Active Cultures Theatre promotes original works set in the world around us. Its latest production by Washington playwright Gwydion Suilebhan takes us to the U.S.S. Constellation, the famous 19th century ship moored in Baltimore’s inner harbor. The setting serves as the backdrop for a love story between two homeless people, and the love of a young man for the ship. The Constellation may not be the most polished ship, it has enough heart and laughs to take us on an entertaining journey.
The homeless Man (Jason McIntosh) is a Navy veteran who sneaks onboard the U.S.S. Constellation at night to sleep. He develops a dream of taking the homeless Woman (Lolita-Marie) away on the ship and building a new life. His plan is discovered by a young Tour Guide (Ben Kingsland) who also loves the ship and is under pressure by his new business-oriented Boss (Bethany Hoffman) to help make the ship profitable, regardless of whether these plans are historically accurate or not.
Many of the play’s most touching moments involve the relationship of the homeless couple. Both are a little damaged, but are building a relationship in classic romantic comedy fashion. Both McIntosh and Lolita-Marie are convincing as homeless people, from their disheveled and mismatched clothes to their street dialects, and their characters’ real hopes and dreams earn the audience’s affection.
In contrast to the realism of the homeless couple’s story, the subplot involving the Boss and Tour Guide is written and played very broadly. While they provide some laughs, neither is very well fleshed out.
It’s rare for a reviewer to suggest a play could benefit from being lengthened, but this one would, allowing the characters a little more back story. We know the homeless Woman has always wanted a washing machine, conveying her desire for a home, but we don’t learn much more about her or how she became homeless. The Tour Guide states that he has always loved the ship, that he had a model in his bedroom growing up, and that the model was the last Christmas present his father ever gave him – all convenient shorthand, but the young man’s lifelong love of the ship could be developed a little more. These characters aren’t archetypes in a fable, but real people with real identities who also deserve actual names.
While both the Man and the Tour Guide are kindred spirits in their love of the ship, the play never achieves a level of high comedy sufficient for the audience to be swept away in the damaged Man’s scheme to sail away on the U.S.S. Constitution or that the Tour Guide could possibly acquiesce to the plan.
Still, each of the characters has different dreams for the ship and their lives, and the clashes can be both interesting and funny. Director Jessica Burgess keeps the focus on how each one pursues a personal version of freedom, and David C. Ghatan’s U.S.S. Constellation set is effective both at serving the action and given a sense of the ship’s atmosphere.
The Constellation is a charming little play that presents a rare portrayal of a loving relationship between two homeless characters. While there are problems reconciling the tones of the different stories and characters, the fine performances by Jason McIntosh and Lolita-Marie made the trip to Joe’s Movement Emporium worthwhile.
by Gwydion Suilebhan
directed by Jessica Burgess
produced by Active Cultures Theatre
reviewed by Steven McKnight
The Constellation runs thru Feb 20, 2010.
For details, directions and tickets, click here.