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Maryland Ensemble Theater explores meaning of democracy

September 30, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

FREDERICK, Md. - Staging "Democracy: A Work in Progress" less than six weeks before the 2004 presidential election was not accidental.

It's an appropriate time to ask "What is democracy?" said Tad Janes, artistic director of Maryland Ensemble Theatre.

The theater company had talked about producing a topical work. Serendipitously, playwright and filmmaker Don Thompson contacted MET to see if collaboration might be possible.

The result is the play being presented through Saturday, Oct. 23, in the 111-seat black box theater on the lower level of the former Francis Scott Key Hotel in downtown Frederick.

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"Democracy" is a partnership, Janes said.

The work is a montage that looks at democracy - not through partisan eyes - but through thoughts and words of people and periods of world history.

Funny scenes provoke serious thought.

The Greek philosopher Socrates visits a present-day coffee shop. "The Dancing Jeffersons" features the seven cast members - dressed in colonial garb - in a combination minuet, Appalachian clog dance and break dance.

The wife of a man imprisoned for criticizing the government in the time of President John Adams makes a case for his freedom. There's a poignant monologue by a Roman widow whose husband was killed fighting for Caesar.

Thompson said he wrote the words trying to be true to the voices of the times in which the characters lived.

Quotations appear on a screen at the back of the stage. There's a brief pause before the identities of the authors - Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Lenin and Herman Goering among them - are revealed.

Members of the company came up with the quotations, Thompson said. The ones that made the cut were voted to the stage - democratically.

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