Mid-Shore Arts: Troika Gallery’s Laura Era on Starting Anew

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The common Russian definition of the word “troika” refers to three horses abreast pulling a sleigh. That seemed to be the perfect name for Laura Era, her mother Dorothy, and their artist friend, Jennifer Heyd Wharton, when the trio opened their gallery in Talbottown twenty-one years ago. Since that time, the Troika Galley has become one of the great success stories of downtown Easton with their remarkable display of fine art from some of the country’s leading artists.

But like all things in life, let alone in the art gallery world, things do change, and the Troika Gallery was not spared that fate when Laura Era had to work through the almost simultaneous death of her mother and Jennifer’s decision to give up her share in the gallery since retiring to South Carolina. Within the span of less than two weeks, Troika had actually become a one-horse tarantass or a single horse-drawn carriage in Russian.

Nonetheless, with store manager Peg Fitzgerald at her side, Laura decided to keep Troika Gallery’s doors open. And, as she notes in our recent Spy interview, it was not a hard decision given what the three partners had achieved; a space of unique serenity, a remarkable collection of artists, and a gathering space for collectors and art lovers alike.

The Spy sat down with Laura this week to get an update.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. Troika will have a special anniversary group show opening and reception on November 9. For more information please go here

 

Mid-Shore Arts: The Great Migration with John Schratwieser

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As part of the Kent County Arts Council agenda this fall, there will be a unique tribute to America’s great migration of six million African-Americans who moved from the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West. To provide a sense of scale for this remarkable transition, until 1910, more than 90 percent of the African-American population lived in the American South. In 1900, only one-fifth of African-Americans living in the South were living in urban areas.

In 2016 The Phillips Collection in Washington DC commissioned Playwright and Producing Artistic Director Jacqueline Lawton,to create an evening of short plays based on the Great Migration series painted by famed African American painter, Jacob Lawrence. These plays will be presented together as Act one of a Two-Act evening that also includes Kent County’s own RED DEVIL MOON, Thursday – Sunday, November 1 – 4, 2018 at the Garfield Center for the Arts.

The Spy chatted with John Schratwieser, KCAC director, about this amibrioust project a few months ago to help us understand better the history and what the audience can expect during this short run.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Great Migration project please go here

Mid-Shore Arts: Sumner Hall Presents Roots of African American Music

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The MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, the opening act for the Sumner Hall concert series

Chestertown’s Sumner Hall begins a new venture this fall with a stellar concert series, “African American Legacy & Heritage in Jazz, Blues & Gospel.” The series, featuring local and nationally-known performers, is produced by Tom McHugh, well known for his work at the Mainstay in Rock Hall.

Since retiring from the Mainstay, McHugh has worked with the arts programs at the Kent County public schools, bringing recognition to the art teachers and students and working to bring in artists to help expand the students’ horizons. Now, working in a volunteer capacity with Sumner Hall, he has drawn on his many contacts throughout the music world to assemble a concert series to represent the rich spectrum of African American music, from spirituals and blues to the giants of jazz. McHugh was joined by Sumner Hall President Larry Wilson for a Spy interview on the concert series.

Musician Karen Somerville with Tom McHugh, producer of the concert series and director of Arts in Motion – Photo by Jane Jewell

McHugh said the inspiration for the series came when he was at Sumner Hall for an event and read a poster on the wall that made him think about the role of music in African American life in Kent County and how that links to the mission of Sumner Hall. “It’s a poster that just makes you think,” he said. The series inspired by it “is intended to be the legacy of African American contributions to blues and jazz and folk music.”

Reggie Harris

The first performer he thought of was Reggie Harris, guitarist, songwriter and storyteller extraordinaire. McHugh said, “Reggie has this reputation of being able to pull all these currents together.” He said that whenever he brought Harris in for a concert, “I just let him roll,” knowing the result would be right for the situation and the audience. When McHugh called Harris – even before contacting anyone at Sumner Hall – to tell him about the idea of a concert series to present “snapshots” of the different musical genres, Harris said, “I’m in.”

