Monday, May 14, 2018

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE • Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Hardly a mention of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 classic can be made without a reference to its iconic film counterpart. Don’t remember the film? Good. It’s better to have a head free of any nagging comparisons, because this production, headlining this year’s third annual Tennessee Williams Festival, stands firmly on its own, with splendid creative touches and stellar performances.

Under a canopy of wooden window frames and clotheslines, Blanche DuBois shows up on the New Orleans doorstep of her sister Stella and her unfriendly brother-in-law Stanley. Escaping her past in Laurel, Mississippi, she’s come to live with Stella and Stanley now that Belle Reve, the family estate, has been lost. As put off as Blanche is with her sister’s dingy downstairs flat, she’s even more displeased with Stanley. His lowbrow poker games clash with Blanche’s highbrow constructions. Stella finds herself stuck in the middle, crazy for her husband but careful to protect her big sister’s mental fragility. Blanche, always leading with her feminine charm, sees nothing wrong with a little harmless fibbing if it bolsters her delicately spun illusions. Stanley, dangerous when brought to anger, has no tolerance for uppity bullshit. Things are bound to come to a head.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG • The Midnight Company

Between 1945 and 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany, prominent Nazi officers were brought to account by the Allied Forces for war crimes after World War II. Abby Mann’s fictionalized account focuses on the 1947 Judges' Trial, one of a string of military tribunals that took place after the major players had been convicted. Adapted from his 1959 teleplay, Mann is able to find the grays in-between the black and white atrocities that took place after the Nazi’s rise. Under the direction of Ellie Schwetye, The Midnight Company’s staging last week at the Missouri History Museum offered not only some strong performances, but also a brutal look at the underside of love of country and the consequences of compliance. And a shock of relevance.

Judge Dan Haywood, played with homespun charm by Joe Hanrahan, wasn’t the tribunal’s first choice for presiding judge. But after a lost re-election bid in North Carolina and the death of his wife, this district court judge found himself in Nuremberg with two other American judges, hearing testimony from key witnesses in the trial of three German judges -- complicit in allowing the law to become bent to serve the Third Reich.

Monday, April 16, 2018

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR • Stray Dog Theatre

After an appearance last season at the Muny and a live broadcast this Easter, St. Louisans have another opportunity to catch Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's classic rock opera that’s been around since the '70s. Loosely based on the Gospels, Jesus Christ Superstar details the last week in the life of Jesus Christ -- a demanding show for any company, and Stray Dog’s production has some hits and some misses.

Omega Jones in the title role stands out as one of the show’s hits. With strong vocals (and a great upper-register), Jones’ charismatic presence is easygoing, winning over the audience and justifying the devotion of Jesus’ followers. His frustration when a flood of appeals from the down-trodden threaten to overwhelm him at the end of a nicely staged, “The Temple”, is well played, and after laying down a groundwork of growing despair, Jones delivers one of the high points of the night with “Gethsemane” -- full of hopelessness and appropriately jaded insolence.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

NEW JERUSALEM • New Jewish Theatre

Most people don’t like to have their views challenged. But when your long-held convictions about religion are upended? Oof. Forget about it. That’s what got Baruch de Spinoza excommunicated from his Jewish community in Amsterdam, as told in David Ives’ cerebral historical drama -- with its mouthful of a subtitle, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Torah Talmud Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656.

Spinoza is regarded as an eminent Dutch philosopher, but in his 20’s, he was seen as a pagan when his probing theories about the pervious nature of God and his association with free-thinkers clashed with the provincial religious tenets of the day. Rob Riordan’s portrayal is animated with flashes of inspired observations, and to hear his musings about God’s infusion in all things, Spinoza's passion seems apparent. Still, deference was preferred over dissection, so prosecutor Abraham Van Valkenburgh (Jim Butz), speaking on behalf of the Christian population, wasn’t having any of it. Imposing and inflexible, Van Valkenburgh pushes for Baruch’s expulsion from society, and Butz seethes with righteous indignation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Sixth Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Another awards night has come and gone, this time generously hosted by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, with a delicious buffet provided by With Love Catering. Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients! As cliché as it sounds, the amount of talent in our own back yard makes us all winners. Here's the list of the sixth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominees with the award recipients in red.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Heather Beal, Dot, The Black Rep
Rachel Christopher, The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis
Andra Harkins, Steel Magnolias, Stray Dog Theatre
Larissa White, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Theatre Macabre
Gwen Wotawa, Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, Insight Theatre Company

