Monday, July 27, 2015

THE RUNAWAY CUPCAKE: A PLAY ABOUT EATING FOR FAMILIES WHO EAT • OnSite Theatre Company

OnSite Theatre, the city’s only site-specific theatre company, produced its first ever family-friendly production earlier this month -- a fanciful folk tale written by local playwright and actor Nancy Bell, and in typical OnSite fashion, “The Runaway Cupcake” was presented at SweetArt in the Tower Grove area of the city.

After the introduction of our baker (Patrick Blindauer) and his assistant (Kenyata Tatum), we learn that his shop is in debt to a bill collector who comes to get what he is owed along with a leather-clad “terrifying assistant” (Maria Mohr) -- complete with boots, shades and a pink baseball bat. While the baker tries to buy himself a little more time with the collector, a mother (Michelle Hand) and her spoiled daughter (Ivy Bell Reed) come in to order a huge batch of cupcakes for a birthday party. The baker figures (with the help of some math skills from the audience), that the order would cover his debt. But with a toss of a little flour, one of the cupcakes magically comes to life (Hannah Donaldson), running in and out of the store, wreaking a gleeful havoc.

Meanwhile, a hungry mother and daughter (Katy Keating and Reagan Austin), seemingly from another time and place appear, with no idea where their next meal will come from. The “have nots” soon meet up with the “haves” and a valuable lesson nicely comes together about the hunger suffered by families in our own backyards, wastefulness and generosity.

Under Shanara Gabrielle’s direction, the whole of the cast is wonderfully engaging. Tatum is our amiable narrator, who seems to have an eye towards where the tale is headed, and Blindauer charms as the baker trying desperately to cover his debt. Keating and Austin make a wonderful pair as the poor mother and daughter, reminding us that hunger isn’t an isolated condition that happens in faraway places. Hand is spot on as a mother juggling tasks and Reed perfectly portrays a demanding spoiled kid, and gratifyingly comes around when she meets those in need. Kuhlman makes a good impression as a forgiving bill collector and Mohr pulls no punches as his adorable enforcer. Special shout out to Hannah Frey as the “Fiddler,” who adds a perfect musical backdrop for the proceedings.

Sadly, this production has concluded, so I can’t advise you to check it out, but I can advise you to keep an ear to the ground for OnSite’s next production, because this company always provides a unique experience. It was great to see them break new ground. There were also delicious cupcakes for the audience at the end. Yum!


THE RUNAWAY CUPCAKE: A PLAY ABOUT EATING FOR FAMILIES WHO EAT

Written by Nancy Bell
Directed by Shanara Gabrielle
SweetArt, 2203 South 39th Street
Run complete | tickets: $12 - $20

Cast:
Hannah Frey (Fiddler), Kenyata Tatum (Baker’s Assistant), Patrick Blindauer (Baker), Andrew Kuhlman (Bill Collector), Maria Mohr (Terrifying Assistant), Hannah Donaldson (Runaway Cupcake), Reagan Austin (Hungry Girl), Katy Keating (Hungry Mother), Michelle Hand (Girl’s Mother), Ivy Bell Reed (Girl).

Creative:
Costume design by Christina Sittser; Dramaturg, Dan Rubin.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE • Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie kicks off its fifth season with Frank Marcus’s, “The Killing of Sister George,” a 1965 dark comedy with June Buckridge (Lavonne Byers), at its center. She’s a radio actor with an uncertain future with the BBC and a home life with a lover of seven years whom she’s increasingly afraid of losing.

The “Sister George” of the title is the character June plays on a radio soap -- a sweet and kindly district nurse who zips around on her motorbike, doling out medicines and rustic wisdom to the residents of the fictional town of Applehurst with a happy hymn on her lips. Sister George is a popular character on the show, and so high is June’s association with her radio persona that her friends call her “George.” Off the air though, June smokes cigars, knocks back gin, and shares her West End flat with her lover, Alice “Childie” McNaught (Shannon Nara), in a relationship that bounces from moments of kindness, to bath-water drinking sadomasochism.

