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Friday, December 21, 2012

TALLEY'S FOLLY • New Jewish Theatre

Talley's Folly, written in 1979 by Lanford Wilson, takes a look at the reunion of an unlikely couple -- a Jewish accountant and a small town girl from Lebanon, Missouri.

It's 1944, and Matt Friedman (Shaun Sheley) has travelled from St. Louis to Lebanon, MO to seek out Sally Talley (Meghan Maguire) -- a woman with whom he had had a little Summertime dalliance with a year before.  Matt charmingly begins the play, addressing the audience and setting the stage for us.  The story itself is relatively simple.  In the process of reconnecting with each other and overcoming the prejudices of the 40's, and their own vulnerable isolation, we learn about Matt and his determination to see Sally again along with his family's painful past.  An initially chilly Sally also eventually reveals her past as the intended wife in a financially honorable match, and how that unfortunately went down in flames.  They also talk about the boathouse, where all of the action takes place and where they first  met (beautiful scenic design provided by Jason Coale and evocatively shifting lights courtesy of Nathan Schroeder).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

STUPEFY! THE 90 MINUTE HARRY POTTER • Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

If you've never heard of Harry Potter, you may need to get out more.  Suffice it to say that the series of Harry Potter books and the resulting eight films have become a cultural icon.  So naturally, leave it to Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, that's brought us hilariously condensed versions of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, to now present Stupefy!  The 90 Minute Harry Potter.  That's right.  All eight films condensed and accelerated to a riotous pace.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

THE FOREIGNER • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Larry Shue's 1984 play is a charming, funny, feel-good affair, perfect for the holiday season, and it's currently getting a splendid production at the Rep, under Edward Stern's spot-on direction.

Everything takes place at Betty Meeks's fishing lodge in small town Georgia.  Englishman Charlie Baker (John Scherer) needs a little time away from the grind of his life.  His wife is ill and hospitalized back home, and in addition to nursing her, he's tired of his job as a proofreader for science-fiction magazines, so his buddy "Froggy" (Brent Langdon) has taken him to the lodge for a little rest and relaxation.  Froggy, an ammunitions expert in the military, has become good friends with Betty, the owner of the lodge, and this getaway has become one of Froggy's favorite places.  The thing is though, Charlie is painfully shy and rather uninteresting.  His wife once described him as being "shatteringly boring".  Ouch!!  She's not the most faithful wife in the world, but Charlie still loves her.  He's also terrified of conversation, so in order to try to spare his friend of the possible horrors that interaction might bring, Froggy tells Betty that Charlie is from another country and doesn't understand English.  He figures that way, everyone will leave him alone.

Monday, December 3, 2012

THE DIVINE SISTER • HotCity Theatre

Many of the plays written by Charles Busch are well known for their inclination toward high camp, in which he is frequently featured in drag playing the leading lady.  The Divine Sister was no exception when it debuted off-Broadway in 2010.  In HotCity Theatre's uproarious production, John Flack splendidly takes on the role of Mother Superior.  Under Marty Stanberry's keen direction and a superb supporting cast, this peek behind cloister walls will provide you with plenty of rollicking over-the-topness, including send-ups of everything from Doubt and Agnes of God to The Sound of Music and “The Da Vinci Code”.

Set in 1960's Pittsburgh, Mother Superior is looking to raise some funds so she can modernize St. Veronica's convent school, with the help of Sister Acacius (Kirsten Wylder), the convent's brash wrestling coach.  Don't take this to mean that the Mother Superior is "modern".  She acknowledges the fact that she is living in a time of great social change, but she is determined to do everything she can to stop it!  She is also trying to manage (while Sister Acacius is trying to tolerate) one of the new postulates, Sister Agnes (Alyssa Ward), who's convinced she's "the chosen one", hearing divine voices, witnessing visions, and apparently possessing the power to heal.  St. Veronica's is also hosting the visiting Sister Walburga (Lavonne Byers) from Germany.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

IMAGINARY JESUS • Mustard Seed Theatre

The source material for this play, a novel written in 2010 by Matt Mikalatos, has been adapted for the stage by Mustard Seed's artistic director and director of this play, Deanna Jent, and it's currently receiving its premiere.  During the play, our protagonist, Matt (like the author, Matt), tries to hunt down his "imaginary" Jesus -- a Jesus of his own creation, and find the real one.