McHugh then began looking for other performers, particularly those who could take the history “way back,” which was when he found out about the MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, a Washington DC-based group that presents the Piedmont Blues style associated with such artists as Cephas and Wiggans. McHugh said MSG had performed at Archie Edwards’ barbershop in Washington, which featured live performances while Edwards cut hair. The group was referred to McHugh by Dave Robinson, a fixture of the Washington jazz scene, who brought a DC-area youth band to the Chestertown Jazz Festival a year ago. Robinson referred McHugh to Archie Edwards Barbershop Foundation and they recommended MSG Acoustic Blues Trio. “You have to get these people…they entertain and educate the audience about the Piedmont blues traditions,” Robinson said.

Larry Wilson, president of Sumner Hall Board of Directors – Photo by Jane Jewell

Having secured those two groups, McHugh said, he felt the rest would be a matter of “filling in.” He presented the idea to some of the Sumner Hall leadership, and the project began to take shape. He said that all the artists had agreed to perform for less than their normal fees, many of them because of their previous experience with McHugh at the Mainstay.

Phil Dutton

He talked about the performers, many of whom are already familiar to local audiences – especially Philip Dutton and Karen Somerville. For their performances in this series, McHugh asked both of them to stretch beyond what audiences have come to expect. Dutton, who usually appears with his band the Alligators, will do a solo set, talking about the influences on his playing. McHugh described Dutton as “a scholar” of the different styles of New Orleans piano playing.

Somerville, best known for gospel performances with the Sombarkin trio, will pay tribute to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin – two of the most revered voices in African American music. McHugh said that he and Somerville have been friends for at least 25 years, and he described her as his main link to the Kent County African American community during his first few years here, introducing him to important members of the community and filling him in on bits of local history.

Pianist Daryl Davis and guitarist Guy Davis (no relation) have been regulars at the Mainstay, with Daryl Davis a frequent performer at Rock Hall Fall Fests. McHugh has known Guy Davis for many years, since inviting him to demonstrate slide guitar at a blues class he was teaching at Vassar. Guy Davis and Reggie Harris played a memorable concert at Sumner Hall a couple of years ago.

Guy Davis – photo by Joseph A. Rosen

One of the less familiar performers is Jason Blythe, a young tenor sax player from the jazz program at the University of Delaware, whom Mchugh heard when the U. Del. big jazz band played at the Mainstay. McHugh described Blythe as “a natural” musician. Learning that one of Blythe’s favorite tenor players is the late Lester Young, McHugh challenged him to recreate Young’s 1946 trio with Nat “King” Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums. Blythe recruited two members of the U. Del. faculty to fill out the trio.

McHugh said that each of the performers has agreed to talk about the music with the audience and to answer any questions. “It might have to do with your instrument, or it might have to do with how you got into this music, so people can take those stories out into the community,” he said. In some cases – notably with Daryl Davis, who has made an ongoing effort to meet and engage with members of the Ku Klux Klan – the discussion may range far beyond the music. That’s part of the point – as important as the music is in its own right, it has an important role as part of African American life, and draws on all aspects of the black experience in this country.

Daryl Davis

Wilson reminisced about the music he heard while growing up in Kent County. He and his friends listened to the black-run radio stations, WSID and WEBB from Baltimore and WANN from Annapolis until they went off the air at sundown, then switched to the Baltimore Top 40 station, WCAO – where much of the same music was crossing over into the pop mainstream. He said he hoped the concert series would attract more members of the local African American community – especially young listeners — to Sumner Hall

With this goal in mind, 20 tickets will be set aside for each concert for Special Guests. The concerts’ website notes that there are many members of the community who may be unable to purchase a ticket but who are either a part of the local African American music scene in the region or who are students and youth who would love to attend. Anyone interested in sponsoring one of these community members can purchase a “Sponsor a Special Guest” ticket in addition to their own, and Sumner Hall will make sure that ticket goes to a deserving local music fan. “Sponsor a Special Guest” tickets are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said of the concert series. “Each one is different in its own way but it brings a light to the music.”  The musicians will open the floor for questions and discussion at the end of each concert.  Most concerts are on Saturday, a couple on Friday evenings.  Shows begin at 7:00 pm. The complete series schedule is below.

