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'Shiloh Rules' offers unlikely topic for comic relief at Colonial Players

'Shiloh Rules' offers unlikely topic for comic relief at Colonial Players
Meg Venton as Cecilia Delaunay Pettison and Jamie Erin Miller as Clara May Abbott in "Shiloh Rules" at Colonial Players. - Original Credit: (/ HANDOUT)

The Colonial Players' presentation of Doris Baizley's inventive 2006 comedy "Shiloh Rules" revisits one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles, experienced 150 years later by women Civil War reenactors.

As noted previously in a preview of the Players' season, this unlikely comic topic delivers offbeat humor, depicting two veteran competitors vying for the title of best reenactor.

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Confederate refugee Cecilia Delaunay Pettison has fled her Southern home to compete for the crown, while rival Union nurse Clara May Abbott is equally determined, sure that her "Angel of Antietam" depiction should win the prize of best reenactor.

The two seasoned competitors have young proteges more interested in coping with immediate problems than in supporting the competition. Nursing student Meg Barton is not eager to polish her medical skills but adept at delivering reality checks to her mentor, Abbott.

Adding to the fun, Southern gentlewoman Pettison's apprentice LucyGale Scruggs seems bored with reenactor training but remains a tomboy eager to get into the actual fighting assigned only to males.

Adding to the comedy are two later arrivals – Park Ranger Wilson, a black woman uncomfortable with Civil War discussions and no admirer of reenactment battles; and Widow Beckworth, who wants to sell whatever she can to reenactment participants of either stripe.

Written by a woman for an all-woman cast, it follows that “Shiloh Rules” should be directed by a woman, the eminently qualified Beth Terranova, who is marking her 45th venture with the Players, counting among her triumphs a Washington Area Theater Community Honors award as Outstanding Director for “Hauptmann” and another WATCH award as producer of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” last season.

Terranova’s skills include apt casting of every role and sensitivity to playwright Baizley’s characters. Her artful staging of this multi-layered dramedy fully utilizes Colonial Players’ in-the-round space.

Terranova has also taken on the tasks of set and costume design. At the opening weekend Sunday matinee performance she could be observed strategically applying mulch around logs making up the minimalist national park setting.

Meg Venton has imposing stage presence as the enigmatic Southern gentlewoman Pettison, tortured by ignorance of the fate of her husband — a soldier — and uncertainty of her own future. Venton dwells convincingly in two eras, 150 years apart.

Jamie Erin Miller is equally masterful as Abbott, initially so intent on maintaining the authenticity of Civil War era medical practices that she frightens apprentice Barton as she wields primitive medical instruments.

Outwardly exuding confidence and optimism, Miller’s Abbott projects being intimidated by Pettison’s comfort in the 1860s era. Miller’s every interaction is natural, reflecting genuine compassion for protege Meg and unspoken respect for Pettison.

Ashley Spooner brings contemporary reality — and comedy — to the character of Ranger Wilson. Spooner’s every encounter is authentic and natural, including her annoyance at the reenactors’ obsession with the Civil War. Expanding beyond negativity, Spooner’s Ranger teaches the group and opens other perspectives. And after her own battle experiences, she reminds the others of the futility of taking sides.

Widow Beckwith brings welcome practicality and warmth, especially comforting as delivered by Shannon Benil. Benil’s sharp comedic timing softens interchanges and shares a natural honesty with Spooner’s Ranger Wilson — resulting in heightened comedy.

Laura Ivey as Meg Barton conveys a total transition from failed nursing student to an exhausted and frightened warrior who discovers what has real value in life.

Meanwhile, Confederate recruit LucyGale Scruggs is fully realized by Carrie Brady, whose tomboy tendency is followed by disenchantment at grim reality.

Performances of "Shiloh rules" continue through Oct. 1.

ASGT lights up the 'Stars'

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's fundraiser show, "Light Up the Stars," hosts its final performance Sunday, at 8 p.m. The show features an all-star cast on its outdoor stage "under the stars."

At opening weekend, near-capacity audiences enjoyed fabulous music and dance directed by David Merrill and choreographed by wife Elysia Merrill, assisted by Andrew Gordon — who also lights up the stage with Broadway-caliber dancing, sometimes partnering with Amanda Cimaglia and Debra Kidwell.

David Merrill joins in several dance lines, even adding an expertly executed back flip in one number. A terrific tenor, Merrill also adds substance to three male quartets in addition to providing an unforgettable "Light in the Piazza" duet with soprano Ashley Gladden.

Also noteworthy are song and dance man Nathan Bowen, returning favorite Vincent Musgrave and regulars Katie Gardner and Jason Vellon.

For ticket information for Sunday's performance, go to summergarden.com.

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