We start with our narrator Matt (Chad Morris), who oversees all of the action, letting us in on what is going on inside the head of "the character Matt" (Robert Thibaut).  Matt's having lunch with Jesus (Justin Ivan Brown) at their favorite vegan cafe in Portland, when Saint Peter, or Pete (J. Samuel Davis), shows up and challenges the imaginary Jesus's authenticity.  After a brief scrap with the Savior, Pete goes on to explain to Matt that there are a myriad of imaginary Jesuses out there, and the one that had been Matt's invisible companion for awhile was a fake.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

THIS WIDE NIGHT • West End Players Guild

Chloë Moss based her 2010 play on research she did while volunteering at Cookham Wood prison in Kent, England, but in This Wide Night, prison time is only briefly mentioned -- it doesn't focus on prison life.  Instead, it looks at not only how time spent in prison has affected the friendship of two former cell-mates -- Marie (Rachel Hanks) and Lorraine (Jane Abling), but also how it's rendered life on the outside just as formidable a challenge as life on the inside.  Continuing the West End Players' 102nd season, this play, directed under the sure hand of Sean Ruprecht-Belt, has more than meets the eye.

The play begins in Marie's dreary studio apartment in London.  She has been out for awhile, but still not at all acclimated to her freedom.  She only really gets out to go to her night-shift job at a pub.  One evening there's a knock on her door, and she skittishly answers to find Lorraine.  Lorraine is middle-aged and fresh out of prison after serving a 12 year sentence, and in the midst of getting her bearings, Marie's flat is one of her first visits.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CLYBOURNE PARK • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

Anytime anyone says in a voice laced with anxiety, "Did you see the family moving in next door?", you always have an idea of where it's gonna go, right?  You know what I'm talking about.  White flight, gentrification, redlining -- they all have one thing in common -- race and housing.  This is the topic that dominates Bruce Norris' Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play, now receiving a searing production at the Rep's Studio Theatre.  Written in 2010, it's an extension of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun, picking up where it left off.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

GOOD • St. Louis Actors' Studio

C.P. Taylor's 1981 play is tough to categorize.  Some consider it a play.  Others, a play with music, and some consider it a musical comedy, but the subject matter is anything but light.  It takes a look at how the Nazi party is able to gain a foothold in Germany, filtered through the eyes of one man -- John Halder.  It has also already closed its run, but served as an intriguing introduction to St. Louis Actors' Studio's sixth season entitled, "Kings, Queens and Pawns".  John Halder, by the way, is a pawn…

Monday, October 15, 2012

LOST IN YONKERS • New Jewish Theatre

Lost in Yonkers, Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play is considered by many to be one of his best, and it's currently receiving a wonderfully heartfelt production opening the 16th season at the NJT.

As the show begins, 15 and 13 year old brothers, Jay (Robert Love) and Arty (Leo B. Ramsey), are uncomfortably waiting in their Grandma's stuffy New York apartment.  Grandma Kurnitz (Nancy Lewis) is an elderly widow living above her candy store.  She's a German immigrant who has seen a lot of, and been the victim of, much turbulence and grief, and she has come out the other side thick-skinned and hard-boiled.  She doesn't suffer the weak gladly, and this includes her children.  In fact, it seems Grandma doesn't really do anything "gladly".  One of her daughters, Bella (Kelley Weber), lives with her and helps run the store.  Bella is childlike and easily distracted, constantly under the stern thumb of her mother, yet she's also buoyant, resilient and longing for connection with anyone outside of their Yonkers apartment.  Her older brother Eddie (Gary Glasgow) has dropped by with his two boys trailing behind.  Eddie needs a place for them to stay while he hits the southern road to sell scrap metal, trying to pay off the debt he accrued from a loan shark when his late wife was in the hospital.  The boys, still grieving, are terrified at the prospect of staying more than an hour at Grandma's apartment, much less several months, but their father is left with no choice, and Grandma begrudgingly takes them in.

