A pair of modern-day private school girls and a titled Irishwoman in the 1930s. These characters might appear to have nothing in common, but they are providing excellent showcases for actresses in two small-scale shows that opened this past weekend. And, though neither script is entirely satisfying, fine performances are on display in both productions.
Ritalin for Two was written by two actresses, Joan Jubett and Jerusha Klemperer (working with director Rosemary Andress), so it's not surprising that it gives its two-member cast a chance to shine. At the Top Floor on Harford Road, Sabrina Shahmir and Dana Peterson portray 15-year-old New Yorkers who get separated from their schoolmates and locked in a basement during a terrorist-attack drill (which may not be a drill).
Shahmir plays a studious nerd with aspirations to be a stand-up comic and attend Yale. To ward off an anxiety attack, she plunges into her homework. Peterson's character is a bored, disaffected youth, far too cool to associate with Shahmir's character under any other circumstances. As directed by Jeff Harrison, both actresses are transformed into credible, kinetic teenagers, who are highly engaging to watch.
But though the profanity-strewn script wisely eschews a syrupy ending, it also lacks serious insights, content to be more of a comedy sketch combined with character study.
Meanwhile, at Performance Workshop Theatre in Federal Hill, veteran actress Joan McCready is portraying Lady Augusta Gregory in Coole Lady, a solo show written and directed by McCready's husband, Sam, as a 40th-anniversary gift.
Lady Gregory co-founded Dublin's esteemed Abbey Theatre and championed the work of W.B. Yeats, Sean O'Casey, J.M. Synge and others, as well as being a writer herself. McCready succeeds in conveying Gregory's greatness along with her humility.
But as a portrait of a woman whose life was inextricably bound up with the theater, Coole Lady is disappointingly lacking in drama. Lady Gregory tells us about her life, in chronological order. And, charming though it is to share the parlor with such a seminal figure, the experience is rarely as exhilarating or inspiring as the woman herself must have been.
Show times at the Top Floor, 5440 Harford Road, are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through Feb. 18. Tickets are $12. Call 443-691-7040.
Show times at Performance Workshop Theatre, 28 E. Ostend St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. selected Sundays, through Feb. 26. Tickets are $18. Call 410-659-7830.