Monday, September 11, 2017

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep kicks off its 51st season with Simon Stephens’ Tony Award-winning play, based on Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel. The Curious Incident revolves around Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old boy and his quest to figure out who killed his neighbor’s dog. During his search, he runs across a more elusive puzzle that sends him from Swindon to London. Christopher has an astonishing mind for mathematics, a fascination for the constellations of the night sky, and a love for his pet rat Toby, but he doesn’t do physical contact and is prone to sensory overload. Taxed by conversation, he has no use for metaphors -- he's acutely literal in the way he takes in the world. The play hinges on this performance, and an excellent, endearing Nick LaMedica sinks into this demanding role with a fixed gaze that implies his mind's wheels turning, and tight shoulders and a contorted face when his routines are disturbed or his surroundings start to close in.

Christopher (Nick LaMedica).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Christopher's got a notebook that contains an account of his exploits, and the mystery of his neighbor’s dog is uncovered as sections of his story are read aloud to us by his teacher, Siobhan, a kind face in the crowd who helps him cope, rendered in a warm, engaged performance by Kathleen Wise. Ed, Christopher’s father, is against his son’s snooping around from the start, and Jimmy Kieffer’s portrayal is patient and devoted, with a streak of volatility underneath his fatigue. Amy Blackman’s Judy, Christopher’s mom, seems apprehensive about the care her son’s needs demand, but shows a loving willingness to provide it, yearning for a brief touch of spread out fingertips -- about the most physical contact Christopher can manage. The ensemble members look on as the play unfolds, stepping in for multiple roles and filling in as extensions of the things around him.

Ed (Jimmy Kieffer) and Christopher (Nick LaMedica).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Curious Incident premiered in the West End in 2012, Broadway in 2014, and picked up praise for its technical innovation. Those effects are scaled back in the Rep's production, instead leading with director Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s choreography, along with some creative stagecraft to move through the story. Narelle Sissons’ scenic design features towering walls scribbled with cube numbers and equations, washed with stark, artful lights by Matthew Richards. David Bullard’s sound design includes driving segue music, accenting the more harrowing aspects of Christopher’s journey, and these elements all come together admirably to illustrate the play's unique point of view.

Judy (Amy Blackman) and Christopher (Nick LaMedica).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Though not mentioned in the play, Christopher likely falls somewhere along the autism spectrum, but that’s not what the play’s about. With developments that lead us into unexpected territory, the single-minded determination of Christopher's is something we can all rally behind, while rooting for the future success of a kid who faces his share of challenges, but grasps more than most. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is playing at the Rep until October 1st.


Incidentals
• There’s a puppy near the end. A really cute one, too.


The cast of The Curious Incident.
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Written by Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through October 1 | tickets: $22 - $89
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Christopher (Nick LaMedica).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Cast
Mr. Thompson/Ensemble: Michael Baxter*
Judy/Ensemble: Amy Blackman*
Punk Girl/Ensemble: Ka-Ling Cheung*
Roger Shears/Ensemble: Kevin Cutts*
Mrs. Alexander/Ensemble: Dale Hodges*
Ed/Ensemble: Jimmy Kieffer*
Christopher: Nick LaMedica*
Mrs. Shears/Ensemble: Laiona Michelle*
Reverend Peters/Ensemble: Dathan B. Williams*
Siobhan/Ensemble: Kathleen Wise*

Creative
Choreographer: Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Scenic Designer: Narelle Sissons
Costume Designer: Leon Wiebers
Lighting Designer: Matthew Richards
Sound Designer: David Bullard
Associate Choreographer: Michael Baxter
Stage Manager: Emilee Buchheit*
Assistant Stage Manager: Lorraine LiCavoli*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Sunday, August 27, 2017

UNCLE VANYA: VALIANTLY ACCEPTING NEXT YEAR’S AGONY • Rebel And Misfits Productions

There’s a malaise that blankets the Serebryakov family estate, and in Rebel and Misfits Productions’ second installment in its Immersive Theatre Project series, a private residence in Ladue serves as the country home in Anton Chekhov's 19th century classic. This interpretation of Uncle Vanya, adapted by artistic director, Kelly Hummert, retains the tragic weight of the everyday Chekhov's known for, but turns it in on itself, mining a great deal of humor in the process.