Monday, October 8, 2012

SPRING AWAKENING • Stray Dog Theatre

Navigating those prickly adolescent years can be a real bitch, and bruises can be hard to avoid -- psychological or otherwise.  These perennial rocky roads are explored in Stray Dog Theatre's 10th season opener, Spring Awakening, and it's completely absorbing.  The original material, Frank Wedekind's play written in 1891, was banned in Germany for its content that includes abortion, suicide, homosexuality, rape and child abuse.  The musical adaptation debuted on Broadway in 2006 and won eight Tony Awards, and Stray Dog's production illustrates that the volatility often encountered in the transition from childhood to adulthood doesn't change that much -- regardless of what century you're in.

Set in a provincial 1890's German town, mothers resist telling their daughters about where babies come from, boys are weighed down by the pressure to succeed in their studies and the guilt of wet dreams, and girls are kicked out of their houses because they are being abused by their fathers.  This musical examines sexual awakening without being crude, tempering the heavy subject matter with humor, an authentic approach to those anxiety laden teenage years, and then sets it all to an incredible score courtesy of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater.  Spring Awakening makes an even more powerful impression inside the intimate space of Tower Grove Abbey.

Monday, October 1, 2012

BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON • New Line Theatre

I can hardly think of a better way to catch a break from the onslaught of this year's presidential campaign than to check out this saucy, contemporary, in-your-face look at our seventh president.  BBAJ opens New Line Theatre's 22nd Season, and this show is right up its alley.  Andrew Jackson's legacy includes praise for his military victories as an army general against the British and Spanish in the country's adolescence, helming the formation of the Democratic Party and winning the presidency by America's first popular vote in 1829.  It also includes the criticism he garnered for his forced relocation and devastation of Native Americans and his support of slavery.  I mean hell, during his campaign his opponents referred to him as a jackass.  According to the director's notes, "He was equal parts Barack Obama (charismatic populist), John McCain (crusty war hero), Sarah Palin (loud, clumsy outsider), and George W. Bush (cocky, loyal, and confident)."  He's a very controversial ex-president and the political commentary that runs throughout this rock musical serves as a constant ironic reminder of the parallels between the early nineteenth-century and the new millennium.

Friday, September 21, 2012

DINNER WITH FRIENDS • Dramatic License Productions

As the plays opens, married couple Gabe (Christopher Hickey) and Karen (Michelle Hand) are telling their good friend Beth (Sarah Cannon) all of the details about their latest vacation.  Beth has brought over her kids to play with Gabe and Karen's kids, but her husband Tom (Chad Morris), is out of town on business.  In the middle of lemon almond polenta cake, a visibly shaken Beth tells her friends that Tom has left her.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

GOODBYE, RUBY TUESDAY • HotCity Theatre

This play was first introduced at HotCity's GreenHouse Festival, where new plays are workshopped and shown to the public.  Now, here we are, a few years later, and Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday is currently receiving its world premiere with strong direction, a spot-on cast and pitch perfect creative contributions.  The only thing it doesn't provide is easy answers.

Nobody in Lynn Hallaby's family can quite figure out what her deal is.  Lynn (Nicole Angeli) has come home to say goodbye to her family.  Seemingly out of nowhere, she's decided to hop on a Greyhound and head to Alaska to work on a commercial fishing boat, and the bus leaves in one hour.  Everyone in the family is desperately trying to get her to stay.  Her mom, Margie (Peggy Billo), even tries to hide her duffel bag under the sink.  Her father Hudson (Joe Hanrahan), offers to take her fishing, like they used to do when she was a kid -- to no avail.  Her brother Kelly (Charlie Barron), who thinks of Lynn as being "so drastic", insists that this just doesn't make any sense, and that she must stay.  Maybe only for his sake.  Kelly is gay, and has come out to everyone but his parents, and he and Lynn obviously have a close brother/sister relationship.  Lynn's husband Ray (Eric White), is also left angry, hurt and confused over her decision.  During an exchange with Lynn and Kelly, we learn that she unsuccessfully tried to "check-out" a decade earlier, but we never really learn why.  What we do learn is mostly revealed through the scenes with Lynn and her brother, and things escalate when Lynn's husband shows up.  Even Gary (Rusty Gunther), Kelly's boyfriend, tries to get under the surface of why Lynn has come to this decision, but like everyone else, he gets nowhere.  Kelly decides to come out minutes before Lynn has to leave, and here we see her take control of the situation, calm her parents, and emerge as the level-headed one, but she still holds her stance as needing to get away from her surroundings to save herself.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

ADDING MACHINE: A MUSICAL • R-S Theatrics/Soundstage Productions

The last joint production of Soundstage and R-S Theatrics is quite a challenging choice.  Adapted from Elmer Rice's 1923 Expressionistic play, the musical premiered at the Next Theatre in Evanston Illinois and opened off-Broadway in 2008 at the Minetta Lane Theatre.  It received many off-Broadway nominations, and won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical.

