REVIEW: Cumberland Theatre's Streetcar Named Desire

BY SHANE RIGGS Managing Editor, Allegany Magazine

There is a reason the works of Tennessee Williams continue to be produced more than 70 years after most of them were first written. That reason can no more be felt than the latest production of his work currently running at the Cumberland Theatre and Performing Arts Center.

For those unfamiliar with one of the masterpieces of 21st century playwrighting, Streetcar Named Desire begins as the character of Blanche DuBois – a fading Southern Belle and disgraced high school teacher – arrives morally and financially bankrupt on the dirty New Orleans doorstep of her sister, Stella and Stella’s “brutish” husband, Stanley Kowalski.

This gritty American tragedy can be hard to maneuver for even the most experienced of actors but the cast of this Cumberland Theatre production presents an interpretation that does not shy away from being daring, from being shocking, from being every moment on stage what the playwright must have intended when he penned it in 1947.

Kimberli Rowley as Blanche and Trey Wolfe as Mitch

Other companies have chosen to portray Blanche as the victim – a bystander to a set of circumstances thrust mercilessly upon her. Under the direction of Darrell Rushton with superb acting by Kimberli Rowley, this Blanche DuBois is not a victim but “playing one.” This Blanche is well aware of her machinations and takes full responsibility for them – owning up to her fate almost boldly and daringly. This approach creates an even battle and playing field between Blanche and her toxic rival, the ever brutish and often half naked Stanley.

“A woman’s charm is fifty percent allusion,” she says.

Surrounding herself with fictional glamour and attempting to fashion a sow’s ear into a silk purse has served Blanche well for most of her life. It has been her coping mechanism through a series of tragedies – including the suicide of her husband who kept a secret of his own. And her nemesis Stanley is the only one bold enough to call her out on her act.

Stanley sees Blanche as a threat – to his marriage, his family, even to the neighborhood and he wages a personal investigation to rid his home of his manipulative sister-in-law, ultimately doing the one physically heinous thing to Blanche that she could never do to him.

Stanley is portrayed here as wicked, possessive, controlling, distant and perpetually sultry by John Barker, making his Cumberland Theatre debut with a major iconic role. Blanche compares Stanley to an ape in one scene and to an animal in another. And ultimately, he proves her right. Barker and Rowley make amazing sparring partners who as actors must trust one another in order to make the simmering pot of chemistry between them come to an uncomfortable and shocking boil.

Although Blanche pretends to need the “kindness of strangers,” she is quite bold and strong and fearless, living life on her own terms even if those terms mean a soiled reputation. She is doing what she must to survive, including keeping company with men who catch her eye. One such man is Mitch (played astutely and charmingly here by Trey Wolfe). Blanche even attempts to seduce Mitch by speaking French – knowing full well he does not understand her but would be impressed with her anyway.

Allyson Boate is Stella – the sister who left home to follow her passion – that passion

Allyson Boate as Stella and John Barker as Stanley

being Stanley. Stella’s readiness to believe her husband in the final scene of this production and be able to commit her sibling to a hospital speaks more to Stella as the delusional character living a life of denial than to Blanche.

All of Tennessee Williams’ most famous characters in nearly all of his canon of work walk a tight rope of “hide your crazy” and actual mental instability. And in Streetcar Named Desire those characters don’t just walk that rope – they tap dance on a high wire – 50 feet above the ring with no net.

Williams himself called this play “a ravishment of the tender, the sensitive, the delicate, by the savage and brutal forces of modern society.”

This brave, unapologetic, very adult and full throttle version of Tennessee Williams’ timeless masterpiece is a passionate portrayal of what it means to be an outsider, to want to recreate one’s image and start over, to sometimes seek a life of anonymity and obscurity, to dream of finding unconditional true love but to settle for admiration, and to find a place in a society in which many feel desperately obsessed to belong.

The Cumberland Theatre cast of Streetcar Named Desire also includes Jennifer Clark, Mike Virtis, Lillian Clark, Timothy Bambara and Tai Baumann. The set is brilliantly designed by Rhett Wolford. Performances run Thursday through Sundays beginning now through June 16.

Erik Alexis as the Lecturer with the Cast of Reefer Madness

This review by Tom Valentine appeared in the Mineral News Tribune on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.

“Reefer Madness, The Musical” would never be mistaken for “The Sound of Music”, or “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, or “Steel Magnolias”,  and especially not “Green Grow the Lilacs”. Instead, it is based on the 1936 propaganda film that cautioned parents about the evils and dangers of smoking pot. The movie became a “Rocky Horror” type  midnight movie favorite among the cool kids and in crowd 50 years later.

Currently playing at The Cumberland Theatre, the live stage show has the same over-the-top characters, exaggerated plot devices, and campy feel as the movie. From the lurid green and red lights that bathe the stage, to the uncontrollable gyrations and laughter of the characters, the audience can’t help but giggle and enjoy the ride.

The silly spoof shows how the leafy green assassin turns a good egg to a bad apple. Tai Baumann is perfectly cast as Jimmy,  the good guy, church going, boy scout, boy-next-door type who takes a toke of the evil weed and begins a down ward spiral.

Tim Fitzsimons (Jack), Rhett Wolford (Ralph), Tai Baumann (Jimmy), Kimberli Rowley (Sally) and Krissy Johnson (Mae)

In fact, all of the participants end up as low life degenerates - murderers, rapists, bad mothers, and worst of all - communists. Mary Jane even turns the sweet and innocent girl-next-door, Mary Lane into a raging sex pot. Alexis Krey as Mary  controls the stage with her girlish demeanor until she unleashes her sultry self after consuming the wacky weed.