Serebryakov (Peter Mayer), a retired professor, and his young second wife, Yelena (Sophia Brown), are upsetting the routine of the caretakers and residents of his first wife’s estate after they decide to live there. Sonya (Francesca Ferrari), Serebryakov’s daughter from his first marriage, and his late wife’s brother, Vanya (Andrew Michael Neiman), maintain the property. Doctor Astrov (James Butz) is a regular at the house, visiting daily to check in on the aging professor. Other residents include Vanya’s mother, Mrs. Voitensky (Suzanne Greenwald), who seems to favor her son-in-law over her own, Marina (Donna Weinsting), the nanny who’s like part of the family, and Telegin, or “Waffles” (Kent Coffel), a poor neighboring landowner dependent on the family.

(Clockwise) Mrs. Voitensky (Suzanne Greenwald),
Astrov (James Butz), Marina (Donna Weinsting),
Yelena (Sophia Brown), Telegin (Kent Coffel),
Vanya (Andrew Michael Neiman),
Sonya (Francesca Ferrari) and The Professor (Peter Mayer).
Photo credit: Kelly Hummert 
Realized against an enveloping backdrop and bolstered by a compelling group of actors, you’ll play silent (and sometimes not so silent) witness to the characters’ struggle against boredom, as you’re ushered from room to room. Neiman is commanding as a bellyaching Vanya, unhappy with his lot, laying much of the blame for his lost, unproductive years on the professor, a man he used to worship. Astrov is a passionate man -- a lover of beauty who’s distressed over the state of the Russian forests, but he’s also just as adrift as Vanya. Butz wears the role easily, berating those around him but hovering not far above the fray. He also gives a wonderful drunken monologue in the kitchen, where he becomes perfectly annoyed with an unscripted interruption by a dinging refrigerator. Brown gives Yelena a sultry charm with shades of vulnerability, not quite knowing what to do with herself once she realizes she has snared the adoration of both Vanya and Astrov. Her husband, Professor Serebryakov, rules the house with no consideration of how the others are affected, and Mayer plays him with the arrogant bluster of a man who’s trying to keep up appearances. Sonya, suffering from heartache of her own, is largely ignored because of her plain looks, but Ferrari gives her innocence a hint that she’s more capable than most of her family.

Yelena (Sophia Brown)
and The Professor (Peter Mayer).
Photo credit: Kelly Hummert 
In addition to the performances and smart direction, this production does a great job pulling you into the story long before Marina offers you a choice of hot chamomile or iced raspberry tea. Letters from Vanya and Yelena are posted on the company’s Facebook page, and an email from the desk of Mrs. Voitensky is sent once your ticket is purchased, pleasantly looking forward to your visit.

The opportunity to see this well-executed Chekhov play brought uniquely to life shouldn’t be missed. It’s playing until the 3rd at 110 Dielman Road.

Incidentals
• On another note, once you arrive, there’s a convenient valet service to take your car. Unless you drive a stick. Then, you may be directed to park along the street, because the valet guy can’t drive a car with manual transmission. And maybe, the valet guy will inform you near the end of the third act that you have to sneak out to move your car, so you do, resulting in you missing a climactic moment in the play involving a gun. Grrr.


Sonya (Francesca Ferrari)
and Astrov (James Butz).
Photo credit: Kelly Hummert 
UNCLE VANYA: VALIANTLY ACCEPTING NEXT YEAR’S AGONY

Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed and adapted by Kelly Hummert 
through September 3 | tickets: $30 - $45
Performances Thursdays to Sundays, high-tea reception at 7pm, play starts at 8pm

Cast
The Professor: Peter Mayer
Vanya: Andrew Michael Neiman
Astrov: James Butz
Sonya: Francesca Ferrari
Yelena: Sophia Brown
Marina: Donna Weinsting
Mrs. Voitensky: Suzanne Greenwald
Telegin: Kent Coffel

Creative
Stage Manager: Vanessa Hart
Assistant Director: Jordan Woods
Costume Designer: Christina Sittser
Scenic Designer: Kelly Hummert and Jordan Woods
Social Media Director: Aarti Couture

Thursday, August 24, 2017

IN THE HEIGHTS • R-S Theatrics

Life in the New York City borough of Washington Heights is painted with spirited strokes in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights, and R-S Theatrics brings it to the stage in their biggest show to date. Covering a few days around a sweltering 4th of July, there’s a jackpot lottery ticket sold, a blackout, and two couples who fall for each other, while the pros and cons of remaining in a tight-knit community are weighed.

