Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GODSPELL • Mustard Seed Theatre

A musical about the New Testament?  Sure, why not?!  Originating as a thesis project that ended up running off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1971 (where it ran for 5 years and 2,000+ performances), GODSPELL transferred to Broadway in 1976 and ran for another 500 or so shows.  This musical is presented as a series of lessons based on the Gospel of Matthew.  The original production was set in a playground, but has since been set in various locations -- everywhere from a museum to a McDonald's.  Because there is no specific setting for the play in the script, directors are able to be creative and tailor the show's particulars to fit the times, the city, etc.  This production, beautifully directed and innovatively staged by Deanna Jent, takes place in the streets of St. Louis.  They even worked in the theme to "Angry Birds"!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MURDERING MARLOWE • West End Players Guild

Charles Marowitz's fictional account of a rivalry between two real-life figures, playwrights Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, is an intriguing, slick little play, and under Robert A. Mitchell's wonderfully paced direction, completely entertaining.  I'm just gonna say right now you should get a ticket.

All that is known about Marlowe's death in May 1593 is that he was stabbed in the eye following an argument over a bill.  Marowitz takes this nugget and weaves a tale that seems incredibly plausible.

In 16th century London, Christopher "Kit" Marlowe (John Wolbers) is all the rage.  His works dominate Elizabethan theatre, although he's considered by many to be a canker on the English landscape due to his blasphemy, drinking, and his willingness to engage with just about anything with an orifice.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE • Muddy Waters Theatre

Muddy Waters closes their 2011 season with Paula Vogel's 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning comedic drama, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE.  Vogel's incredible script deals with some very unfunny things -- incest, alcoholism, pedophilia -- but it's also packed with humor and surprisingly manages to draw out some unexpected pathos.  Maybe that's why it won the Pulitzer.

L'il Bit (Laurie McConnell) serves as the narrator for much of the play, recalling driving lessons with her Uncle Peck (B. Weller).  With a family who gives each other nicknames for their genital characteristics, having an Uncle "Peck" can only mean one thing…  Peck is a war vet and recovering alcoholic, and it's during these driving lessons that he starts molesting L'il Bit, starting from the time when she was 11 years old.  These encounters continued until L'il Bit was 18.  Through these years, we not only learn about Peck's less than savory inclinations, but also about how these moments on the road are some of the only times in her life when L'il Bit feels able to enjoy a feeling of control -- when she's behind the wheel, driving.  Trapped within her suburban Maryland family, L'il Bit revels in these driving lessons with her Uncle, but as she approaches the legal age of 18, and she's receiving letters from Uncle Peck (also anxiously counting down the days till her 18th birthday -- when he hopes to fully seduce her),  L'il Bit truly takes control, and puts an end to their trysts.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES • R-S Theatrics

The latest play on offer from R-S Theatrics, written by Rajiv Joseph, looks at the relationship of Kayleen (Christina Rios) and Doug (Mark Kelley) over the course of 30 years.  These two are… well… damaged.  Physically and emotionally.  Doug is a thrill seeking daredevil who wears his scars like badges of honor.  Depressed self-hater, Kayleen, suffers from stomach upsets, and sometimes cuts herself.  They first meet in the nurse's office at age 8 after Doug has ridden his bike off the roof of the school, cracking his head open, and Kayleen is having a stomach ache.  Their inquiries about each other's outside and inside wounds ring true to what an 8 year old would say -- "does it hurt" or "can I touch it?", but as they grow older, this self-destructive behavior seems to be what keeps bringing them together.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

So, while everyone else in St. Louis was watching the World Series (Yay, Cards!), I was in an acting class -- room #107 at the Shirley Community Center in Shirley, Vermont.  This is the setting for Annie Baker's clever and funny off-Broadway play that premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 2009, and won 2010 Obie Awards for Best New American Play, Performance, Ensemble and Direction.

Marty (Lynne Wintersteller) is holding a six-week course in creative drama.  Her four students include her enthusiastic husband James (John Ottavino), Lauren (Charlotte Mae Jusino), a brooding 16 year old, Theresa (Kate Middleton), a perky actress newly transplanted from New York City, and newly out of a toxic relationship, and Schultz (Danny McCarthy), a recently divorced carpenter.  On some level, all of these people are trying to connect in some way.  Now, in the program notes by Gillian McNally, it's pointed out that creative drama is defined as "an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of drama in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact and reflect upon human experience."  What better framework could there be to learn about these five people and watch them in turn discover each other?  Under Stuart Carden’s evenly-paced, invisible direction, it works pretty well.

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