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October 6, 2011

A REVIEW: FCC’s Bustling Kussmaul Theatre

Roy Meachum

Spending a couple of days at the Frederick Community College’s Jack B. Kussmaul Theatre was richly rewarding. Saturday evening brought the Fredericktowne Players’ production of “Inherit the Wind, and Sunday afternoon’s pianist Hyperion Knight knocked me into the aisle.


The appearances of colleague Rick Weldon and former Walkersville High’s drama teacher Samn Huffer were “Inherit the Wind’s” chief attractions. The characters first introduced in 1955 were in safe hands. Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee retold the 1920s’ Scopes monkey trial pitting the era’s most famous attorneys against each other.


Mr. Weldon plays a William Jennings Bryan copy. In the early 20th century Mr. Bryan was famous for encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible and long speeches: his “Cross of Gold” lasted supposedly over three hours. He lost his three quests for the White House. My colleague has spent time in Frederick County politics. As he reminded Saturday, I’ve watched him grow as an actor for 16 years. The payoff for his theatrical experience is on full display on the Kussmaul stage.


On the other side stands a stand-in for Clarence Darrow in the person of Samn Huffer, whom I first met when he mounted admirable productions at Walkersville High. Since retiring from FCPS, Samn has blossomed freely as a performer and jack-of-all-theatrical trades, notably at the Toby’s dinner theatres, in Columbia and Baltimore. He adds a whole lot of professionalism to the Fredericktowne Players.


Ashley Hall I have written about before, most recently in the Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s “Boeing, Boeing.” Through this weekend she’ll strut and wiseass as an unlikely H.L. Mencken prototype; the Sage of Baltimore never looked this sexy. The rest of the company puts a lot of enthusiasm on the Kussmaul Theatre stage.


Less than 24 hours later, the same boards resonated with maybe the most resounding piano concert I’ve heard. Hyperion Knight, whom I had never heard of before Sunday, literally sent me a message. He’s an extremely strong performer, capsulizing the true meaning of virtuoso. His program selections hit me literally “where I live,” to employ a popular phrase — from the opening chords of Franz Liszt to the closing notes of George Gershwin.


In the mid-1960s, I covered the Beatles’ first Washington appearance at RFK Stadium. The Fantasy on “Porgy and Bess” arranged by another respected piano man, Earl Wild, captured the essence of growing-up in New Orleans during the Great Depression. Air conditioning was limited to banks, movie theaters and Protestant mega-churches. After essaying Sergei Rachmaninoff with the aid of recorded strings, the program concluded with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the first genuine American classic in history.


Dr. Knight, as I said, delivered a demonstration in virtuosity, and I’ve heard most of the 20th century’s keyboard geniuses – Arthur Rubinstein and the rest. Two years as the National Symphony Orchestra’s marketing director formed a time line for me to judge the best. Hyperion Knight came through with bright colors blazing. At the end of Sunday afternoon at the Kussmaul Theatre I felt blessed to witness and hear Hyperion Knight. Unfortunately, he returned to New York the next morning and will not likely play in Frederick again. Helas!


On the other hand, the Fredericktowne Players’ “Inherit the Wind” runs through Sunday and this one you miss at your peril.


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