Friday, June 19, 2015

MY FAIR LADY • The Muny

“My Fair Lady” was a huge hit when it premiered in 1956, and now Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical adorns the colossal Muny stage after a seven-year absence with a strong voiced ensemble and excellent leads, under the tight direction of Marc Bruni. It’s based on a film version of George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion” -- a prototype of sorts, providing a blueprint for several “transformation” films that followed. (“Trading Places” and “Pretty Woman,” anyone?)

Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle)
and the ensemble cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
Henry Higgins (Anthony Andrews), a phonetics professor, is on his way home from the opera when he meets Eliza Doolittle (Alexandra Silber), a flower girl selling her wares at Covent Garden. She catches his attention with her flagrant acts of swallowing up defenseless vowels and “h’s” thanks to her Cockney dialect. Higgins claims to Colonel Pickering (Paxton Whitehead), a linguist and fellow lover of dialects, that under his tutelage he could pass her off as a member of the upper classes. Doolittle, who wants to learn how to speak “properly” so she can work in a flower shop, is driven to seek out Higgins, and the challenge is taken up to improve her diction and social skills. Higgins sees his actions as kindhearted, though he views Doolittle as little more than an experiment, despite the keener observations of his housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce (Peggy Billo), his mother (Zoe Vonder Haar) and Pickering.

Anthony Andrews (Henry Higgins), Peggy Billo (Mrs. Pearce),
Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle)
and Paxton Whitehead (Colonel Pickering).
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
Now admittedly, there’s not a lot to love about the pompous misogynist Henry Higgins as portrayed by British Academy and Golden Globe Award winning Andrews. Later in the show Higgins refers to women as “exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags!” No wonder he’s still a bachelor, right? But Andrews does manage to give you a sliver of charm to hang onto in a dapper performance, if not a little severe. Silber’s resilient Eliza Doolittle proves a good counterpart for the professor, in addition to her strong vocals, and Whitehead’s Colonel Pickering is appealingly sympathetic to Eliza. Matthew Scott as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a young man taken with Doolittle, provides some of the best vocals of the night with a memorable “On the Street Where You Live" and Peggy Billo, in her Muny debut, turns in a sparkling performance as Mrs. Pearce, with Zoe Vonder Haar’s droll Mrs. Higgins falling squarely on Doolittle’s side in the face of her son’s indifference. Michael McCormick is also a standout, providing a healthy dose of humor in his lively performance as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father.

Michael McCormick (Alfred P. Doolittle)
and the ensemble cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
On the creative side, Timothy R. Mackabee’s scenic design includes a marvelous backdrop of a map of London, a race track viewing stand, and, embellished with dozens of paintings, a rather over-busy rendering of the home of Henry Higgins, complemented by John Lasiter’s lighting design. Amy Clark’s handsome costume design informs the social classes of 1912 London, with sound design by John Shivers and Hugh Sweeney, and a score beautifully executed by the Muny orchestra.

So, there’s another classic I get to cross off my list. With well-known songs including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”, "The Rain in Spain", “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time”, Bruni keeps this old standard lively enough to keep it from seeming like a doily on your grandmother’s dining room table. It’s playing until the 21st.


Cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
MY FAIR LADY

Book/lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Marc Bruni
through June 21 | tickets: $14 - $87
Performances Monday to Sunday at 8:15pm

Cast:
Anthony Andrews (Henry Higgins), Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle), Paxton Whitehead (Colonel Pickering), Michael McCormick (Alfred P. Doolittle), Matthew Scott (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Zoe Vonder Haar (Mrs. Higgins), Peggy Billo (Mrs. Pearce), Ensemble: Lori Barrett-Pagano, Leah Berry, Anna Blair, Steve Czarnecki, Thom Dancy, Colby Dezelick, Samantha Farrow, Matt Faucher, Ellie Fishman, Tanya Haglund, Michael Hartung, Steve Isom, Austin Glen Jacobs, Jacob Lacopo, Lee Anne Matthews, Russell McCook, Kaela O’Connor, Rich Pisarkiewicz and Paul Scanlan.

