Monday, January 26, 2015

IMAGINING MADOFF • The New Jewish Theatre

Infamous Ponzi schemer, Bernard Madoff, may seem like an improbable subject for a play, but playwright Deb Margolin conceives a morality tale of sorts in the New Jewish Theatre's current offering. With an estimated $60 billion taken from his clients, Madoff's investors suffered devastating losses, particularly Jewish institutions and charities. "Imagining Madoff" sets up Madoff (Bobby Miller) playing opposite a righteous polestar of decency embodied in a poet and Holocaust survivor named Solomon Galkin (Jerry Vogel), who is based on one of Madoff's real-life victims, author and political activist, Elie Wiesel.

NJT's versatile black box features the action running down the middle of the space with the audience on either side. The players occupy separate spaces -- Madoff on one end, in his jail cell, Galkin's study in the middle, and a court podium on the other end, where an unnamed secretary (Julie Layton) testifies to the Securities and Exchange Commission about daily interactions and confiscated records. Jumping back and forth in time, the play juggles Madoff's jail cell musings, the testimony of his blindsided secretary, and a late night conversation between Madoff and his friend Galkin, who has secured Madoff to manage the funds of a Manhattan synagogue where Galkin is treasurer. Their unhurried conversation is wide-ranging, yet whenever the subject veers into trust, morality or shame, Madoff is repelled to the point of frustration -- almost tempted to shatter Galkin's belief in decency by confessing his transgressions. Galkin valued their friendship, while Madoff just thought they were "being Jews together".

Jerry Vogel (Solomon Galkin)
and Bobby Miller (Bernie Madoff).
Photo credits: Eric Woolsey
At one point Galkin intimately wraps Madoff in Tefillin, leather bindings with little boxes containing verses from the Torah attached, that serve to devote the wearer's thoughts to truth and righteousness. It's an impactful scene, and one that has an unnerving effect on Madoff. Kind of like a devil realizing he's about to confront a dunking in holy water.

But of course, Miller's portrayal of Madoff is not one of an outright devil. Margolin's script provides just enough to humanize Madoff, and Miller's ease in the role, unassuming yet unrepentant, is enough to elicit pity and bewilderment, even as he's explaining his love of the power and control money affords him, or speaking fondly of his wife. Galkin is not a perfect man, but Vogel's passionate portrayal imparts a genuinely moral depth -- a man who has suffered at the hands of the Nazis, and emerged stronger, still stubbornly capable of trust. Layton, as Madoff's former secretary, becomes more and more distraught as her testimony goes on -- a victim herself, ashamed of her involvement, as unwitting as it was. These three, some of St. Louis theatre's best, excel in their roles, keeping you engaged through the play's intermissionless 90 minutes.

Jerry Vogel (Solomon Galkin).
Photo credits: Eric Woolsey
Director Lee Anne Mathews builds the tension and uses the separation and mingling of the characters to the play's strengths. Kyra Bishop's art and scenic design, from Madoff's concrete blocked cell and piles of thick tiles, to Galkin's small, simply appointed study, to the examination room, makes for a cool playing space, with a video monitor in the exam room along with a screen for projections, often featuring Layton in a handful of scenes, illustrating Madoff or Galkin's recollections, and Kimberly Klearman's lighting design highlights the scenes in little pools of light.

Bobby Miller (Bernie Madoff).
Photo credits: Eric Woolsey
Margolin's play, though sometimes shocking, offers no explanations of Madoff's betrayals, but manufactures an interesting look into opposing ideologies, and is grounded with strong performances. It's playing until the 8th.


IMAGINING MADOFF

Written by Deborah Margolin
Directed by Lee Anne Mathews
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through February 8 | tickets: $36 - $40
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday the 25th at 2pm & 7:30pm

Cast:
Bobby Miller* (Bernie Madoff), Jerry Vogel* (Solomon Galkin) and Julie Layton (A Secretary).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Julie Layton (A Secretary).
Photo credits: Eric Woolsey
Creative:
Scenic design and art by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Kimberly Klearman; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; sound design by Michael B. Perkins; properties design by Jenny Smith; stage manager, Emily Clinger.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 3! • Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company

Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company were back a couple Saturdays ago for the third installment of their 24 Hour Play Festival at Webster Groves High School, and like last year, it was a blast. The rules remained the same -- six writers (up from five last year) were given a setting, a genre, a number of characters, and one week to come up with a script of around 15 minutes. This year, the writers also had to work in a holiday prop. The scripts were randomly assigned to directors, who were randomly assigned actors by pulling names out of a hat. The ensembles then had 24 hours to memorize, stage, costume and rehearse it before unleashing the plays on the public. Crazy, right? The evening was affably hosted by Pat Niday of The Improv Shop, and there were raffles held between the plays, and yummy sandwiches courtesy of Snarfs. I mean, what more could you ask for, really?

