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February 8, 2007

Existentialism on West Patrick

Roy Meachum

Early in my Army time in Europe, I discovered existentialism; a trip to Paris took second place to meeting and spending time with Boris Vian, who wrote the movement's flagship novel, I Spit on Your Grave.

However, it took many years before I really knew what it was about.

The Maryland Ensemble Theatre currently runs a first-class example. "Blue Curtain" wades into waters first ruffled by Harold Pinter's "Betrayal." But Mr. Pinter really came along after existentialism's prophet, Jean Paul Satre," died.

MET's current playwright came on much later still.

If Craig Lucas' name does not make traffic stop, that's only a matter of time and more productions like the one on display in the lower reaches of the town's once famous hostelry. The Francis Scott Key Hotel once hosted anybody with any name that passed through Frederick. Now it's home for the Maryland Ensemble Theatre.

For reasons not entirely clear to me, once it made the leap from the neighboring Cultural Arts Center, MET took off! I would have to reach back in my faulty memory for the last time the company stubbed its toe. Some shows are more fulfilling emotionally and that applies to "Blue Window."

The play's basic storyline, I am told, deals with guests at a Manhattan dinner party, but don't hold me to it. The work really serves as blackboard for its writer to clearly indicate that existentialism is by no means dead. What that means in audience terms boils down to actions and dialogue completely unexpected.

In other words, continuing logic does not apply.

In George Bernard Shaw's era what passes for dialogue on MET's West Patrick Street stage really dishes out sub-text, the words beneath the words we speak and hear. The players pass out generally ideas and emotions that clash; as for action, it can be abrupt and non-sequitur, even very, very funny.

As for Director Peter Wray, I first heard his name attached to a play called "Prelude to a Kiss," which was made into a movie starring Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan. He presently teaches directing at Towson University and that's good news for Frederick. It makes him available for MET plays like this.

I would like to say Mr. Wray brought the East Patrick Street company up to fully professional caliber. But in fact it reached that happy state several years back. The director was fortunate to be handed a cast that includes Lisa Burl and DC Cathro, Amy Easton and Brian Irons. Chris Mancusi is also along. And then a formidable pair of actresses, Julie Herber and Gené Fouché.

But the audience is luckier than Mr. Wray; we get to witness a production that becomes stronger as the weekend shows go by. And they're going quickly. All the greasepaint and "shocking lines" will be packed up on March 3.

I hope something said here motivates you to get on over to the MET complex in Francis Scott Key's lower level, and then let me know what you think.

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