Excellence on every level in Colonial Players' 'Taking Steps'
By By Mary Johnson and For The Baltimore Sun
Jun 13, 2013 | 4:29 PM
Colonial Players' 64th season has been a banquet of stimulating plays, and the season closes this month with a delightful dessert in British playwright Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 farce "Taking Steps."
The show is indeed a comic confection, and seems to have been destined for Colonial Players, presented in-the-round on a single level designed to simulate a three-story Victorian home with attic, bedroom level and living room area.
Here, the cast of two couples, a solicitor and a real estate agent continually run up and down imaginary stairs while avoiding each other — all in the span of one night.
Director Barbara Marder relishes the challenges set by Ayckbourn's insistence that all three floors of the house are visible on stage at the same time, so characters hidden from each other are seen by the audience.
Marder's cast of six never misses a step of intricate choreography while taking "two steps forward, one step forward, one step back, two steps back." These are characters Marder describes as "bumbling along making every possible mistake and still standing."
Marder, stage manager Dave Carter and the cast were challenged to avoid collisions while blocking the scenes, as set designer Edd Miller used every inch of space to create bedrooms, a living room, attic space and hallways that appear to be on all three levels of the rundown residence.
Costume designer Meg Venton accents each character's persona while lighting designer Tim Grieb highlights the action occurring on various levels of the house with lights turning on and off. Sound designer Lindsea Sharpe adds to the chaos of the creaky old house on cue with the assistance of Hannah Sturm. Properties designer Lois Banscher uses an array of props to accent the circus environment of this former brothel-manor house that may be haunted by the ghost of Scarlet Lucy.
The Colonial Players production is graced by an ensemble of characters confronting real problems while dealing with improbable situations and encountering visitors with their own agendas.
Former dancer Elizabeth Crabbe, played by Heather Bagnall, has decided to be free of her wealthy tycoon husband Roland Crabbe, portrayed by Ken Sabel, who is considering buying the Victorian manor house for his wife.
Elizabeth confesses to her lovelorn brother Mark, played by Luke Tudball, that she has written a farewell note to her husband and wants his help in leaving her spouse. But Mark is hoping to secure a loan from Roland to win back former fiancee Kitty, played by Sarah Wade.
Further complicating the proceedings is nervous young solicitor's assistant Tristram Watson (Paul Webster) and desperate-for-cash builder-landlord Leslie Bainbridge (Eric Hufford), who is eager to sell the house.
Bagnall conveys Elizabeth's desperation to cling to her dream of becoming a ballet dancer and her need for affection. As her brother Mark, Tudball chases his own unlikely dreams of a life as a businessman with Kitty as his wife.
Sabel embodies bucket tycoon Roland, flaunting his wealth and comically downing endless quantities of scotch.
Hufford provides energetic, often athletic comedy as the deceptive Bainbridge. Hidden in an attic bedroom, Kitty amuses the audience as she rejects, and finds, love.
In his Colonial Players' debut, Webster steals every scene as bumbling Watson, flailing his hands as a comedic maestro. Invited to spend the night, Watson finds himself in bed with, presumably, ghost Scarlet Lucy.
Adhering to the adage of leaving an audience laughing, Colonial Players' season closer is not to be missed by anyone seeking brightly executed comedy. "Taking Steps" plays Thursdays through Sundays, continuing through June 29 at Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. Call the box office at 410-268-7373.
And here's a preview of coming attractions: Colonial Players has already announced the opening show for its 65th season, and it's a return engagement for author Ayckbourn. "Communicating Doors," a comic mystery, will play Sept. 20 to Oct. 12.
Joe Byrd Jazz series
June is packed with fabulous artists in the Joe Byrd Jazz concert series. The series includes:
•Sunday, June 16, at 7 p.m., Sunday Supper and Jazz at 49 West Cafe, with pianist Stef Scaggiari and guitarist Rick Whitehead.