Creative:
Scenic design by Timothy R. Mackabee; choreographer, Chris Bailey; music director, Ben Whiteley; costume design by Amy Clark; lighting design by John Lasiter; sound design by John Shivers and Hugh Sweeney; video design by Nathan W. Scheuer; wig design by Leah J. Loukas; stage manager, Nevin Hedley.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

THE PILLOWMAN • Theatre Lab

Ryan Musselman
Martin McDonagh (“The Lieutenant of Inishmore”) has a way with dark comedy. In Theatre Lab’s gripping current production of his 2003 Olivier and Tony award-winning play, the “black” in this black comedy is pitch. The title comes from one of the stories written by our protagonist, Katurian (Jason C. Klefisch), about a man made of pillows who talks kids into offing themselves to avoid a lifetime of pain. So, you know. Yeah. Buckle up.

In a dank, leak-stained room, Katurian, a short story writer who works in a slaughterhouse, is being ferociously questioned by detective Tupolski (Eric Dean White) and police officer Ariel (Darian Michael Garey). Katurian, scared as a rabbit and still in his night clothes, has no idea what the hell is going on, but Tupolski and Ariel, after probing him about his decidedly grisly tales, eventually tell him about a recent string of child murders -- murders that bear a striking resemblance to some of Katurian’s stories. After hearing screams from the next room, Katurian learns that his special needs brother, Michal (Nick Kelly), childlike but with a head full of his brother’s yarns, is also in custody, and according to the cops, has confessed to the killings.


Eric Dean White (Tupolski), Darian Michael Garey (Ariel)
and Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian). 
Photo credit: John Lamb
Throughout “The Pillowman,” in a stylish departure from previous productions of the play where additional actors are used, we see remarkable illustrations by Aaron Allen that depict not only some of the stories in question, but also the cruelty of the brothers’ childhood that Katurian put a stop to after years of abuse suffered, particularly by Michal, at the hands of their sadistic parents.

Too many details would spoil the discoveries that are leaked little by little during the course of the play, but one thing’s for sure -- this production couldn’t be more perfectly cast. Under the tight direction of Theatre Lab’s artistic producing director Ryan Foizey, this cast of four completely disappear into the terrain of the play. Klefisch holds your attention as the central figure, but Kelly’s portrayal of Michal, a damaged innocent, is exceptional and touching, steering clear of any hint of mockery or exaggeration. Garey is the “bad cop”, having to restrain himself from beating Katurian to a pulp himself, but White proves just as quietly intimidating when pushed. Allen’s illustrations are nicely underlined by Luke Viertel’s original music, and Rob Lippert provides the scenic design, with James Slover’s lighting design heightening the action, and Marcy Weigert smartly adding to the characters with informed costume design.

Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian) and Nick Kelly (Michal).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Sadly running for only two weekends, there’s a few more chances to check out this play, and if you like dark drama (as I do) it’s worth your time to see these fine performances for yourself. It’s playing at the intimate space of the Gaslight theater until the 7th.
(Also, kudos to Ryan Musselman, who provided the excellent story graphics for the production).


THE PILLOWMAN
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Ryan Scott Foizey 
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through June 7th | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm, Sunday, June 7 at 8pm

Eric Dean White (Tupolski),
Darian Michael Garey (Ariel)
and Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian). 
Photo credit: John Lamb

Cast:
Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian), Darian Michael Garey (Ariel), Eric Dean White (Tupolski) and Nick Kelly (Michal).

Creative:
Lighting design by James Slover; scenic design by Rob Lippert; costume design by Marcy Weigert; illustrations by Aaron Allen; original music by Luke Viertel; painting by Michelle Sauer; story graphics, Ryan Musselman.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare’s sweeping account of the ultimate power couple -- Marcus Antonius of Rome, and Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, is getting a thrilling staging by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, celebrating its 15th season of free Shakespeare in Forest Park. The grand scope of the play is captivating, and under Mike Donahue’s fluent direction, the legendary characters within it are grounded, real and tragically flawed.

Antony (Jay Stratton) is having to be practically dragged from the arms of his lover in Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb), back to Rome where he is one of a trio of public officers, and his fellow triumvirs have threats from within Rome and threats from abroad to deal with. For his absence from Rome and the resentment it garnered, an attempt to strengthen the relationships among the triumvirs is made when Antony agrees to marry Octavia (Raina K. Houston) the sister of one of the rulers, Octavius Caesar (Charles Pasternak), who has his eye on increasing his own power, eventually declaring war on Cleopatra. The series of events that are set in motion test allegiances, fuel resentments and result in some really unfortunate misjudgments.

