Jules Blitz, Published 2000

Sometimes a great cast will take an ordinary play and make it a hit: sometimes a great script will overcome a mediocre cast. And sometimes, if both come together, you get that rare combination — a splendidly written drama acted out by a first rate cast. This is Beltway Roulette, Mark Scharf’s play, perfectly directed by Mike Moran and part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. Beltway Roulette is the name of ‘the game’ played by a promiscuous young married woman, Celeste, portrayed with spitfire explosiveness by Gina Dipeppe. Seen first in a liaison with a casual pickup, she is brash, mean, vicious, vindictive, addictive and funny. Her pick-up, played just right by Joseph Riley, is nothing more than a straying husband beaten into the ground by Celeste’s verbal abuse and sexy demeanor which leaves him reeling and perhaps a little frightened. But there is more to Celeste than this outwardly brittle person we have met. Her visit to her psychiatrist again brings out more of her abrasiveness and abusiveness; and Richard Goldberg plays the part of the shrink to perfection, answering questions with more questions as she sits, squirms, paces, yells, twitches and goads while he remains ever the calm professional. Still, the real secret begins to unfold in a short park scene where she sits on a bench talking with a stranger who is watching his young daughter on a swing. Wonderfully played by Joseph M. Dunn, with side glances and raised eyebrows, uncomfortably listening to this woman who is babbling to him about things he doesn’t understand and scaring the life out of him. Now Celeste is poignant and not the same woman we met earlier – and the manifestation of her buried secret nudges to the surface for just an instant. It is then that you remember one short bit of action in scene one, which now suggests that perhaps, had we been more astute, might have led us to guess the terrible truth at that time. In the final act she meets with her husband, played to perfection by Dan Ferris, who mixes just the right blend of frustration, puzzlement and love. The line: ‘I miss you even when you’re here’ seems to hit just the right note to indicate just how wide the chasm between them has become. What will the outcome be? Can they overcome the gap that has widened between them? Is there any way to save the marriage? This is a splendid evening of theater and Gina Dipeppe’s Celeste is, well, superb. The way she lights and crushes out cigarettes fits exactly into the character she is portraying. The last time I saw so much smoking was when Anne Bancroft played Golda. As in Golda, it serves a purpose — and is an integral part of what makes Celeste tick. Don’t miss this one… you will remember Celeste for a long, long time. At Spotlighters Theatre through July 29.