After a three-year Covid hiatus, the Compass Rose Theater is back with a vengeance, alive and well in its new home at Maryland Hall. The company’s first offering fits their new space well. “The Sneeze” is a series of short plays by Anton Chekhov, translated and adapted by noted playwright Michael Frayn. With five actors, a spare stage, an intimate setting, and short, dark comedies about disillusionment and the cold realities of the world, Compass Rose has presented us with the perfect winter’s evening entertainment.
Director Lucinda Merry-Browne hones her actors into a force to be reckoned with, and the acting is worth the price of the ticket. All of the stories center around death: either actual dying, thinking about death or becoming deathly ill—thank you Russian authors, you do not disappoint! But the humor in each keeps the audience from despair. In “Drama,” Joe Mucciolo plays a renowned author who is bedeviled by an intrusive wannabe author, opening the show and carrying the act with his strong stage presence.
Compass Rose has presented us with the perfect winter’s evening entertainment…the acting is worth the price of the ticket.
His character in “The Sneeze”—an underling officer that sneezes on the back of his superior’s head at the theatre—is so silly that the previous performances are forgotten. In “The Proposal,” Mucciolo is an aging father, bent over by life—or perhaps by his difficult (unmarried) daughter—and truly inhabits the role.
Other actors are equally chameleon-like as they bring their varied characters to life. In “Swan Song,” Matthew Crawford is brilliant as an aging actor who finds himself in a rumpled heap and alone on stage after a night celebrating a great performance. He strongly feels his age, while simultaneously rueing past losses and touting former stage victories. Told mostly in monologue form to a worried stage hand, Crawford absorbs the audience’s attention like a sponge.
Christian Wilson, who plays the insistent, female wannabe author in the first act, plays beautifully off the intense hatred emanating from his captive author. In “The Proposal,” his apoplectic staggering around the stage has audience members wondering if there is a defibrillator handy.
The two women in the cast have smaller parts but are equally impressive. In “The Proposal,” Ali Leary is so convincingly obnoxious to her suitor that it makes her likely marriage a doomed certainty. Alana Lyons plays mostly supporting roles, but makes her presence on stage known with terrific comedic touches.
The lighting and sets are minimal but effective. Lighting director Marianne Meadows does a great job keeping the focus in the right place. The sets are reused, moving around the stage with each act. The play is the thing however, and with forceful performances the sets fade into the background.
The Compass Rose Theater is a welcome addition to the large number of intimate theaters in the Annapolis area, and also offers classes for children from 4-13 years old. We look forward to a long and happy run at Maryland Hall. Welcome back, Compass Rose!
Running time: Two hours with one 15 minute intermission.
“The Sneeze” runs through February 12, 2023 at Compass Rose Theater, 801 Chase St., Room 308 (Maryland Hall), Annapolis, MD 21401. For more information about shows, tickets, or classes, please call 410-980-6662, visit their website, or contact the box office at email@example.com.