THE LADY WAS A GENTLEMAN is Fabulous Fun at Strand Theater in Baltimore

Charlotte Cushman's Story becomes Dramatic Comedy at Strand through May 21, 2023

Adventure Theatre MTC to Present THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE Beginning in June

Yes. Yes, in fact, the lady is a gentleman, the gentleman is a lady, the audience is delighted and the show is hilarious. Strand presents a little-known show by Barbara Kahn, directed by Emma Hooks. Six fantastic female performers combine with comic chemistry to present a show that's not just swell, it's a gay old time.

The year is 1858. Charlotte Cushman, renowned performer in the US and abroad, plays male roles onstage as often as female roles, and prefers them. She's also a dreadful womanizer. Charlotte, having pre-show jitters, leans heavily on Sallie Mercer, an educated free black woman who nowadays would be called Charlotte's personal assistant, like celebrities have. Charlotte certainly qualifies as a celebrity, America's first, in fact, complete with adoring fans, furious rivals and harsh critics. The place is St. Louis, Missouri, a slave state, which poses difficulties for Sallie. This is not the plot.

Welcome to the backstage world of Charlotte Cushman and her current group of close associates. We meet them one by one, discovering their desires, motivations and connections to the central figure, Charlotte.

Director Emma Hooks strikes an engaging tripod balance of drama, comedy and pacing, pulling the audience into the heart of Charlotte's entanglements almost from the very first moments.

Playwright Barbara Kahn's script is built for humor, and scenes proceed at a brisk pace. Missing from the script is Charlotte's sister Susan, who was an important component of Charlotte's rise to stardom. The script's bookend expositional pieces are less organic and engaging than the very active bulk of the show, but are handled capably by the performer and the lighting. It's to Strand's credit that this little-known show, as well as an underappreciated American heroine, are brought into the spotlight where they can shine as they deserve.

Julia Williams is "the lady," Charlotte Cushman, and every inch a leading lady, and man, as required. She is confident in her carriage, strong in her delivery, certain of her skill even in tentative moments. It's a delight to watch her struggle with her ego, her conscience, and her self-generated complications. Tiana Lockhart is Sallie Mercer, Charlotte's "right hand:" confidante, advisor and wardrobe assistant. Tiana shares with us a wry indulgence that communicates from the outset that Charlotte in "crisis" is nothing abnormal. She shares a perspective rarely seen onstage, that of a person of color in touring theatre shortly before the war.

In supporting roles are Kaitlyn Fowler as a woman out of her element, Julia Creutzer as a woman in love, Madison Bacino as a woman annoyed at being pushed to the periphery, and Hannah Ruth Wellons as a woman with no identity issues. Each character has her own journey from uncertainty to confidence- at least for now- in themselves and their places in the world.

In her portrayal of young Emma Crow, Julia Creutzer's breathless antics and shenanigans speak to our sense of pathos, and also to our funnybone. Her enamoration is palpable. Madison Bacino, who plays Charlotte Cushman's castmate Deirdre Ryan, embodies a person periodically aghast at not being the center of attention, yet compelled to observe in popcorn-munching fascination. Her quiet physicality is balanced by her animated face, and she is a joy to observe even while she gracefully fails to upstage the central action. As the secretive Marie Louise Yvette L'Amour, Kaitlyn Fowler uses her eyes, hands, and (eventually) entire body to communicate inner turmoil while struggling to maintain refined composure. Her deft delivery gives depth to a potentially shallow character. Hannah Ruth Wellons, playing Jane Partridge, manifests an invented sub-plot which is nevertheless believable, and the audience becomes invested and quite attached to the swaggering entrepreneur. Her myriad facial expressions and quick transitions from hopeful to crestfallen to enraged, instead of making Jane a caricature, reveal a strength of emotion, since each one is underlaid by the very human desires to be liked and feel happy.

Lighting Designer Amy Rhodes delivers a package of illumination that ranges from stage-stark to absolute darkness, with a variety of warmth, coolness and special spots to create mood, time separation and alternate locations, a big ask in a small black-box-esqe theater. Madeline Oslejsek, sound designer, gives us ambient sounds which augment the set and assembles music which claims the story as contemporary rather than historic. Robert Brooks, Set Designer, maximizes the playing space for the performers by confining scenery to the edges of the stage, while asserting the 'essence' of each space.

Costuming is resplendent and wonderful, each ensemble as character-driven as the performers themselves. Charlotte's many outfits particularly are situationally appropriate- her Visiting attire is different to her Stage attire, of which we see more than one. The costuming also lends itself handily to comedy, which I won't spoil for you by describing. Hats off to Aria Mairin, Costume Designer- and speaking of hats.... Erin Riley, who also serves as both Producer and Dramaturg- the person who helps put the show in proper historical context for the cast and audience- has created some truly confectionery hats.

While this production is a triumphant player in the arena of queer theater, it's also just plain excellent theatrics. It's also female-centric, local, BLM-supportive and non-profit. Any one of these would be reason enough to see this beautifully done show. Taken together, they're mightily compelling.

Mask wearing is required for attendance. Learn more about Strand's Covid policies and precautions.

The Lady Was a Gentleman runs through Sunday, May 21 at

Strand Theater, 5426 Harford Rd. Baltimore MD 21214.


Thursday-Saturday performances, 8pm; Sunday matinees, 2pm.

Tickets are $20 General Admission, $10 for students, seniors and artists, $15 for Dinner&Show

Visit Strand's website to purchase tickets.

Photo, R to L: Tiana Lockhart as Sallie Mercer, Julia Williams as Charlotte Cushman

Photo Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Final Factoid: Charlotte took up acting after reportedly ruining her singing voice by performing songs outside her Contralto range while on a tour in New Orleans.



The Maryland Theatre Collective has announced casting and production teams for their next three events of the 2023/2024 season!

Salome Smith Joins Cast of THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND at Everyman Theatre

The World Goes ‘Round, which celebrates the extraordinary musical legacy of John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriting duo behind multiple Tony-award winning shows such as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spiderwoman, adds additional vocal power to its cast when Salome B. Smith joins the Everyman production onstage June 6 – July 2.

Preview Maryland Ensemble Theatre's 2023-24 Season in June

Catch a sneak peak of Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s upcoming 2023-2024 season at MET’s Annual Season Preview on June 27th at Steinhardt Brewing along beautiful Carroll Creek.

Adventure Theatre MTC to Present THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE Beginning in June

Adventure Theatre MTC (ATMTC) will spins a delightful yarn of wishing, hope, and fulfillment for local family audiences with a unique three-actor version of The Fisherman and His Wife, directed by Tyler Herman.


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