Everyone involved in the production is spreading the word through email and other media, so anyone interested would be well advised to make advance reservations online here https://aalhconcertseries.eventbrite.com.  The series is supported in part by a generous donation from the Hedgelawn Foundation.

All shows begin at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $20 each.  The hall seats just a little over 100. Advance ticket sales only. No tickets will be sold at the door.See their website for more information on Sumner Hall and other upcoming events.

The complete schedule:

November 10 – MSG Acoustic Blues Trio Showcases the Piedmont Blues
December 8 – Daryl Davis Offers Boogie Woogie and a Message
February 9 – Phil Dutton Plays New Orleans Piano
March 1 – Guy Davis is on the Road with Blues and Songster Ramblings
April 13 – Jason Blythe & University of Delaware Band Re-create the Lester Young Trio
May 11 – Karen Somerville Sings Mahalia, Aretha. . . and More
June 1 – Reggie Harris Wraps It Up

Sumner Hall
206 S. Queen Street
Chestertown, MD 21620
phone 443 282 0023. 

Mid-Shore Arts: The Spy Checks in with Academy Art Museum’s Ben Simons

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The Craft Show has successfully come and gone, many of Academy Art Museum’s 60th Anniversary events have taken place, the fall exhibitions have been planned and ready for display, and its capital campaign is near completion; so you’d think it would be the best time for AAM director Ben Simons to take a break from it all and find a sunny beach somewhere.

That turns out to be the wrong conclusion when the Spy started our first periodic check-in with Ben a few weeks ago.  Still very much engaged in documenting the remarkable history of the Academy since 1958, completing a highly demanding national re-accreditation process for the institution, and leading a long-term strategic planning process for this rapidly growing museum and art school, his workdays are very much spoken for in the near term.

In the first of our periodic chats with Director Simons, the Spy talks in this installment about the remarkable history of the AAM, the grueling but highly rewarding success of being re-accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, and pushing hard for the four primary objectives of the Academy’s capital fund drive.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum please go here 

Mainstay Monday Features Barbara Ferris

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The Mainstay has been presenting Mainstay Mondays with Joe Holt for some time now.  Each Monday, from 7-8:30 pm, musician extraordinaire Joe Holt has invited a different outstanding local musician or group to join him to bring a variety of talents and genres to the community.  It has become one of the more popular features on the Mainstay’s calendar.  And one of the few places where you can listen to live music on a weekday!

Singer Barbara Ferris joins Holt for a return engagement at the Mainstay Monday concert this Monday, Oct. 22.  She will be singing jazz gems from Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin along with other standards.  In addition, Ferris will perform an original improvisational song, “I Hear You Calling,” based on the traditional “kulning” – a calling song with which ancient shepherdesses called their flocks down from the mountains. Ferris describes it as “a poem put to music” and adds that it is her “first attempt at writing anything for the public.”

Ferris is familiar to local audiences from her performances with “Sam’s Jazzy Swing” group, which gave concerts at Church Hill Theatre and the Mainstay as well as various venues around the area. She also appeared as Golda in “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Garfield Center. Currently, Ferris is working to recruit musicians for the house tour at this year’s Dickens of a Christmas sponsored by Main Street Chestertown.