First up was Jason Klefisch's thriller, "Cringe", directed by Todd Schaefer and starring Nick Kelly, Ben Watts and Matt Pentecost. Watts is at Tully's Tavern waiting on a date when a very drunk Kelly comes in, barely able to walk, but very entertaining.
Pentecost, the owner of the establishment, amiably tells jokes and serves the two drinks. After awhile, Kelly insists that Watts, still dateless, join him at a table, and it turns out that Kelly's not drunk at all -- he's very sober, and royally pissed. He's the father of the girl Watts was waiting for. See, Watts met her online, and she's just 16 years old, and Kelly, who's already suffered the loss of a son, is in no way gonna let this predator off the hook. The owner of the bar is actually Kelly's brother, and after he locks the door to the bar, he raises a snow shovel in Watts's direction as the lights go out, and you can only imagine that Watts was in for a major beat-down. Kelly was a standout, going from sloppy drunk to stone-cold sober on a dime.

"Trinity Park", a drama written by Wendy Renee Greenwood, directed by Rachel Tibbetts and starring Rachel Hanks, Mollie Amburgey and Larissa White, finds two squabbling sisters meeting in a park at the request of their mother. Their arguing is interrupted by a homeless woman (Hanks) who's been eavesdropping on their conversation. Hanks turns out to be the third sister who ran away from home some time earlier. She banished herself to the park because she felt responsible for the death of her nephew while he was in her care. Hello, awkward reunion. All three turned in great performances, with Amburgey's potty-mouth grabbing much laughter.

Carl Wickman's comedy, "What You Need", was directed by Chris Chi and starred Brian Claussen and Michelle Catherine. Claussen shows up on Catherine's doorstep at 3 o'clock in the morning, claiming to seek shelter from questionable types outside, and once Catherine lets him in, he confesses that he's really a knife salesman. He shows off his wares on a banana and a little Christmas tree. Catherine's character is obviously taken aback with this odd late night encounter, and his conspicuous consumption of her bananas, but hey, at least she got some nice cutlery out of it. Maybe it was a dream…? Definitely the most bizarre offering of the group, open to various interpretation.

Writer Greg Fenner uses the acronym "R.O.M.E.R.O.S." for his dark comedy, directed by Em Piro and starring Jason Klefisch and Blaire Hamilton. In it, a green-faced zombie dad (Klefisch) meets up in a restaurant with his daughter (Hamilton) to announce his engagement to a human, and his "mixed" daughter is none too pleased. The title is taken from "Night of the Living Dead" creator, George A. Romero's name and stands for Regular Ordinary Mortals Eating Rations Of Skin. Ha! Get it? R.O.M.E.R.O.S is the support group Hamilton's character has joined to help her deal with the challenges that come with being half-zombie, half-human. Good stuff. Klefisch's shuffling, growling zombie was hilarious.

"Fun and Games In The Bedroom", written by Zak Allen Farmer, directed by Ellie Schwetye and starring Margeau Baue Steinau, Reginald Pierre, Troy Turnipseed and Carl Overly Jr. feature a group of friends getting stoned in a bedroom. They have no idea how they ended up there, but that's of little consequence once they realize the kids are on their way home with a pot-smoke filled bedroom and one of the four friends unconscious on the floor, the victim of a game of football with a mini Christmas tree gone awry. Good times.

Evan Kuhn and Amy Kelly.
"Line" was a melodramatic Victorian era romp written by Spencer Green, directed by Ryan Foizey and starring Kimi Short, Amy Kelly and Evan Kuhn. Kuhn and Kelly are in line to buy a turkey for their respective holiday dinners, but there's only one left. I mean like one turkey left in the whole town. After pouring out sob stories about why they deserve the bird, Kuhn and Kelly realize that they knew each other as children and end the night with the promise of rekindling their relationship. Awww.