Shannon Nara (Alice “Childie” McNaught),
Erin Kelley (Mrs. Mercy Croft), Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge)
and Cooper Shaw (Madame Xenia).
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL.com
George suspects her character may be getting the ax soon. The ratings for Applehurst are down, and, there is the matter of an incident that's hit the papers involving a drunk George, a taxi and nuns. Her fears are heightened when Mrs. Mercy Croft (Erin Kelley), a BBC executive, pays her a visit to talk about the program’s direction, and the fate of Sister George.

Under sharp, smart direction by Brooke Edwards, this cast of four disappears into their roles, led by Byers. Byers characteristically holds your attention as George in butch, wide-legged, domineering fashion, but rewards with the vulnerability underneath that tweed, sharing glimpses of the woman forced to extremes, and unwillingly coerced into reinventing herself. Nara also fleshes out Childie, capitalizing on every comic turn, but also giving a sliver of calculation that belies a seemingly simple exterior.
Erin Kelley (Mrs. Mercy Croft),
Shannon Nara (Alice “Childie” McNaught),
Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge)
and Cooper Shaw (Madame Xenia).
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL.com
Kelley’s Mrs. Croft is spot on as the buttoned up BBC exec., sporting many of costume designer Cyndi Lohrmann’s period perfect hats, and Cooper Shaw excels as Madame Xenia, a clairvoyant neighbor who looks in on George when it all hits the fan, with a slavic-like accent that truly entertains. Actually, all of the dialects during the play are quite solid. Dunsi Dai’s cozy scenic design hits all of the right notes along with Kyra Bishop’s prop design that includes a slew of Alice’s dolls. Bess Moynihan lights the set following mood and times of day, and Michael B. Perkins provides the sound design.

The play was made into a racier film adaptation in 1968, and received a scandalous X-rating for an explicit scene between June and Alice. This catapulted the film version to an almost cult-like status. For modern audiences, the play’s tension is centered more around the relationships, and will entertain from the wonderful pre-show audio of a radio soap right until the last moments. Grab a ticket and check it out.


Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge).
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL.com
THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE

Written by Frank Marcus
Directed by Brooke Edwards
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through July 26 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge/Sister George), Shannon Nara (Alice “Childie” McNaught), Erin Kelley* (Mrs. Mercy Croft), Cooper Shaw* (Madame Xenia).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Shannon Nara (Alice “Childie” McNaught)
and Lavonne Byers (June Buckridge).
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL.com
Creative:
Scenic design by Dunsi Dai; lighting design by Bess Moynihan; sound design by Michael B. Perkins; costume design by Cyndi Lohrmann; prop design by Kyra Bishop; stage manager, Richard Agnew*.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL I • St. Louis Actors' Studio

St. Louis Actors' Studio is back with its third annual LaBute New Theater Festival, named after Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute. Nine one-act plays were selected from 250 submissions with LaBute not only lending his name to the festival, but participating in the selection panel, providing a great opportunity for aspiring playwrights from all over the globe. The first group of finalists will be performed from July 10th through the 19th, and the second group will be performed from the 24th through August 2nd, and LaBute’s world premiere, “Kandahar”, written specifically for the event, will run every night of the festival. There are also five high school finalists whose work will be presented as a free staged reading on July 25 at 11am. You can find the details on these plays at the end of the blog.

Michael Hogan.
Photo credit: John Lamb
LaBute’s “Kandahar” features Michael Hogan as a soldier being grilled about a brutal incident at his local base after his return from Afghanistan. Under John Pierson’s direction, Hogan’s performance -- stoic and imposing, teases out the details of what landed him here in chilling detail, driving home how the numbing horrors of war are not easily left behind, with a solid solo performance.

G.P. Hunsaker (Jeweler) and Nathan Bush (Robert).
Photo credit: John Lamb

In Mark Young’s “Custom”, directed by Christopher Limber, Robert (Nathan Bush) visits a jeweler (GP Hunsaker) to get some gold appraised. During his visit, he admires the jeweler’s collection of custom pieces, and the stories that come with them. One of the jeweler’s earliest pieces, a golden cricket that “chirps”, has a special story -- one that reveals a poignant connection between Robert and the jeweler. Great performances from Hunsaker and Bush.

Kevin C. Minor (Man) and Nancy Crouse (Woman).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Less successful is Chris Holbrook’s “A Taste of Heaven”, that finds Nancy Crouse fighting a healthcare bureaucrat. Her retirement benefits are in danger of being terminated because they think she’s dead. Directed by B. Weller, there are solid performances from Crouse, Kevin Minor and Rhyan Robison, but Holbrook’s twist near the end of the play comes a little too late in the proceedings after the initial set-up has lost steam.