Ferris was born in New York and spent her early years there and in Massachusettes.  The family then moved to North Carolina which she still considers home. A graduate of Berry College in Mt. Berry, Georgia, she combined an English major and an applied voice minor as a classical mezzo-soprano.  She traveled throughout the southeast USA with the college’s concert choir as both a choir member and a soloist.  Ferris also won first place in the advanced mezo-soprano division of the southeastern region competition sponsored by the National Association of Teachers of Singing. She followed college with appearances with various groups in the North Carolina area, and as guest vocalist with the Appalachian State University and Campbell College jazz bands. Her musical career over the years has included multiple appearances at concerts, festivals, and restaurants, not to overlook weddings and many other occasions. Many local students have received the benefits of Ferris’s professional expertise while she was employed as a speech-language pathologist in the Kent County Schools for seven years.

As the Mainstay website says about the Monday evening programs: “Each week is a unique, one of a kind show. Seating is casual and tables are available (bring your own dinner, if you like), along with a cash bar. Doors open at 6:30 pm with the show starting at 7:00 and running until about 8:30.”  Admission is $10. 

Joe Holt, host of Mainstay Mondays,  at the piano

Mid-Shore Arts: The Daily Work of Qiang Huang by Val Cavalheri

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What would it take for an optical engineer, with a Ph.D. in physics, to quit his successful job and take up a totally unrelated field that he wasn’t sure could support his family? Passion. In this case, a passion for creating art. That’s the background story of Dr. Qiang Huang (pronounced Chong Wong). Born and raised in Beijing, China, Dr. Huang currently lives in Austin, Texas, but his work is everywhere there is an art gallery or a computer. That’s because another one of his significant accomplishment might be some modern marketing to complement his traditional still-life painting style.

To hear him tell it, it began after he had moved to the US to study, after graduate school, after joining a startup company, after marriage, after a child, and after getting his citizenship. All the while pursuing a ‘hobby of drawing with charcoal or pencil for fun,’ when he had time after his demanding job. The real motivation came once he bought his first house and wanted to decorate it with some artwork. It was 1998. Says Huang, “I went to places like Michaels and Hobby Lobby, trying to buy some prints, but after so many years of dabbling in art, I was sensitive to colors and style and couldn’t find artwork I really liked. I went to galleries, museums and saw beautiful original fine art, but noticed that it was beyond my affordability.” He thought: Why not paint something?

Realizing he needed more formal art training, Huang took adult education courses from the University of Texas. He also attended various workshops and classes, some of them hundreds of miles away. In the process, he was able to decorate his home, while also accumulating a large inventory of his paintings.

It was in 2007 when there was a shift in his thinking that would change his life. During a Plein Air Austin event, he attended a still life demonstration by a friend of his from Oregon, Carol Marine. Marine, an acknowledged painter and author, introduced Daily Painting, an approach she had recently taken up herself. It involved painting small (5×7, 6×6, etc.), colorful, and realistic pictures every day and then selling them online. Web commerce for artists was a new concept then. At that time, Huang believed that to sell his work he would need gallery representation. Marine changed that. It’s exciting, she told him, and not difficult to do. You put an image of your painting on something called a ‘blog,’ talk about your picture, and link it to an eBay account. People who follow your blog and are interested in your work can buy it immediately without leaving their home.

This new self-representation and self-marketing philosophy was a revelation. With Marine’s help, he opened the accounts, learned how to do some basic marketing, and began to collaborate with other bloggers. He also painted 2-3 hours at night after work, blogging about the painting’s inspiration and process. Within three months, he sold his first painting to someone who was not a family or friend.

Artist Qiang Huang

As Huang’s confidence grew, so did sales. Yet, he was still working full time as an engineer in charge of an R&D department, while also continuing to study and paint daily. It was during this time that he visited a gallery and, much to his surprise, saw one of his paintings for sale for double the price he usually charged. The gallery owner informed him that a collector, who had bought a couple of Huang’s pictures online, was reselling it to make a profit.

