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

Thursday, May 5, 2016

TRASH MACBETH • ERA

Equally Represented Arts is back with another enveloping, innovative production that places Shakespeare’s Macbeth as its spine, and includes excerpts ranging from Emily Post's Etiquette and 1950's advertisements, to Sun Tzu's The Art of War, with a little Book of Revelation thrown in for good measure. Whaaa?! And you know what else? It works. Created by an ensemble of theatre artists and accented and complemented by ERA’s trademark movement and choreography, these dissimilar texts are carefully and shrewdly woven through one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies, resulting in a surprising harmony between the Bard’s story of murderous ambition, and our modern, media-soaked, consumer-driven world of consumption. It’s also quite a blast.

Welcome to the Macbeth’s for a dinner party that you won’t soon forget.

Upon arrival you’re given a birthday card, a drinking glass and a script for a little non-intimidating read-along action later on. After being welcomed by the party hosts, you’re seated, while the rest of the cast strolls around in character with the men carrying umbrellas like swords at their hips. The seating is along opposing walls of the chapel, or you can be seated at the long dining table, impressively and formally appointed courtesy of scenic designers Kristin Cassidy, Wilson Webel, and director Lucy Cashion. 
Ellie Schwetye, Carl Overly, Jr., Rachel Tibbetts, Mitch Eagles,
Nic Tayborn and Maggie Conroy. 
Photo credit: Wilson Webel
Etiquette queen, Emily Post (Ellie Schwetye), kicks things off by going over a few preliminary dinner party do's and don'ts along with proper cigarette techniques for ladies. From there, we transition straight into Shakespeare’s witches (Schwetye, Maggie Conroy and Rachel Tibbetts) planning to meet Macbeth (Mitch Eagles) and Banquo (Nic Tayborn), laying out the prophecies that set the Macbeths' on their murderous path. It’s all the more fascinating if you have a basic knowledge of Macbeth, but ERA’s production will grab your attention regardless. There’s something about the merchandising of Dial soap and household cleaners butted up against a play where you know some really messy, bloody business is about to commence -- the blood here represented by shredded newspapers.
ERA’s “Trash Macbeth”
Photo credit: Wilson Webel
Did I mention there’s also string? The measured cutting of string by the witches early on ends up with them stringing out a cat's cradle styled web that the Macbeths ultimately find themselves caught up in. Love...

Eagles gives a terrific performance as Macbeth, with an equally strong performance by his instigator and partner in crime, Tibbetts as Lady Macbeth. Schwetye is a perfectly prim Emily Post, and Conroy is solid as an ill-fated, very pregnant (cigarette smoking) Lady Macduff. Carl Overly, Jr. shines as Macduff, particularly after learning of the fate of his family, and Tayborn is an engaging Banquo. There’s some very cool accompanying jazz, doo-wop and snappy ad tunes music throughout, courtesy of composer and musician, Joe Taylor. In addition to the cast, music and scenic design, Meredith LaBounty’s costume design features the women in 50’s style dresses (Lady Macbeth sports a dress with an above the waist corselet of brillo pad packaging), and the men in smart dark suits. The Macbeth’s royal garb alone is almost worth the price of admission.

Macbeth (Mitch Eagles).
Photo credit: Wilson Webel
ERA is known for making great use of, among other things, pre-recorded audio and overlapping lines to create an atmosphere that immerses you in the action, and under the outstanding direction of ERA's artistic director Lucy Cashion, there’s unexpected hilarity from the darkest of scenes, game show moments involving the three witches (they’re all kind of scared of Hecate), and chilling anticipation as Lady Macduff meticulously folds baby clothes or names of the doomed are crossed off scrolls. If you’re on the adventurous side, this is a production not to be missed. Get a ticket now.