Steve Apostolina’s “Cold in Hand”, also directed by Limber, fares better as Luke (Rynier Gaffney), a young, white street performer with a penchant for the blues winds up on Razz’s (Don McClendon) corner.
Don McClendon (Razz) and Rynier Gaffney (Luke).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Razz is an old blues man himself, and wonders what this young white boy knows about the blues. They both learn things about each other they didn’t anticipate in this neat little chance meeting with a convincing performance by McClendon and good support by Gaffney.

Lexi Wolfe’s “Stand Up for Oneself”, directed by Pierson, is an easy-going story about Lucas (Bush), an introverted, disabled professor who has retreated to a back room at a party in London.
Nathan Bush (Lucas) and Alicia Smith (Lila).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Lila (Alicia Smith), a young teacher, discovers him alone and after he initially tries to avoid her, she eventually engages him in conversation and wears him down with her flirtatious, upbeat demeanor. It’s a sweet story with another strong performance from Bush, and a charming turn by Smith.

Jenny Smith plays Patricia, newly divorced and preparing for a business presentation the next morning in Rich Orloff’s comedy, “A Stranger Here Myself”. Alone in her hotel room she’s unable to sleep, so she turns to one surefire way to unwind. Let’s call it “freelance work.”
Don McClendon (Bruce), Jenny Smith (Patricia),
Stephanie Benware (Chelsea) and Paul Cereghino (Shane).
Photo credit: John Lamb
She’s soon joined by her fantasy hunk, a movie star named Shane (Paul Cereghino) who is bored with the routine, her ex-husband Bruce (McClendon) who knows what Patricia likes, and even her slutty and curious neighbor Chelsea (Stephanie Benware). All of the players are very funny in this perfect nightcap for the evening.

The first set of plays provides a lot of variety, played out on Patrick Huber’s minimal and incredibly versatile set, and is a promising start to this year’s festival. The first set will play until the weekend, with the second set of plays kicking off on the 24th. Grab your tickets now for an exciting event that’s made a wonderful addition to the St. Louis theatre landscape.


LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL

“Kandahar” by Neil LaBute • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Michael Hogan*.

Finalists (July 10-19):

“Custom” by Mark Young, Chicago, Il • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: Nathan Bush (Robert) and GP Hunsaker (Jeweler).

“A Taste of Heaven” by Chris Holbrook, San Francisco, CA • Directed by B. Weller
Cast: Nancy Crouse (Woman), Kevin Minor (Man) and Rhyan Robison (Functionary).

“Cold in Hand” by Steve Apostolina, Burbank, CA • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: Rynier Gaffney (Luke) and Don McClendon (Razz).

“Stand Up for Oneself” by Lexi Wolfe, London England • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Nathan Bush (Lucas) and Alicia Smith (Lila).

“A Stranger Here Myself” by Rich Orloff, New York, NY • Directed by John Pierson*
Cast: Jenny Smith (Patricia), Paul Cereghino (Shane), Don McClendon (Bruce) and Stephanie Benware (Chelsea).


Finalists (July 24 – August 2):

“Pitch” by Theresa Masters & Marc Pruter, St Louis, MO • Directed by B. Weller
Cast: Stephanie Benware (Trina) and Paul Cereghino (Matt).

“There You Are” by Fran Dorf, Stamford, CT • Directed by Christopher Limber*
Cast: B. Weller (George) and Jenny Smith (Jesse).

“Homebody” by Gabe Mckinley, New York, NY • Directed by Patrick Huber
Cast: Donna Weinsting (Mother) and Michael Hogan* (Jay).

“Deirdre Dear” by Norman Yeung, Toronto, ON • Directed by Patrick Huber
Cast: Jenny Smith (Deirdre), Rhyan Robinson (Carol, Casting Assistant), Alicia Smith (Bea), Stephanie Benware (Andrea) and Maya Dickinson (Bobbi).


