Thursday, July 14, 2016

GREY GARDENS • Max & Louie Productions

In 1975, a documentary by Albert and David Maysles related the story of two cloistered, interdependent, eccentric residents living in a wealthy East Hampton neighborhood. After years of prosperity, the ocean of money slowed to a trickle for Edith "Big Edie" Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale (the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), yet they persevered within the walls of a dilapidated, 28-room mansion named Grey Gardens. Though this once glorious, now filth-ridden estate had become overrun with cats, raccoons, fleas (the filmmakers had to wear flea collars), and had practically no running water, Big and Little Edie remained there, in secluded squalor, for over 50 years. The film won acclaim for its “direct cinema” styled rendering of these two fascinating women, and in 2006, this material was adapted into a musical by Doug Wright (book), Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics). Max & Louie Productions seems to have gotten all of the right people in all of the right places to make this St. Louis premiere soar.

Having fallen in love with the documentary years ago, I think it’s safe to suggest that your enjoyment of the show will be enhanced by having a familiarity with the original film. So, you know, click here for that. 

Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon)
and Little Edie (Madeline Purches).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
After a short prologue, the first act gives us a fictional glimpse into the well-heeled life of the Beales in Grey Gardens’ heyday. It’s 1941 and the Long Island manor is buzzing with activity, getting ready for an extravagant celebration of the engagement of Little Edie (Madeline Purches) to Joseph Kennedy Jr. (Will Bonfiglio), and Big Edie (Debby Lennon) is heading the preparations -- ordering the set-up of chafing dishes, the chilling of vichyssoise and the preening of privets. It soon becomes clear that Lennon and Purches couldn’t have been better cast. This potent duo have impressive vocal chops, and, under Annamaria Pileggi's outstanding direction, depict all of the tricky intricacies of their relationship and mannerisms early on that carry over to the second act credibly and beautifully -- Lennon’s transformation is amazing, and Purches gives you just a hint of instability under a poised exterior.

Little Edie (Madeline Purches),
Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon)
and George Gould Strong (Terry Meddows)
in the background.
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Terry Meddows is also on hand as George Gould Strong, Big Edie's kept, gay piano accompanist, who plays referee between the women when Little Edie begs her mom to hew down the number of songs she plans to sing at the gathering, feeding her hunger for the limelight and long-held aspirations of a career in show business. Tom Murray is strong as Big Edie’s imperious father, "Major" Bouvier, and Bonfiglio does some great work as the cautious but enthusiastic groom-to-be. Omega Jones is solid as the starched butler, Brooks Sr., and there are delightful appearances from Carter Eiseman and Phoebe Desilets as the young pair, Lee Bouvier and Jacqueline Bouvier, respectively, interrupting the preparations by begging their aunt Edith to entertain them with a song. A fateful telegram upends the festivities, and that sets up the second act.

Speaking of the second act, there’s a neat trick here -- Little Edie is now played by Lennon -- the first act’s Big Edie, and Big Edie is portrayed by an unyielding Donna Weinsting. Now thirty-two years later, the second act closely mirrors the documentary. Big Edie is now practically bed-ridden, but Weinsting plays her with that same feisty core, now weighed down by the frailties that come with age, while Lennon portrays Little Edie with her eccentricities now full-blown. Despite their poverty, the unabashed quirkiness and poignantly forlorn world of the Beales begs you to laugh with them, as opposed to at them.

“Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Jerry (Will Bonfiglio).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Omega Jones who plays the butler in the first act carries over nicely as the easier-going groundskeeper, Brooks Jr. in the second. Bonfiglio also makes a skillful transition from Joe Kennedy Jr. to the Beale’s good-natured layabout handyman, Jerry. Jennifer JC Krajicek’s costumes are spot on, as is Dunsi Dai’s scenic design and Michael Sullivan’s evocative lighting design. Dialect coach Ariel Saul keeps everyone in that distinct Northeastern tone, and the orchestra, under the direction of Neal Richardson, sounds bigger than it is. It's obvious that director Annamaria Pileggi gets this play, extending those silent beats to get the most out of the mounting tensions that hint at the moments to come, along with memorable performances from her talented cast. The numbers "The Five-Fifteen,” "Peas in a Pod,” a foreboding “Will You?,” the wonderfully barefaced "The Revolutionary Costume for Today" (the documentary lovers will adore the reference 'S-T-A-U-N-C-H'), and a haunting "Another Winter in a Summer Town" are standouts.

