Friday, October 21, 2011

GOD OF CARNAGE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

All of us have, at some point, had one of those, "Man, what an effed up evening that was!  What the hell just happened?" kind of experiences.  This play is kinda like that.  Written by Yasmina Reza and translated from French by Christopher Hampton, it opened on Broadway in 2009, scoring Tony Awards for best play, best actress and best direction.

The Raleighs are getting together at the Brooklyn home of the Novak's because the Novak's son has had two teeth knocked out as a result of a playground fight with the Raleigh's kid.  <-- Yes, really long sentence.  Alan Raleigh (Anthony Marble) is a lawyer, constantly interrupting the proceedings with cell phone calls about a drug he's representing that has recently been found to cause some bothersome side-effects.  His wife Annette (Susan Louise O'Connor) deals in wealth management.  Veronica Novak (Eva Kaminsky) is writing a book about Darfur, and her husband Michael Novak (Triney Sandoval) sells domestic hardware.  They meet each other with the best of intentions, but with the help of ample amounts of rum, these four upper-middle class adults jettison their civilized guises to expose their untamed and wickedly universal selves underneath.

Susan Louise O'Connor (Annette Raleigh),
Anthony Marble (Alan Raleigh), Eva Kaminsky (Veronica Novak)
and Triney Sandoval (Michael Novak).
©Photo by Sandy Underwood
Couples gang up against couples, the women gang up against the men, common ground is stumbled upon and then immediately abandoned, and the neanderthal in all is revealed.  During the course of the afternoon, discussions about African culture, social responsibility, molars and clafouti give way to tantrums, taunting, ranting and puking.  It's quite engrossing watching the day devolve.

The shrewd direction of Edward Stern keeps the action at a perfect pace, although a couple of the performances sometimes seemed a little "zero to sixty" too fast.  The marvelous set by Narelle Sissons is inviting and upscale, and the lighting design by Kirk Bookman & Steve O’Shea, along with costume design by Gordon DeVinney, set a perfect note on which to start off the festivities.  All of the performances were strong.  Anthony Marble as Alan Raleigh was reserved enough in the beginning, that by the time he lets loose, it's very funny and rewarding.  Susan Louise O'Connor as his wife, Annette Raleigh, does a complete 180 during the course of the play -- starting off seemingly very meek, but ending up anything but by the end.  Triney Sandoval as Michael Novak was the perfect "guy's guy", and it was great fun watching Eva Kaminsky's Veronica Novak have a major meltdown right in front of you.

Susan Louise O'Connor (Annette Raleigh)
and Eva Kaminsky (Veronica Novak).
©Photo by Sandy Underwood
Now, before I conclude, can I just bitch about a couple of audience members for a minute?  Please and thank you.

So, in my infamous Theatre Etiquette post (okay, not really infamous), I made a comment about how it's okay to laugh during a show because of the fact that I find so many audiences here completely unresponsive.  Well, there's that, and then there's the other end of that -- like the woman seated to my left, who broke out into uncontrollable hee-haws five minutes into the play.  Okay so here's the deal -- if you're truly moved to respond during a show, great!  I love that.  I also totally get nervous laughter.  Lord knows I've let out my fair share of nervous or inappropriate laughter during a show.  But then there's that, "before the ball's even hit, I'm gonna guffaw at the windup of the pitch, so everyone will know how clever I am."  *sigh*  I've got clever for you -- relax, shut your pie hole, get engaged and quit trying to pretend you're engaged.  K?  You know the type -- don't even.  Then there's the guy sitting to my buddy's right.  An approximately 237 year old man who felt compelled to say, "Uh oh", or, "Here we go", every eight minutes.  That, or he repeatedly explained the physical action going on onstage to his wife.  Yeah dude.  We saw that too.  STFU.  I can't help it you don't have verbal interaction with your wife at home.  Please don't choose to have it at the theatre during a performance.  I'm sorry.  It's hard for me to let this stuff go.  I was so looking forward to moving away from these "noisemakers" at intermission, only to sadly discover there was no intermission.  Again -- I don't want to judge how anyone responds to a show.  It's all so subjective.  And although I clearly am judging, whatever.  We all know these people.