Jay Stratton (Mark Antony)
and Shirine Babb (Cleopatra).
Photo credit: J David Levy
The ardent love affair at the center of the play is dynamically driven by Babb’s portrayal of Cleopatra -- as vulnerable in her jealousies and regret as she is glorious in her power, and reckless in her manipulations. Stratton’s Antony, a cocksure ladies' man torn between his responsibilities in Rome and the indulgent pleasures he enjoys in Egypt, is seductively confident in war and romance, but hot-headed in retribution when he thinks Cleopatra has betrayed him. Charles Pasternak’s Octavius Caesar is pompous and belligerent as Antony’s foe, and Conan McCarty is eloquent as Enobarbus, Antony’s right hand with Moses Villarama as Eros, Antony’s devoted and put-upon messenger.

There are also several excellent performances from some of the area’s best, including Gary Glasgow as Lepidus, the third member of the triumvirate, Kari Ely as Charmian, one of Cleopatra’s lively handmaidens, Alan Knoll as Cleo’s eunuch consultant, Mardian, and officers Michael James Reed as Agrippa, and Reginald Pierre as Maecenas, both close friends of Caesar.

Photo credit: J David Levy

Scott C. Neale’s scenic design features five golden columns that beautifully reflect John Wylie’s lighting design, calling out the changes in location and mood. With sound design by Rusty Wandall, composer Greg Mackender lends strong vamps in Rome and the slightest hint of Middle Eastern-inspired music when the story is taken to Egypt, with appropriately creepy chords when an omen of music emanating from the ground bodes ill for Antony. The costume design courtesy of Dorothy Marshall Englis handsomely informs the different factions within the play, and there are also great special effects as water cannons spew up huge plumes on either side of the stage during the sea battle of Actium.

With pre-show activities that include a Green Show and terrific performances throughout, along with tasty treats and souvenirs to buy, you’re bound to have a great evening of top-notch theatre. Grab a blanket, a loaded picnic basket, and head to Shakespeare Glen in the park -- it’s playing until the 14th.


Kari Ely (Charmian), Raina K. Houston (Iras),
Shirine Babb (Cleopatra) and Jay Stratton (Mark Antony).
Photo credit: J David Levy
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Mike Donahue 
Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park
through June 14 | tickets: FREE
Performances nightly at 8pm, except Tuesdays; 6:30pm Green Show

Cast:
Shirine Babb* (Cleopatra), Kari Ely* (Charmian), Gary Glasgow* (Lepidus, Soothsayer, Clown), Raina K. Houston (Octavia, Iras), Ryan A. Jacobs (Philo, Soldier, Guard), Alan Knoll* (Mardian), Bernell Lassai III (Demetruis, Soldier, Guard), Matt Lytle* (Pompey, Proculeius, Canidius), Conan McCarty* (Enobarbus), Jesse E. Muñoz (Menas, Scarus), Charles Pasternak* (Octavius Caesar), Reginald Pierre (Maecenas), Michael James Reed* (Agrippa), Robert Riordan (Varrius, Gallus, Soldier), Jay Stratton* (Mark Antony) and Moses Villarama* (Eros). 
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Scott C. Neale; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by John Wylie; sound design by Rusty Wandall; composer, Greg Mackender; voice and text coach, Suzanne Mills; fight choreographer, Paul Dennhardt; stage manager, Emilee Buchheit; assistant stage manager, Lydia Crandall.

Friday, May 15, 2015

MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING • The New Jewish Theatre

With the political hot potato of marriage equality reaching critical mass in the States, NJT closes its 18th season with a Canadian musical that couldn’t be more timely. David Hein and his wife Irene Sankoff’s, “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding”, drew acclaim at the 2009 Toronto Fringe and the 2010 New York Musical Theater Festival, and is inspired by the real-life coming out of Hein's mother, and the teenage years he spent with her and his other mom, Jane.

