Coming in contact with grief


Fell's Point Corner Theatre's poignant production of Touch - a play about loss and mourning - would be moving under any circumstances. But in light of recent events, this account of one man's struggle to come to terms with his wife's disappearance is as wrenching as it is relevant.

Told from the viewpoint of the young husband, Toni Press-Coffman's memory play is primarily a series of monologues, interspersed with occasional flashbacks. It's not the most dynamic structure, and the drama, which was produced at Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays two seasons ago, gets off to a stilted start.

But while Touch demands a lot from the audience and actors, it also rewards their efforts. And no effort in director Alex Willis' subtle production is more stunning than that by Carlos del Valle, who delivers a near-virtuosic performance as the bereft husband, Kyle.

In his lengthy initial monologue, Kyle introduces himself as a science nerd, a kid who took high school physics four years in a row, by choice. Until his future wife, Zoe, mistakenly wandered into physics class in his senior year, Kyle had only one friend, a fellow science nerd named Bennie.

Bookish, a bit lumpy and ill-at-ease, del Valle's Kyle comes to life when he talks about Zoe, an off-stage character who sounds totally unlike him. Her effect on Kyle is as luminous as the stars he eventually studies in his astronomy career.

When Zoe fails to return home after a late-night trip to the grocery, her disappearance sucks Kyle into a black hole. Del Valle retreats into himself so intensely, he seems physically removed not only from Oscar Ceville's worried Bennie and Zoe's indignant sister (Elisabeth Ogrin), but from the audience as well.

Considering Zoe's violent fate, Touch could come across as sensationalism. No doubt it would have if Press-Coffman had shown us what happened to Zoe instead of telling us. But this is the rare instance in which the drama lies in the telling. Touch is about the impact on Kyle. That impact takes a while to build, but when it does, it takes hold with power, catharsis and, ultimately, hope.

Show times at Fell's Point Corner, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (except Oct. 7), through Oct. 14. Tickets cost $11 and $12. Call 410-276-7837.

'Das Barbecu'

When you hear song titles like "Hog-Tie Your Man" and "Rodeo Romeo," Wagner probably is not the first composer who comes to mind - unless you're familiar with a little off-Broadway musical called Das Barbecu that had a previous incarnation at Center Stage.

Now the five-person, Texas-style re-telling of the Ring cycle, complete with synchronized swimming Rhine Maidens and construction worker giants, is back in town at the Vagabond Players.

Director Terry J. Long and choreographer James Hunnicutt have assembled an enthusiastic, big-voiced ensemble; Heather Marie Beck as relentless Gutrune and Laura K. Costner as sweet Brunnhilde are standouts.

But most performers try too hard to please, and their over-eagerness backfires, depleting some of the show's wacky comic edge. The result is that Scott Warrender's countrified score and Jim Luigs' loopy libretto feel longer and less inspired.

The production works best when it drops back and embraces its small-scale hokum, from the brief vision of cattle-horned Valkyries to the low-tech synchronized swimming number, "After the Gold is Gone." One of the funniest effects is ridiculously simple - smoke spritzed out of aerosol cans in the climactic, final flare-up.

Bigger may be better in Texas, but smaller definitely is sillier when it comes to Das Barbecu.

Show times at the Vagabonds, 806 S. Broadway, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. Sept. 30, through Oct. 14. (No performances Oct. 6 and 7.) Tickets cost $15. Call 410-563-9135.

Production adjustments

Essential Personnel, the one-man hip-hop theater piece whose opening was postponed a week at the Theatre Project, has been further postponed until the end of this season or the start of the next. Theatre Project executive director Robert P. Mrozek said the rehearsal and performance schedule of the New York-based production was interrupted by the Sept. 11 events. For ticket refunds or exchanges call 410-752-8558.

There's happier news about Andrew Lloyd Webber's By Jeeves, which had indefinitely postponed its Broadway opening after economic concerns arising from the terrorist attacks led two primary investors to withdraw. Since then, the composer has found five new investors, including himself, and the show will open, as planned, on Oct. 28. "There is no better time to be supportive of Broadway," Lloyd Webber said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the national tour of The Full Monty, which was to have played Washington's National Theatre Nov. 1-25, has gone on hiatus. The production is being streamlined "to deal with the economic uncertainty of touring entertainment," according to the producer. Ticket holders can call 202-628-6161.

Theater awards

John Bruce Johnson, former president of the Vagabonds and a founder of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, was honored with the festival's first Lifetime Achievement Award at Monday's ceremony at Center Stage. Chuck Spoler's Memorial Day took top honors for best play and best production.

The deadline for submitting plays to the 2002 festival is Sunday. Fell's Point Corner Theatre will present free staged readings of three plays already under consideration at 11 a.m. Saturday. For information call 410-276-2153.

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