Anthony Marble (Alan Raleigh),Triney Sandoval (Michael Novak),
Susan Louise O'Connor (Annette Raleigh)
and Eva Kaminsky (Veronica Novak).
©Photo by Sandy Underwood
Anyhoo, GOD OF CARNAGE is very entertaining in its revelations, and sincere in the responsive chords it plucks.  If you've ever wanted to be a fly on the wall of one of those, "What the hell just happened?" kind of days, then check it out.  It will be at the Rep till November 6th!  And don't be afraid to "shush" someone if you have to.  :)


Written by Yasmina Reza; Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Edward Stern
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 6 | tickets: $19 - $72
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Eva Kaminsky (Veronica Novak), Anthony Marble (Alan Raleigh), Susan Louise O'Connor (Annette Raleigh) and Triney Sandoval (Michael Novak).

Scenic design by Narelle Sissons; costume design by Gordon DeVinney; co-lighting design by Kirk Bookman & Steve O’Shea; stage manager, Glenn Dunn.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NUTS • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Ooo, I love a good courtroom drama.  And there's a fine one going on right now at the Gaslight Theater, kicking off St. Louis Actors’ Studio's season.  Possibly best known for its 1987 film adaptation starring Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Topor's NUTS… you know what I mean… opened as a play off-off Broadway in 1979 and transferred to Broadway the next year.  The play all takes place inside a courtroom in New York's Bellevue Hospital, and although the play itself can seem a bit static at times, the dynamic performances from the high-caliber cast within it are anything but.  It’s three acts with two intermissions, but once the first act gets going, the rest of the show flies by.

The play begins on the day of Claudia Faith Draper's sanity hearing (a compelling Lara Buck).  She's a high-priced call girl who has been indicted for manslaughter.  She claims she killed one of her clients in self-defense, but the state is trying to have her declared mentally unfit to stand trial.  The state's witness, her arrogant psychiatrist Dr. Rosenthal (Steve Callahan), has determined that Claudia is a paranoid schizophrenic and should be hospitalized for her own good, and for the good of the state.  Her mother and stepfather, Rose and Arthur Kirk (Donna Weinsting & John Contini), fearing that the details of Claudia's profession would be exposed in an embarrassing public trial, side with the state.  Claudia insists that she's completely sane, and is equipped with an explicit understanding of the law.  She knows that if she is denied the right to stand trial, because of the way New York's "Mental Hygiene Law" works, she could possibly be committed for up to 17 years.  Claudia is going up against the system, and even though she has the help of her public defender, Aaron Levinsky (William Roth), she seems pretty much on her own.

Donna Weinsting (Rose Kirk), John Contini* (Arthur Kirk),
Bob Harvey (Judge Murdoch), Rachel Visocan (The Recorder),
Steve Callahan (Dr. Rosenthal), Lara Buck* (Caludia Faith Draper),
Keith Thompson (Officer Harry Haggerty),
Alan McClintock (Franklin Macmillan)
and William Roth (Aaron Levinsky).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Dr. Rosenthal is the first to take the stand, and Claudia’s erratic behavior during his testimony really doesn’t help her case much.  She antagonizes him through much of it, insisting that the medicine they have her on is poisoning her, and that she's got a legitimate reason to be paranoid.  Steve Callahan's Rosenthal is sufficiently smug and pompous as the state's witness, and his ideas about what constitutes mental stability and individual rights are truly a little frightening.

The second act brings Claudia's mother and stepfather to the stand, and Donna Weinsting and John Contini both ramp up the proceedings with incredibly layered performances.  It’s obvious their relationship with Claudia is a strained one, and Rose glances at her daughter across the room as if she is looking at a stranger, not able to determine when things went wrong, and wondering what happened to her little girl.  The self-important Arthur Kirk, the kind of man who thinks marriage is a "deal", starts off steady, but once Claudia's attorney suggests that their relationship was perhaps closer than it should have been, he begins to unravel on the stand.  Arthur ends up looking pretty pathetic with his checkbook out, trying to buy his way out of the indiscretions he's revealed.

We finally get to hear from Claudia in the final act, and Lara Buck gets to let loose with a perfectly delivered monologue.  She talks about her parents, her failed marriage, and how she's been able to make a living for herself since her divorce.  Her parents listen, horrified, as Claudia rattles off all of the services she provides, but it's clear that while she's outspoken and doesn't mince her words, she may very well be one of the sanest people in the room.