While the judges for this year's festival -- Max on Movies’ own Max Foizey, theatre blogger, Steve Allen and actor, Alan Knoll, turned in their ballots, we were treated to some entertainment from Pat Niday and members of the Zero Hour Playfest Troupe who took suggestions from the audience to improvise a wacky murder mystery involving a bathtub and dreidels. What?! The winners were then announced (listed below), but everyone involved did a great job, especially when you consider the challenges involved, and this festival remains something to look forward to every year. I seriously have no idea how they do it. This kind of ballsy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants theatre is among the most fun kind of theatre to see, so keep an eye out for another installment next year.


The fearless creative talents behind this year's
24 Hour Play Festival.
24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 3!

Writers: Greg Fenner, Wendy Greenwood, Zak Allen Farmer, Carl Wickman, Spencer Green and Jason Klefisch.

Directors: Ryan Foizey, Todd Schaefer, Chris Chi, Em Piro, Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye.

Actors: Evan Kuhn, Matt Pentecost, Carl Overly Jr., Reginald Pierre, Ben Watts, Troy Turnipseed, Nick Kelly and Brian Claussen.

Actresses: Rachel Hanks, Mollie Amburgey, Blyre Cpanx, Jordan Bitticks, Amy Kelly, Larissa White, Michelle Catherine, Margeau Baue Steinau, and Kimi Short.

Creative:
Lighting operator, Jacob Noce; sound operator, Hannah Leatherbarrow; running crew, Todd Schaefer and Maggie Pool.

Awards:
Best actor - Nick Kelly
Best actress - Amy Kelly
Best director - Em Piro
Best script - Jason Klefisch (For "Cringe")
Best Ensemble - "Line" by Spencer Green (Hal Phillip Walker)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

BECOMING DR. RUTH • The New Jewish Theatre

Before Ruth Westheimer became "Dr. Ruth", she was Karola Ruth Siegel, born in Wiesenfeld, Germany to Orthodox Jews in 1928. Her petite stature, spright, thickly accented voice and honest talk about human sexuality led her to fame as a sex therapist and media personality, but the little known facts about her astonishing life make up the bulk of Mark St. Germain's one-woman play, portrayed strongly by Susie Wall.

Scenic designer Cristie Johnston's impressively cozy space welcomes us into the cluttered Washington Heights apartment of Dr. Ruth Westheimer as she packs up for a move a few months after the death of her third husband, Manfred Westheimer. She's surprised to see all of us in her living room, and invites us to keep her company while she struggles to continue packing up boxes. Just about every trinket or photograph she picks up to wrap in newspaper reminds her of her past. Wall engagingly relates Westheimer's childhood in an orphanage in Switzerland, sent there by her mother and grandmother through kindertransport after her father was taken to a labor camp when the Nazis rose to power. There's also anecdotes about her time in Palestine where she lived on a kibbutz, her joining the Haganah where she was trained as a scout and sniper, her studies in France, and her three marriages and two children. The indomitable spirit of Dr. Ruth can't be denied, but the translation of that vivacity tends to get bogged down in the plodding rhythms of St. Germain's script, with an occasional change of pace when she's interrupted by phone calls from the movers, her children, or advice seekers. The play perks up when it builds to Dr. Ruth's 1980’s radio program, “Sexually Speaking", a call-in show where she frankly and warm-heartedly answered questions from listeners about sex, and the popularity it gained, eventually making her a household name. 

Susie Wall (Dr. Ruth).
Photo credits: John Lamb
Wall, under the direction of Jerry McAdams, gives an appealing performance and breathes life into the play where it allows, and Michael B. Perkins provides the projection design that illustrates some of Westhimer's memories with images projected onto a curtained window, with Kimberly Klearman providing the lighting design and Teresa Doggett providing the costumes.

The road that led to Dr. Ruth's fame is certainly an interesting one, but ultimately, the pace becomes mechanical, zapping the zest out of too many of the stories. It's playing until the 21st.