Usnavi (Jesse Muñoz), Sonny (Kevin Corpuz)
and Benny (Marshall Jennings).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindbergh
The winning ticket is sold from a local bodega owned by Usnavi de la Vega. Selling café con leche by the bucket, his is a popular spot in the predominantly Latino neighborhood, and Jesse Muñoz portrays this all-around good guy with an easygoing appeal, slyly wooing his love interest, Vanessa (Natasha Toro). Usnavi’s Abuela Claudia is the backbone of the neighborhood, and Carmen García was a highlight, with rich, powerful vocals and a memorable "Paciencia y Fe”, where she reflects on her childhood and her immigration to America. Anna Skidis Vargas is always a vocal standout, and here she shines as Daniela, a salon owner and local gossip, delivering a solid "No Me Diga" and "Carnaval del Barrio". A very funny Gabriela Diaz is Carla, an employee at the salon, and Diaz and Vargas sound wonderful together, and provide a fair share of the laughs, along with Kevin Corpuz in a buoyant performance as Usnavi’s flirtatious young cousin, Sonny. It was good to see Marshall Jennings in the well-deserved role of Benny, who works at a taxicab dispatch. Marshall’s got a splendid voice and possesses a lovable charm, winning the heart of the dispatch owner’s daughter Nina, played beautifully by Cassandra Lopez. Nina is feisty with her father, Kevin (Jaime Zayas), who doesn’t approve of Benny because he’s not Latino, but leave it to Nina’s mother, Camila (Maritza Motta-Gonzalez), to get her family in line.

Carla (Gabriela Diaz), Daniela (Anna Skidis Vargas)
and Vanessa (Natasha Toro).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindbergh
Miranda has a brilliant, natural sense for syncopated verse that is evident here, and later in his groundbreaking Broadway mega-hit, Hamilton. Unfortunately, some of those rhymes were drowned out by the band and hampered by pesky mic issues that will no doubt smooth out over the course of the run. Christina Rios directs the show, setting up some nice tableaus throughout, with lighting by Nathan Schroeder and costumes by Sarah Porter. Cecily A. King provides big, dynamic choreography, and good use is made of small set pieces that were brought in and out to represent Usnavi’s bodega stand and the Rosario’s taxi dispatch.
Abuela Claudia (Carmen García).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindbergh

R-S Theatrics is an ambitious company, and its artistic
director, Rios, gives zero f’s about how big a show is. To her credit, if she wants to stage it, she’ll stage it, and this production has paid off with an entire runs that’s sold out. They added a performance on the 24th (tonight!), so snag a ticket if you can. It’s playing until the 3rd.

Incidentals
• This is the first show produced in R-S Theatrics’ new home in residence at the .ZACK Performing Arts Incubator space, but this space presents a challenge -- columns. Take care to sit where they won’t obstruct your view.


IN THE HEIGHTS

Music/lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes 
Directed by Christina Rios
through September 3 | tickets: $15 - $25
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm
Added performance: August 24 at 8pm

Benny (Marshall Jennings) and Nina (Cassandra Lopez).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindbergh
Cast
Usnavi de la Vega: Jesse Muñoz
Nina Rosario: Cassandra Lopez
Kevin Rosario: Jaime Zayas
Camila Rosario: Maritza Motta-Gonzalez
Benny: Marshall Jennings
Vanessa: Natasha Toro
Sonny: Kevin Corpuz
Abuela Claudia: Carmen García
Daniela: Anna Skidis Vargas
Carla: Gabriela Diaz
Graffiti Pete: Karl Hawkins
Piragüero: Kelvin Urday
Claudia’s Mother: Cecily A. King
Young Claudia: Alora Marguerite
Teen Claudia: Isabel García