TRASH MACBETH

Directed by Lucy Cashion
through May 7 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances April 27-May1, May 4-7 at 8pm

Maggie Conroy and Rachel Tibbetts.
Photo credit: Wilson Webel
Cast
Lady Macduff, 2nd Witch: Maggie Conroy
Macbeth, Murderer 3: Mitch Eagles
Macduff, Murderer 2: Carl Overly, Jr.
Emily Post, 1st Witch: Ellie Schwetye
Banquo, Murderer 1: Nic Tayborn
Lady Macbeth, 3rd Witch: Rachel Tibbetts

Creative
Stage Manager and Assistant Director: Gabe Taylor
Lighting Designer and Fight Choreographer: Erik Kuhn
Costume Designer: Meredith LaBounty
Scenic Designers: Kristin Cassidy, Wilson Webel and Lucy Cashion
Composer, Musical Arranger, and Musician: Joe Taylor
Musician: Philip Zahnd
Dramaturg: Will Bonfiglio
Managing Producer: Katy Keating
Production Intern: Wilson Webel

Musicians
Joe Taylor and Philip Zahnd.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

IVANOV • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Nikolai Ivanov, and most of his countrymen, are suffering from numbing boredom. But Ivanov is not only bored as hell, he’s irascible. He disparages just about everyone who crosses his path, he neglects his sick wife in favor of socializing with friends, and he’s up to his nose in debt. St. Louis Actors' Studio closes its ninth season with an excellent production of Anton Chekhov’s first full-length play, written in 1887 and set against the cold, rural Russian countryside. With dreary outlooks spiked with humorous satire, it feels like a prototype for his trademark themes, and there’s a visible gun. So you know what that means.

Drew Battles plays Ivanov with a palpable fatigue -- languishing under a weight of self loathing he can’t figure out. His depression never seems to damper the mood of Borkin though. He manages Ivanov’s mostly barren farms, always coming up with schemes to make money, and Dave Wassilak lends a comically inflated confidence to every plan he hatches. Adding to the humor is Ivanov’s penniless Uncle, Count Shabelsky (Bobby Miller), who lives with Ivanov. In between his grumbling, he’s just about the only one who shows Anna (Julie Layton), Ivanov’s wife of five years, withering from tuberculosis, any compassion. Anna’s doctor, Lvov (Reginald Pierre), is also an Anna advocate. Lvov is disgusted by Ivanov’s treatment of her and exasperated at the very mention of him. While Lvov insists that he is an honest man, Pierre’s cagey portrayal keeps you guessing at his motives, and his patient, keenly portrayed by Layton, is affectingly tragic.

Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
Despite Ivanov’s disposition, Anna still adores him, even though he would rather spend his evenings away from home. She gave up Judaism and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church to marry Ivanov, resulting in no dowry, which would have provided Ivanov with a welcome financial boost. The debt he owes is to the Lebedevs -- a couple he’d rather hang out with than his poor wife. Lebedev (B. Weller) enjoys Ivanov as fodder for conversation, but his wife Zinaida (Teresa Doggett) doesn’t so easily forget Ivanov’s debt to them. Their daughter, Sasha (Alexandra Petrullo) however, is taken with Ivanov and they share an unexpected kiss, that’s seen by Anna.

Ivanov (Drew Battles).
Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
Under Wayne Salomon’s direction, the large cast gives solid performances, and the technical designs are effective. Patrick Huber’s scenic design includes wooden horizontal planks and blue vertical neons that add a feeling of being caged, and the lights brighten and dim with Ivanov’s appearances and retreats, with staging that keeps the players onstage for much of the play.

Only a couple more chances to check out this rarely produced, strongly executed production.


Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
IVANOV

Written by Anton Chekhov, translated by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Wayne Salomon
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through May 1 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Cast
Ivanov: Drew Battles*
Borkin: Dave Wassilak
Shabelsky: Bobby Miller*
Cast of “Ivanov”.
Photo Credit John Lamb
Anna: Julie Layton
Sasha: Alexandra Petrullo
Lvov: Reginald Pierre
Lebedev: B. Weller
Zinaida: Teresa Doggett
Babakina: Cara Barresi
Lipa: Shannon Nara
Avdotya: Jan Meyer
Yegorushka: Clayton Bury
Gavrila: Léerin Campbell

Creative
Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Costume Designer: Teresa Doggett
Props Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designer: Wayne Salomon
Scenic Painter: Cristie Johnston
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
Technical Director: Jon Hisaw
Light Board Operator: Carla Landis Evans
Sound Board Operator: Amy J. Paige
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

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

That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE were back again last weekend for "Briefs: A Festival of Short LGBTQ plays,” presenting eight works selected from over 200 nation-wide submissions. Presented by Pearl Vodka and celebrating its 5-year anniversary, the festival’s cornerstone of diverse subject matter has attracted a wider net of St. Louis talent and also widening LGBTQ and racial diversity. The plays were varied in tone, but there was a thread of family, love and acceptance that seemed to run underneath many. Max Friedman, playwright of “The Grind,” directed by Gad Guterman, was the winner of this years’ second annual Ken Haller Playwriting Competition for LGBTQ and Allied Youth.

Jared Campbell and Kai Klose.
Photo credit: John Lamb
In Friedman’s play, a couple of young men meet via an ever growing invasion of online dating apps, with opposing perspectives on relationship building vs. quick hook-ups. Michael (Jared Campbell) isn’t used to the intimidating arena of online dating, while it’s overfamiliar to Chris (Kai Klose).

Jacqueline Thompson directs Vincent Terrell Durham’s affable “Black Baby Jesus,” where Darryl (Darian Michael Garey) is dreading going to yet another Christmas Eve dinner at his boyfriend, Richard’s mom’s house.
Carl Overly and Darian Michael Garey.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Richard (Carl Overly) has not come out to his family yet, and his mom thinks her son and Darryl are “just friends.” Darryl can’t stomach another holiday dinner down the table from his man, instead seated next to “groping Aunt Thelma.” After a little conversation and an unexpected phone call, they take their first steps towards coming out as a long-time couple to the family.

James Still’s “When Miss Lydia Hinkley Gives a Bird the Bird” finds a women’s literary club, circa 1850, together for their regular meeting, when Lydia (Laura Singleton) bristles at the idea of allowing married ladies into their circle. To her shock and dismay, another member, Della Mann (Nicole Angeli), has recently become engaged. After some delicately cloaked suggestions, Lydia’s heartbreak is clear. To confirm any doubts, she catches the ladies off guard with a provocative recitation of a few titillating passages from Gray's Anatomy. What?! Yeah. Pamela Reckamp directs.

Donna Weinsting, Rachel Tibbetts,
Nicole Angeli, Maggie Wininger and Laura Singleton.
Photo credit: John Lamb
“I Knew It,” written by Scott C. Sickles and directed by Matthew R. Kerns, features Lavonne Byers and Shannon Nara, last seen together in Max & Louie’s “The Killing of Sister George,” as the wives of rock celebrities. Jodilyn (Nara) is devastated to discover the proclivities of her husband, while Francesca (Byers), used to the drill, calms her concerns and challenges her to adopt a new frame of mind. But this wasn’t a “my husband is sleeping with this woman!!” scenario. Jodilyn shockingly discovers her husband in bed with Francesca’s husband. (Jagger...? Bowie...? Maybe...?) The chemistry between the actors works wonderfully, and was a standout for me.

Shannon Nara and Lavonne Byers.
Photo credit: John Lamb
“When Oprah Says Goodbye,” written by Dan Berkowitz, takes place in an elderly folks home, with grouchy resident Rose (Thomasina Clarke), after having the room to herself for a minute, dreading the arrival of a roommate. It turns out that her new bunky, Julie (Peggy Calvin), has known Rose for years, and grudgy love triangles are mended with renewed friendships.

