Wildly theatrical ‘Swindlers’ opens at the Baltimore Center Stage


Directors are, by their very nature, storytellers. Their inherent need to tell stories is part of their DNA, as necessary as food, air and water. Integral to this need is an implicit requirement that the story be worth telling. And this is where the fundamental problem lies with Noah Diaz’s wildly theatrical but confusing new play. Scammers: A real great tale, currently underway at the Baltimore Center Stage and soon to be broadcast live. There may very well be an interesting story in the true events that inspired Diaz’s play, but it has yet to be finalized.

Derek Garza, Carmen Zilles and Rachel Crowl in “The Swindlers: A True-ish Tall Tale”. © Baltimore Center Stage, photo by J Fannon.

We are told early on that this is a “stolen” story, a story not about Diaz but about his mother, Marie (Carmen Zilles), and his father, George (Christopher Ryan Grant), who was in turn. in turn a constant absence and disappointment. In fact, we don’t learn of this relationship until late in Act 1, when the FBI shows up at Marie’s house to ask where George is.

Turns out George stole a lot of money, and unless Marie can rescue him, the Feds will make his life hell. Act 2 takes us on a road trip through the Midwest in George’s beat-up Winnebago, expertly rendered in miniature on a cart and pushed onto the stage by the actors (the Laugh inside –the inspired set is designed by Arnulfo Maldonado).

Carmen Zilles and Jon Hudson Odom in “The Swindlers: A True-ish Tall Tale”. © Baltimore Center Stage, photo by J Fannon.

The actors, all in great shape, are put to the test by director Will Davis. Rachel Crowl and Derek Garza, in a variety of roles ranging from married FBI agents to the town bum, Marie’s boyfriend and a truck stop waitress, never stopping running. And they’re both hilarious. Jon Hudson Odom is a confident guide as a narrator and, at times, stand-in for Diaz. Grant is rightly oblivious as a father who fails to see how badly his bad choices have marked his daughter. The production is run by Zilles as a woman whose life hasn’t quite turned out the way she planned. Funny, most lives never do.

Despite its attributes, and there are many, and Center Stage’s strong commitment to this new work, the story remains problematic. George tells Marie that their road trip allows him to spend time with her. But why? He’s basically a stranger to her and, perhaps rightly so, she’s mean to him. We just don’t know enough about these people and their stories to really invest in what is happening to them.

Christopher Ryan Grant in “The Swindlers: A True-ish Tall Tale”. © Baltimore Center Stage, photo by J Fannon.

There is something very sweet about a son giving his mother the happy resolution he thinks she deserves. And that’s precisely what Diaz is doing here. Odom tells us that telling people his grandfather was wanted by the FBI is a great story to tell at cocktail parties. It’s easier than telling people that her mom never got the love she needed from her dad. But I think the latter would have made a much more interesting play.

Duration: One hour 40 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Scammers plays until September 26, 2021 at Central Baltimore scene, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland. Scammers will also be broadcast live from September 21-26. Buy your tickets in person online here and live broadcast tickets here.

Playwright Noah Diaz with newspaper clippings about his grandfather. A page from the ‘The Swindlers’ program.

To throw
Rachel Crowl: fool 1; Derek Garza: fool 2; Christopher Ryan Grant: George; Jon Hudson Odom: Background; Carmen Zilles: Marie

Creative team
Noah Diaz, playwright; Will Davis, director; Diane Healy, stage manager; Tori Ujczo, assistant director; Arnulfo Maldonado, stage designer; Alicia Austin, costume designer; Stacey Derosier, lighting designer; Brendan Aanes, sound designer; Raecine Singletary, Deputy Director; Corey Umlauf, associate stage designer; Stephanie Bahniuk, associate costume designer; Bailey Costa, assistant lighting designer; Distribution by: Jz Casting Geoff Josselson, Csa Katja Zarolinski, CSA

SEE ALSO: Baltimore Center Stage 2021/22 Season Begins


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