Vanessa (Natasha Toro), Benny (Marshall Jennings),
Usnavi (Jesse Muñoz) and cast.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindbergh
Ensemble
Mara Bollini
Antonio Daniels-Braziel
Melissa Felps
Evan Fornachon
Chris Kernan
Grace Langford
Sara Rae Womack

Creative
Musical Director: Leah Luciano
Stage Manager: Elizabeth Van Pelt
Assistant Stage Manager: Rhiannon Creighton
Assistant Stage Manager: Angel Eberhardt
Assistant Stage Manager: Amy Riddle
Choreographer: Cecily A. King
Dance Captains: Kevin Corpuz and Melissa Felps
Fight Choreographer: Mark Kelley
Fight Captain: Sara Rae Womack
Scenic Designer: Keller Ryan
Lighting Designer: Nathan Schroeder
Costumer Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Mark Kelley
Technical Director: Keller Ryan
Light Board Operator: Erin Riley
Production Interns: Isabel García and Sophia Gotto
Graffiti Artist: Bryan Pease
Artistic Director: Christina Rios

Orchestra
Keyboard 1: Nick Moramarco
Trumpet: Ron Foster
Reeds: J.D. Tolman
Drums: Mike Hansen
Percussion: Peter Gunn
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Bass: Devin Lowe
Trombone: Kayla Nogle
Conductor/Keyboard 2: Leah Luciano

Monday, August 21, 2017

SNOW WHITE • Equally Represented Arts

ERA’s Snow White, presented as the local headliner for this year’s St. Lou Fringe Festival, showcases the unconventional whimsy that the company has become known for. Developed and adapted by ERA’s artistic director Lucy Cashion and the company’s ensemble, this new full-length play is culled from Walt Disney’s Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, the original Grimm fairy tale, and Donald Barthelme’s novel, Snow White -- a post-modern take on the tale. Along the way we meet a vengeful stepmother, a truth-dispensing mirror named Hogo, a high-minded prince, a girl with an aversion to mirrors and apples, and seven men in work jumpsuits, but in classic ERA fashion, it’s all presented with a collage of eccentric ideas and shrewd observations running alongside. The examination of identity, and the internal and external influences on identity, shine through in offbeat fragments.

Snow White’s Biological Mother (Katy Keating).
Photo credit: Meredith LaBounty
Snow White’s Biological Mother is our narrator, played with spot-on cheek by Katy Keating, sporting a thick German dialect, while Snow White (Julia Crump) is completely disenchanted, bored with her daily routine. The seven men she lives with include their ambitious leader Bill (Mitch Eagles), political, cowboy hat-wearing Clem (Alex Fyles), Edward (Anthony Kramer), Henry, the diligent note-taker (Carl Overly Jr.), afro-picking Kevin (Reginald Pierre), Hubert (Gabe Taylor) and Dan (Pete Winfrey). These guys provide their own musings on how they see and how they’re seen, and this group of committed actors are never divorced from their individual, instinctual drives (The examination of identity is particularly exemplified in Kevin’s reflections as an African-American, very nicely done by Pierre). Maggie Conroy is delightfully evil as Jane, the Wicked Stepmother, living in awe of her own malice, longing for the good old days, and breaking the fourth wall at one point to educate and taunt the audience.
Snow White (Julia Crump), Dan (hidden, Pete Winfrey),
Clem (Alex Fyles), Bill (Mitch Eagles),
Kevin (Reginald Pierre), Edward (Anthony Kramer),
Hubert (Gabe Taylor) and Henry (Carl Overly Jr.).
Photo credit: Meredith LaBounty
The Mirror is Hogo de Bergerac (voiced by Randy Brachman), who tells hard truths to those who find themselves before him, presented with a clever little set-up involving some voice-over work and a projector with pre-recorded pieces by the actors. Then there’s Paul the Prince, played with giddy energy by Will Bonfiglio. He’s lofty but lazy, and eventually becomes a monk, content to gaze at Snow White from afar.

