Sunday, August 21, 2011

THE CONVERSATION • The Black Mirror Theatre Company

There's a new theatre company in town folks, and THE CONVERSATION, written by St. Louisan Dennis Corcoran, is The Black Mirror Theatre Company's inaugural performance.
This play focuses on a discussion between Queen Elizabeth I and Gráinne Ní Mháille, or Grace O'Malley.  Grace was an Irish pirate and chieftain of the Ó Máille clan.  In the 16th century when England was in the process of trying to gain rule over Ireland, many Gaelic chieftains were handing over their land to the monarch and adopting fancy English titles, but Grace was a thorn in England's side -- a "bleeding ulcer" who refused to submit.  Her notorious exploits on the sea also posed a threat to England's purse.  When Grace's son and half-brother were imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth's armies, she sailed to English soil to seek favor and petition their release.
I was particularly interested in this show because a few years ago I saw THE PIRATE QUEEN, a 2007 musical about Grace O'Malley starring Broadway crush numero uno, Stephanie J. Block.  Yes, she was brilliant.  The show itself?  Not so much.  In this not so well received production, the exchange between these powerful women was a short scene with the two silhouetted behind a scrim, so I was excited to see a play devoted to this notable visit.
Katie Robinson (Grace O'Malley of Ireland)
and Gwynneth Rausch (Elizabeth I of England).
The play begins with the Queen (Gwynneth Rausch) preparing to meet with Grace (Katie Robinson).  Although Elizabeth's advisor, Sir William Cecil (Brian J. Rolf), is highly suspicious of Grace, the Queen is open to meeting with her, not only to try to get her to win over the Irish hold-outs, but also seemingly out of curiosity about this female Irish pirate.  The two women find out that in addition to being fluent in latin, they have many more things in common than they might have thought -- mainly their sense of being shackled to their people.  Their styles are different, but their responsibilities are very similar.  Although Grace proves a tough nut to crack, the two achieve a mutual respect for one another along with a cautious friendship.  This account of their dialogue is fictional (nobody really knows the details of the actual conversation), but this play gives us a credible look at the way things may have gone down.
Dennis Corcoran's play is written well, but Michelle Rebollo's direction seemed a little slow -- a lot of pregnant pauses and staring off into space.  Katie Robinson's Grace O'Malley was wily and smart with a convincing Irish brogue while Gwynneth Rausch's Elizabeth I of England seemed a little more tentative.  Their discourse, while intriguing, lacked the fire and bite that you would expect from a show that primarily concentrates on this meeting of determined personalities. The set, costumes and lighting, along with the lovely pre-show music, set the mood beautifully.
Although this production is a pretty short run, with only a couple of performances left, I look forward to seeing what this new company does next!
Written by Dennis Corcoran
Directed by Michelle Rebollo; assistant director - Bethany "Duke" Dukett
The Focal Point, 2720 Sutton Ave.
through August 21 | tickets: $10
Performances Friday the 19th at 7pm, Saturday and Sunday at 5pm & 7:30pm
Gwynneth Rausch (Elizabeth I of England), Katie Robinson (Gráinne Ní Mháille or Grace O'Malley of Ireland) and Brian J. Rolf (Sir William Cecil, Chief Advisor to Elizabeth).
Costume design by Sharon Corcoran; scenic design, lighting design & sound design by Megan E. King; makeup design by Derek Robertson.

Pre-show music:
Friday @ 7pm - Molly Krippene
Saturday @ 5pm - Shannon Kelly
Saturday @ 7:30 - Kate Nellis
Sunday @ 5pm - Natalie O'Loughlin
Sunday @ 7:30 - Mariah Mullins

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

RESTORATION • St. Louis Shakespeare

Ah, the class system.  It never really goes away, does it?  Whether you're in 18th century England or 21st century America, injustice is a timeless subject that Edward Bond considers in RESTORATION, currently on stage at the Grandel presented by St. Louis Shakespeare.
Michael Brightman (Lord Are) and Nicole Angeli (Ann).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Okay -- so first we've got the rakish Lord Are (Michael Brightman), powdered wig, makeup and all, who needs to find a woman of means (seeing as how he's pissed away all of his own money), and self-absorbed Ann Hardache (Nicole Angeli), a wealthy yet common woman in search of a title.  Naturally, a marriage is arranged between the two, even though they seem to abhor each other.  If there were a preening contest between these two, I’m really not sure who would win.  Then, on the "lower class" side, we've got Bob (Luke Lindberg), Lord Are's footman, married to Rose, a black servant.  When Ann ends up dead at the breakfast table (through a very amusing set of circumstances), Lord Are pins this accidental murder on Bob.  Are convinces Bob that even though he has been jailed, because of his association with the higher classes, Bob will be pardoned.  Poor Bob is gullible enough to believe him, but his wife Rose doesn’t believe it for a second (you know...  she's black, and knows better) and tries in vain to remove the wool from the eyes of the low-born – wool placed there by the high-born.
Luke Lindberg (Bob),  Nicole Angeli (Ann)
and Michael Brightman (Lord Are).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
The comedy in the first act sets up an almost 180 degree turn in the second, where the play slows a bit, and things get grim.  And a bit didactic at times.  There are intervals when a character will take center stage and address the audience about the social ills and injustices of the day.  This is where Bond's commentary on the class system becomes piercing.  Bob’s wife Rose does manage to wrangle a written pardon from Lord Are’s mother (Gwynneth Rausch), but then Are gets his hands on it, and it is unwittingly destroyed by Bob’s mother (Donna Weinsting).  Yeah.  It’s pretty effed up.
Donna Weinsting (Mother)
and Delisa Richardson (Rose).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
It was a little hard for me to get my head around certain parts of this one (Brechtian type things admittedly tend to frighten me…), but as is typically the case with St. Louis Shakespeare, the cast, skillfully directed by Milt Zoth, was strong and the production was very well done.  Michael Brightman was superb at the helm as Lord Are and Nicole Angeli’s facial expressions as Ann Hardache were priceless.  The scenes involving these two provide most of the hilarity in the first act and were my favorites.  There were also strong performances by Luke Lindberg as Bob, Delisa Richardson as Rose and Donna Weinsting as Bob's mother.  The rest of the cast was very nicely rounded out by Bradley J. Behrmann, Tim Kidwell, Eric White, Kimberly D. Sansone, Gwynneth Rausch and Brittni Lombardo.
Gwynneth Rausch (Lady Are)
and Delisa Richardson (Rose).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber

Patrick Huber’s lighting followed the action and intensity wonderfully, and Cristie Johnston designed the lovely set. The lavish costumes by Wes Jenkins were beautiful -- Lady Are’s get-up alone was worth the price of admission.  Only one more weekend to see this one!
Written by Edward Bond
Directed by Milt Zoth
Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
through August 14 | tickets: $15 - $25
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Thursday at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm
Kimberly D. Sansone (Mrs. Wilson), Delisa Richardson (Rose),
Luke Lindberg (Bob), Bradley J. Behrmann (Frank),
Nicole Angeli (Gaoler) and Eric White (Parson).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Michael Brightman (Lord Are), Luke Lindberg (Bob), Bradley J. Behrmann (Frank), Nicole Angeli (Ann), Tim Kidwell (Hardache), Eric White (Parson), Donna Weinsting (Mother), Kimberly D. Sansone (Mrs. Wilson), Gwynneth Rausch (Lady Are), Delisa Richardson (Rose), Nicole Angeli (Gaoler) and Brittni Lombardo (Messenger).
Costume design by Wes Jenkins; scenic design by Cristie Johnston; lighting design by Patrick Huber; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Let me just start off by saying, there is some interesting pre-show chatter that goes on sometimes.  "My cousin's uncle got him out of jail".  "Yeah, and the prosecuting attorney was my aunt's brother-in-law".  This was the kind of small talk going on before Max & Louie's opening night performance of Stephen Dolginoff's THRILL ME:  THE LEOPOLD AND LOEB STORY.  This musical is based on the true story of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, "thrill killers" who were sentenced to life plus 99 years for the murder of a young boy.  With songs like "Nothing Like a Fire", "Way Too Far" and "Ransom Note", the dark nature of this "crime of the century" seems unlikely material for a musical, but as director Brooke Edwards points out in her notes, this show concentrates less on the crimes and more on the relationship between these two young well-to-do law students from Chicago.

The story opens at Nathan Leopold's fifth parole hearing in 1958, and the story unfolds in a series of flashbacks.  Once the story shifts back to 1924, and we see these two childhood friends meet up, it's obvious that while Nathan is obsessed with Richard, Richard is obsessed with petty crimes for kicks.  Richard's penchant for Nietzsche heightens his need to prove that he and Nathan are "Supermen" -- above society and too clever for the law.  Arson and burglary soon give way to aspirations of committing the superior crime of murder, and Nathan, hopelessly smitten, seems willing to do just about anything Richard wants.  A contract between the two is typed up, and in exchange for Richard's scraps of affection, Nathan agrees to be his accomplice.  The rest of the play documents their attempt to commit the perfect crime along with some twists along the way.

Blake Berry Davy (Richard Loeb)
and James Bleeker (Nathan Leopold).
Photo credit: Brooke Edwards
This hour and a half show sucks you in with admirably credible performances by its two leads.  This show wouldn't work without chemistry between them, but James Bleeker (Nathan Leopold) and Blake Berry Davy (Richard Loeb) have it, along with solid voices.  Under Brooke Edwards' shrewd direction, Bleeker and Davy characterize the needy Nathan Leopold and the calculating Richard Loeb completely.  I was particularly impressed with the way Bleeker's Nathan Leopold appeared so young and impressionable in the flashbacks, but more wearied and wise in the scenes of his parole board hearing.  The songs are eerie but alluring with accompaniment by a wonderful Henry Palkes at the piano.  The costumes by Cynthia Lohrmann are perfect, and the scenic design by Will James Stacey is simple but effective and works well to accentuate John Blunk's potent lighting.  You know I love me some "in your face" theatre, and the intimate stage of the Gaslight adds to the power of this musical.  The piano on occasion was a little overpowering, but that's a minor quibble in light of the rest of this well done production.

This show provides an intriguing look at domination, seduction, betrayal and how far people are willing to go in the name of love.  Or at least pliant infatuation.  It's worth checking out.

Blake Berry Davy (Richard Loeb)
and James Bleeker (Nathan Leopold).
Photo credit: Brooke Edwards

Book/music/lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff
Directed by Brooke Edwards
Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle Ave.
through August 14 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 7:30pm

James Bleeker (Nathan Leopold), Blake Berry Davy (Richard Loeb), Tj Nicol (Parole Board Voice #1), and Brian Beracha (Parole Board Voice #2/Radio Announcer).

Scenic design by Will James Stacey; lighting design by John Blunk; costume design by Cynthia Lohrmann; sound design by Brian Beracha; musical direction by Lynn Thompson; pianist, Henry Palkes.


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