Claire’s son, David (an appealing guitar-playing Ben Nordstrom), serves as our narrator for the evening, and takes us through the story of his mother’s discovery of true love, and her reconnection with her Jewish roots. After a nasty divorce, Claire (Laura Ackermann), a non-practicing Jew, moves from Nebraska to take a job as a professor of psychology in Ottowa, where she meets and falls in love with Jane (Deborah Sharn), a devoted Wiccan and therapist. Along with the laughs, there’s also a bit of heft slipped into this fluffy musical comedy that catches you off-guard -- like finding some meat under layers of light, savory pastry.

Deborah Sharn (Jane), Pierce Hastings (Young David),
Laura Ackermann (Claire) and Ben Nordstrom (David).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Nordstrom’s easy-going performance guides us through the proceedings, and Ackermann portrays all of the ups and downs of Claire’s journey with heartfelt command. Sharn’s portrayal of Jane also brims with convincing sincerity, including a breakdown of the Wiccan religion in her number, "Wiccan 101." MMLJWW (I gotta shorten that title) is also bolstered by equally strong performances from the ensemble members who take on multiple roles. John Flack is memorable as Claire’s ex-husband, Garth, particularly in his number, “Hot Lesbian Action”, and Pierce Hastings does a fine job as an accepting young David, with Chase Thomaston making wonderful appearances as an airline pilot, a television reporter, and a few women’s roles. Anna Skidis as Michelle, Claire’s lesbian roommate, has a thing or two to come to terms with herself when she’s not volunteering at the cat rescue center, and is great as a Hooters girl in the number, “Don't Take Your Lesbian Moms to Hooters.” Jennifer Theby-Quinn’s comic talents shine as Irene, David’s girlfriend, in numbers like “You Don't Need a Penis” and “Five Mothers”, along with lending some subtle shading and depth to a role that the script doesn’t necessarily allow for, considering Irene's father is a conservative Government official and the nationwide gay marriage vote in Canada is at hand. That all happens a little quickly, but hey, it's a musical comedy.

John Flack, Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Anna Skidis,
Deborah Sharn, Pierce Hastings and Laura Ackermann.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Margery and Peter Spack’s outstanding scenic design is an explosion of circular, multicolored, psychedelic goodness, with a little raised platform for the band, that under Charlie Mueller’s musical direction sounded great, though they threatened to drown out the voices unless the ensemble was singing together.

Even though some of the more serious issues of gay marriage are handled with a lighter touch, under Edward Coffield's deft direction, it's a fun, open-hearted show with great performances from a top-notch cast. It's playing until the 31st.


MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING

Written by David Hein & Irene Sankoff 
Directed by Edward Coffield
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through May 31 | tickets: $36 - $40
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm, Sunday the 31st at 2pm

Deborah Sharn (Jane), Anna Skidis (Michelle)
and Laura Ackermann (Claire).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Cast:
Ben Nordstrom* (David), Laura Ackermann* (Claire), Deborah Sharn (Jane), John Flack* (Garth, others), Anna Skidis (Michelle, Becki, others), Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Penny, Irene, others), Chase Thomaston (Pilot, Rabbi, others), Pierce Hastings (Young David/others).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design and artist, Margery and Peter Spack; lighting design by James Kolditz; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; sound design by Amanda Werre; properties design by Jenny Smith; choreography by Liam Johnson; wig consultant, Christie Sifford; music direction by Charlie Mueller, stage manager, Mary Jane Probst, assistant stage manager, Brendan Woods; assistant director, Max Friedman.

Musicians:
Keyboards, Charlie Mueller; guitars, Aaron Doerr, Ben Nordstrom; bass, Adam Anello; percussion, Jason Hatcher.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

R&J: A TELEPHONE PLAY or DON'T DRINK THE MILK • ERA

Of all the companies in town that go in for unconventional theatre, few come close to pushing the boundaries like Equally Represented Arts does. ERA’s latest offering premieres six new plays within the framework of a game of “telephone,” also known as “Don’t drink the milk.” The R&J of the title refers to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, and in this case, the last scene of this tale of young love serves as the ‘original message.’ A recording of this act was sent to the first playwright who wrote a new play based on what they heard, and each successive playwright used a recording of the previous play as a jumping off point for their work. Cool, right? It is. It’s also a hectic, lively and sometimes disquieting evening of new work by some provocative playwrights (James Ryan Caldwell, Otso Huopaniemi, camila le-bert, John Douglas Weidner, Samara Weiss and Zhu Yi). With blooming love, growing pains and a kind of adolescent tumult at its center, with liberal doses of synchronized movement and dance, ERA, under Lucy Cashion’s direction, provides a bold, intriguing night of vignettes, wonderfully executed by her six-member ensemble — Mollie Amburgey, Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Carl Overly, Jr. and Rachel Tibbetts.