The show is peppered with ERA’s trademark choreography, notably in an interpretation of Snow White’s cleaning methods with the ensemble in the back following her lead. There’s also a sexy little number about fruit salad with the men, with the onlookers offering the kind of comments you’d read on a recipe website. You really have to see it for yourself. In fact, it’s the kind of show you’ll probably want to see twice.

Snow White (Julia Crump).
Photo credit: Meredith LaBounty
Snow White is playing until the 26th on the Schlafly MainStage at the Grandel Theatre. Check it out!

Incidentals
• With a running time of just under 2 hours with no intermission, be sure to visit the bathroom before you take your seat.

• Heigh-Ho!


SNOW WHITE

Developed and adapted by ERA
Directed by Lucy Cashion
Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
through August 26 | tickets: $25
Performances Thursday August 24 at 7:30pm, and Saturday August 26 at 7:30pm

Paul (Will Bonfiglio).
Photo credit: Meredith LaBounty
Cast
Paul (the Prince): Will Bonfiglio
Hogo (the Mirror): Randy Brachman
Jane (the Wicked Stepmother): Maggie Conroy
Snow White: Julia Crump
Snow White’s Biological Mother: Katy Keating
The Secretary of State: Joe Taylor

The Seven Men
Bill: Mitch Eagles
Clem: Alex Fyles
Edward: Anthony Kramer
Henry: Carl Overly Jr.
Kevin: Reginald Pierre
Hubert: Gabe Taylor
Dan: Pete Winfrey

Jane (Maggie Conroy).
Photo credit: Meredith LaBounty
Creative
Assistant Director & Stage Manager: Gabe Taylor
Assistant Stage Manager: Jimmy Bernatowicz
Composer & Video Director: Joe Taylor
Costume Designer: Marcy Wiegert 
Lighting Designer: Shannon Tinsley
Graphic Designer: Hanna Park

Monday, August 14, 2017

THE COLOR OF AUGUST • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble continues its "Season of Adaptation" with The Color of August, by Spanish playwright Paloma Pedrero. Written in 1988, and translated and adapted for this production by Will Bonfiglio, The Color of August explores a reunion of two artists and old friends that wavers between soft embraces and loud shouting, dependence and conflict. The play features Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts -- actors who have been together in a few two-handers in the past, and there’s an undeniable synergy between them that complements the play. Who will portray which role is determined by a coin toss before each performance. The night I went it was “heads”, and Tibbetts played Maria, a successful artist, with Schwetye playing Laura, her inspiration.

Laura (Ellie Schwetye) and Maria (Rachel Tibbetts).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell
Maria and Laura have known each other since childhood and shared an intimate friendship, but eight years have passed since they’ve spoken. Since their estrangement, Maria's artwork has garnered fame, while Laura, who gave up her art some time ago, scrapes by as a model. Laura doesn’t know it yet, but they’re about to meet up again. Using a false name, Maria has booked Laura for a modeling gig, and the air is charged with tension from the moment they see each other. Maria may have accolades and wealth, but she’s desperate for Laura to stay, while Laura meets Maria with cool indifference. Nursing old wounds and trying to maintain leverage, they fluctuate between attraction and aversion, and end up stripping down, literally, splashing each other with paint -- seemingly the only way they can reach a level playing field.

Maria (Rachel Tibbetts) and Laura (Ellie Schwetye).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell
Director Lucy Cashion, artistic director and founder of Equally Represented Arts, keeps the interaction between the women surprising, and includes her signature use of movement, providing a further extension of the push and pull of a tangled relationship. As Maria, Tibbetts entices and cajoles to be in Laura’s company for as long as she can be, offering her drink after drink after drink. Schwetye’s Laura is agitated when she realizes she’s been duped into a forced reunion, and aloof when she reluctantly agrees to stay awhile. The only other character is “John”, a man mentioned, briefly heard, but not seen. Maggie Genovese and Anne Genovese provide the original paintings, and Bess Moynihan provides the scenic design of a nicely appointed artist's space featuring Maria's latest piece center stage, and a fountain in front of the stage, functioning practically and symbolically.

