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.

Friday, April 10, 2015

THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD • Stray Dog Theatre

About the only thing better than a whodunit is one that allows the audience to choose the culprit. Add in a nifty conceit of some play-within-a-play action, and you've got Stray Dog's impressive current offering, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", written in 1985 by singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes. This Tony Award-winning musical was inspired by the last unfinished novel of Charles Dickens, who died suddenly from a stroke in 1870, leaving the mystery unsolved. Holmes retooled the novel, setting it in an English music hall where the company's actors play the characters from the story, and left it to the audience to decide the outcome.

Stray Dog's space at Tower Grove Abbey is transformed into the boisterous Music Hall Royale, buzzing with pre-show activity thanks to the incredibly engaging and hard-working ensemble members. After our M.C. for the evening, the Chairman (a winning Gerry Love), welcomes us, he sets the stage, introducing us to his group of rather self-centered actors and the characters they will play, along with Edwin Drood himself, played by famed male impersonator, Alice Nutting (a robustly-voiced Heather Matthews). Joining Matthews in the strong pipes department is Eileen Engel, who not only adds a lovely voice to Drood's love interest, Rosa Bud, but also supplies the splendid costumes.

Gerry Love (Mr. William Cartwright, Chairman) and cast.
Photo credit: John Lamb
The unstoppable Lavonne Byers plays the Princess Puffer, the proprietor of an opium den, whose number, "The Wages of Sin" was a highlight. Her establishment is frequented by John Jasper, the local choirmaster, opium fiend and Drood's uncle, maniacally played by Zachary Stefaniak, who also provides the marvelous choreography -- no small feat considering the size of the cast. Then there are the Landless twins, recently orphaned and emigrated from Ceylon. Kimberly Still is fun to watch as Helena Landless, throwing comically exaggerated glances to the audience every time her name is mentioned, with Kelvin Urday playing her hot-tempered brother, Neville.
Lavonne Byers (The Princess Puffer).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Michael Juncal as the Stage Manager is also one worth keeping your eye on -- usually off to the side but constantly absorbed, and while Patrick Kelly is delightful as the Reverend Crisparkle, Michael A. Wells shines, lending his superb vocals and charm to poor old Bazzard, yearning for his moment in the spotlight. The murderer, as well as the identity of Detective Dick Datchery and the identities of a romantic pairing, requires cast members to be on their toes, as there are several versions of the confession depending on how the vote turns out. The night I went, Princess Puffer was chosen as the murderer, with Bazzard as Dick Datchery and Helena and the Deputy (Kevin Connelly) as the lovers.

Director Justin Been upholds the intended melodramatic mood of the piece and guides his cast solidly through the show's twenty numbers with boundless energy. Under Chris Petersen's musical direction, the band sounds good, except for a couple of tempo issues with the cast that are sure to be smoothed out as the run continues (I technically saw the show on a preview night, so this is only a quibble). Rob Lippert's two-tier scenic design allows plenty of movement for the cast and includes a few versatile set pieces and a raised platform that runs down the middle of the audience.

(l to r) Patrick Kelly (The Rev. Mr. Crisparkle),
Kimberly Still (Helena Landless),
Kelvin Urday (Neville Landless),
Zachary Stefaniak (John Jasper),
Heather Matthews (Edwin Drood)
and Eileen Engel (Rosa Bud).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This one shouldn't be missed. As is often the case with Stray Dog shows, I was quite looking forward to this. I've been a fan of "Drood" since its NYC revival because of… you know… reasons. I may have to go back and see it again. Get your tickets before they sell out!


THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD

Book/lyrics and music by Rupert Holmes
Directed by Justin Been, assistant director, Jan Niehoff
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through April 18 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday, April 18 at 2pm

(front, l to r) Sara Rae Womack, Mike Hodges,
Michael Juncal (Mr. James Throttle, Stage Manager),
Stefanie Kluba. (back, l to r) Brendan Ochs,
Kevin O’Brien, Angela Bubash,
Zachary Stefaniak (John Jasper) and Michael Baird.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Cast:
Gerry Love (Mr. William Cartwright/Chairman), Michael Juncal (Stage Manager and Barkeep/Mr. James Throttle), Zachary Stefaniak (John Jasper/Mr. Clive Paget), Heather Matthews (Edwin Drood/Miss Alice Nutting), Eileen Engel (Rosa Bud/Miss Deirdre Peregrine), Kimberly Still (Helena Landless/Miss Janet Conover), Patrick Kelly (Reverend Crisparkle/Mr. Cedric Moncrieffe), Kelvin Urday (Neville Landless/Mr. Victor Grinstead), Lavonne Byers (The Princess Puffer/Miss Angela Prysock), Eric Woelbling (Durdles/Mr. Nick Cricker), Kevin Connelly (Deputy/Master Nick Cricker), Michael A. Wells (Waiter/Bazzard/Mr. Phillip Bax), Ensemble:  Sara Rae Womack (Wendy/Miss Violet Balfour), Angela Bubash (Beatrice/Miss Florence Gill), Kevin O’Brien (Horace/Mr. Nicholas Michael), Mike Hodges (Mr. Medford Moss), Michael Baird (Mr. Montague Pruitt), Stefanie Kluba (Miss Gwendolyn Pym) and Brendan Ochs (Mr. Harry Sayle).

Creative:
Scenic design by Rob Lippert; costume design by Eileen Engel; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; choreographer, Zachary Stefaniak; stage manager, Justin Been.

Music Hall Royale Band:
Music Director, Chris Petersen; violin, Steve Frisbee; trumpet, A.J. Lane; drums/percussion, Bob McMahon; trombone, Will Reichert; reed, Harrison Rich; acoustic bass, M. Joshua Ryan.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

OFF THE RECORD (The Bus Play) • OnSite Theatre Company

OnSite Theatre Company has been providing unique, site-specific theatre in St. Louis for eight years now, but its current production, playwright Alec Wild's "Off The Record", is an absolute blast. It's also a first for the company. In perhaps the most immersive theatre experience you're likely to have anytime soon, the price of admission affords you membership in the local press corps, following the gubernatorial campaign of Congressman Henry Neale, handsomely played by Stephen Peirick. In his bid for Governor of Missouri, just two days before the election, he's taking a roughly 90 minute bus tour around the Delmar Loop area.

The play starts with a "press pick up" at Tavolo V restaurant, where you receive a list of questions that you're free to ask if you choose once the tour gets underway. On the bus we meet Nina Corde (Sarajane Alverson), an incredibly enthusiastic theology student and volunteer, and Steven Kendell (Charlie Barron), the Congressman's campaign manager. There's also Lorraine Kay (Donna Weinsting), a hard-nosed reporter who writes for the "Missouri Flame." Her relentless questions about Neale and why he was allegedly kicked out of Vianney High School drive Mr. Kendell to distraction, forcing him to clearly reiterate the rules for everyone on the bus -- when the lights on the bus are on, everything's on the record. When the lights are off, everything's off the record. The Congressman and his wife, Elizabeth (Maggie Conroy), are picked up at the Tavern of Fine Arts, before making a stop at Crossroads College Preparatory School for a quick speech on education.

Stephen Peirick (Henry Neale)
and Maggie Conroy (Elizabeth Neale).
Photo credit: Joe Mohr
Along the route, we're privy to cleverly piped in conversations between Nina, Steven, Congressman Neale and Elizabeth, and the hushed secrets that are exposed cause rifts between the Neale couple, while others have the potential to sink Neale's bid for Governor. After a whirlwind tour of developments and satisfying resolves, the evening ends at the "press drop off" point where we began, back at Tavolo V.

Under Tom Martin's adept direction, this cast of five do excellent work. Alverson's Nina, an SLU student thrilled to be volunteering for the Congressman, brings much mirth to the proceedings, along with Weinsting as the determined veteran reporter who refuses to let up. Peirick, the well-groomed, well-spoken, likable politician, and Conroy as his dutiful wife with expensive tastes, make a lovely couple, when they're not arguing, and Barron is energetic and convincing as Steven Kendell, trying to extinguish fires at every turn. Also, kudos to Tina, the bus driver.