This experience began a new phase for Huang. Art galleries asked to represent him. His collector base and number of blog followers grew, and he caught the attention of a workshop organizer from Houston who helped plan a class for Huang to teach.

Despite all the training he had done throughout the years, Huang had never taught before, but was willing to share his experience as a daily painter. “I really prepared,” he said. “English is my second language, so I needed to make sure my teaching was understandable. I did the demonstration, told them how I did this daily painting. Spent the afternoon talking about the business activities, how to use the internet and blog and all of that.” The workshop, he said, was a success. People liked his work and bought some of his painting. He also got additional opportunities to conduct more workshops which led to American Artist Magazine writing a featured article about him.

Huang says of that time: “I started to consider… This could be interesting. My art was taking off, the business was doing well, and I was teaching. More galleries wanted to represent me, which started generating some income. Also, more magazine articles about me came out. So, this venture looked like it was growing. My small business became bigger and bigger. I joined professional art groups, such as the Oil Painters of America and was able to show my work and participate in national shows.”

Huang now found himself in the enviable position of being too busy. He was juggling two careers, each wanting his full attention. “If I’m doing something, I want to do it well,” he said. “If I’m doing two things and both are energy-demanding, I only can be mediocre in both. If I want to do well, I need to be able to concentrate. I only have a certain amount of energy. That started cooking in my mind. I needed to consider taking a break from my technical career and go into art.” Despite this contemplation, it would be another three years (and the blessing of his family) before Huang quit engineering in 2011 to became a full-time artist.

Today, Huang continues to paint daily, is represented by even more galleries, including Studio B Art Gallery in Easton, and his workshops are in demand nationwide. His income, he said, is not comparable to what he used to make as an engineer, but he’s happier and can ‘make ends meet.’ He still considers himself a student, occasionally taking classes to improve his art and expanding his subjects to include more portraits and landscapes. “As I’ve become more and more into landscape, the plein air events have become more important roles in my paintings.” For the second year in a row, Huang participated at the Plein Air Easton this past year, taking home first place in the Quick Draw contest and winning automatic entry into the 2019 competition.

He credits his success and opportunities to the daily painting regime. “It’s a very good exercise,” he says. “Like any activity you want to be good at, you need to practice. It’s given me the discipline, and it is noticeable progress. I also learned internet and technology skills, and how to blog. I learned business, bookkeeping, and taxes. I learned entrepreneurship, and I also made some money.”

As he has in the past, Huang continues to be an innovator. He knows that with the rise of social media, besides the blog, his marketing has to include Facebook and Instagram as well. Art still takes up most of his time, but now he’s also interested in solar power, organic gardening, rainwater harvesting, etc., and uses his technological knowledge and background to pursue environmental sustainability. The irony is not lost on him. “So now after art became my career, my technology part became my hobby,” he says smiling.

For more about Qiang Huang’s art please go to the Studio B Art Gallery website here

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

 

Review: Jay Fleming at the Academy Art Museum by Mary McCoy

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While the Academy Art Museum continues to celebrate its 60th anniversary with its downstairs galleries filled with a wide-ranging and fascinating exhibit of works drawn from its permanent collection, upstairs is a remarkable little show by Annapolis photographer Jay Fleming.

Inventive and spectacular are two good words for describing Fleming’s photographs. There’s only the tip of the bow of a boat showing in his photo, “Sinking Workboat,” as it is engulfed by the waves. It’s such a startling image that it’s hard to imagine how he ever managed to shoot it. Its splashing water is so clear and fresh and the deep water surrounding the boat is so dark and foreboding that it’s like a dream, or in the context of this show, a nightmare.

Fleming’s exhibit, “Island Life,” on view through November 11, documents life on the Chesapeake’s only inhabited offshore islands, Smith Island and Tangier Island. Preserving traditions dating back to the islands’ settlement in the late 1600s, many of the islanders still make their living from the Bay’s waters, but rising sea levels, subsiding land and environmental stresses on the Bay and the species it supports threaten both their homes and their livelihoods.