With a running time of about an hour, it’s a compelling study of an emancipation of sorts -- humorous and bold, that leaves you considering it in the car on the way home. It’s playing at the Chapel until the 19th.


Laura (Ellie Schwetye) and Maria (Rachel Tibbetts).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell
THE COLOR OF AUGUST

Written by Paloma Pedrero 
Directed by Lucy Cashion 
through August 19 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm
Pay-What-You-Can performances on Thursdays, August 10 and August 17

Cast
(If the coin toss is heads)
Maria: Rachel Tibbetts
Laura: Ellie Schwetye

(If the coin toss is tails)
Maria: Ellie Schwetye
Laura: Rachel Tibbetts

Laura (Ellie Schwetye) and
Maria (Rachel Tibbetts).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell
Creative
Stage Manager: Kristen Strom
Translator: Will Bonfiglio
Dramaturg: Miranda Jagels Félix
Scenic Designer: Bess Moynihan
Lighting Designer: Bess Moynihan
Costume Designer: Liz Henning
Sound Designer: Lucy Cashion
Original Paintings: Maggie Genovese, Anne Genovese
Assistant Lighting Designer: Dominick Ehling
Photography: Joey Rumpell
Graphic Designer: Dottie Quick
Box Office Manager: Kristin Rion

Sunday, August 6, 2017

RAGTIME • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog closes out its season with an excellent production of Terrence McNally’s sweeping musical adaptation, Ragtime. Based on E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, it places us at an intersection between the comfortable lives of suburbia, the disadvantaged lives in Harlem, and the enterprising optimism of newly-arrived immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. The painful growth of 1900's America is illustrated in Ragtime’s rousing prologue, where we are introduced to the ingredients in this uniquely American stew.

The upper-classes are represented by Mother (Kay Love), the matriarch of a well-to-do family living in New Rochelle, New York, that made their money manufacturing fireworks. Mother embraces everyone she meets with an open heart, and Love portrays her with a genteel determination, delivering a stirring ”Back to Before”. Mother’s husband, Father, in a solid performance by Phil Leveling, is a bit of a throwback -- resistant to the changing landscape of the country.

(upper level) Mother’s Younger Brother (Jon Bee),
Tateh (Jeffrey M. Wright), Mother (Kay Love),
Emma Goldman (Laura Kyro),
Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Omega Jones)
and (lower level) The cast of Ragtime.
Photo credit: John Lamb
In Harlem, Ragtime music was catching on, represented by a pianist named Coalhouse Walker, Jr. -- talented and amiable, but defiant in his pursuit of justice. Omega Jones plays him with charisma, style and powerful vocals -- a very impressive performance. Evan Addams, an alumna of the Artists-in-Training program with St. Louis Opera Theatre, makes her Stray Dog debut in a knockout performance as a washerwoman named Sarah, his girlfriend, who is taken in along with her illegitimate child, by Mother. She’s got a gorgeous voice, and adds goose-bump inducing top notes over the big ensemble numbers.

Then there’s Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia, who sells portrait silhouettes on the streets, struggling to make a decent life for himself and his daughter. Jeffrey M. Wright brings a heartfelt resilience to the role, with a lovely rendition of "Gliding”.

The cast of Ragtime.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Strong performances are also counted in the portrayals of the historical figures of the time who are added to the mix, including a provocative Laura Kyro as political activist Emma Goldman, Angela Bubash as the acclaimed model and chorus girl, Evelyn Nesbit, and Terry Lee Watkins, Jr., resolute as educator and civil rights activist, Booker T. Washington. Additionally, there's Chuck Lavazzi as a grumpy Grandfather and a volunteer fire chief, who has a penchant for the “n” word and an envious disdain for Walker and his fancy new car. Joe Webb and Avery Smith, as The Little Boy and The Little Girl respectively, also turn in great performances.