Charlie Barron (Steven Kendell)
and Sarajane Alverson (Nina Corde).
Photo credit: Joe Mohr
There are a lot of moving parts to this show (no pun intended) -- from the action that takes place on the bus, to the stop at Crossroads, and the protestors who can be seen along the route. There's also a twitter account where you can tweet about the leaks you hear along the way, and pick up some interesting tidbits (and possible spoilers) about the bus tour (#NealeBus). Hell, there's even a campaign song! Seating is naturally very limited, and "Off The Record" runs until the 11th, so do yourself a favor -- reserve your tickets early and see this show. For real. It's a guaranteed fun time.


Donna Weinsting (Lorraine Kay)
and Maggie Conroy (Elizabeth Neale).
Photo credit: Joe Mohr

OFF THE RECORD (The Bus Play)

Written by Alec Wild
Directed by Tom Martin
Tavolo Bar/Restaurant, 6118 Delmar Blvd. 
through April 11 | tickets: $25
Performances Saturday at 7pm and 9pm, Friday at 8pm

Cast:
Sarajane Alverson (Nina Corde), Maggie Conroy (Elizabeth Neale), Charlie Barron (Steven Kendell), Stephen Peirick (Henry Neale), and Donna Weinsting (Lorraine Kay).

Creative:
Stage manager, Elizabeth Van Pelt; dramaturg, Dan Rubin.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays • That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE Magazine

That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE team up once again for "Briefs", a festival of short LGBT plays that celebrates its fourth anniversary, founded by Uppity Theatre's Joan Lipkin, and Darin Slyman of Vital VOICE magazine. This year, another stable of talented actors and artists are featured in eight LGBT-centric plays that appeal to diverse audiences. It's also the inaugural year for the Ken Haller Playwriting Competition for LGBTQ and Allied Youth, named after longtime LGBT activist, pediatrician and actor.

Things kick off with Sharon Goldner's "Recently Discovered", a staged reading that turns Dr. Seuss, complete with illustrations, into a lesbian coming out story and all of its complications. A different "Special Guest" was featured with each showing, along with a "Cat in the Hat", that played opposite Lipkin.

Kristina Cirone (Bartender), Aaron Dodd (Cute Guy)
and Pete Winfrey (Walker).
Photo credit: John Lamb
"Mermaid In a Gay Bar", written by Brigham Mosley, looks at the gay dating scene, with a curve ball. It takes a humorous look at the challenges that Walker (Pete Winfrey), a mermaid, faces when he visits his local bar. Finely directed by Philip Boehm & Michael Dorsey, this piece also featured Aaron Dodd and Kristina Cirone, and subtly underscores the prejudices that lurk beneath the surface in most of us -- regardless of orientation.

The sliding scale of romantic and physical attraction is explored in Michael Yichao's "Bread", introducing us to Dan (Brian Coats) and Olivia (Emmeline McCabe) -- two adolescent best buddies. While Dan has an eye for the fellas, he's always supported and encouraged by his best friend, even when he expresses an attraction to her that she didn't expect. Gad Guterman directs and gets great performances from Coats and McCabe.

Rachel Tibbetts (Hannah) and Rachel Hanks (Allie).
Photo credit: John Lamb
In Wendy MacLeod's "This Flight Tonight", Allie (Rachel Hanks) and Hannah (Rachel Tibbetts) are in an airport, nervously anticipating their flight to Iowa where same-sex marriage has recently been made legal. Though these California natives would much rather get married in Los Angeles, the jitters they experience are unique, but sweetly universal. Directed by Christopher Limber, Hanks and Tibbetts turn in winning performances.

"A Little Splash of Brandy" was written by J.R. Schmidt, the recipient of the Ken Haller Playwriting Competition, and was directed by Todd Schaefer. Maxwell (Donald C. Miller) recalls a sharp memory of his son, Brandy (Ryan Wiechmann), with nagging regret and confusion, while Brandy, preparing for a drag show, struggles with the conflicts between his father, and the confidence he has in who he is.