Jay Fleming, “Sinking Workboat,” archival matte canvas print

The mingling of exquisite beauty and a sense of wrenching loss so apparent in “Sinking Workboat” is repeated throughout this show. The shimmering warmth of low sunlight on a venerable workboat is made poignant by its name, spelled out in peeling paint along its bow, “Last Call,” while across the gallery is “Abandoned House on Smith Island,” a shot of a weathered and broken-windowed home standing bravely amidst scraggly bushes and weeds.

The son of a National Geographic photographer, Fleming has his father’s skill at documentation, and he uses his talents and deep knowledge of the Chesapeake region both to earn a living as a commercial photographer and to pursue his passion for documentary art. His photographs are often seen on the covers of such magazines as Wooden Boat and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Save the Bay, and he recently published a stunning book of photographs called Working the Water that chronicles the lives of the Bay’s watermen.

What sets Fleming’s work apart is not just his skill and his easy familiarity with human interactions with the Bay and its creatures, but perhaps most importantly, his dazzling ability to make change visible. Heart-wrenching photos of abandoned houses have become ubiquitous in articles about rising sea levels, but Fleming captured his standing in eerie stillness while a flight of blackbirds swoops away under a lowering sky. A riveting glimpse of the last moment before the birds disappear and the fury of the storm begins, it’s a potent metaphor for the plight of these sinking islands and the loss of a way of life.

Jay Fleming, “Abandoned Skiff,” archival matte canvas print

It’s a puzzle how Fleming manages to create many of these photographs. Somehow, he’s in the right place at the right time, focused and ready to shoot. “Rockfish and Blue Crab” captures these iconic denizens of the Bay together in an underwater double portrait so crisp and colorful that, again, it seems as if it’s out of a dream. Likewise, “Above the Buyboat Delvin K” catches a graceful dance of oyster boats seen from above as they shimmy up to a buy boat to transfer their daily catch. It’s pure beauty, and it’s all about fleeting moments and changing times, laced through with the inkling that what we’re seeing will never be the same.

There’s magic in these photographs, and though we long for preservation and stability, it’s intoxicating to see one scene after another teetering on the edge of change. Still, Fleming conjures a certain optimism in the beauty and clarity of his photographs and in his ability to see familiar things anew. With its bow bearing a curious resemblance to the pointed arch of a shrine, a skiff left to decay in the marsh is a forlorn sight at first glance, but inside is a sign of renewal and hope in the form of a bird’s nest complete with eggs. Change is inevitable whether through human effort or by nature reclaiming its own, but these photographs suggest that by paying attention, there may still be ways to instigate positive changes for the Bay and those of us who live and visit here.

Mary McCoy is an artist and writer who has the good fortune to live beside an old steamboat wharf on the Chester River. She is a former art critic for the Washington Post and several art publications. She enjoys the kayaking the river and walking her family farm where she collects ideas and materials for the environmental art she creates, often in collaboration with her husband Howard. They have exhibited their work in the U.S., Ireland, Wales and New Zealand.

Earl Lewin’s “Hitched” at Church Hill – Spy Review by Peter Heck

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Let the Party Begin! The cast of playwright Earl Lewin’s “Hitched” – Front row – Amy Moredock, Howard Mesick, Jane Jewell, Christine Kinlock, Chris, Rogers, Back row – Charles Moore, Peggy Chiras, Steve Hazzard  — Photo by Peter Heck

Funny things happen at weddings. Everybody who’s been to a few has their share of stories to tell. With family members getting together – sometimes for the first time in years – and a gang of strangers suddenly becoming part of the family, people may react oddly. They also retell family stories, recall fond memories, and all too often rekindle old grudges. Add a few drinks and a sometimes forced party atmosphere, and who knows what might happen?

Playwright Earl Lewin has taken some of those moments – many of them based on events in his own family – and woven them together in his new play, Hitched, opening this weekend at Church Hill Theatre.