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

CAUGHT • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

An art installation titled Devil in a Red Dress greets the guests downstairs at the Rep’s studio theatre. Featuring the work of visiting Chinese conceptual artist, Lin Bo, the showing is complete with docents and a program guide. After a brief introduction by director Seth Gordon, Bo steps up to the podium and talks about the inspiration for his work, and how his viral, visionary protest project commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre resulted in his brutal imprisonment by an oppressive Chinese government. With a profile in The New Yorker magazine and a book on the way, Lin Bo is starting to garner attention. He’s got an intriguing story to tell, but it’s not what it seems.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

ANYTHING GOES • New Line Theatre

The racy shenanigans and silly scheming going on among the passengers aboard a transatlantic cruise in Cole Porter’s, Anything Goes, offered a welcomed breather from the gloom of the Great Depression when it first set sail in 1934. New Line’s staging of the show’s 1962 version, energetically directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, includes a song list jam-packed with Porter standards like “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “Anything Goes,” and a strong cast to make those numbers soar. Though the book’s greatest strength may be its role as a vehicle for the tunes, it does offer a keen depiction of an America where gangsters are worshipped like celebrities and evangelism is akin to show business. Not much has changed on that score.

Evan Fornachon is Billy Crocker, a young stockbroker there to see off his boss, Wall Street exec. Elisha J. Whitney (Jeffrey M. Wright). He decides to stow away on the SS American after he spots Hope Harcourt (Eileen Engel), a girl whose heart he aims to win. Hope is traveling to London with her well-heeled husband-to-be, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Zachary Allen Farmer), and her social-climbing mother, Mrs. Harcourt (Kimmie Kidd-Booker). Billy’s pal Reno Sweeney (Sarah Porter), who traded up in her career from evangelist to nightclub singer, decides to help Billy in his romantic quest, along with Moonface Martin -- Public Enemy No. 13 (Aaron Allen), a gangster in priest’s clothing, and Bonnie Letour (Sarah Gene Dowling), moll to a goon called Snake Eyes Johnson.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

BLACKBIRD • St. Louis Actors’ Studio

The air in a dreary office lunchroom is thick when Ray finds himself there with Una. They haven’t seen each other since their relationship ended fifteen years ago -- when he was 40 and she was 12.

It seems eerily timely that St. Louis Actors’ Studio would stage David Harrower’s disturbing drama now, amidst the attention the MeToo movement has garnered with sexual abuse and harassment allegations taking up residence in the headlines. Braced with strong performances and unyielding direction, the psychological bruises on our two characters, sustained as a result of a young girl’s sexualization, will leave a mark.

After seeing a picture of Ray (John Pierson) and his work colleagues in a magazine, Una (Elizabeth Birkenmeier) has tracked him down and stands before him, like an exposed nerve, looking for answers, while he fidgets in a panic of annoyance and apprehension. Their first words to each other are sporadic and fraught, but after their pretense dissolves away, they give recollections of their three-month relationship, the night it all ended, and the perverse connection that neither has managed to be rid of is laid bare. After pursuing an increasing level of intimacy with Una after meeting her at a family barbecue, Ray was subsequently convicted of child abuse. Their involvement led Ray to prison, and left Una emotionally incapacitated.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

REMNANT • Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed open its 11th season with a revival of the theatre’s debut production, Ron Reed’s Remnant. It’s a post-apocalyptic Christmas story that takes place 75 years after a catastrophic plague has forced civilization to hit the restart button. Even the language is in tatters. The vestiges of families that remain fortify as clans, and arm themselves with weapons and guard dogs. Bikers are good to trade with, but not much else, and loners are to be avoided at all costs. Mustard Seed’s production explores the core Holiday sentiment through the eyes of the Wilkin clan, who have decided to celebrate “Christ Mass” for the first time in memory.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE • St. Louis Actors’ Studio

A severed hand sits on the box office desk at the Gaslight Theater -- a little something to get you in the mood for Martin McDonagh’s 2010 dark comedy, A Behanding in Spokane, continuing St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s eleventh season. Violence, profanity and comically ill-advised malice has become a trademark of McDonagh’s (The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman), but this play, his first that’s set in the States, doesn’t quite ring true.

