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Snapshot of women on the home front for war-era 'Cover of Life'

By Mary Johnson, For The Baltimore Sun

5:15 PM EST, November 14, 2013

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Bowie Community Theatre has double cause for celebrating its 47th season — a slate of shows and a new home for rehearsals at the city's Kenhill Center.

BCT President John Nunemaker says the new location offers adequate rehearsal and workshop space, plus room to grow.

Renewing its promise to offer bold, largely undiscovered works, Bowie's current show is R.T. Robinson's "The Cover of Life," a play that had its New York premiere in 1992.

In Robinson's World War II-era play, Life magazine gives journalist Kate Miller her first chance at a cover story, focusing on three young wives married to three brothers who moved into their husbands' mother's home after the husbands enlisted.

Ola's three sons are away fighting a war while their wives cope at the family home. The magazine chooses this story as "a woman's piece" that can also serve as pro-war propaganda.

Beneath the idyllic picture, though, journalist Kate gradually uncovers the struggles of these women, each trying to find her own identity. Her story uncovers women's issues in 1943 before such terms as "identity crisis" and "feminism" existed.

The Bowie production captures the many facets of this historical play. Director Bob Sams does a masterful job allowing Robinson's well-crafted dialogue to flow naturally, revealing the four women's stories. In his director's notes, Sams says of the characters, "Earlier their lives had been determined by their men. Now those men are absent. How do they cope? What paths will they follow in this new world not controlled by men?"

Sams also served as set designer, along with Gerard Williams, creating an unpretentious home where action is centered around the kitchen table. Outdoors at day and night is defined by Garrett Hyde's skilled lighting. The World War II era is evoked in costumes by Brigid Lally, who makes her Bowie debut as costume designer.

Defining the role of wartime New York career woman, Diane Sams as journalist Kate Miller is briskly amusing as she gradually reveals her character's sensitivity and insight into the plight of these women. As a skilled interviewer, she sees beneath protective layers without intimidating anyone.

Playing the mother, Ola, Kathryn Huston makes a strong Bowie debut — as expected for those who know her from her Colonial Players and Dignity Players appearances. Ola appears beaten by life as she deals with new independence from her previously male-dominated existence. With her self-absorbed husband hospitalized and her three sons off to war, Ola firmly takes charge of her home, commanding respect from her daughters-in-law.

Huston portrays Ola with dignity while conveying her regret at not guiding her sons to be more independent from their father.

Among the young wives, Weetsie, played by Rinn Delaney, strives to become the best housewife, anxious for her husband's return so they can start a family. Opposite Weetsie is liberated Sybil, played by Terra Vigil. The actress conveys Sybil's preference for barhopping over domesticity, flaunting her sexuality and relishing her infertility in promiscuous encounters.

Caity Brown delivers a multifaceted portrayal of 19-year-old pregnant wife Tood. Brown reflects Tood's emerging independence and also the need for a life apart from the stifling predictability of a home near her mother-in-law. The only brother to come home from the war is Tood's husband, Tommy, played by Ian Cooper, who finds the changes in his bride distressing and incomprehensible.

Bowie native Whisper Washington makes her debut at Bowie Community Theatre as Picayune journalist Addie Mae, enlivening the scene with a deft comic sense.

"The Cover of Life" uncovers what life must have been like for brides of servicemen in the World War II era who experienced a measure of freedom and responsibility in what now seems a transitional time that contained the seeds of early feminism. Smartly told through the young wives' lives, this show is not to be missed by anyone in search of insightful drama.

The show runs through Nov. 24 at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie. For ticket information, call 301-805-0219.