Playwright/director Earl Lewin rehearsing “Hitched”  – Photo by Jane Jewell

Local theater-goers know Lewin’s work well. He’s written and produced quite a few local plays, many of them light mysteries with a comic feel. More recently, he’s focused on family dramas, such as St. George’s Blues, set in a bar and blues club just a few miles up the road, and last year’s Orlando Rising, a tense drama focused on events around the Kennedy assassination. With Hitched, his comic side is again on display but in the context of delicate family issues.

The central plot point revolves around Bruce, a gay college professor who’s decided to come out to his mother – the only family member who hasn’t figured it out already – at the wedding. His partner Spike, a New York lawyer, has come with him to his family home in Arizona, meeting the family for the first time. In addition to Millie, Bruce’s mother, the family includes his divorced father Spencer, who’s spent the time since the breakup as a missionary in third-world countries; his free-spirited uncle Harry, who’s brought his much-younger most recent wife; his aunt Rhoda, who tells it like it is, no matter who might take offense; and Harry’s sophisticated cousin Brenda, who lives in New York. With the mix of generations and disparate lifestyles, most of them staying in the same house, the stage is set for wild misunderstandings and sometimes wilder shenanigans.

Out in the desert, the family group meets up with a mysterious stranger. — Photo by Jane Jewell

Add to the plot a side trip to a tourist trap out in the Arizona desert, with unexpected complications. And to complete the hilarity, the only available date for the wedding reception hall is Halloween! But it’s not all laughs. There are more serious themes, in addition to Bruce trying to come out to his loving but clueless mother – both Spencer and Harry are facing health issues that have implications beyond the immediate events of the plot.  The comic scenes make a nice balance with the more serious moments.

Bruce (Howard Mesick) and his partner Spike (Charles Moore) find themselves stuck in the middle of family dramas in “Hitched” by Earl Lewin at Chruch Hill Theatre. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Lewin, who directs his own play, has assembled a cast of excellent players from the local community. Howard Mesick takes the role of Bruce, the gay son.  Mesick, who is frequently cast in character roles–often as the comic or the villain–shows another facet of his acting ability here as he brings depth and sensitivity to the role of a serious, intellectual young man who just wants to be open with his mother about his lifestyle.

Peggy Dixon Chiras plays Millie, Bruce’s mother. Chiras has been in numerous other plays, most recently Lewin’s St. George’s Blues at Church Hill Theatre. She does a fine job portraying the sweet but clueless character – a winning performance.

Steve Hazzard is cast as Harry, Millie’s happy-go-lucky brother. Hazzard also was one of the leads in St. George’s Blues.  Hazzard does a great job of conveying the character’s cheerful outlook on life, as well as his more complex side as he gives sage advice to his nephew Bruce all the while struggling with his own problems.

Chris Rogers, who has numerous credits with Shore Shakespeare and Church Hill Theatre, plays Millie’s ex-husband Spencer, who is Bruce’s father. A former airline pilot who has spent the last several years as a missionary teacher in third-world countries, he finds it difficult to see Bruce’s homosexuality as anything but a sin. Rogers takes a difficult character and finds his sympathetic side – an excellent job.

Aunt Rhoda complains – yet again. (Jane Jewell, Chris Rogers, Peggy Chiras) – Photo by Steve Atkinson

Jane Jewell, who has filled several memorable comic roles at both CHT and the Garfield, gets a juicy character part as Rhoda, Bruce’s outspoken aunt. While something of a curmudgeon, Rhoda turns out to have a surprising fun side – which Jewell brings out in fine style.

Harry’s young wife Penny is played by Christine Kinlock, familiar from both CHT and Shore Shakespeare.  Kinlock brings out both the character’s tough side as well as her tender side as Penny has to walk a difficult line at the wedding where she has to be gracious while the first wife dances with Harry and the snobbish bride blatantly ignores her. A fine job.