A reliably solid Jerry Vogel is Carmichael -- a dangerous drifter who tosses out derogatory epithets as easily as a scorpion stings. He’s been searching for his hand ever since it was viciously removed by a couple of “hillbillies” some 47 years ago. His search has led him down various dead-ends, and now he finds himself in a dingy hotel room in Indiana, again hoping to be reunited with his long-lost appendage. A couple of impossibly stupid weed dealers, Marilyn (Léerin Campbell) and her boyfriend Toby (Michael Lowe) are hoping to score a reward, but when the hand they produce clearly once belonged to an African American, things go pear shaped pretty quickly. Carmichael leaves the couple behind to chase down an implausible lead that Marilyn and Toby whip up, but not before cuffing them to a radiator and setting a lit candle into the spout of a can of gasoline. Mervyn, the curiously creepy hotel receptionist (William Roth) drops in from time to time to ask questions, and offer ramblings about his hopes of heroic adventures in a hotel where nothing ever happens.

Friday, November 10, 2017

TITUS ANDROGYNOUS • YoungLiars

Spilling out on the 4th floor ballroom of the Centene Center is a YoungLiars revamp of Shakespeare’s goriest play, Titus Andronicus. Adapted and directed by producing director Chuck Harper, the renamed Titus Androgynous: Un Comico Spettacolare, exploits the grisly retaliations between Titus, a Roman general, and his nemesis, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, with buckets of blood-soaked gusto. In addition to the onslaught of beheadings, rape and dismemberment, this condensed, swiftly paced splatter-fest features ingenious original compositions performed by Paul Cereghino -- highly entertaining numbers that acclimate the audience, and percussionist Michael Ferguson’s scoring that punctuates the break-neck action.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

LIZZIE • New Line Theatre

Just about everyone is familiar with the infamous story of Lizzie Borden, who went to trial for hacking her father and stepmother to death with a hatchet (or an axe, as the children’s rhyme goes). She was acquitted by a jury of 12 men in 1893, but the grisly details that came out during the trial transfixed the country, and after moving back to Fall River, Massachusetts, Borden was regarded with suspicion for the rest of her life. The story still captivates more than a century later, and New Line Theatre seems a fitting company to stage this defiant, mostly sung-through musical inspired by her, told in the language of unchecked rebellion -- straight-up rock.

The murders remain unsolved, but Lizzie collaborators Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt don’t attempt to dodge the question of Borden’s guilt -- that’s made pretty damn clear. But through a series of delectably catchy songs, delivered by a quartet of adept female leads, strong arguments are posed addressing Borden’s possible motivations, riffing off of historical accounts, long-held speculation and theories.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

THE FEAST • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Poor Matt. His relationship with his girlfriend isn’t as sunny as it appears, his career as an artist has hit a slump, and there are some really creepy noises coming from his toilet. That’s the situation in St. Louis native Cory Finley’s The Feast, premiering in New York City after being workshopped at HotCity’s 2014 Greenhouse New Play Festival. The Feast launches St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s 11th season, and for all of the humor in it, the play, under John Pierson’s tight direction, maintains an eerie vibe of impending doom.

Unbeknownst to Matt (Spencer Sickmann) his live-in girlfriend Anna (Jennifer Theby-Quinn) has called in a plumber (Ryan Scott Foizey) to address some disturbing sounds that have been coming from the commode. Matt doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, but Anna describes the sounds to the plumber as “Deep in the pipes”, “Like a man, tied up down there” but “Not quite a human”. The subject of Matt's toilet troubles also comes up with his therapist, who seems to endorse the existence of these creatures, and again with Jeff, Matt’s art dealer friend, who is impressed with Matt’s newest painting, but warns against angering those who inspired it. Is Matt’s toilet some kind of portal to a race of underground pipe dwellers, or has his fragile mental state been driven over the edge once he learns of Anna’s infidelity?

Monday, September 11, 2017

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

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

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

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

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

ShareThis