Carl Overly Jr., Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles,
Rachel Tibbetts, Cara Barresi and Mollie Amburgey.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
After a relaxed, pre-show start with the actors chatting, roaming around and stretching, they simultaneously begin to quote lines from “Romeo and Juliet”, creating a cool, clamorous din of sound. After that, things kick off with camila le-bert’s, “Rosaline Called”, finding Juliet (Rachel Tibbetts) wondering who this Rosaline is, why she’s calling her boyfriend, Romeo (Mitch Eagles), and the parents (Cara Barresi and Will Bonfiglio) stressing about their kid’s romance, and dating outside of their circles. The tolling of bells, a ringing phone and strobed lights signal the segue into the next play, bringing on Otso Huopaniemi’s, “Still Standing”, where the actors ponder how to write about what they just saw, frantically bouncing ideas off of each other, and is followed by Zhu Yi’s, “The Offended Audience”, where the actors pose as audience members, obliterating the fourth wall and sparring with each other, eventually receiving a phone call from God. “Number 4”, written by John Douglas Weidner, looks at unrequited love with Tibbetts who has hopelessly fallen for the school’s profane, arrogant bad boy, portrayed with gusto by Bonfiglio, while Eagles longs for her affection. The action is narrowed down to Eagles and Tibbetts in “Untitled”, written by Samara Weiss, where the duo compel and repulse each other, tentatively considering a new relationship.

Cara Barresi and Will Bonfiglio.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
In addition to certain characters taking turns with a swig or two of milk from a glass jug, after each vignette, one player is left out of a game of musical chairs, and the ousted actor retires under a laced sheet. The last play leaves us with Tibbetts as a hesitant bride in James Ryan Caldwell’s, “Two Character Play”, reminiscing about her younger days as she pours through old entries in her diary. Tibbetts turns in an excellent performance and ends the evening on a very strong note.

Well, almost the end. The performances of “R + J: A Telephone Play” are followed by an improvised version of a Shakespeare play, suggested by the audience and performed by the delightfully talented two-man improv group, Bodysnatchers.

Cashion’s minimal scenic design allows lots of room for the ensemble, with nice touches that include telephone receivers and bouquets hanging overhead, and columns of calendars on the wall. Meredith LaBounty provides the costumes, and the music is composed and performed by Charlie Mueller. The plays themselves are a little uneven, but the overall presentation is exciting and well worth seeing. You’ve got until this weekend to check it out!


Mitch Eagles and Rachel Tibbetts.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
R&J: A TELEPHONE PLAY or DON'T DRINK THE MILK

Written by James Ryan Caldwell, Otso Huopaniemi, camila le-bert, John Douglas Weidner, Samara Weiss, Zhu Yi and William Shakespeare
Directed by Lucy Cashion
through May 8 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm

The Wedding Party:
Mollie Amburgey (Actor), Cara Barresi (Actor), Will Bonfiglio (Actor), Mitch Eagles (Actor), Carl Overly, Jr. (Actor) and Rachel Tibbetts (Actor).

Mitch Eagles, Carl Overly Jr.,
Cara Barresi, Mollie Amburgey and Rachel Tibbetts.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg

Creative:
Scenic and sound design by Lucy Cashion; lighting design by Erik Kuhn; costume design by Meredith LaBounty; hair and make-up by Brooklynn McDade; musical composition and arrangement by Charlie Mueller; stage manager and assistant director, Gabe Taylor.