Jerry (Will Bonfiglio), “Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Little Edie (Debby Lennon).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Get tickets, and go see it now. As Little Edie would say, it’s absolutely terrific, honestly.


GREY GARDENS

Book by Doug Wright, based on the 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through July 30 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Saturday July 30, 2pm & 8pm

Brooks Sr. (Omega Jones), Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon),
Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier (Phoebe Desalts),
Lee Bouvier (Carter Eiseman)
and George Gould Strong (Terry Meddows).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Cast
“Little” Edie Beale/Edith Bouvier Beale: Debby Lennon*
"Big" Edith Bouvier Beale: Donna Weinsting 
Young "Little" Edie Beale: Madeline Purches
Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr./Jerry: Will Bonfiglio 
J.V. "Major" Bouvier/Norman Vincent Peale: Tom Murray*
George Gould Strong: Terry Meddows* 
Brooks Sr./Brooks Jr.: Omega Jones
Lee Bouvier: Carter Eiseman
Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier: Phoebe Desilets

“Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Little Edie (Debby Lennon).

Creative
Assistant Director: Anna Richards
Choreographer: Robin Berger
Stage Manager: Claire Stark
Assistant Stage Manager: Kristen Strom
Set Designer: Dunsi Dai
Lighting Designer: Michael Sullivan
Sound Designer: Casey Hunter
Costume Designer: Jennifer JC Krajicek
Wardrobe Head/Wig Master: Emma Bruntrager
Props Designer: Claudia Horn
Dialect Coach: Ariel Saul
Technical Director: Brian Connor
Assistant Technical Director: Martin Moran
Production Manager: Bess Moynihan
Master Electrician: Nathan Schroeder
Lighting Technician: Scott Russell McDonald
Run Crew: Traci Clapper
Run Crew: Wilson Webel
Run Crew: Jimmy Bernatowicz
Lighting Board Operator: Jason Boes
The real life Big and Little Edie Beale.
Managing Director: De Kaplan
Producer/Artistic Director: Stellie Siteman
Program Design: Jen Schmitz

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

Musicians
Musical Director/Pianist: Neal Richardson
Cello Player: Ethan Edwards
Violinist: Kyle Twomey

Sunday, July 3, 2016

COMPANY • Insight Theatre Company

When Company opened in 1970, it was considered a “concept musical.” Abandoning a linear narrative, its vignettes center around a milestone birthday for Robert, a single guy living in New York city. Bobby, as his friends call him, is the favorite third wheel among his "good and crazy" married friends, and though he extols the virtues of the single life (much to the envy of his male buddies), the attempts to set him up with a nice girl to settle down with, the frustrations of the women he's dating, and the reflections that always come with turning a year older, shake the comfort of his bachelor status.

Full disclosure -- I think Stephen Sondheim is a genius. His sharp lyrics, counterpoint melodies and tight harmonies are no joke, and tricky to pull off. Under Doug Finlayson’s direction, Insight Theatre Company’s production has some blemishes, but comes close to hitting this one out of the park.

Martin Fox and the cast of Insight Theatre Company’s Company
Photo credit: John Lamb
Playing out on Peter and Margery Spack’s slick set, Bobby is about to turn 35 and his married friends are throwing him a surprise party. Martin Fox is solid as the amiable bachelor, and does a wonderful job with "Someone Is Waiting.” The passively-aggressive couple Sarah (Meghan Baker) and Harry (Phil Leveling) are the first of his married friends we meet, with one trying not to consume carbs and the other trying not to drink. Jonathan Hey and Cherlynn Alvarez are convincing as David and his “square” wife Jenny, inviting Bobby over for a little stoner action, and Cole Gutman and Taylor Pietz are the oddly matched Peter, metropolitan and curious, and Southern charmer, Susan. Matt Pentecost is loving and attentive as Paul, and Stephanie Long is quite funny as his reluctant bride-to-be, Amy, and she nails Sondheim’s clever patter song "Getting Married Today,” though some of the lines in the higher register during the number are difficult to understand. This audio problem also plagued the trio of Bobby’s girlfriends, Bailey Reeves as the simple-minded stewardess April, Melissa Gerth as Kathy, the one who got away, and Samantha Irene as the free-spirited Marta in their number, "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." Laurie McConnell and Michael Brightman are jaded couple Joanne and Larry, and McConnell’s performance is a standout, particularly her rendition of one of the most recognizable songs in the score, "The Ladies Who Lunch.”

