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In the Shadow of Lushan

A play about manufacturing has hard edges

Mark Scharf and Peggy Dorsey take care of business.

By Hannah Bruchman | Posted 7/16/2010

In the Shadow of Lushan

By Kathleen Barber

Through July 18 at Fells Point Corner Theatre

Lushan is a mountain range in Southeast China. We know this because the characters in Kathleen Barberís In the Shadow of Lushan mention it at any chance they can get. The mountains overlook a factory, a symbol of outsourcing and globalization in the 21st century.

Lushan is the opening play in the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, a summer-long contest highlighting Baltimore playwrights. It is part of a trilogy by Barber on issues facing the metal-working industry. Itís a business she knows well as co-owner of the Fairlawn Tool and Die Co., which was started in the 1950s by her father.

In the play JoJo Bannaker (Peggy Dorsey), owner of Bannaker Metal Fabricating, has felt the sharp effects of globalization in her failing company. After unsuccessfully competing with cheap products flowing in from China, she is forced to lay off employees while desperately trying to cut costs. After the companyís largest customer, headed by the ruthless Caz Catrowski (Mark Scharf), threatens to stop buying from Bannaker, JoJo is forced to re-evaluate how to run the business her father started years before.

Despite the heavy-handed symbolism of the titutular mountain, Barberís play is filled with tension; it is felt in every situation and between almost every character. Amplifying this mood is Barberís brutal portrayal of todayís economyóthe outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries, the influx of foreign labor to the United States, the uncertainty of a nation in a recession. Barber captures it all, on one stage, in a little less than two hours.

JoJoís workers in the factory run the gamet from the aged, Caucasian foreman, Chick (Richard Peck) to Mateo (Michael Zemarel), a worker from Mexico determined to make Bannaker run more efficiently. The tension between the workers is evident; some, such as Chick and the prejudiced, crass Bobby (Vic Cheswick Jr.), despise Mateo; others, such as Frannie (Peggy Friedman), fear their jobs will be taken by foreign workers.

Adding to this friction is JoJoís relationship with her employees. As she desperately tries to keep her beloved company afloat, her employees pound her with questions about both their status in the company and their future.

The cast is inconsistent. Peck and Zemarel play their roles with ease and confidence, while Friedman appears uncomfortable onstage, often turning her back to the audience while speaking.

Dorsey excels as JoJo in Lushan. Throughout the entire play, she maintains an air of professionalism, maturity, and grace. Her tough facade is endearingly broken with scattered revelations about her son (in jail after getting a DUI) and random, heartfelt comments about her love of the company. Barber creates a multi-dimensional character in JoJo, and Dorsey plays it flawlessly.

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