High School Finalists (July 25 @ 11am):

Directed by Steve Isom*

“Listen To Me” by Benjamin Killeen, Webster Groves High School, St. Louis, MO

“Zodiac” by Meghan Rivkin, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire,IL

“The Day Netflix Crashed” by Veronica Silva, Clayton High School, St. Louis, MO

“Coming In” by Hannah Ryan, Clayton High School, St. Louis, MO

“Guilt” by Sydney Cimarolli, Webster Groves High School, St. Louis, MO

Cast: Abigail Isom, Adrianna Jones, Spencer Milford*, Olivia Prosser, Pete Winfrey and William Bonfiglio.
* Member Actors' Equity Association

The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through August 2 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Creative: 
Scenic design by Patrick Huber; lighting design by Patrick Huber and Dalton Robison; sound design by John Pierson, Christopher Limber, B. Weller and Patrick Huber; costume and props design by Carla Landis Evans; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

Friday, June 19, 2015

MY FAIR LADY • The Muny

“My Fair Lady” was a huge hit when it premiered in 1956, and now Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical adorns the colossal Muny stage after a seven-year absence with a strong voiced ensemble and excellent leads, under the tight direction of Marc Bruni. It’s based on a film version of George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion” -- a prototype of sorts, providing a blueprint for several “transformation” films that followed. (“Trading Places” and “Pretty Woman,” anyone?)

Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle)
and the ensemble cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
Henry Higgins (Anthony Andrews), a phonetics professor, is on his way home from the opera when he meets Eliza Doolittle (Alexandra Silber), a flower girl selling her wares at Covent Garden. She catches his attention with her flagrant acts of swallowing up defenseless vowels and “h’s” thanks to her Cockney dialect. Higgins claims to Colonel Pickering (Paxton Whitehead), a linguist and fellow lover of dialects, that under his tutelage he could pass her off as a member of the upper classes. Doolittle, who wants to learn how to speak “properly” so she can work in a flower shop, is driven to seek out Higgins, and the challenge is taken up to improve her diction and social skills. Higgins sees his actions as kindhearted, though he views Doolittle as little more than an experiment, despite the keener observations of his housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce (Peggy Billo), his mother (Zoe Vonder Haar) and Pickering.

Anthony Andrews (Henry Higgins), Peggy Billo (Mrs. Pearce),
Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle)
and Paxton Whitehead (Colonel Pickering).
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
Now admittedly, there’s not a lot to love about the pompous misogynist Henry Higgins as portrayed by British Academy and Golden Globe Award winning Andrews. Later in the show Higgins refers to women as “exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags!” No wonder he’s still a bachelor, right? But Andrews does manage to give you a sliver of charm to hang onto in a dapper performance, if not a little severe. Silber’s resilient Eliza Doolittle proves a good counterpart for the professor, in addition to her strong vocals, and Whitehead’s Colonel Pickering is appealingly sympathetic to Eliza. Matthew Scott as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a young man taken with Doolittle, provides some of the best vocals of the night with a memorable “On the Street Where You Live" and Peggy Billo, in her Muny debut, turns in a sparkling performance as Mrs. Pearce, with Zoe Vonder Haar’s droll Mrs. Higgins falling squarely on Doolittle’s side in the face of her son’s indifference. Michael McCormick is also a standout, providing a healthy dose of humor in his lively performance as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father.

Michael McCormick (Alfred P. Doolittle)
and the ensemble cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
On the creative side, Timothy R. Mackabee’s scenic design includes a marvelous backdrop of a map of London, a race track viewing stand, and, embellished with dozens of paintings, a rather over-busy rendering of the home of Henry Higgins, complemented by John Lasiter’s lighting design. Amy Clark’s handsome costume design informs the social classes of 1912 London, with sound design by John Shivers and Hugh Sweeney, and a score beautifully executed by the Muny orchestra.

So, there’s another classic I get to cross off my list. With well-known songs including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”, "The Rain in Spain", “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time”, Bruni keeps this old standard lively enough to keep it from seeming like a doily on your grandmother’s dining room table. It’s playing until the 21st.


Cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
MY FAIR LADY

Book/lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Marc Bruni
through June 21 | tickets: $14 - $87
Performances Monday to Sunday at 8:15pm

Cast:
Anthony Andrews (Henry Higgins), Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle), Paxton Whitehead (Colonel Pickering), Michael McCormick (Alfred P. Doolittle), Matthew Scott (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Zoe Vonder Haar (Mrs. Higgins), Peggy Billo (Mrs. Pearce), Ensemble: Lori Barrett-Pagano, Leah Berry, Anna Blair, Steve Czarnecki, Thom Dancy, Colby Dezelick, Samantha Farrow, Matt Faucher, Ellie Fishman, Tanya Haglund, Michael Hartung, Steve Isom, Austin Glen Jacobs, Jacob Lacopo, Lee Anne Matthews, Russell McCook, Kaela O’Connor, Rich Pisarkiewicz and Paul Scanlan.

Creative:
Scenic design by Timothy R. Mackabee; choreographer, Chris Bailey; music director, Ben Whiteley; costume design by Amy Clark; lighting design by John Lasiter; sound design by John Shivers and Hugh Sweeney; video design by Nathan W. Scheuer; wig design by Leah J. Loukas; stage manager, Nevin Hedley.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

THE PILLOWMAN • Theatre Lab

Ryan Musselman
Martin McDonagh (“The Lieutenant of Inishmore”) has a way with dark comedy. In Theatre Lab’s gripping current production of his 2003 Olivier and Tony award-winning play, the “black” in this black comedy is pitch. The title comes from one of the stories written by our protagonist, Katurian (Jason C. Klefisch), about a man made of pillows who talks kids into offing themselves to avoid a lifetime of pain. So, you know. Yeah. Buckle up.

In a dank, leak-stained room, Katurian, a short story writer who works in a slaughterhouse, is being ferociously questioned by detective Tupolski (Eric Dean White) and police officer Ariel (Darian Michael Garey). Katurian, scared as a rabbit and still in his night clothes, has no idea what the hell is going on, but Tupolski and Ariel, after probing him about his decidedly grisly tales, eventually tell him about a recent string of child murders -- murders that bear a striking resemblance to some of Katurian’s stories. After hearing screams from the next room, Katurian learns that his special needs brother, Michal (Nick Kelly), childlike but with a head full of his brother’s yarns, is also in custody, and according to the cops, has confessed to the killings.


Eric Dean White (Tupolski), Darian Michael Garey (Ariel)
and Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian). 
Photo credit: John Lamb
Throughout “The Pillowman,” in a stylish departure from previous productions of the play where additional actors are used, we see remarkable illustrations by Aaron Allen that depict not only some of the stories in question, but also the cruelty of the brothers’ childhood that Katurian put a stop to after years of abuse suffered, particularly by Michal, at the hands of their sadistic parents.

Too many details would spoil the discoveries that are leaked little by little during the course of the play, but one thing’s for sure -- this production couldn’t be more perfectly cast. Under the tight direction of Theatre Lab’s artistic producing director Ryan Foizey, this cast of four completely disappear into the terrain of the play. Klefisch holds your attention as the central figure, but Kelly’s portrayal of Michal, a damaged innocent, is exceptional and touching, steering clear of any hint of mockery or exaggeration. Garey is the “bad cop”, having to restrain himself from beating Katurian to a pulp himself, but White proves just as quietly intimidating when pushed. Allen’s illustrations are nicely underlined by Luke Viertel’s original music, and Rob Lippert provides the scenic design, with James Slover’s lighting design heightening the action, and Marcy Weigert smartly adding to the characters with informed costume design.

Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian) and Nick Kelly (Michal).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Sadly running for only two weekends, there’s a few more chances to check out this play, and if you like dark drama (as I do) it’s worth your time to see these fine performances for yourself. It’s playing at the intimate space of the Gaslight theater until the 7th.
(Also, kudos to Ryan Musselman, who provided the excellent story graphics for the production).


THE PILLOWMAN
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Ryan Scott Foizey 
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through June 7th | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm, Sunday, June 7 at 8pm

Eric Dean White (Tupolski),
Darian Michael Garey (Ariel)
and Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian). 
Photo credit: John Lamb

Cast:
Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian), Darian Michael Garey (Ariel), Eric Dean White (Tupolski) and Nick Kelly (Michal).

Creative:
Lighting design by James Slover; scenic design by Rob Lippert; costume design by Marcy Weigert; illustrations by Aaron Allen; original music by Luke Viertel; painting by Michelle Sauer; story graphics, Ryan Musselman.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare’s sweeping account of the ultimate power couple -- Marcus Antonius of Rome, and Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, is getting a thrilling staging by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, celebrating its 15th season of free Shakespeare in Forest Park. The grand scope of the play is captivating, and under Mike Donahue’s fluent direction, the legendary characters within it are grounded, real and tragically flawed.