Mother (Kay Love) and Sarah (Evan Addams).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Justin Been directs Stray Dog’s huge cast of 26 smoothly and smartly, and the staging, along with sharp choreography by Mike Hodges, clarify the boundaries between these groups clearly. There are no weak links among the energetic ensemble, and the band, under the direction of Jennifer Buchheit, does a fine job with the infectious Tony-Award winning score (music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens). Eileen Engel provides the show with first-rate costume design, and David Blake’s striking scenic design of symmetrical iron railings handsomely frames the action.

There’s practically nothing to dislike about this production, and the friction between these bedrock groups of America ring with resonance today, but luckily, so does the resolve. The lyrics of Lynn Ahrens sum it all up beautifully:
“The sound of distant thunder
Suddenly starting to climb...

It was the music
Of something beginning,
An era exploding,
A century spinning
In riches and rags,
And in rhythm and rhyme.
The people called it Ragtime...”

Don’t miss it. It’s playing until the 19th.

Incidentals
• If you’re not moved by the end of the first act closer, "Till We Reach That Day”, there may very well be something wrong with you.

Henry Ford (Jason Meyers) and
Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Omega Jones).
Photo credit: John Lamb
• There's a great little number in there that pays tribute to the favorite sport of the day, baseball. The male ensemble is a hoot.


RAGTIME

Book by Terrence McNally 
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through August 19 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Additional performances 8pm Wednesday, August 16 and 2pm Saturday, August 19

Cast
The Little Boy: Joe Webb
Father: Phil Leveling
Mother: Kay Love
Mother’s Younger Brother: Jon Bee
Grandfather: Chuck Lavazzi
Coalhouse Walker, Jr.: Omega Jones
Sarah: Evan Addams
Booker T. Washington: Terry Lee Watkins, Jr.
Tateh: Jeffrey M. Wright
The Little Girl: Avery Smith
Harry Houdini: Joseph Gutowski
JP Morgan: Gerry Love
Henry Ford: Jason Meyers
Emma Goldman: Laura Kyro
Evelyn Nesbit: Angela Bubash
Sarah’s Friend: Ebony Easter

Ensemble
Jackson Buhr
Jennifer Clodi
Chris Gauss
Melissa Sharon Harris
William Humphrey
Caleb Long
Dorrian Neymour
Kevin O’Brien
Belinda Quimby
Chrissie Watkins

Creative
Dramaturge: Sarajane Alverson
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Scenic Designer: David Blake
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Costume Designer: Eileen Engel
Choreographer: Mike Hodges
Production Manager: Robert M. Kapeller

The Band
Clarinet: Kelly Austermann
Piano 3: Mike Blackwood
Music Director/Piano 2: Jennifer Buchheit
Violin: Mallory Golden
Piano 1: Chris Petersen
Trumpet: John Reichert
Percussion: Joe Winters

Monday, July 10, 2017

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL I • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The fifth annual LaBute New Theater Festival has chosen five finalists to debut this year, along with five high school finalists that were presented as stage readings this past Saturday. The festival’s namesake, Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute, has once again written a play specifically for the festival that will be presented every night of the run. The first of two sets of plays will run until the 16th, and they share a contemporary, political tinge.

LaBute’s Hate Crime gives us a peek into the lives of two lovers plotting a murder to collect on an insurance claim. Greg Hunsaker goes over the details of his planned method with his lover, played by Chauncy Thomas. He intends to make the deed look like a hate crime, and Thomas seems resolved with the plans, even though there's a twist involved.
Greg Hunsaker and Chauncy Thomas.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Hunsaker’s crafting of a murder with the goal of making it look like a hate crime is creepy enough, without Thomas’s hot-and-cold vibe that makes you doubt his own motives in a piece that’s unexpectedly over before you know it.

In Waiting for the Erie Lackawanna by Ron Radice, three guys toting briefcases are on a platform waiting for their train. One, played wonderfully by Ryan Lawson-Maeske, is on his way to a job interview. An insignificant elbow nudge puts him in the middle, literally and figuratively, as the two other guys (Spencer Sickmann and Reggie Pierre) take turns bad-mouthing each other and throwing suspicion on the other’s character. Small trespasses become major breaches of decency in a dual-pronged gaslighting. There’s also quite a bit of briefcase switching going on. Radice’s absurdist play gets a little meandering, but Sickmann and Pierre’s exaggerated performance plays well to the tone of it.