Monday, April 27, 2015

AN INVITATION OUT • Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed's season comes to a close with a world premiere by playwright Shualee Cook — an old fashioned drawing room comedy with a twist. It’s set in a futuristic virtual reality, where many prefer to interact through the magnified personas of their avatars in online chat rooms, instead of enduring the rigors and demands of living life ”offline." Even the opening words by Mustard Seed’s artistic director, Deanna Jent, are presented as an animated likeness of her, projected on a scrim running across the stage. The stage is framed by a skewed, computer screen-like border, and the pre-show projections of DNA strands and “Sims”-like avatars fittingly set the mood.

When the play begins, we meet Wridget (Bob Thibaut), an avatar designer, who’s putting the finishing touches on an operating system (Nicole Angeli) to serve as the maid for the evening.
Alicia Revé Like (Aunt Scandalicious),
Justin Ivan Brown (Xluci), Laura Ernst (Flutterbye),
Nicole Angeli (Maid) and Ellie Schwetye (Raskin).
Photo credit: John Lamb

He's entertaining his sister, Buttercup (Julie Venegoni), and her husband FlyByNite (Daniel Lanier). They’ve recently had a baby, and are spending a considerable amount of time “offline”, with Wridget taking short jaunts into the real world to spend time with the baby. Another guest, their Aunt Scandalicious (Alicia Revé Like), with a walk that would stop traffic, if there were any traffic online, abhors the idea of not being on the grid, and Wridget's girlfriend Flutterbye (Laura Ernst), an incredibly popular blogger whom he plans to propose to arrives, constantly updating her status anytime she says something she deems clever enough to share with her millions of fans.

Daniel Lanier (FlyByNite), Justin Ivan Brown (Butler),
Nicole Angeli (XLuci) and Julie Venegoni (Buttercup).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Another guest, a friend of Buttercup’s named Raskin (Ellie Schwetye), is immediately identified as an “out dweller”, who enjoys being unplugged, providing the perfect contrast to urge on Wridget’s craving for more time in the real world. The virtual evening ends up with Wridget considering some fundamental questions, and how his desire to connect with something real relates to his stimulating, yet simulated and somewhat tedious plugged-in existence.

Under Jent’s careful direction, Thibaut is earnest as Wridget, weighing his new experiences inside the whirlwind of activity around him. Ernst is buoyant but superficial as the constantly distracted Flutterbye, and Like makes for an Aunt Scandalicious who captures your attention with every quip and jab she throws, clearly preferring a world where she can appear half as old as she is.
Bob Thibaut (Wridget),
Richard Strelinger (ReverendVariety.Org)
and Laura Ernst (Flutterbye).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Justin Ivan Brown is engaging as Wridget's gender-flexible pal Xluci, a witty and foppish computer hacker who chooses to present as male in the first act, and female in the second, where Xluci is played with the same cool charm by Angeli. Brown and Angeli also switch roles as the maid or butler between acts, and Angeli’s maid, originally programmed as British, is hacked to become a testy Norwegian. It’s a nifty trick. Schwetye stands in wonderfully for the audience as Raskin, addressing the world’s current constructs with curious amazement, and Venegoni convinces as Wridget’s concerned sister, along with Lanier as her husband, even though FlyByNite’s avatar has a tendency to periodically stall. Mark Wilson’s excellent scenic design, Michael Sullivan’s lighting design, Beth Ashby's outrageously designed costumes and Chris Jent’s projections come together to paint an exciting backdrop, with Zoe Sullivan’s sound design providing computer sound effects and little entrance vamps for the characters.

Justin Ivan Brown (Butler),
Alicia Revé Like (Aunt Scandalicious) and Laura Ernst (Flutterbye).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The benefits and pitfalls of social media have already shown an effect on individual perceptions of person vs. persona. In her playwright’s notes, Cook says her play is "a look at the future inspired by the past that would hopefully shed some light on the present." “An Invitation Out”, though it runs a bit on the long side, hits this mark to a huge degree. It’s playing until the 3rd.