Antony (Jay Stratton) is having to be practically dragged from the arms of his lover in Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb), back to Rome where he is one of a trio of public officers, and his fellow triumvirs have threats from within Rome and threats from abroad to deal with. For his absence from Rome and the resentment it garnered, an attempt to strengthen the relationships among the triumvirs is made when Antony agrees to marry Octavia (Raina K. Houston) the sister of one of the rulers, Octavius Caesar (Charles Pasternak), who has his eye on increasing his own power, eventually declaring war on Cleopatra. The series of events that are set in motion test allegiances, fuel resentments and result in some really unfortunate misjudgments.

Jay Stratton (Mark Antony)
and Shirine Babb (Cleopatra).
Photo credit: J David Levy
The ardent love affair at the center of the play is dynamically driven by Babb’s portrayal of Cleopatra -- as vulnerable in her jealousies and regret as she is glorious in her power, and reckless in her manipulations. Stratton’s Antony, a cocksure ladies' man torn between his responsibilities in Rome and the indulgent pleasures he enjoys in Egypt, is seductively confident in war and romance, but hot-headed in retribution when he thinks Cleopatra has betrayed him. Charles Pasternak’s Octavius Caesar is pompous and belligerent as Antony’s foe, and Conan McCarty is eloquent as Enobarbus, Antony’s right hand with Moses Villarama as Eros, Antony’s devoted and put-upon messenger.

There are also several excellent performances from some of the area’s best, including Gary Glasgow as Lepidus, the third member of the triumvirate, Kari Ely as Charmian, one of Cleopatra’s lively handmaidens, Alan Knoll as Cleo’s eunuch consultant, Mardian, and officers Michael James Reed as Agrippa, and Reginald Pierre as Maecenas, both close friends of Caesar.

Photo credit: J David Levy

Scott C. Neale’s scenic design features five golden columns that beautifully reflect John Wylie’s lighting design, calling out the changes in location and mood. With sound design by Rusty Wandall, composer Greg Mackender lends strong vamps in Rome and the slightest hint of Middle Eastern-inspired music when the story is taken to Egypt, with appropriately creepy chords when an omen of music emanating from the ground bodes ill for Antony. The costume design courtesy of Dorothy Marshall Englis handsomely informs the different factions within the play, and there are also great special effects as water cannons spew up huge plumes on either side of the stage during the sea battle of Actium.

With pre-show activities that include a Green Show and terrific performances throughout, along with tasty treats and souvenirs to buy, you’re bound to have a great evening of top-notch theatre. Grab a blanket, a loaded picnic basket, and head to Shakespeare Glen in the park -- it’s playing until the 14th.


Kari Ely (Charmian), Raina K. Houston (Iras),
Shirine Babb (Cleopatra) and Jay Stratton (Mark Antony).
Photo credit: J David Levy
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Mike Donahue 
Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park
through June 14 | tickets: FREE
Performances nightly at 8pm, except Tuesdays; 6:30pm Green Show

Cast:
Shirine Babb* (Cleopatra), Kari Ely* (Charmian), Gary Glasgow* (Lepidus, Soothsayer, Clown), Raina K. Houston (Octavia, Iras), Ryan A. Jacobs (Philo, Soldier, Guard), Alan Knoll* (Mardian), Bernell Lassai III (Demetruis, Soldier, Guard), Matt Lytle* (Pompey, Proculeius, Canidius), Conan McCarty* (Enobarbus), Jesse E. Muñoz (Menas, Scarus), Charles Pasternak* (Octavius Caesar), Reginald Pierre (Maecenas), Michael James Reed* (Agrippa), Robert Riordan (Varrius, Gallus, Soldier), Jay Stratton* (Mark Antony) and Moses Villarama* (Eros). 
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Scott C. Neale; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by John Wylie; sound design by Rusty Wandall; composer, Greg Mackender; voice and text coach, Suzanne Mills; fight choreographer, Paul Dennhardt; stage manager, Emilee Buchheit; assistant stage manager, Lydia Crandall.

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.

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