Martin Fox and the cast of Insight Theatre Company’s Company
Photo credit: John Lamb
Seeing Bobby come face-to-face with an existential crisis of sorts, weighing the pros and cons of married life through his friends, is warmly gratifying, and originally mounted during a time when such things weren’t really examined in musicals of the day. The play is firmly set in the 70’s but the opening number has Bobby checking his messages on a cell phone. A small quibble, but it threw me a little. Still, it’s well worth checking out this Sondheim classic -- you’ve got one more chance!


COMPANY

Book by George Furth
Music/Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim 
Directed by Doug Finlayson
Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Ave.
through July 3 | tickets: $10 - $35
Performances Sunday at 2pm

Cast
Robert: Martin Fox
Harry: Phil Leveling
Sarah: Meghan Baker
David: Jonathan Hey
Jenny: Cherlynn Alvarez
Peter: Cole Gutman
Susan: Taylor Pietz
Paul: Matt Pentecost
Amy: Stephanie Long*
Larry: Michael Brightman
Joanne: Laurie McConnell*
April: Bailey Reeves
Kathy: Melissa Gerth*
Marta: Samantha Irene

Creative
Stage Manager: Savannah Throop
Technical Direction: Joshua Noll
Musical Direction: Catherine Edwards Kopff
Scenic Designer and Scenic Painter: Peter Spack
Lighting Design: David Blake
Scenic Designer and Props Master: Margery Spack
Costume Design: Laura Hanson
Sound Design: Brett Harness
Choreography: Melissa Gerth

Orchestra
Piano/Conductor: Catherine Edwards Kopff*
Trumpet: Dan Smith
Reeds: Rebecca Parisi
Bass: Guy Cantonwine
Percussion: Adam Kopff*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States and American Federation of Musicians Local 2-197

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ATOMIC • New Line Theatre

The origins of the atomic bomb don’t initially sound like your typical musical theatre fare. But Danny Ginges and Philip Foxman’s Australian import about the unleashing of the world’s first nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII, along with the lead up to it, provide plenty of cloudy emotional fallout, and in that respect, it’s right up New Line’s alley. Spanning a period of time from the 1930’s to the end of the 50’s, this story looks at the moral complications that come with creating of a weapon of annihilation -- born from science, but ending with massive human casualties, and heavy consciouses.

Zachary Allen Farmer, in an imposing and compassionate performance, is Hungarian born Jewish physicist Leo Szilard, who flees Germany to escape the looming shadow of Hitler’s Nazis. After winding up in America with his long-time girlfriend Trude (Ann Hier, impressive in a juicy role), he meets and collaborates with other brilliant physicists in a World War II arms race. A passionate Reynaldo Arceno is Nobel Prize-winning Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, Sean Michael gives a strong performance as the obnoxious “father of the hydrogen bomb,” Edward Teller, and a fittingly harsh General Groves.
(l-r) Victoria Valentine, Reynaldo Arceno,
Ryan Scott Foizey, Sean Michael, Jeffrey M. Wright,
and Larssia White, singing "Little Fire,"
in New Line Theatre's ATOMIC.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
Larissa White is the confidently capable American physicist Leona Woods, and Jeffrey M. Wright plays Robert Oppenheimer with cocky assurance, as well as Paul Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay -- dropping “Little Boy,” the first of two atomic bombs. Ryan Scott Foizey’s boldly devoted performance as American physicist Arthur Compton bridges the divide between the physicists and the military, with Victoria Valentine, very capable in multiple roles.

New Line’s directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy keep the play running smoothly with the action running down the middle of Rob Lippert’s set, with audience members on either side. Sarah Porter’s period costume design hits the mark, with sound design by Benjamin Rosemann and lighting design by Lippert. Under the musical direction of Jeffrey Richard Carter, the band  effectively handles the score of this driving rock musical, with the stirring “Greater Battle,” and “World of Gray” being standout numbers.