AN INVITATION OUT

Written by Shualee Cook
Directed by Deanna Jent 
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through May 3 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Nicole Angeli (Maid/XLuci), Justin Ivan Brown* (Xluci/Butler), Laura Ernst (Flutterbye), Daniel Lanier (FlyByNite), Alicia Revé Like (Aunt Scandalicious), Ellie Schwetye (Raskin), Richard Strelinger (ReverendVariety.Org), Bob Thibaut (Wridget) and Julie Venegoni (Buttercup).
*Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Assistant director, Katie Donnelly; scenic design by Mark Wilson; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Beth Ashby; sound design by Zoe Sullivan; props design by Meg Brinkley; light board operator, Angela Doerr; projections by Chris Jent; set construction by Jon Hisaw, Ryan Stewart and Tom Stevenson; stage manager, Maggy Bort.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER • Upstream Theater

Upstream closes its tenth season with an absorbing one-act dramatization of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 18th century lyrical ballad, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." If you've never read or heard of "The Rime", you're most likely familiar with some of the metaphors (having an albatross around your neck) and phrases from it ("Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink") that have left their marks on literature's landscape.

The poem concerns a Mariner who foolishly shoots an albatross that he's forced to wear around his neck as a reminder of his violent actions. His disregard for life seals his fate and plots a course of unearthly encounters with spectral ships and the deaths of each of his crewmen, leaving the Mariner alone in reflection, and eventual transformation. Doomed to relate his story of culpability in an endless pursuit of redemption, he stops a guest on his way to a wedding party when the story begins.

Jerry Vogel (Mariner).
Photo credit: ProPhotoSTL.com 
The vivid imagery of this haunting sea voyage is orchestrated sublimely by Patrick Siler, who adapted and directed the piece, with Jerry Vogel at the helm as the nameless title character. Vogel's commanding presence is palpable -- as heavy in grief, anxiety and remorse as he is buoyant in joy and realization. Patrick Blindauer and Shanara Gabrielle deftly stand in for additional characters in the story, from the wedding guests and the Mariner's shipmates, to the angels and water snakes the Mariner meets during his journey along murky waters. All three cast members, with Gabrielle proving most skillful, fluidly execute Cecil Slaughter's choreography that punctuates the story with movement.

Patrick Blindauer (ensemble), Shanara Gabrielle (ensemble)
and Jerry Vogel (Mariner).
Photo credit: ProPhotoSTL.com
Siler's staging also benefits from the musical accompaniment provided by the band, Sleepy Kitty. Its members, Paige Brubeck and Evan Sult, add a tremendous amount of texture to the story. Their original songs and themes, inspired by Coleridge's text, provide a seductive undercurrent of music, (particularly well executed by Blindauer) and atmospheric sound design. They also participate further, with Sult playing Death (the fate of the crewmen) and Brubeck playing Life-in-Death (the Mariner's fate) -- all to great effect. It's hard to imagine the story without their contributions. Kyra Bishop's sparse, evocative scenic design includes a small, raked triangular platform for the ship's bow, with sails, a hanging ladder, and a cloth backdrop where images of Gustav Doré's engravings of the ballad are projected. Joseph W. Clapper's lights add a sense of the surreal, with Lou Bird's costumes hitting the mark perfectly for the Mariner, and are very aptly suited and varied for the ensemble, with innovative props by Julia Graham, including a laced veil symbolizing the albatross.

Patrick Blindauer (ensemble), Shanara Gabrielle (ensemble)
and Jerry Vogel (Mariner).
Photo credit: ProPhotoSTL.com
The elements of Siler's adaptation integrate handsomely to illustrate a chilling story that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. Don't let it pass you by. It runs at the Kranzberg until the 19th.


THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER

Written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Adapted for the stage and directed by Patrick Siler
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through April 19 | tickets: $20 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, April 12 at 2pm & 7pm, April 19 at 3pm

Evan Sult and Paige Brubeck.
Photo credit: ProPhotoSTL.com
Cast:
Jerry Vogel* (Mariner), Patrick Blindauer (ensemble), Shanara Gabrielle* (ensemble).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Kyra Bishop; costume design by Lou Bird; lighting design by Joseph W. Clapper; prop design by Julia Graham; choreography consultant, Cecil Slaughter; stage manager, Jim Anthony; music composed and performed by Sleepy Kitty.

Patrick Blindauer (ensemble), Jerry Vogel (Mariner)
and Shanara Gabrielle (ensemble).
Photo credit: ProPhotoSTL.com
Sleepy Kitty:
Paige Brubeck and Evan Sult.

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