Review: ‘Generations: A Series of One Acts’ at The Colonial Players of Annapolis

Generations: A Series of One Acts, at Colonial Players, is a touching, thoughtful evening of three brand-new one-act plays, each about 30 minutes long, by three playwrights well-known in the Annapolis theater scene. The plays – Monuments, written by Stephen Evans, directed by Lois Evans; Last Laugh, written by Morey Norkin, directed by Rick Wade; and Late Nights in Cars, written by Michael Gilles, directed by Frank Moorman – all deal in some way with the relationship between different generations, using both humor and heartbreak. Presented for one weekend only, it is a delightful production for the end of summer.

Jeffrey Miller and Kate Wheeler in 'Monuments,' one of three one-act plays performing in 'Generations: A Series of One Acts' at The Colonial Players of Annapolis. Photo courtesy of The Colonial Players of Annapolis.
Jeffrey Miller and Kate Wheeler in ‘Monuments,’ one of three one-act plays performing in ‘Generations: A Series of One Acts’ at The Colonial Players of Annapolis. Photo courtesy of The Colonial Players of Annapolis.

In Monuments, Jeffrey Miller plays American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson towards the end of his life, struggling with his fading memory, while Kate Wheeler plays both his daughter Nellie and first wife Ellen. Miller gives Emerson a quick wit, which Wheeler easily gives back; fiddling with the overhead light, he replies to her question, “Playing God.” As Nellie, Wheeler is gentle towards Miller, reminding him when he forgets something, and urging him to go outside the room. As Ellen, she reminds Miller of the strong, intelligent, witty woman he met and married, who called him “poor Waldo.” Speaking from his writings to the audience, Miller grows stronger, circling the stage. The play is full of beautiful lines, such as Nellie’s remark, “perhaps memories are ghosts that live within us.”

In Last Laugh, Robin Schwartz plays Jennifer, a young comedian eager for her big break at a comedy club, while Jerry Vess plays Jackie, an old-time comic who shows up backstage with an unusual proposition and a surprising revelation. Vess perfectly captures the old-school style with zingers and one-liners, responding to tension with jokes. Schwartz gives Jennifer a slightly edgier humor, responding with sarcastic remarks, and frazzled by the interruption. They bond over a joke Vess tells, sharing how they got into comedy. When the secrets come, Schwartz becomes emotional, crying and angry. The end shows them doing their act in separate corners, Schwartz vulnerable and trying to work out her feelings onstage, while Vess shares his secret while still making jokes.

Late Nights in Cars has Jim Reiter playing Daddy to Erica Miller’s Emily, bonding over drives and music. Miller and Reiter take turns narrating, Miller voicing Emily as a baby, little girl, teenager, and adult. Miller captures the annoyed inflections of a teen, while Reiter’s reaction as she shares her secrets is hilarious. Playing Daddy larger than life, he takes Emily out for ice cream when mean girls mistreat her, and enthusiastically embraces his grandson. Reiter shrinks battling dementia, hunched over, speaking slowly and softly, trying to write his memories in a notebook. Miller’s reaction is spot on, with tears and frustration. They have a beautiful moment at the end, powerfully emotional.

Set Designer Edd Miller has created small but evocative sets for all three plays, helped by props from Properties Designer Cheryl Lytle. For Monuments, two wicker chairs with overstuffed pillows sit across from a small desk with a shawl and book on top. To the side is a thick carved wooden bench. A small light holder hangs from the ceiling. Last Laugh has a small table covered with mini water bottles, a hairbrush, and a handheld mirror, with a folding chair. Behind it is a large leather chair covered by a ratty pink throw rug. Late Nights in Cars has a long rectangular bench attached by a black handle serving as the cars, along with a notebook and pen.

Costume Designer Maureen Mitchell has made effective outfits for the three plays. The ones in Monuments feel perfectly right for the period, with Emerson wearing a black jacket, pants, and bow tie, while Nellie has on a long green dress, and Ellen wears a white lace dress with black veil. Last Laugh has Jennifer wearing black pants and sweater with a gold belt, while Jackie looks like an old-time comedian in black pants, maroon shirt, gray sport coat, and a colorful tie, later changing into a white jacket and bowtie. Late Nights in Cars has Daddy wearing khakis and a blue button-down dress shirt, while Emily begins the play in a yellow summer blouse and black shorts, later changing to a gray sweatshirt and black pants, ending in a blue flowery print dress.

Lighting Designer Cat Cochran uses the lights to help highlight the moods in different ways for each play. In Monuments, the stage is dim as Emerson fiddles with the overhead light; when he gets it to work it is still somewhat dark. As he speaks to the audience from his lectures and writings, the light grows brighter. When Ellen appears, the light changes, becoming more mysterious. In Last Laugh, the signs for the comedy club are projected on the walls. As Jackie and Jennifer perform their stand-up routine, spotlights shine on them. In Late Nights, the lights turn off briefly when Daddy mentions driving without the headlights. As his memories decline, the stage slowly gets dimmer.

Sound Designer Alex Brady throws out great sound effects: music at the end of Monuments; an announcer’s voice and applause for Last Laugh, as well as music for a song Jackie sings at the end; and music throughout Late Nights, including one song with the volume briefly turned up loud before being turned off.

Lois Evans, Rick Wade, and Frank Moorman all do wonderful jobs as Directors. The actors navigate the stage and each other perfectly, hitting all the right comic and emotional moments. Sunday afternoon is the last performance, so be sure to catch these shows while they’re here!

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.

Generations: A Series of One Acts plays through August 4, 2019, at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street, Annapolis, MD. Admission is pay-what-you-can at the door, with open seating. For further information, call the box office at 410-268-7373 or go online.