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Review: Earl Lewin’s “Orlando Rising” Premiering at Church Hill Theatre

Written on:July 28, 2017
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At Church Hill Theatre on the rainy evening of July 28, 2017 BC Productions premiered “Orlando Rising”, the latest play by Chestertown playwright Earl Lewin. The play conveys the journey of Wally, a college professor, and his wife Ruth who play temporary host to the family matriarch, Nana.

Lewin told me just before the show that “Orlando Rising” isn’t quite his usual lighthearted show. It is more cerebral and makes you think. It is set at the time of Kennedy Assassination, a date that some, including Lewin, would say was end of the age of Innocence. Lewin references the changing of society’s views.

The events surrounding the Kennedy assassination opens a festering family secret that Wally’s subconscious has hidden since childhood. It’s a play that shows how during the decades between the Victorian Age and the 1960’s families often kept secrets such as pre-marital pregnancy and mental illness. Even from members of their own families.

In a Press Release BC Productions gave the following synopsis: “Wally teaches literature with a current focus on the plays of Henrick Ibsen. As he prepares his lectures through study of these dark and disturbing Ibsen themes, something unspoken begins tugging at his childhood memories and his image of Orlando. Can Wally find a way to confront Nana and to obtain the truth about Orlando? Is Orlando really secure in the facility that he walked away from so many times in the past, or is he going to suddenly appear and cause havoc in their lives?

“Nana, a product of the Victorian Age, has hidden these events for three generations. Why is Wally’s Uncle Orlando kept in a mental hospital? Why does no one ever discuss it or visit him? Wally remembers visits to the hospital with his mother and Nana when he was very little. He remembers Orlando’s uncontrollable rage about the government and his anger with Nana; his threats to kill her. Wally harbors a disquieting memory of Orlando rising like a specter in the darkened living room of his childhood home following an escape from the hospital. Wally lives with the suppressed fear that one day Orlando will once again appear to threaten their lives.”

In my view the first Act could have been a bit tighter. At times it seemed to drag. There is quite a bit of back story to tell and it took me a few minutes to follow the roles of unseen characters. Wally’s brothers, his mother’s brothers and Wally’s Poppa, his Grandfather, the husband of his visiting Nana, not his father. Once the relationship of all of the family members come into focus the show moves along nicely.

It’s a good show. One that you should take the time to see. One that will make you think and leave you feeling good for Wally and Ruth.

The cast does a fine job with believable performances. Especially that of Kathy Jones, who plays Nana.

Performances of Orlando Rising will be held at Church Hill Theatre running through Sunday, August 6th. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8 pm, and Sunday matinees begin at 2 pm. All tickets are $15 (cash or check only) and may be picked up prior to performance at the box office. Reservations are suggested. Call Church Hill Theatre at 410 556-6003.

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Additional Information from BC Production’s Press Release on the cast and crew:

The cast includes Chris Rogers as Wally. Rogers is a well-known, local actor and cofounder of the Shore Shakespeare Company. He recently made his directorial debut with the Company’s summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Portraying his wife Ruth is Christine Kinlock who was recently seen in Shore Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Church Hill Theatre’s Jake’s Women. Nana, Wally’s grandmother, is played by Kathy Jones who is a familiar talent on stages at Chesapeake College, Church Hill Theatre, and Colonial Players in Annapolis.

Howard Mesick portrays Wally’s father Jack. Mesick is both a playwright and a familiar face on local stages playing lead roles at both the Garfield Center for the Arts and Church Hill Theatre. Jean Leverage plays Alyson, Wally’s mother, and has appeared in several musical productions at Church Hill Theater. Childhood Wally is played by Aaron Sensnsig, and his childhood friend Dick is portrayed by John Crook.

Orlando is portrayed by local actor Tom Dorman who has played a wide range of roles at Church Hill Theatre. Eddie Dorman and Jan Eliassen round out the cast playing police officers.

Assisting Lewin with the production is an equally experienced and accomplished crew: Eliasson (Stage Manager and Copper); Eddie Dorman (Stage Crew); Lewin (Set Design/Construction); Patrick Fee (Sound Design); Doug Kaufmann (Lighting Design/Operation); and Barbi Bedell (Costumes).

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