Darian Michael Garey (Randall), Julie Layton (Ellie)
and Theresa Masters (Linda).
Photo credit: John Lamb
"Periodic Maintenance", written by Arnold Johnston and Deborah Ann Percy, with solid direction by Lee Anne Mathews, finds Ellie (Julie Layton), and Linda (Theresa Masters) after their car breaks down on their way home for Thanksgiving. As much as they'd like to get back on the road, Linda is a little taken aback when Ellie breaks out her feminine wiles to convince Randall the mechanic (Darian Michael Garey) to make their car a priority. Layton is convincing as the flirtatious Ellie, as well as Masters as her serious other half, and Garey as the shop's mechanic, anxious to get home himself.

Lipkin's piece, "Ferguson", looks at the tragic events that took place this past August through the eyes of a gay couple. When Michael Brown Jr. was shot by officer Darren Wilson, a number of LGBT individuals joined the protests in a show of solidarity and social responsibility. This piece, featuring Clayton Bury as Chad and Michael Dewar as Matt, illustrate differing reactions to the fallout, with one feeling the need to answer a call to action, and the other preferring to not get involved. Dewar and Bury play well off of each other, with smooth direction from Lipkin.

Kelley Weber (Gabrielle)
and Michael B. Perkins (Michael).
Photo credit: John Lamb
"My Husband", written by Paul Rudnick and directed by Marty Stanberry, centers around Gabrielle (Kelley Weber) and her single gay son Michael (Michael B. Perkins). Itching to outshine the gay wedding of a friend's son, she puts a fake, over-the-top wedding announcement in the paper. Weber and Perkins turn in great comedic performances, providing a nice wrap-up for the evening.

While this year's plays, selected from over 150 submissions, ran the gamut from comedies to dramas, the stories they present highlight LGBT stories without being preachy, and focused on themes everyone can relate to. With a relocation to Grand Center's Rialto Ballroom this year, next year's "Briefs" promises to be bigger and better. It only runs for a weekend, so keep an eye out for next year's festival.


BRIEFS

Ryan Wiechmann (Brandy) and Donald C. Miller (Maxwell).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Rialto Ballroom, 3547 Olive, St. Louis 63103
through March 29 | tickets: $18 in Advance, $25 at Door, $50 VIP Pre-Show Reception for Ken Haller Play Wright Award Recipient, Plus Admission for Two, VIP Table Seating & Complimentary Bottle of Barefoot Wine.
Run concluded

"Recently Discovered" written by Sharon Goldner.
Cast:
Special Guest (Amy Gill) and Joan Lipkin.

"Mermaid In a Gay Bar" written by Brigham Mosley, directed by Philip Boehm & Michael Dorsey.
Cast:
Pete Winfrey (Walker), Aaron Dodd (Cute Guy/Fish Head) and Kristina Cirone (Bartender).

"Bread" written by Michael Yichao, directed by Gad Guterman.
Cast:
Brian Coats (Dan) and Emmeline McCabe (Olivia).

"This Flight Tonight" written by Wendy MacLeod, directed by Christopher Limber.
Cast:
Rachel Hanks (Allie) and Rachel Tibbetts (Hannah).

"A Little Splash of Brandy" written by J.R. Schmidt, directed by Todd Schaefer.
Cast:
Ryan Wiechmann (Brandy) and Donald C. Miller (Maxwell).

"Periodic Maintenance" written by Arnold Johnston & Deborah Ann Percy, directed by Lee Anne Mathews.
Cast:
Julie Layton (Ellie), Theresa Masters (Linda) and Darian Michael Garey (Randall).

"Ferguson" written and directed by Joan Lipkin, assistant directed by Kate Warden.
Cast:
Clayton Bury (Chad) and Michael Dewar (Matt).

"My Husband" written by Paul Rudnick, directed by Marty Stanberry.
Cast:
Kelley Weber (Gabrielle) and Michael B. Perkins (Michael).

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