Charles Zito’s “Runaway” shows us a close family where Rose (Jenny Smith) has come to her brother’s house to fetch her gay teenaged son, Tommy (Pierce Hastings). Tommy has run away to Uncle Tony’s (Rich Scharf) because Rose won’t let Tommy’s boyfriend sleep over. While Rose tries to talk her son into coming back home, a widely known secret of Uncle Tony’s comes up. Yes, Uncle Tony -- we all know you’re gay. This subtext provides a humorous dynamic to the proceedings.

Thomasina Clarke and Peggy Calvin.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Local playwright and actor Stephen Peirick writes and directs “A Comfortable Fit,” with a casual day of shoe shopping between Gwen (Kim Furlow) and her daughter Jennifer (Emily Baker). Gwen is trying to fix up her divorced daughter with shoe salesman, Charlie (Casey Boland), who, while being a nice guy, doesn't play on Jennifer's team. Peirick’s story surprises with the revelation that Gwen, recently transitioned, is Jennifer’s dad, and made all the sweeter for the love and understanding father and daughter still share.

In Kathleen Warnock’s “The Adventures Of...” Maggie (Sarah Porter), a burgeoning writer, introduces us to one of her favorite childhood tv shows, featuring Prince Kal (Brian Claussen) and his trusty companion Zoron (Todd Schaefer). All of the scenarios that Maggie describes are played out with comedic zest by Claussen and Schaefer. In a gratifying turn, we learn that Maggie has her own reasons for personally identifying with this duo of heroes.

Rich Scharf, Jenny Smith and Pierce Hastings.
Photo credit: John Lamb
With the festival expanding year after year, it’s exciting to see what will be offered next, as one of the only festivals of short LGBTQ plays in the nation. Keep an eye out for it next year, and make sure to snag tickets. It’s only for an all too brief weekend.


BRIEFS

Rialto Ballroom, 3547 Olive, St. Louis 63103
Run concluded

Emily Baker and Kim Furlow.
Photo credit: John Lamb
“Baby Black Jesus” written by Vincent Terrell Durham, directed by Jacqueline Thompson.
Cast
Richard: Carl Overly
Darryl: Darian Michael Garey

“When Miss Lydia Hinkley Gives a Bird the Bird” written by James Still, directed by Pamela Reckamp
Cast
Constance Owen Fauntleroy: Donna Weinsting
Della Mann: Nicole Angeli
Lydia Hinkley: Laura Singleton
Mary Sampson: Rachel Tibbetts
Eliza Jane Twigg: Maggie Wininger

“The Grind” written by Max Friedman, directed by Gad Guterman
Cast
Michael: Jared Campbell
Chris: Kai Klose

Brian Claussen, Todd Schaefer and Sarah Porter.
Photo credit: John Lamb
“I Knew It” written by Scott C. Sickles, directed by Matthew R. Kerns
Cast
Francesca Strange: Lavonne Byers
Jodilyn Riggs: Shannon Nara

“When Oprah Says Goodbye” written by Dan Berkowitz, directed by Fannie Belle-Lebby
Cast
Rose: Thomasina Clarke
Julie: Peggy Calvin
Anne: Sarah McKenney

“Runaway” written by Charles Zito, directed by Christopher Limber
Cast
Tony: Rich Scharf
Rose: Jenny Smith
Tommy: Pierce Hastings

“A Comfortable Fit” written and directed by Stephen Peirick
Cast
Gwen: Kim Furlow
Jennifer: Emily Baker
Charlie: Casey Boland

“The Adventures Of...” written by Kathleen Warnock, directed by Ryan Scott Foizey
Cast
Maggie: Sarah Porter
Prince Kal: Brian Claussen
Zoron: Todd Schaefer

Production Staff
Executive Producers: Joan Lipkin and Darin Slyman
Associate Producer: Jimmy Lesch
Productions Manager/Video Design: Michael B. Perkins
House Manager: Kate Warden
Assistant Stage Managers: William Bush and Quinn Erb
Box Office Managers: Kevin Schmidt and Becky Galambos
Script Submissions Manager: Becky Galambos
Marketing Intern: Jared Campbell
Dramaturg: Gad Guterman

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