Zachary Allen Farmer as Leo Szilard
and Ann Hier as Trude Weiss.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
Atomic is still early in its life, only having had a handful of stagings after an off-Broadway run a couple of years ago, and though New Line’s run is over, it’s exciting to know that contemporary shows like this are being produced right in our own backyards.


ATOMIC

Book/lyrics by Danny Ginges 
Music/lyrics by Philip Foxman
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive 
Run concluded | tickets: $10 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Cast
Leo Szilard: Zachary Allen Farmer
Trude Weiss: Ann Hier
Enrico Fermi: Reynaldo Arceno
Arthur Compton: Ryan Scott Foizey
Edward Teller/General Groves: Sean Michael
Larissa White, Victoria Valentine, and Ann Hier.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
Physicist/Bartender/Factory Girl: Victoria Valentine
Leona Woods: Larissa White
J. Robert Oppenheimer/Paul Tibbets: Jeffrey M. Wright

Creative
Music Director: Jeffrey Richard Carter
Stage Manager/Lighting Technician: Michael Juncal
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Props Master: Kimi Short
Scenic Artists: Patrick Donnigan, Gary Karasek, Melanie Kozak and Kate Wilkerson
Nuclear Physics Consultant: Kathleen Dwyer
Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Videographer: Kyle Jeffrey Studios
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Jeffrey M. Wright as Paul Tibbets and
Zachary Allen Farmer as Leo Szilard.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Jeffrey Richard Carter
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Guitar/Keyboard: Adam Rugo
Cello: Eric Bateman
Bass: Jake Stergos
Violin: Twinda Murry
Percussion: Clancy Newell

Friday, June 17, 2016

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Royal nuptials, a romantic mis-match, an amateur theatre troupe, and a band of mischievous fairies in an enchanted wood. What could happen, right? You’ll find out in Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’s delightful production of one of the Bard’s most accessible comedies, happening now in Forest Park, and it’s got all of the elements to entertain folks of all ages.

The action is connected through the imminent wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens (Paul Cereghino) and Amazonian Queen, Hippolyta (Jacqueline Thompson), along with a pair of mixed up kids in love. And not in love. Hermia loves Lysander, but an arrangement has already been made promising her to Demetrius. Hermia couldn’t care less about Demetrius, but her bff Helena has eyes only for him. What a hot mess.

Meanwhile in the woods outside Athens, the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon (Timothy Carter) and Titania (Nancy Anderson) are having a little spat of their own.
 Oberon (Timothy Carter)
and Titania (Nancy Anderson).
Photo credit: J. David Levy
To get some revenge, Oberon sends his “knavish sprite" Puck, here played by twins, Austin Glen Jacobs and Ryan Alexander Jacobs, off on a quest. Puck’s mission is to find a flower called love-in-idleness and apply the nectar of it to the eyelids of a sleeping Titania, that will cause her to fall for the first creature she sees when she wakes up. Having overheard the plight of the pair of lovers, Oberon also instructs Puck to give them a helping hand with a little love juice for Demetrius as well to smooth things out. Then we have our crew of actors, also in the woods, rehearsing a play for the royal wedding of the Duke and the Queen. Not only does Puck apply the juice of the flower to the wrong guy, he also goes rogue and transforms the head of Bottom (Stephen Pilkington), the most ardent of the actors, into the head of a donkey. Hilarity ensues.

There’s a nifty illustrated guide provided by the Post-Dispatch that lays everything out here -- it’s also posted near the entrance of Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park, where SFSL’s plays are performed.

Artistic and executive director of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Rick Dildine, also directs the play, written sometime between 1590 and 1597, and keeps all of the action of this delectable comedy dancing along at a nice clip and easy to follow. The production features an agile cast, with Rachel Christopher as Helena and Cassia Thompson as Hermia providing a great dose of physical comedy.
Oberon (top/Timothy Carter), Lysander (Justin Blanchard),
Demetrius (Peter Winfrey), Hermia (Cassia Thompson)
and Helena (Rachel Christopher).
Photo credit: J. David Levy
The charismatic Carter and Anderson as Oberon and Titania are also standouts. Scott Neale’s multi-leveled set of doors, lamps and trees, set off with beautiful lighting design by John Wylie and Rusty Wandall’s sound design, make this an evening not to be missed, not to mention striking costumes by Dottie Englis and original scoring by Brien Seyle and Matt Pace, and songs by Peter Mark Kendall. Grab your blankets, stock up your picnic baskets, and head to the park!