Both Baumann and Krey  pair up beautifully with their duets and shared moments throughout the show, from “Romeo and Juliet”, “MaryJane/Mary Lane”, to “Mary’s Death and Murder” (hope I didn’t ruin it for you…but you know what happens when you smoke that stuff).

Erik Alexis does an excellent job as both narrator and lecturer telling the tale of woe. He also pops up in many other roles throughout the show. Krissy Johnson is appropriately melodramatic as Mae and shows off her stuff with “The Stuff”. Tim Fitzsimons is a masterful villain as Jack, the Pusher man. Kimberli Rowley is a sexy Sally, Rhett Wolford a stoned stoner, and strutting across the stage cueing in the audience is MacKenzie Cutcliffe.

The cast of Reefer Madness perform the show's finale

It would be easy to push this off as a piece of fluff. However, director Kimberli Rowley has retained all of the elements of good musical theatre in this production. There are large chorus numbers, show stopping dance routines, and the songs themselves are intricate music with difficult rhythms and syncopation.

It  is somewhat ironic that after the mass hysteria promoted by the movie for using marijuana, there are now 33 states that have legalized medical cannabis and 10 that have approved recreational use. When the Federal Government finally wises up and sees it as the cash cow crop that it is, tax revenues into our treasury will be soaring.

“Reefer Madness, the Musical” will continue at The Cumberland Theatre with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday shows at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. There will be no performance on April 21, but 2 shows on April 20 at  2 and 8 pm.

Reservations are available by calling 301-759-4990 or at their website


Cumberland Theatre Offers High Ol ’Time

A Musical Not to be Taken Seriously... Seriously!

Over the last ... oh... 75 to 80 years, much has been written and reported and researched about the ill and good effects of marijuana. And depending on who you ask, it’s either the devil’s weed or a cure-all tonic.

Most of marijuana’s bad reputation, however, has its roots in a little piece of propaganda disguised as a 1936 film called Reefer Madness. You see, in the 1930s and 40s, the federal government realized the movies had a powerful influence over the general population. Can you imagine? The government using popular media to sway opinion? And a tiny office in Washington, D.C. actually helped produce Reefer Madness – in part to keep folks from growing marijuana in their own backyard and taking money away from the very profitable (and very taxable) tobacco market. It was even shown in high schools as a “cautionary tale.”

Because of this film, the use of marijuana started earning its bad reputation as a drug that could lead to all sorts of bizarre mind altering activity – like psychotic behavior, murder, theft, prostitution, gluttony, lust, and generally all of the deadly sins and breaking of all the Ten Commandments.

And keep in mind, at the time the federal government was waging a campaign against marijuana, Coca Cola -- a thriving company – was still putting real cocaine in every bottle.

Today, 83 years removed from this campy movie classic, we now know cannabis can actually be effective in treating arthritis, glaucoma, cancer and other ailments. Its medicinal use for adults is legal in many states – Maryland included – and Allegany County even has its own medical marijuana dispensary.

So the notion that the use of “weed” or “reefer” or “pot” or “bud” – or any of its nicknames over the years -- can cause “madness” to the brink of insanity is at best a little silly. And that is the premise behind Reefer Madness: The Musical. Yes, this play is “inspired” by the movie of the same name but unlike the film, the musical does not in any way take itself seriously. Seriously!

Tai Baumann and Alexis Krey star as Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane

Presented by the Cumberland Theatre, available performances run Friday, April 12 and weekends through April 28 (yes, that intentionally includes 420, dude), Reefer Madness: The Musical is a comedic “Tour De- Farce.”

The cast of this production takes advantage of all the implied sarcasm and satire for a fun frolic through the green fields of a make believe utopia. It is-- in short-- one of the nuttiest things onstage I have ever seen.

The show has hints of Rocky Horror, a touch of Hairspray and even a dash of Disney. But this musical "ain't the Sound of Music" and is probably not for the kiddos, the close minded or the politically provoked.

The story begins calmly enough with a narrative warning and then suddenly the plot takes a wild turn into exaggerated extremes that include clothes coming off, cannibalism, FDR, and even an appearance by a Deity for whom the Easter season celebrates.

Audiences may at times experience side effects from this production that can include but are not limited to awkwardness, embarrassment, offense, and the loss of bladder control from laughing.

Under the sublime direction of Kimberli Rowley, this “tongue in cheek” (with an emphasis on cheek) musical features the acting talents of Erik Alexis, Tai Baumann, Tim Fitzsimons, Krissy Johnson, Alexis Krey, Rhett Wolford, and the aforementioned Rowley. The ensemble cast includes half a dozen brave souls who obviously have no body issues. That would be Nicole Boscarino, Morganne Chu, A.J. Jackson, Connor McCabe, Wyatt Neff, Whitney O'Haver and Leo Wollan. Music direction is by Sarah Wussow with choreography by MacKenzie Cutcliffe.

Alexis Krey as Mary Lane and ensemble members perform one of the many dance numbers in the show

Everyone involved in this show at the Cumberland Theatre seems to be having a “high time” presenting this to their audience – especially when the audience finally realizes it's all one big joke. In fact, when the jokes do land, they’re on fire – and the joint is jumping – all puns intended. Catch this show before it goes “up in smoke.”

Just hang on, expect the unexpected, and enjoy the ride. And yes, I did pass my urine test before writing this review.

-- SHANE RIGGS Manging Editor Allegany Magazine April 11, 2019

Photos by Wolford Photography/Courtesy Cumberland Theatre

The Cumberland Theatre presents Reefer Madness: The Musical April 11- April 28, 2019. For tickets or information, visit

© 2017 by the Cumberland Theatre. 

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