander, Flesh or Stone, beautifully written by fellow ensemble member Christine Demuth.

Valerie Lewis also gave consistently praise-worthy performances throughout the various plays she was in. Notably, she portrayed the Nun in fellow ensemble member Crystal Sewell’s (Un)Veiled, a piece addressing historical and current issues of the Catholic church by juxtaposing projections (designed by Bruce Kapplin) and audio with a series of monologues by the increasingly unveiled Nun. Lewis’s acting was top-notch, and her voice was so lovely I wished her chanted Latin prayers went on longer.

I quite enjoyed You Lovely, Insatiable Thing, by Jen Diamond, whose writing (here and where I have seen it produced before) captivates my attention by presenting the stakes up front. Especially important in a short piece, I cared about the characters and what was happening to them within moments of meeting them.

You Lovely, Insatiable Thing also served to highlight the complementary work of the production team, particularly that of Lighting Designer Daniel Weissglass, Costume Designer Deana Fisher Brill, Sound Designer Shanika Freeman, and Props Designer Max Garner – who together made the piece look and feel like a spooky fireside tale. I found Scenic Designer Tate Erickson’s set to be a smart and versatile mix of a few large pieces that served all the plays and movable parts that moved on and off as needed. It made for smooth transitions and lent a visible throughline that helped tie together the dozen loosely-associated works.

Mani Yangilmau in ‘Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels’ by Katie Hileman. Photo by Rapid Lemon Productions.

The other plays in this year’s Variations are Bolero by Amy Bernstein, Gorgonia by Alexis M. Skinner, Savior by Sharon Goldner, Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels by Katie Hileman, Match by Tom Piccin, World Leader by Tyrone Chapman and Archie Williams, and Mind of God by Jack L.B. Gohn.

Kudos to Rapid Lemon Productions Managing Director Max Garner, who has been involved with The Variations Project since its inception at Run of the Mill Theater in 2005, and who has helped the project survive a decade and a half so we continue to enjoy it today. Whether you toss your hat in the ring at the beginning of the project by penning a short play (no experience necessary to submit), attend one of the public readings of the submitted plays, or simply show up to enjoy the final product, The Variations Project is a fun and worthwhile Baltimore institution.

You can catch Variations on Myth for two more weekends, then it vanishes like Eurydice to the Underworld. While you’re there, cast your vote for next year’s theme – Chance, Taste, or Vision – by putting a donation in the corresponding milk jar in the lobby. The Variations Project is a great opportunity for local playwrights, actors, and audiences to come together to make something brand new. Check it out!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.

Variations on Myth plays through May 26, 2019, at Rapid Lemon Productions performing at Baltimore Theatre Project – 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-8558, or purchase them online.