Donna Weinsting (Rose Kirk), Steve Callahan (Dr. Rosenthal),
William Roth (Aaron Levinsky), Bob Harvey (Judge Murdoch),
Rachel Visocan (The Recorder) and John Contini* (Arthur Kirk).
Photo credit: John Lamb
In addition to the remarkable performances from Buck, Weinsting, Contini and Callahan, William Roth does a good job as Aaron Levinsky, building steam as the hearing unfolds.  Alan McClintock's prosecuting attorney, Franklin Macmillan, starts off quite sure of himself, but finds this case might not be as cut-and-dry as he expected.  Bob Harvey's Judge Murdoch presides over the hearing with a quiet authority, and the cast is rounded out by Keith Thompson as Officer Haggerty, and Rachel Visocan as the court recorder.  These two don't get to say much, with the exception of a brief epilogue delivered by the court recorder.  The handsome and sizable courtroom set, designed by Cristie Johnson with lighting by Sean M. Savoie, miraculously doesn't make the Gaslight's small stage seem cramped at all.

All nine of the players are onstage the whole time, and under Milt Zoth's excellent direction, watching all of the reactions to the happenings in the room, was fascinating.  Everyone is distinctively engaged throughout -- the same way you'll be if you check out this show.  This is one you don't want to miss.


Written by Tom Topor
Directed by Milt Zoth
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through October 23 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Keith Thompson (Officer Harry Haggerty), William Roth (Aaron Levinsky), Alan McClintock (Franklin Macmillan), Donna Weinsting (Rose Kirk), John Contini* (Arthur Kirk), Steve Callahan (Dr. Rosenthal), Rachel Visocan (The Recorder), Bob Harvey (Judge Murdoch) and Lara Buck* (Claudia Faith Draper).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Costume design by Jennifer “JC” Krajicek; scenic design by Cristie Johnston; lighting design by Sean M. Savoie; sound design by Robin Weatherall; stage manager, Amy Paige.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

THE WHO'S TOMMY • Stray Dog Theatre

Take a young boy, nullified into a practically catatonic state by witnessing a violent act at home, abuse from a vile uncle and a vicious cousin, a pinball machine, a rise to messianic fame and some kick-ass rock music -- what do you get?  You get THE WHO'S TOMMY, Stray Dog Theatre's strikingly ambitious season opener.

Pete Townshend and The Who's double concept album is considered by many to be one of the first rock operas.  It is at any rate, one of the best known, and it attained massive success when it was released in 1969.  1975 brought a star-studded psychedelic film version, and then a Broadway musical adaptation in 1993 (Alice Ripley made her Broadway debut in it) that won Tony Awards for original score, scenic design, lighting design, choreography, and direction.

From the minute those first chords explode and the expositional scenes begin, this full tilt ride never stops.  In Stray Dog's production, the visual elements lean heavily towards "steampunk".  Explaining what that's all about would be a whole nother post, but it's basically a sub-culture set within a time based on a general British Victorian era where their take on what the future might look like is what is expressed.  ...  Okay, so that probably doesn't make sense, so that's why I made it a clickable link so those interested can find out more about it.  Anyhoo, it was an artful stylistic choice that added a timelessly old, yet nostalgically new vibe to the TOMMY fable that contributed to the richness of the show -- a show that recalls familiar tunes for many of us.