A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rick Dildine
Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park
through June 26 | tickets: FREE; Premium seating: $20
Performances nightly at 8pm, except Tuesdays; 6:30pm Green Show

The fairies begin to tie up Bottom (Stephen Pilkington)
after Titania (Nancy Anderson) falls in love with him.
Photo credit: J. David Levy
Cast
Titania: Nancy Anderson*
Cobweb: Myke Andrews
Lysander: Justin Blanchard*
Oberon: Timothy Carter*
Theseus: Paul Cereghino
Helena: Rachel Christopher*
Peaseblossom: Gabriela Diaz
Mustardseed: Raina Houston
Puck: Austin Glen Jacobs
Puck: Ryan Alexander Jacobs
Snug/Lion: Alan Knoll*
Snout/Wall: Reginald Pierre
Bottom: Stephen Pilkington*
Peter Quince: Michael Propster*
Egeus: Whit Reichert*
Flute/Thisby: Jay Stalder
Hermia: Cassia Thompson
Hippolyta: Jacqueline Thompson
Starvling: Jerry Vogel*
Philostrate/Moth: Ben Watts
Demetrius: Peter Winfrey


Puck (Ryan Jacobs).
Photo credit: J. David Levy
Creative
Scenic Designer: Scott Neale
Costume Designer: Dottie Englis
Lighting Designer: John Wylie
Sound Design: Rusty Wandall
Original Score, Composer: Brien Seyle/Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra
Original Score, Music Director: Matt Pace/Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra
Original Songs: Peter Mark Kendall
Voice and Text Coach: Suzanne Mills

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

BROKEN BONE BATHTUB • That Uppity Theatre Company & The Drama Club Stl

Siobhan, in a cast after injuring her hand in a bicycle accident in Brooklyn, finds taking showers too cumbersome, so she’s been taking baths in the houses of friends, and in this uniquely intimate production, you are among those friends. That Uppity Theatre Company and The Drama Club Stl have come together to present a St. Louis premiere, created and performed by Siobhan O’Loughlin, that dares to get to the crux of what theatre’s all about. Not an escape, but a connection.

Siobhan O’Loughlin

Soaking in a bathtub, O’Loughlin tells you about her recent accident that happened on a cold, slick bike path. Along the way, she gets you to tell her your stories -- and that’s where the heart of this play rests. When you’re injured, physically or emotionally, sometimes you need a group of open-hearts around you for comfort. This is where a snug group of audience members come into play, providing a close mesh. O’Loughlin is a socially conscious sort -- using her bike for transportation and composting vegetables. But she’s more willing to open up about herself when she’s temporarily disabled to a degree after her spill, and wants to know about your scrapes with vulnerability.

Sit up close, and you might be called upon to answer a question or two, but O’Loughlin is easy to listen to, and open up to, and also unobtrusively adept at steering the narrative back to the story. Whether she needs you to wash her back, or assist her in a quick shampoo, a safe, open vibe is quickly acquired among the participants. The need to ask for help tends to bring people together, and that’s the magic that lies underneath this piece.

Photo credit: Kimberly N.
Kudos to Joan Lipkin, artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company, Matthew R. Kerns, founder of The Drama Club Stl and the new executive director of the St. Lou Fringe Festival, and not least, Siobhan O’Loughlin, for bringing us a different kind of play. With a running time of around an hour and 15 minutes, if you’re up for a satisfyingly cathartic experience that expands upon what it is to see a play, this one should not be missed. You can check out a trailer for the show here.


