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She hopes audiences eat up 'Seafood'

By Loni Ingraham
The Patuxent Papers
Copyright 2001, The Patuxent Papers

It has been over two decades since The New York Times called Rosemary Frisino Toohey's work "promising" in a review of her off-off-Broadway play "Arrangement of Convenience."

Since then she delivered three children and adopted another- she figured a plane trip to Manila was a lot easier than going through labor again - before delivering another play, in 1998.

"I got a little busy," she says. "What can I tell you?"

Making up for lost time, Toohey has been delivering one play after another ever since, all eventually produced by the Baltimore Playwrights Festival.

"Animal Instincts," about the glue that holds together marital relationships, won third place as best play in the 2000 festival.

This year her contribution to the festival is "Seafood Buffet," four one-act comedies, running through Aug. 26 at the Fells Point Corner Theatre.

In "Fishsticks," three women in a focus group reveal more about their own lives than their attitude about fish sticks, while "Talapia" presents a wealthy elderly couple trying to figure out where their dinner party went wrong.

Rounding out the program menu are "Crabs," which watches a family as it gathers for crabs and ends up wrestling with unfulfilled expectations, and "In the Tank," which finds two lobsters at a seafood restaurant awaiting their fate while ruminating on life, death and humanity.

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Playing to family

It's not accidental that Toohey's latest production revolves around food. "You can't be a wife and mother without worrying about food all the time," says the playwright, who has been married to Baltimore County Police spokesman Bill Toohey for 23 years. Both had previous careers in radio news broadcasting.

Their children are 21, 19, 17 and 15. She points out the annual Christmas family photographs that nearly fill one of the dining room walls. "See Bill and Rosemary grow old," she says, laughing.

The kids all come to see her plays. "They'd better if they know what's good for them," she says, mumbling something about changing the locks.

They may find themselves in some form in her plays but she tries not to embarrass them too much. She likes to think they are proud of her. Of course, everybody's a critic. She has heard, "Mom, what was that?" on more than one occasion.

The other critic in the family is her husband. "Sometimes I want his opinion," she says. "I watch him as I read it.

"But sometimes I'm so crazy about something that I don't want to hear what anybody else has to say about it. I want to just hold the golden moment.

"The first time out of the gate, I hung on every line, went to every rehearsal. That was a mistake. It made me a nervous wreck and I don't think it was healthy for the play. You have to give them their head."

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Scene changes

It was a book she wrote about international intrigue that gave birth to this particular playwright. After she failed to get it published, she realized the dialogue came easily to her and the descriptive passages did not, so she deduced that writing plays might be her calling.

Facing four college tuitions, she went back to work as one of the two morning-drive anchors for WTOP in Washington, D.C., in 1996, but it meant leaving home at 3 a.m.

"Our checkbook was happy but we weren't happy," she says. "It's difficult to keep the bathroom clean, wash his socks occasionally and put something on the table."

After her car was rear-ended on the Capital Beltway at 4 a.m. one night in 1997 and she spent a week in the hospital with broken ribs and a concussion, she and her husband reconsidered her employment commute.

She now concentrates on playwriting and picks up some money by occasionally narrating corporate videos or playing extras in locally filmed movies. Don't blink and you might see her in Runaway Bride, Along Came a Spider, and Tuck Everlasting.

Often during the run of one of her plays, she is approached by members of the audience. No matter what they say about her work, Toohey likes to think she has become pretty good at gauging what they really are saying. And even when they appear insincere she feels a certain gratitude.

"If I am standing there with my guts hanging out and they are trying to stop the bloodletting, that says something about their humanity."

She treasures that audience. "When something you have written either gets people upset or makes them laugh outrageously, it's just a thrill," she says.

"Seafood Buffet" continues at the Fells Point Corner Theatre (410-276-7837) through Aug. 26. Visit the Baltimore Playwrights Festival Web site at www.baltplayfest.org for a complete schedule.

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