The characters in this black musical comedy are not your typical musical theatre types.  Set against a score of complicated rhythms and quirky melodies, these people's lives are bleak, with just about everyone going by numbers instead of names -- like cogs in a machine.  Yet this show has a way of making you want to root for this cheerless, long-faced bunch, even though they may not strike you as likable at first.  The drudgery of their lives is by some means relatable.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT • Mustard Seed Theatre


The title of this 1982 play that ushers in the sixth season of Mustard Seed Theatre, was an American idiom that indicated overwhelming emotion, and according to Belle "Maw" Wheeler (Nancy Lewis), it means going over the hill to see what's on the other side -- checking out the "unknown".

When the lights come up on Daniel Lanier's beautifully rustic set, we're drawn into Osbourne County, Kansas on July 3rd, 1870.  Preparations are underway for an Independence Day celebration the next day, and while Sara (Emily Baker) does the laundry and unsuccessfully tries to get milk from their cow Jezebel, Maw Wheeler, Sara's mother-in-law, is poring over a book that depicts the maps of the world.  Maw is restless, and is thinking about heading out to Colorado, once her daughter-in-law's baby is born.  But there's not too much time to think or talk about all that -- there's work to be done.  It seems that these hard-wrought frontier women always have work to do.  One of their nearest neighbors, Etta (Jessica Haley), ventures alone to visit them and see how the party planning is going.  Between the wild animals and the sometimes hostile natives, a young woman walking so far alone is a dangerous proposition in these parts, but Etta's lonely and needs the company.

Monday, August 27, 2012

THE VIOLET HOUR • Max & Louie Productions

"It's that time -- that wonderful New York hour when the evening's about to reward you for that day".  This quote from one of the characters, Denis McCleary, is how he explains the title for his book, and serves as the title for Richard Greenberg's 2003 play, The Violet Hour.

It's 1919, and everything takes place within the tight, messy New York office of John Pace Seavering (Drew Pannebecker), a recent graduate and fledgling publisher, and his loyal but overwrought assistant, Gidger (Antonio Rodriguez).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Totally Random Birthday Marching Band Rambling!

My buddy Lisa and me,
pre- half-time show!
Nice pants, right?!
Okay so first of all, it's not really my birthday anymore, but close enough!  Being a few days into my 46th birthday and all (Ew.  I mean, thank God for my years, but still…), I'm reminded of the fact that birthdays can sometimes facilitate many things -- being thankful for your time on the planet, being thankful for your friends, the need to party like a crazy person, and sentimentality.  This blog will center on that last one -- sentimentality.  That means I'm gonna ramble a little bit.

I got a wild hair a few days ago and listened to a bunch of tunes on my ipod from when I was in college in the marching band.  Yes, I know.  Long time ago.  But I was a horn player in the "Mighty Sound of the South" -- the University of Memphis (back in the day, it was just Memphis State University) marching band -- 200+ players!  Geek?  Yeah.  But a way to gain a further appreciation of instrumental music in general?  Fuck yeah!!

While surfing the playlist, I was drawn to the year 1988, when the members of the MSofTS were given the sheet music for "Mambo" from West Side Story.  It was years before my theatre obsession, but assuredly, a sub-conscious impression was made.  So, I'm including a recording of that very song, recorded by us, most likely when we college kids were drunk and tired and/or hungover in our  sizable but acoustically unforgiving rehearsal space on campus.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL • Stray Dog Theatre

Welcome to Armadillo Acres Trailer Park, the redneck little homely haven where the action of The Great American Trailer Park Musical unfolds.  Stray Dog Theatre closes its ninth season with this 2005 off-Broadway show, and this production charms with a talented cast and solid creative contributions.