Spencer Sickmann, Ryan Lawson-Maeske and Reggie Pierre.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Sacred Space, by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, begins with two women, Sophia Brown and Kim Furlow, preparing for a Tahara -- a purification ritual to ready a body for Jewish burial. It’s the morning after the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, and the tragedy is troubling the minds of them both. Just as the cleansing begins, a text from one of the shooting victims appears against the wall. They think they’re hallucinating at first, but after the texts are joined by the texts from the mother of the victim, they decide that maybe just this once, they can interrupt the rules of tradition to help more than one soul receive peace. Peppered with humor and well executed by Brown and Furlow, Sacred Space offers an ode to the victims of the shooting that dominated the news just over a year ago.

Sophia Brown and Kim Furlow.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
In Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis, drilling down to find the truth in an everyday news story is equal to foreplay. After the initial clumsiness of a first date between two D.C. residents, played by Nancy Bell and Thomas, they decide to try something new and “kinky”. They spend the rest of their date analyzing a breaking headline story. Researching online, making phone calls and listening to the news, they try their best to strip away all the layers of hype to find the truth, as Kelly Schaschl delivers the flurry of newscast soundbites. The idea of truth-seeking as a turn on is an interesting idea, and well played by the cast, but it loses a little steam once the premise is set. Those political threads run most strongly through this one.

Nancy Bell and Chauncy Thomas.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
The directors do skillful work with the scripts they are given, but a couple of the plays seem incomplete, coming off more as a running commentary on the current climate, as the question of whom to believe and what sources to trust has become a slippery business. The second set of one-acts will start July 21 and run through July 30.

Incidentals
• In the past couple of years, some finalists of the festival have enjoyed New York premieres at 59E59 Theaters, an off-Broadway spot in Midtown Manhattan. It’s a great opportunity for the playwrights, and great exposure for St. Louis Actors’ Studio.


LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL

The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through July 30 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Hate Crime by Neil LaBute • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Chauncy Thomas*
Greg Hunsaker

Finalists
Set One (July 7-16):

Waiting for the Erie Lackawanna by Ron Radice, Andover, MA • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Spencer Sickmann
Reggie Pierre
Ryan Lawson-Maeske

Sacred Space by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, Needham, MA  • Directed by Nancy Bell*
Cast
Sophia Brown
Kim Furlow
The Deceased: Kelly Robertson

Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis, St. Louis, MO • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast
Chauncy Thomas*
Nancy Bell*
Kelly Schaschl
Voice of Friend #1 Lindsey Steinkamp
Voice of Friend #2 Isabella Koster

Finalists
Set Two (July 21 – July 30):

How’s Bruno by Cary Pepper, San Francisco, CA • Directed by Nancy Bell*
Cast
Chauncy Thomas*
Ryan Lawson-Maeske
Reggie Pierre
Spencer Sickmann

Sin Titulo by Tearrance Chisholm, St. Louis, MO • Directed by Linda Kennedy*
Cast
Patrice Foster
Reggie Pierre
Jaz Tucker

High School Finalists
Saturday Morning Stage Readings (Free admission July 8 @ 11am):
Directed by Edward Ibur

Depths of Hell by Erica O’Brien, Webster Groves High School

Five Things I Wish My Mother Never Told Me by Cicely Henderson, Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts

24th December by Ella Schmidt, John Burroughs School

10 Steps to A Good Life by Ella Genovese, Nerinx Hall

Dessert in the Desert by Danielle Goldberg, Parkway High School

Cast
Mara Sudekum
Laurel Button
Max Rodhouse
Dahlia Haddad
Peter Mayer*
Nancy Bell*
Spencer Sickmann

Creative
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige
Assistant Stage Manager: Phoebe Sklansky
Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designers: John Pierson, Nancy Bell and Linda Kennedy
Technical Director: Joseph Novak
Costume Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Props Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Light Board Operator: Carla Landis Evans and Sally Liz Evans
Sound/Projection Operator: Amy J. Paige
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
Stagehands: Kelly Robertson and Phoebe Sklansky
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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