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Lab Rats is no experiment

Sometimes people don’t give the Eastern Shore enough credit. Sometimes I am one of those people. When the Brown Box Theatre Project launched its Eastern Shore contingent six years ago, I was skeptical. Kyler Taustin, a local making his living as an actor, producer and director in the Boston theater scene, had a vision for bringing art to the Shore. He and his retinue started with baby steps by inaugurating the Shakespeare on the Beach initiative in Ocean City.
They began with Twelfth Night because it was easy to digest and to sell, especially at no charge. It was a success and we in the region were treated to a company of professional actors putting on a Shakespeare in the Park style event.
Easy Peasy.
When they brought “Belly Full of Stones” to the Globe in Berlin, though, I, well, worried. Getting people to come out to Shakespeare on the Beach is way different than getting them to a nearly avant-garde play in Berlin.
When one thinks, “Avant Garde” we expect something beyond explanation, one of those plays that the educated don’t have the courage to doubt because they don’t want to get caught out as unsophisticated. “Belly Full of Stones” was a bit minimalist, but it was intelligible and engaging and a massive hit in that it wasn’t a massive flop.


Theater happens here too

Those of us who have migrated from a metropolitan area no longer could complain about lack of access to proper indie theater. For me, because I am too cynical for my own good and sometimes for yours, it was almost an accident. A troupe this good would get tired or bored or underpaid and abandon the project.
How happily wrong I was.
Since the success of that production, the group has returned regularly with both Shakespeare and more modern plays to our delight. And, although it feels weird to say, each production has been fantastic. Not fantastic for the Eastern Shore, not fantastic for a small production or touring company, but fantastic all on its own.
It almost isn’t fair. We have the only Maryland beach and we also are the in- and off-season home of a kind of “heart of real theater” troupe. They produce original plays for Boston and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Who else is that fortunate?
This week, they’ll bring the latest of their original plays to the region.
To be honest, I nearly didn’t bother to look at the rave notes the show got in Boston, because in the end they don’t really matter.
They did in the beginning, but now it is more about the fact that they still are taking chances than that they produce quality theater. For me, a mediocre meal in a local restaurant is always better than a perfect Big Mac. And in the first few years, that’s the attitude that most of us brought to Brown Box Theatre Project productions. We were happy to have something new and cool, but they never took advantage of that. Instead they pushed on and made their art anywhere they were welcome and able, and we all are the better for it.
I was almost embarrassed talking to Taustin about the newest production. I’d interviewed him at Embers for a podcast I was doing five years ago and when we spoke, I was hounded by the why.
Why here? The Brown Box Theatre Project was already pretty successful in Boston. What did they have to prove in Berlin or Ocean City? He barely understood the questions. Who wouldn’t
want to be successful at home? He, as someone who knew the lack of indie theater in the area, was stoked to be a part of the theater scene here, such as is was.


No experiment

Having only read the summary and the note, it was tough to talk to playwright Patrick Gabridge. He’s published a bunch of plays that were produced, and I was reduced to asking hacky questions about writing comedy versus drama and working with the cast and director.
Simply put, he knew the kind of plays that Brown Box did, and the portability made it a great fit.
A “portable” play is one with stark enough sets and designs that it can be set up and taken down without too much effort. It’s about people and relationships. Small casts and sets are in the Brown Box wheelhouse, so getting the cast and production together for performances in Boston one week and Salisbury and Ocean City the next week wasn’t a problem at all.
Although it is billed as a comedy, both Gabridge and the Boston critics are cautious with the moniker. It’s a play about people who are trying to make a connection. For anyone who has been lonely and dancing on the edge of hidden vulnerability, the storyline of people making tenuous movements toward connections is easy to appreciate and to root for.
“Lab Rats” opens Thursday in Salisbury and will finish out the weekend in Ocean City at the Center for the Arts.

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