The Who's TOMMY at Stray Dog Theatre
(l to r) Anna Skidis, Josh Douglas, C.E. Fifer, Jeffrey M. Wright,
Austin Pierce, Antonio Rodriguez as TOMMY,
Paula Stoff Dean, Andrea Kimberling,
Ryan E. Glosemeyer, Sarah Porter.
(Photo credit: John Lamb)
Captain Walker (Jeffrey M. Wright) is sent off to war in 1940.  Presumed dead, his wife (Paula Stoff Dean) takes up with another man (C.E. Fifer).  When the captain unexpectedly comes home and finds his wife with another guy, a struggle ensues and the lover ends up dead -- all witnessed by the Walker's 4-year-old son, Tommy (Audrey Manalang).  Tommy is sternly told by his parents that he didn't see or hear anything ("What About the Boy"), and as a result of this taken to heart message, he ends up deaf, dumb and blind.  After a battery of tests by countless doctors (a clever little sequence among many), we are not only introduced to the 10-year-old Tommy (Braden Phillips), but we get confirmation that nothing can be done about the boy's condition.  Sexual abuses are also suffered by Tommy at the hands of his alcoholic Uncle Ernie (Josh Douglas) and constant bullying by his cousin Kevin (Ryan E. Glosemeyer), pushing Tommy further into his state of oblivion, until his cousin takes him to an arcade.  Here, his genious unleashes through a pinball machine ("Pinball Wizard").  He gains fame for this, and further fame once he is freed from his state by the smashing of a mirror by his frustrated mom.  Tommy, by this time, presented as the adult Tommy (Antonio Rodriguez), is a cult-hero.  But when one of his admirers is hurt in a rush to get closer to him, Tommy's reaction to instant fame and the reasons for that fame exposes the real message underneath this kind of tale -- a familiar one.  Followers wanting to be like a person, who only wants to be like everyone else.

When the original LP was made, times were turbulent and the music was loud, but the story of Tommy and his individualized yet universal journey is timeless.  Just like that steampunk vibe, and the beautiful tableau of the last snapshot of this musical that is relatable to everyone, on some level.

The Who's TOMMY at Stray Dog Theatre
(l to r, top) C.E. Fifer, Ryan E. Glosemeyer, Austin Pierce.
(l to r, bottom) Lindsey Jones, Andrea Kimberling,
Antonio Rodriguez as TOMMY, Sarah Porter, Anna Skidis.
(Photo credit: John Lamb)
Justin Been and Gary F. Bell's co-direction was tight and dead on.  4-year-old Tommy, a marvelous Audrey Manalang, and the 10-year-old Tommy, an impressive Braden Phillips, blew me away.  Very focused acting from these kids.  Not to mention the adult Tommy, a piercing Antonio Rodriguez, equipped with strong vocals, who held all of the captivating allure that made so much of this show successful.  Kudos also to Jeffrey M. Wright, a thoughtfully engaged Captain Walker with a charming tenor voice.  A perfectly paired Paula Stoff Dean as Mrs. Walker also had a rich performance and solid vocals.  The entire ensemble was top-notch and had a wonderfully harmonic sound, particularly later on in "Pinball Wizard".  Standouts include Josh Douglas as dirty old Uncle Ernie, and Anna Skidis as The Gypsy, who delivered an energetic number as "The Acid Queen".

This show wouldn't work at all without an excellent band and under Chris Petersen's musical direction, they brought all of the power you would expect in this show.  Projections by Justin Been, Tyler Duenow's lighting design, beautifully designed costumes by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley and sound design by audio engineer, Lucas Clopton, all worked seamlessly together, and J.T. Ricroft's choreography was great.

Getting the opportunity to see this classic told through the innovative interpretation of Stray Dog's co-directors, along with an impressive cast and technical crew shouldn't be passed up.  Check it out -- it's playing until the 22nd!

"Pinball Wizard" in The Who's TOMMY at Stray Dog Theatre
(top) Antonio Rodriguez as TOMMY,
(middle) Ryan E. Glosemeyer as Cousin Kevin.
(Photo credit: John Lamb)

Book by Pete Townshend & Des McAnuff
Music/lyrics by Pete Townshend
Additional music & lyrics by John Entwistle & Keith Moon
Co-Directed by Justin Been and Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through October 22 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Antonio Rodriguez (Tommy), Jeffrey M. Wright (Captain Walker), Paula Stoff Dean (Mrs. Walker), Audrey Manalang (Tommy, Age 4), Braden Phillips (Tommy, Age 10), Ryan E. Glosemeyer (Cousin Kevin), Josh Douglas (Uncle Ernie), C.E. Fifer (The Boyfriend/Ensemble), Anna Skidis (The Gypsy/Ensemble), Kay Love (The Minister/Ensemble), Sarah Porter (Sally Simpson/Ensemble), Austin Pierce (Ensemble), Andrea Kimberling (Ensemble) and Lindsey Jones (Ensemble).

Costume design by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley; scenic design by Justin Been & James Volmert, Jr.; scenic artist, Megan Henderson; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; projection design by Justin Been; audio engineer, Lucas Clopton; choreographer, J.T. Ricroft; hair & make-up stylist, Sarah Hitzel.