BROKEN BONE BATHTUB

Created and performed by Siobhan O’Loughlin 
Thursday performances will be set in bathtubs of private homes
throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. Friday, Saturday,
and Sunday performances will be held at the historic Lemp
Mansion at 3322 DeMenil Place
through June 26 | tickets: $25 - $45
To make reservations for a Thursday performance, contact
Matthew Kerns at thedramaclubstl@gmail.com. Please email
Matthew the date of the performance you would like to attend,
along with your return phone number.
To make reservations for a Friday-Sunday performance, call
314-664-8024
Performances Thursdays at 7pm and 9pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and 9:30pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast
Siobhan O’Loughlin

Thursday, June 2, 2016

YENTL • The New Jewish Theatre

This is not your aba’s Yentl. Probably most closely associated with the 1983 vanity project movie musical -- directed, co-written, co-produced, and starring Barbra Streisand, this version is not that. This adaptation, like the film, is based on Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s 1975 play, but supplemented with original songs by singer-songwriter, Jill Sobule (“I Kissed a Girl”). The result is a modernized rendering that complements the original story with contemporary hues.

Yentl (Shanara Gabrielle) feels choked by her restrictive shtetl in late 1800’s Poland. To the dismay of her father (Terry Meddows), Yentl values learning and the study of the Talmud over “girl things” like cooking and working on finding a husband, but intellectual pursuits of religious texts were forbidden for women. Yentl wasn’t even allowed to say Kaddish for her father’s funeral, not that that stopped her. Gabrielle plays the title character with full range, delivering the more heartfelt of Sobule’s songs with honest appeal. To quench her thirst for knowledge, Yentl dresses as a man and calls herself Anshel to attend a Yeshiva in Bechev. She quickly becomes friends with Avigdor (Andrew Michael Neiman), a bright fellow student who’s been recently dumped by his ex-fiancee, the town’s local beauty, Hadass (Taylor Steward). Yentl finds herself attracted to both. The “platonic-plus” attraction between Yentl and Avigdor is palpable, but never really addressed, and Neiman relays his character’s love for his friend with a subtle thread of conflict that plays wonderfully. The attraction Hadass feels for Yentl is softly delivered in Steward’s performance while she anxiously watches Yentl eat, or enjoys deeper conversations that are usually off-limits, never realizing at the time that she's disguised as a man.

(Yentl) Shanara Gabrielle and (Avigdor) Andrew Michael Neiman.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Sobule’s score includes incidental klezmer music that adds a nice touch, humorously contemporary songs (I Hate Girl Things) that tug the story into more modern times, and a “My Sister, My Bride” theme that makes a pleasant reprise. Other numbers are light and less memorable, but are executed with zest by the cast of eleven. The play is bolstered by its supporting members -- Peggy Billo as the uncompromising mother of Hadass, Frumka, Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Pesha, Avigdor’s commerce-savvy wife, along with Amy Loui, Will Bonfiglio, Brendan Ochs, Luke Steingruby and Jack Zanger -- all in multiple roles, elevating the play with solid performances. Scenic designers Peter and Margery Spack provide a lovely set of stucco, slanted rooftops and a countryside backdrop, with a comfy atmosphere courtesy of Seth Jackson’s lights and Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes. The musicians, perched overhead in a corner of the house, execute the score agreeably under the direction of Charlie Mueller.

Hadass (Taylor Steward) and Yentl (Shanara Gabrielle).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Closing out The New Jewish Theatre’s 19th season, this play with music is a well executed examination of whom you love and why you love, tucked within an old story. Only a couple more opportunities to check it out.


YENTL

Written by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer 
Music/lyrics by Jill Sobule
Directed by Edward Coffield
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through June 5 | tickets: $39.50 - $43.50
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday the 15th at 2pm & 7:30pm

Peggy Billo, Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Amy Loui
and Taylor Steward.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Cast
Yentl: Shanara Gabrielle*
Avigdor: Andrew Michael Neiman*
Reb Todrus, Alter Vishgower (and others): Terry Meddows*
Hadass (and others): Taylor Steward
Frumka (and others): Peggy Billo*
Pesha (and others): Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Rivkeh, Yancha (and others): Amy Loui*
Sheftel (and others): Will Bonfiglio
Nata, Shmuel (and others): Brendan Ochs
Rabbi (and others): Luke Steingruby
Zelig (and others): Jack Zanger

