‘Sunlight’ at Colonial Players by Amanda Gunther

Through the darkness there is a light. And when two sides of the debate heat up churning amid that darkness it is often hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Directed by Terry Averill, Colonial Players presents Sharr White’s Sunlight as part of the 64th  season in Annapolis. A riveting political upheaval in a small town private university has everyone up in arms as the politics of pre-September 11th and post-September 11th lifestyles are brought to light in this pressing drama.

Background: (l to r) Matthew (Timothy Sayles) Vincent (Jeff Sprague) and Charlotte (Chelsea Langley-Kolbe) Foreground: Maryanne (Millie Ferrara). Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.

Set Designer Edd Miller hauls out half the elegant belongings in Colonial Players’ props trunk to overstuff the presidential house of Matthew, the current university president. The rich mahogany tones in the numerous pieces of furniture belay an importance and level of distinguished appropriate for the character’s natural setting. Miller does a lot in a little space; creating two separate and distinctly defined rooms with the illusions of an outside where it snows, the kitchen and the upstairs with simple doors that lead off in varying directions.

The play quotes ‘sunlight’ as being the best disinfectant; if that is the case they need to open up the roof of the playhouse and let the sunshine in. Director Terry Averill falls apart with this production, having a lot of misguided intentions and characters who don’t live up to their emotional potential throughout the show. Both of the female characters make a big deal out of shredding paper evidence, and they go so far as to have a working paper shredder on stage — which they use exactly once, and then everything else goes into the rubbish bin despite the continuous overstatement of needing to shred things. Why have a working shredder on stage as this key element if it isn’t going to be used? And aside from misguided set pieces the male actors are woefully dull especially in comparison to the females. The emotions in this show — the lack thereof from the men and the chaotic confusion thereof presented by the women — left me wondering what exactly I was watching.

Matthew (Timothy Sayles) is painted up to be this rebellious loose cannon; a tiger of a character and when he finally arrives on the scene he falls short. During my performance, Sayles could not get through a sentence without stuttering or stumbling, and often appears lost and confused as if trying to remember what he’s going to say next. His level of reactions to the situation, regardless of what the situation may be, is the same. He shows the same lack of enthusiasm and upset over firing his personal assistant of thirty some years as he does over the big blow at the end of the show. Sayles phones in his part frequently throughout the performance, just moving through the motions without any real emotion or conviction.

Vincent (Jeff Sprague) is exactly the opposite but equally disappointing. He has an explosive temper, but only one way of executing it. Sprague is directed to shout every time he has some sort of conflict or upset; the top of his lungs carrying through the intimate space. The problem comes when his huge emotional breakdown happens at the end of the show because he’s spent so much time shouting at the peak of his emotional expression that it feels and sounds no difference during the big finale than it has all throughout the performance. His earlier appearances during the first act lack conviction as he pleads with his wife not to leave him, sounding more like he’s pleading with her to pass the sugar than the life changing decision she’s considering.

The redeeming qualities of this show are found in Maryanne (Millie Ferrara) and Charlotte (Chelsea Langley-Kolbe). While at times Ferrara’s emotions seem misguided — she’s found shrieking into hysterics over the simple things — at least she has these moments of huge emotional upset. Ferrara carries her character with an air of subtle dignity and respect, and when she lays into Matthew about how things are going to have to be, she’s astonishing with both her vocal prowess and emotional control. When facing off against Charlotte she falls back into a weaker and more submissive character but this plays well for both of their characters as Charlotte is the domineering daughter while Ferrara is just the personal assistant.

Kolbe saves the show with her superior performance; carrying the weight of each and every scene solely on her shoulders. She shows a tenacity worthy of the President of the United States in the opening scene, not just of the president of this small private university. The severity with which she paces through the study of the house, moving like a rabid animal caged up and ready to strike is beyond impressive. The dynamic shifts in her character are executed flawlessly; from the pinched bitchy and edgy snipe of a viper when dealing with both Maryanne and the harassing phone calls, to the softer, sugar-coated kid-glove wearing daughter when speaking with Matthew, to the brutal and vicious attacks she lays into Vince; the depths of Kolbe’s versatility are unfathomable.

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.

Sunlight plays through November 17, 2012 at Colonial Players – 108 East Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.


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