The Band:
Music direction/keyboard, Chris Petersen; drummer, Sean Lanier; electric bass, Michael Monsey; guitar I, Adam Rugo; synthesizer, Sallie Du Maine Cole.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


The Addams Family began in 1938 as a series of single panel cartoons published in The New Yorker, created by cartoonist Charles Addams.  Since then, they have been adapted into a television series, an animated series, and films.  So, it was just a matter of time before it ended up as a staged Broadway musical, right?  This show has been re-tooled for the national tour, and it kicks off The Fox's Broadway series.

Musicals that have been adapted from popular franchises don't tend to fare too well with NYC critics, and it opened last year to some nasty reviews, but who the hell cares about theatre reviews anyway?!  …Oh wait...

Anyway, it's a highly entertaining, visually delightful show with all of the expected Addams Family familiars -- a passionately romantic Gomez and Morticia (a handsome and charming Douglas Sills and sleek, deadpan Sara Gettelfinger), their daughter Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson -- great voice), who literally tortures her little brother Pugsley (an impressive young Patrick D. Kennedy), much to his delight.  Then you've got a frizzy, dizzy, most likely stoned Grandma (Pippa Pearthree), carting around bottles of elixirs and potions, a sunken-eyed Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond), the zombie-like butler, Lurch (Tom Corbeil), and even a couple of cameo appearances from the disembodied hand, Thing, and Cousin Itt.  And yes, much to the delight of the audience, the overture begins with Vic Mizzy's unmistakable tv series theme, "Buh-da-da-dum (snap, snap)".

THE ADDAMS FAMILY National Tour Company.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
There's no mistaking the Addams Family's fondness for the macabre the minute you hear the opening number, "When You're an Addams" -- long dead ancestors are roused from their tombs for an annual assemblage to celebrate what it means to "be an Addams".  You know -- creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky.  Before the dead ones are allowed back into their graves though, Uncle Fester enlists their help in a current family situation.  See, Wednesday has fallen for Lucas Beineke (Brian Justin Crum) -- a normal boy from Ohio, and she plans to marry him and has invited the Beinekes over for drinks and dinner so the families can meet each other.  Fester knows this is gonna be tricky, so he intervenes along with the ancestors to try to make sure that love wins the day.  Who knew Uncle Fester was such a romantic?

In an almost desperate attempt to try to have her family come off as everyday folks, Wednesday preps her family for the visit, while her father Gomez struggles to keep the intended marriage a secret from his wife Morticia.  When the Beinekes arrive, they find themselves completely out of their element, but once they're forced to spend the night in the family's ghoulish old mansion, some common ground is made, and everything turns out for the best -- naturally.  It's really a pretty traditionally structured love story couched within the oddness of the Addams Family.  I mean, where else can you see a loving mother tuck her son into bed with promises that she's sure a monster will come out in the night and eat him alive -- only to be followed by a huge iguana springing out from underneath the bed?

All of the leads were in great voice, and the chorus of ancestors, in all of their various costumes, were energetic and added a lot to the proceedings.  There's also a fair amount of nifty stagecraft, and the show manages to make the family as atypical as we would expect, while striking the responsive chords that make them relatable.  It's a really fun night out at the theatre.  Screw the killjoys -- I had a great time.  Check it out!


Book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice 
Music/lyrics by Andrew Lippa 
Directed by Phelim McDermott & Julian Crouch
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through October 9 | tickets: $25 - $82
Performances Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday, October 2 at 7:30pm, Thursday, October 6 at 1pm

Douglas Sills (Gomez Addams), Sara Gettelfinger (Morticia Addams), Martin Vidnovic (Mal Beineke), Crista Moore (Alice Beineke), Blake Hammond (Uncle Fester), Pippa Pearthree (Grandma), Tom Corbeil (Lurch), Patrick D. Kennedy (Pugsley Addams), Brian Justin Crum (Lucas Beineke),  and Cortney Wolfson (Wednesday Addams).

Costume and scenic design by Phelim McDermott & Julian Crouch; choreography by Sergio Trujillo; lighting design by Natasha Katz; sound design by Acme Sound Partners; creative consultation, Jerry Zaks; puppetry by Basil Twist; stage manager, E. Cameron Holsinger.


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