 Back row -Will Bonfigio, Terry Meddows, Brendan Ochs,
Luke Steingruby, Amy Loui: front – Jennifer Theby-Quinn,
Taylor Steward, Jack Zanger, Peggy Billo.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Creative
Music Director: Charlie Mueller
Stage Manager: Mary Jane Probst*
Choreographer: Ellen Isom
Scenic Design and Art: Peter and Margery Spack
Lighting Designer: Seth Jackson
Costume Designer: Michele Friedman Siler
Properties Design: Margery Spack
Sound Design: Amanda Werre
Master Electrician: Nathan Schroeder
Board Operators: Jason Boes and Justin Smith
Assistant Stage Manager: Brendan Woods
Assistant Director: Gio Bukunawa
Wardrobe: Katie Donovan and Ricki Pettinato
Wig Designer: Cristy Sifford

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

Musicians
Guitar: Aaron Doerr
Bass: Adam Anello
Clarinet: Dana Hotle

Sunday, May 15, 2016

THE TWO CHARACTER PLAY • The Midnight Company

“The Two Character Play,” one of the many offerings during this year’s inaugural Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, is one of Williams’s later works, and performed in The Learning Center on Westminster Place, formerly known as the Wednesday Club. In the late 1930’s, the Wednesday Club's stage was the home of the Mummers of St. Louis theatre troupe, where a few of Tennessee’s early plays were debuted. It’s poignantly fitting that this play is performed in this creaky old house, where Williams found his beginnings.

Felice (Joe Hanrahan) and Clare (Michelle Hand) are siblings and actors, preparing to perform one of Felice’s own works to, possibly, an audience, in a run-down theatre in a nowhere town. Abandoned by their company, with no home except for the theatre, it doesn’t take long to see signs of damage between these two. Their ex-colleagues called them “insane.” After Felice goes through what seems like a long-practiced ritual of preparing his sister for a performance, the play-within-the-play begins -- about a dysfunctional brother and sister, no less. In the play’s play, the siblings are survivors of a shared childhood trauma that leaves them constantly on a precipice, where the prospect of just leaving their house brings on a burden of apprehension. In some of the humorous moments that are sprinkled throughout, their characters’ lines are forgotten and improvised, and aside from a southern dialect put on for the “performance,” the line between the characters’ plight and the actors’ realities is razor thin to the point of invisibility, with looming shadows left by a confined, stress, drug, and alcohol-addled existence.

Clare (Michelle Hand).
Photo credit: Ride Hamilton
Experimental for its time and 20-plus years after Tennessee Williams's better known works, “The Two Character Play,” earlier known as “Out Cry,” is considered another one of his highly personal compositions, and it couldn’t be in better hands than those of Hanrahan and Hand. With tone perfect direction by Sarah Whitney, these two bring out the strands of humor balanced with the weight of heavier notes, where the lines of “laughing at” and “laughing with” are successfully, clearly, and uncomfortably drawn. Mark Wilson’s scenic design is authentically appointed with a random feel that suits the play. Wilson also contributes an evocative lighting design, with sound design by Jimmy Bernatowicz and costume design by Liz Henning.

Don’t look for a neat bow at the end of this one, but do enjoy top-notch performances in a properly worn space uniquely tied to its playwright. And do it soon -- the Festival (sadly) ends today (Sunday). 3pm performance, so get your tickets this very minute!

Clare (Michelle Hand) and Felice (Joe Hanrahan).
Photo credit: Ride Hamilton
*UPDATE*
The Midnight Company will extend the run of its production of THE TWO-CHARACTER PLAY, which just played Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis.
May 27 & 28, and June 3 & 4, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Winter Opera St. Louis, 2322 Marconi, 63110, on The Hill 
Tickets $15 through BrownPaperTickets.com

Seating Very Limited Reservations Strongly Recommended


THE TWO CHARACTER PLAY

Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Sarah Whitney
The Learning Center (Formerly the Wednesday Club), 4504 Westminster Place (*Winter Opera St. Louis, 2322 Marconi, 63110, on The Hill)
through May 15 (*extended to June 4) | tickets: $23.50 (*$15)
Performances Friday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm

Cast
Felice: Joe Hanrahan
Clare: Michelle Hand

Creative
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Mark Wilson
Stage Manager and Costume Designer: Liz Henning
Sound Designer and Assistant Stage Manager: Jimmy Bernatowicz

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