Spike blows a kiss to Aunt Rhoda. (Amy Moredock, Charles Moore, and Howard Mesick) in “Hitched” by Earl Lewin at Church Hill Theatre — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Charles Michael Moore takes the role of Spike. Bruce’s partner. Slightly more self-confident than Bruce, he has a nice stock of sarcastic quips – which Moore gives a sharp yet cheerful edge.  Spike is adamant that Bruce tell his mother but he is also understanding that won’t be easy–especially in this family!  “Tell her in the desert. No one will hear her scream,” he says half seriously.  Moore brings definite panache to the character, making Spike both believable and sympathetic.

Cousin Brenda, the New York sophisticate, is played by Amy Moredock, one of the regulars in BC productions.  Brenda is perhaps the most easy-going and open-minded one in the family.  She is clearly at ease with both Aunt Rhoda and Spike; she likes and gets along with both of Harry’s wives.  Moredock brings warmth and vitality to the role.

Michele Christopher gives an excellent portrayal of Linda, Harry’s first wife and the mother of his son, Jim.   Linda put up with Harry’s drinking and partying for years before finally divorcing him.  Now at the wedding, she is in the awkward situation of being in the same room with her ex-husband and his young new wife, the latest in a string of successors.   Linda maintains her poise while delivering verbal zingers.  A good job.  Christopher is more frequently behind the scenes as a stage manager.  Hopefully, we’ll see her more often on stage in an acting role.

Tom Dorman, another BC regular, plays Grimm, who meets family members during their desert excursion. The character is at the same time folksy and slightly menacing, and Dorman makes the juxtaposition work nicely, especially as he pointedly discusses the dangers of being alone in the desert along with vegetarianism and the importance of meat in a healthy diet.

Cast in cameo roles are Eddie Dorman (a cab driver), Troy Strootman (the groom), and Maya McGrory (the bride). Dorman is the image of the impatient, luggage-laden taxi driver. McGrory is bride-beautiful in her white wedding gown and Strootman is convincing as the indignant bridegroom.

At the wedding “Hitched” (Steve Hazzard, Christine Kinlock, Amy Moredock) Photo by Peter Heck

Hitched runs the emotional gamut, from poignant revelations to hilarious comedy.   The desert scene and the wedding banquet scene are especially funny, providing contrast and comic relief to the more serious moments as the family members struggle with jealousy, denial, taboos, and the eternal questions of life, love and the inevitability of death.

Peggy Chiris as Millie and Chris Rogers as Spencer in “Hitched” at Church Hill Theatre — Photo by Jane Jewell

The script benefits from the fine cast of actors, each of whom brings their character to life onstage — many of us will recognize the prototypes of these characters among our own friends and family. It seems every family has an Uncle Harry and an Aunt Rhoda. Some of the themes and language may not be appropriate for very y0ung audiences, but everyone else will find something that hits their funny bone — or leads to reflection. Hitched will be playing through Oct. 7. Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For information, call the theater office at 410-556 6003. All tickets are $15 (cash or check only) and may be picked up at the box office prior to performances. Reservations are suggested.

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Academy Art Museum Craft Show 2018 Preview: Chestertown’s Rob Glebe

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One of the challenges of covering the annual Academy Art Museum Craft Show is the mere fact that they have well over seventy participants on display. And this makes it nearly impossible to describe the range and unique work that will be shown in Easton form October 19 to October 21,
All one can humbly do is to grab a few of these gifted artists for short chats about their work in the hope that putting the spotlight on just a few may help the Spy reader begin to understand the remarkable work the AAM show attracts every year.
So the Spy just did that. In this case, we grabbed artist Rob Glebe in Chestertown at his shared gallery space at Create to talk briefly about his work and his journey from being a tool and die maker to the creator of elegant art and sculpture.
This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Academy Art Museum Craft Show please go here.