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Friday, September 30, 2011

DIRTY BLONDE • Dramatic License Productions

A clever look at the bawdy, naughty film star, Mae West, is what's on offer at Dramatic License Productions.  Mae West was a true icon, and a pioneer when she started out in vaudeville.  With her sexually provocative stage shows and salacious one-liners, what she may have lacked as far as talent, she made up for with chutzpah, pushing the envelope of censorship.

This play covers a lot of ground considering it has only 3 actors.  It starts off introducing us to Charlie (John Reidy) and Jo (Kim Furlow).  They're two modern day fanatics who LOVE Mae West, and run into each other in a Brooklyn cemetery at Mae's crypt on August 17, the anniversary of her birth.  Jo is a lonely actress who temps more than she acts, and Charlie is a mild, quiet man who works at the New York Public Library Film Archives.  They strike up a friendship, and the ambiguous relationship between these two Mae West devotees grows during the course of the play.  By the end of it, they both get to "be" Mae West -- in a sense.  There are also scenes involving a young Mae (also Kim Furlow), with the various men of her life (John Reidy and B. Weller).  These follow her beginnings on the vaudeville stage, honing her persona, testing the boundaries of what she could get away with, and taking a few tips from a couple of drag queens -- a hilarious scene that suggests these queens helped give Mae West some finishing touches that solidified the indelible images that come to mind when we hear her name.  There are also scenes that show a young Charlie meeting Mae when he was 17 and she was an aging sexpot in her 80's, still trying to work it for all it was worth.  These scenes were some of the most compelling for me, with a rather sad Mae taking delight in looking at old pictures of herself, and Charlie, completely smitten, and Joe Frisco (B. Weller), a long-time friend of Mae's and hanger-on hoping to get lucky again.  Even into her mature years, she insisted that she looked like a woman of 26.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

PASSING STRANGE • New Line Theatre

New Line's season opener rocks.  Literally.  Never letting you forget you're watching a play, PASSING STRANGE challenges the preconceptions about what a musical is -- a musical for people who don't think they like musicals.  It's a high-octane, allegorical, semi-autobiographical account of a musician, Mark Stewart, who goes by the single name, Stew, and his journey of self-discovery.  It opened on Broadway in 2008, garnering a Tony Award for Best Book.

Stew (Charles Glenn) serves as the older, wiser narrator, looking back on "Youth" (Keith Parker) who serves as his rebellious younger self, our Hero for the evening.  Pivotal scenes from Stew's life are played out with Youth, and a fully engaged ensemble.  Strong numbers like, "Baptist Fashion Show", "Amsterdam", and "May Day", shine a full light on the electrifying strength of this cast that a New Line production always promises.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

THE WINNERS • HotCity Theatre

So, how does winning a butt-load of cash in the lottery change your life?  Or more intriguingly, what temptations and behaviors do new-found financial freedom uncover? That's at the center of THE WINNERS, written by David L. Williams.  This play won HotCity's GreenHouse new play competition last year, and it's receiving a full production in its St. Louis premiere in the cozy black-box confines of the Kranzberg.

What's the first thing Cassie (Shanara Gabrielle) and her husband Kurt (Shaun Sheley) do after raking in $337 million?  What else?  They buy a hooker for the night!  See, Cassie used to have the hots for an Asian classmate in college, but she never experimented, so they hire "Tiffany" (Sasha Diamond) a young attractive escort, so Cassie can live out her fantasy.  Naturally her husband was all for it.  After awkward small talk and money negotiations they get down to business.  All of the "action" takes place offstage, but once the first round is over, there's a bit of animosity in the air.  Cassie and Kurt seem to do a little "power-tripping" in light of their upper-hand in the situation, and they proceed to run Tiffany through a series of rather humiliating scenarios.  Throughout the night, we also hear from a crying Shirley, the couple's daughter, over the baby monitor.  Shirley's almost two years old, but not yet able to talk.  Weary of always having to go up and check on the baby, Cassie and Kurt have Tiffany go up to check on her to give themselves a break.  Geez.  Have the hooker do the dishes too while you're at it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

RED • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

"What do you see?"

That's the first question painter Mark Rothko poses, almost pleads, to his new apprentice Ken in the opening minutes of the Rep's scorching season opener, John Logan's RED.

Mark Rothko's "multiforms" led to the development of Color Field Painting in the 1940's and 50's.  Although he is considered a master abstract expressionist, he shunned labels of any kind applied to his style.  You know -- that temperamental artist thing.

The play takes place in Rothko's 1950's art studio after he's been given a $35,000 commission (over $2 million today) to paint a series of murals for Manhattan's new Four Seasons restaurant.  Ken, an aspiring young artist himself, has been hired as Rothko's assistant.  He does everything from fetching Chinese food and preparing Rothko's canvases, to being a sounding board for the master and his intellectual ramblings.  Before Ken even has a chance to answer Rothko's initial question, he's given instructions on how to perceive his art -- "Let it work on you.  Let it pulsate.  Now what do you see?".

Sunday, September 4, 2011

FALLING • Mustard Seed Theatre

With an estimated 1 in 110 kids having an ASD, or Autism spectrum disorder, many of us are familiar with autism to some degree -- in a once or twice removed kind of way.  But seeing the challenges of a family with an autistic son up close and personal in Mustard Seed's first show of their season, written by artistic director, Deanna Jent, is a powerful and touching experience.

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