Theater review:

A journey into Baltimore's past from Single Carrot

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Much more than old clothes turn up in luggage at the heart of an original Single Carrot Theatre production.

There's something irresistible about encountering old stuff that has long been stored away.

The prospect of discovering previously unknown paintings by a celebrated master or insanely valuable baseball cards would be most fun, of course. But, really, anything that might open a window into the past can be awfully enticing.

For the warehouse workers in "Something Like Jazz Music," the intriguing, uneven play conceived by Single Carrot Theatre and written by artistic director Genevieve de Mahy, finding a stash of vintage luggage turns out to be a mixed bag.

No one knows how these goods ended up in this otherwise meticulously maintained Baltimore storage facility. Naturally, curiosity is aroused. What's the worst that could happen?

Well, there is the slight matter of spooky voices and music (which sounds, as you might suspect, something like jazz) emanating from the mystery unit. But there's no stopping these folks once they start to open suitcases and chests, pull out the contents and let slip the dogs of yore.

What ensues in this 90-minute work is a series of snapshots from 1920s Baltimore and environs. The warehouse characters gradually become the people who once owned the unearthed objects and relive incidents in their lives (role-reversals become significant).

Almost from the start, there's something ominous in the air, and not just the talk about a body plucked from a river. The looming matter in this time trip is race.

One of the opened valises reveals particularly unsettling items surely owned by a white man with issues (those items will figure prominently in the play's denouement). In one scene, a young black man collects shells on what turns out to be a restricted beach. A recurring scene takes place in a black nightclub.

The resurrecting of race issues from decades ago obviously rings contemporary bells. The script does not get those chimes reverberating in notably fresh ways, but the cumulative effect gives "Something Like Jazz Music" valuable emotional weight.

If other elements could use tighter focus or greater depth (not surprising in a play with a communally derived concept), there's still a good deal of effective theater along the way.

Directors Alix Fenhagen and Steven Krigel put the cast through kinetic paces on a minimal stage enhanced by Krigel's projection and sound design (at one point, he uses a brass instrument to suggest an offstage voice, a la Charlie Brown TV specials).

All of the players do solid work. Christopher Dews, Nancy Linden and Lauren Saunders add extra nuance along the way.

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If you go

"Something Like Jazz Music" runs through March 27 at Single Carrot Theatre, 2600 N. Howard St. Tickets are $10 to $29. Call 443-844-9253, or go to singlecarrot.com.

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