Susie Wall (Dr. Ruth).
Photo credits: John Lamb
BECOMING DR. RUTH

Written by Mark St. Germain
Directed by Jerry McAdams
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through December 21 | tickets: $36 - $40
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday the 7th at 2pm & 7:30pm

Cast:
Susie Wall* (Dr. Ruth)
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Cristie Johnston; lighting design by Kimberly Klearman; costume design by Teresa Doggett; sound and projection design by Michael B. Perkins; stage manager, Emily Clinger.

Monday, December 8, 2014

REALITY • HotCity Theatre

The drama-filled, cheap to produce genre of reality television has, for better or worse, multiplied over the last several years, and if anything, it's proven that there will always be people willing to lose their innocence on national television, and others with no shame willing to put their dignity on the back burner for a shot at fleeting celebrity at the risk of public humiliation. Lia Romeo's comedy, HotCity's chosen script from its 2013 GreenHouse New Play Festival, takes a perverse and very funny look at what happens to the lives of those involved in a dating reality show once the cameras are off.

Annie (Maggie Conroy), a small-town girl from Iowa, thought she had gotten everything she wanted when she became engaged to Matt (Tyler Vickers), a wealthy hunk, on a reality show called "Looking for Love". One of the show's producers, Josh (Ben Nordstrom), oversees the taping of the engagement on a video monitor, making sure to squeeze every drop of carefully choreographed emotion from the scene. Once the taping for the show's finale is finished, Annie, Matt and Josh are sequestered in the production's "safe house", securely out of the public eye. While Josh finishes up the series, Annie's whirlwind love affair with Matt doesn't look as dreamy in the harsh light of day once the show's in the can. The show's runner-up, the pinot grigio toting Krissandra (Julie Layton), whose only real motive for being a contestant was to use her brief fame as a springboard for an aspiring acting career, drops in to visit Annie from time to time. She and Annie formed a bit of a friendship during taping, and now she offers an ear to Annie, whose eyes are being forced open to the snares of reality television, with a wicked turn of events at the end as the facade of happiness comes crashing down.

Ben Nordstrom (Josh),
Maggie Conroy (Annie) and Tyler Vickers (Matt).
Romeo's script allows for some insight among the hilarity, and the ensemble of four are perfectly cast. Conroy as Annie, the ingenue, is authentically sweet and very funny, and Vickers is perfect as Matt, the hunky lunkhead whom producers pick for his money and good looks, though he's not quite ready for a commitment. Nordstrom nails the role of Josh, the cynical producer willing to do anything for ratings, and Layton's Krissandra is a gas, striking you as the type of reality tv girl most likely to get a little too drunk at a party. Under Annamaria Pileggi's smart, fast-paced direction, they all bring charm to their roles and perform with a natural ease.

There were also some neat things that the creative team came up with as part of the production concept -- along with the small tv monitor mounted above the stage, scene changes are done with the houselights up instead of down, offstage areas are instead over to stage-left, where actors receive props and wait for their entrances in plain view -- all succeeding in breaking normal theatre conventions in a way unique to the subject matter.

Julie Layton (Krissandra) and Maggie Conroy (Annie).
The curtain will close for HotCity Theatre after this world premiere run, and the company's decade-long offerings of challenging, modern plays will be greatly missed. The house was completely sold out on opening night, and though HotCity's absence will leave quite a gap on the St. Louis theatre landscape, it will also leave memories of some of the boldest theatre St. Louis had to offer. ("Equus", "Whammy" and "The Normal Heart" are among my favorites.) You've got until December 20 to check out this wildly funny play from one of the city's best.


Maggie Conroy (Annie) and Tyler Vickers (Matt).

REALITY

Written by Lia Romeo
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through December 20 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
Maggie Conroy (Annie), Julie Layton (Krissandra), Tyler Vickers (Matt) and Ben Nordstrom* (Josh).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; sound design by Patrick Burks; assistant director, Rachel Blumer; assistant stage manager, Sarah Palay; stage manager, Kate Koch.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 • Mustard Seed Theatre

"All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914", was originally presented as a radio show on Minnesota Public Radio by the vocal ensemble, Cantus and Theatre Latte Da, until Mustard Seed Theatre gave this a cappella musical a fully staged production last year. The musical's text is comprised of letters and historic documents associated with a brief truce that occurred during World War I on Christmas Eve, with songs ranging from folk tunes and traditional carols to patriotic hymns and ballads. It remains, like last season's production, an aural feast.

Everyone from last season's award winning ensemble cast (and practically all of the crew) is back for this season's revival, and along with an additional number ("Good-By-Ee"), there are also several subtle changes in the staging that enhance the presentation. The show is broken down into sections -- "The Optimistic Departure", "The Grim Reality ", "Christmas", "The Truce", "The Return to Battle", and an Epilogue. Within these sections, the audience is taken through the soldiers' nervous excitement heading out on the open sea to battle the Germans (a battle that many thought would be over with by Christmas), the bleak gloom of war at the front -- from rat infested trenches and sniper fire to the loss of comrades, the short truce on Christmas Eve where cigarettes, rum and gifts were exchanged, along with a lively game of football, and the sobering joint burial of the dead. Once superior officers find out about the fraternization of the troops, they put an end to it, bringing the saddening return to battle.

Luke Steingruby, Gary Glasgow, Shawn Bowers,
Christopher Hickey, Charlie Barron, Jason Meyers,
Tim Schall, J. Samuel Davis,
(front row) Jeffrey Wright and Antonio Rodriguez.
Photo credit: John Jamb
Under Joe Schoen's musical direction, the voices of this cast of 10, including Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis, Gary Glasgow, Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright, are exceptional. They marvelously handle songs with gentle, solemn harmonies like, "The Old Barbed Wire" and "I Want to Go Home". Then there are songs that begin in unison and blossom into these full, thick chords several notes deep with refreshing harmony turns and chill-inducing dynamic changes like the haunting prologue,"Will Ye Go to Flanders?", "Wassail" (my fave), "Auld Lang Syne" and "Silent Night", that fluidly dissolves during the last quarter of the number into the titular "All Is Calm". The monologues work into the music so easily, it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Love. There's also much mirth to be had in songs and passages in last half of "Christmas in the Camp" and "Good King Wenceslas", and a special shout out to Antonio Rodriguez for his solo, "Minuit chr├ętiens (O Holy Night)". I said this last year and I'll say it again -- if the hair on the back of your neck doesn't stand on end, it's very likely that there's something wrong with you.

Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Shawn Bowers,
Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall, Charlie Barron,
Jeffrey Wright, Luke Steingruby and Antonio Rodriguez.
Photo credit: John Jamb
Deanna Jent's direction spreads the spoken text aptly among the cast who handle the many dialects required, with the help of dialect coach Richard Lewis, quite well for the most part, with standouts that include Barron, Glasgow, Hickey and Meyers. Jane Sullivan outfits the cast in authentic attire, and Kyra Bishop's effective scenic design of barbed wire, barricades and crates, along with "no man's land" in the middle, is evocatively lit by Michael Sullivan, highlighting the solos, and depicting stars and the illumination of mortar fire against a backdrop. All of these creative elements, with a seamless integration of songs and dialogue, make for an affecting night of theater -- perfect for the Holiday season.

If you saw it last year, it's worth seeing again. If you haven't, it's not to be missed. Aural feast, I'm tellin' ya! It's playing until December 21st.

Christopher Hickey, Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall,
Jason Meyers, J. Samuel Davis, Luke Steingruby,
Shawn Bowers, Jeffrey Wright, Antonio Rodriguez
and Charlie Barron.
Photo credit: John Lamb
ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

By Peter Rothstein
Musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach 
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through December 21 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 5pm

Cast:
Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis*, Gary Glasgow*, Christopher Hickey*, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall*, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright.
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Musical direction by Joe Schoen; scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; dialect coach, Richard Lewis; props manager, Meg Brinkley; stage manager, Jessica Haley.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

THE RESIDENTS OF CRAIGSLIST • ERA

Experimental theatre company, Equally Represented Arts, is currently staging an original piece created entirely from Craigslist ads. Yep, you heard me. Artistic director Lucy Cashion and associate artistic director Will Bonfiglio have sifted through local Craigslist posts and adapted a variety of entries into a unique one-act play.

Performed at the AlphaBetaClub on a no-frills set with chili pepper lights, a couple stacks of phonebooks, a few lawn chairs, and a drawn outline of a house, six actors (Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Ellie Schwetye, Natasha Toro and Ryan Wiechmann) give life to a wide array of advertisements -- people trying to get rid of stuff, people looking for stuff, people looking to escape their past, or create their futures, and of course, the "casual encounters". There's no plot to speak of, but the passages range from spurned lovers and heartbreaking loners, to groups who gather to gossip, ponder the supernatural, hook up, or rant. Taken as a whole, these stories, no matter how wacky some of them are, are relatable because they all center on the shared common denominator of people trying to connect. Directed by Cashion, the members of the ensemble work wonderfully together in their moments as a choreographed chorus, and shine in their individual representations, painting vibrant portraits of the Craigslist denizens.

Ryan Wiechmann, Natasha Toro,
Will Bonfiglio, Ellie Schwetye, Cara Barresi and Mitch Eagles.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
The play threatens to overstay its welcome near the end, and the accompanying music drowns out the performers on occasion, but this quirky play, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad and sometimes raunchy, is worth checking out for something different. It's a short run, so you've only got one more chance to check it out!


THE RESIDENTS OF CRAIGSLIST

Written by Lucy Cashion and Will Bonfiglio
Directed by Lucy Cashion
AlphaBetaClub, 2618 N 14th Street
through November 16 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Wednesday to Sunday at 8pm

Cast:
Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Ellie Schwetye, Natasha Toro and Ryan Wiechmann.

Creative:
Lighting design by Erik Kuhn.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A KID LIKE JAKE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

The Rep's Studio season kicks off with Daniel Pearle's skillfully crafted one-act drama, "A Kid Like Jake", and begins with Alex (Leigh Williams) frantically brooding over a table full of applications for her son. The rat race of getting your kid accepted into a good private school is fraught with pressure, you understand -- even if the schools you're applying to are pre-schools. But Pearle's play is about much more than this.

Alex, an ex-lawyer who is now a stay-at-home mom, and her husband Greg (Alex Hanna), a clinical psychologist, are trying to place their gifted 4-year-old son Jake, never seen onstage, into one of Manhattan's prestigious kindergartens. Jake has excelled in all of the tests these schools require, but he loves Disney movies and favors dressing up as Cinderella or Snow White as opposed to your run of the mill pirate costumes for Halloween, and his penchant for Disney princesses over GI Joe has been getting him into a couple of scuffles with the other kids at school.
Leigh Williams (Alexandra) and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Judy (Susan Pellegrino), a friend of the family and administrator at Jake's current pre-school, suggests that his "gender-variant play" might help him stand out and offer a bit of the diversity these esteemed pre-schools are looking for, but Alex and Greg's reaction to their son's tendencies take increasingly diverse paths during the course of the play. Alex is convinced that her son is just going through a phase, and Greg, willing to accept that Jake's inclinations may be more than just a phase, favors therapy to help Jake work through the taunts he's been getting from other kids, and the stress the family is going through from Alex's new pregnancy.

Susan Pellegrino (Judy), Leigh Williams (Alexandra)
and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Pearle, endowed with a great ear for dialogue that rings true, strikes a full round of emotional notes in his play. Seth Gordon's nimble direction keeps the play running at an engaging clip, and Hanna and Williams display a palpable chemistry that draws you to these parents, so that later when the tensions that rise between them reach an emotional apex, you're completely invested. Pellegrino gives a wonderfully shaded performance as a well-intentioned Judy, and Jacqueline Thompson completes the cast as a warmhearted nurse who consoles Alex during her difficult pregnancy. Gianni Downs makes great use of the Rep's studio stage providing backdrops and set inserts that stand in as the couple's house, Judy's office and a waiting room. Lou Bird's modern costume design, John Wylie's agile lighting design and Rusty Wandall's sound design and original music round out the production's sharp creative contributions.

Leigh Williams (Alexandra) and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
"A Kid Like Jake" may play out against a backdrop of privilege, but the topic at the center is a challenging one, and here, executed with polish. You've only got this weekend to check it out at the Rep Studio.


A KID LIKE JAKE

Written by Daniel Pearle
Directed by Seth Gordon
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 16 | tickets: $50 - $65
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Cast:
Alex Hanna* (Greg), Susan Pellegrino* (Judy), Jacqueline Thompson (the nurse), Leigh Williams* (Alexandra)
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Gianni Downs; costume design by Lou Bird; lighting design by John Wylie; original music and sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

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