The cross-section of this Starke, Florida community is absolutely trashtastic!  You get an immediate sense of that when you lay your eyes on David Blake's scenic design as you walk in.  Several perfectly inelegant trailers are bookended by a variety of road signs -- signs that read everything from "State Prison Next Exit" to "Parkview Liquor and Groceries".  Our three members of the Greek chorus, "the Girls", Betty, proprietor of Armadillo Acres (Kim Furlow), "Lin", whose hubby is on death row (Kay Love), and Pickles, seventeen and pregnant (Jessica Tilghman), introduce themselves, their digs, and the happenings at the trailer park in their engaging opening number, "This Side of the Tracks".  These three also step into some supporting roles from time to time, vocally back up many of the numbers, and sound great together.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NOISES OFF • Ozark Actors Theatre


Woo-hoo, road trip!

I'd never been to Ozark Actors Theatre, now celebrating its 25th anniversary season, and I'm glad I made the trip.  They're located in Rolla Missouri, just about an hour and a half away from St. Louis city.  The Cedar Street Playhouse, originally a church, is a nice little theatre space with about 170 seats and a great brew house restaurant a few blocks away, but I'll get to that later.

Michael Frayn's Noises Off had its origins when he realized that watching a play from backstage could be way more entertaining than watching it as an audience member.  The resulting one-act play, Exits, was later expanded into the three-act Noises Off, a play that many consider to be the cleverest farce of the twentieth century.  The title takes its name from a stage direction indicating sounds made offstage intended for the ears of the audience.  <-- I love that...

Friday, June 22, 2012

LAUGHTER, TEARS & THE RIGHT STUFF • ST. LOU FRINGE

In case you haven't heard, there's a Fringe festival going on right now in St. Louis!  Before I get into that, let me give you a quick review of the show I saw earlier tonight.
The West End Players Guild is presenting three short plays written by Stephen Peirick for the Fringe Festival entitled Laughter, Tears and the Right Stuff.  The first play, The Right Stuff, is a rollicking peek at three women who are reliving their high-school days, camping out for concert tickets.  Why camp out when there's the internet?  Unnecessary?  Maybe.  But all of the girls end up enjoying their throwback days on the sidewalk.  (I totally did that for Prince and the Revolution tickets once.)  The second play, The Goodbye Party, takes a serious turn as Lilly (Emily Baker) tries to cope with her loss in the midst of a wake.  The last play, The Third Time, looks at the humorous challenges of a couple who find themselves, for the third time, at the fertility clinic.  This is a really brief description of the plays (apologies), but trust me, all of Peirick's plays that I've seen are quality.  He has a way of sucking you in by slowly peeling away the layers of his characters and their various situations, that you almost can't help but become invested in them.  All of the performances are also top notch (Stephanie Merritt, Sarajane Alverson, Ann Hier, Emily Baker, Nancy Nigh and Jason Meyers).  Definitely worth checking out.  It was a great Fringe kickoff for me, and I hope to see more plays during the weekend.

Monday, June 18, 2012

BOWLING EPIPHANY - THE REVIVAL! • OnSite Theatre Company

You really can't beat a night of theatre and bowling, right?  OnSite Theatre specializes in "site specific" plays.  Every show is set in a different location suited to the play, and trust me, this provides an exciting layer to its productions.  OnSites' five year anniversary presentation takes place at Epiphany Lanes and features three short plays.  Better still, you can get a frame of bowling in during the intermissions!  This presentation is truly set up for a great time.  Plays that are the perfect length, set in a perfectly encompassing location, with Joe Hanrahan's direction, and a talented, tight cast of three -- Elizabeth Birkenmeier, Antonio Rodriguez and Donna Weinsting -- you can't go wrong.

Friday, June 15, 2012

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ • Stages St. Louis

Stages' first show of its season splendidly hearkens back to the music of the 1920s and '30s.  It's not a traditional "musical".  It's a musical revue -- in tribute to the tunes of Thomas "Fats" Waller, a classically trained musician, best known for his infectious, brilliant compositions that helped lay out the blueprint for the sound of the Harlem Renaissance.

After an initial run at the Manhattan Theatre Club's cabaret in 1978, Ain't Misbehavin' transferred to Broadway featuring pianist, Luther Henderson, who adapted Waller's music for the revue, Nell Carter, Armelia McQueen, Charlaine Woodard, André DeShields, and our own Ken Page, a St. Louis native, and won three Tony Awards.  Cast member names remain assigned to the original Broadway "real-life" cast, and the nature of the show yields very little that is spoken.  But with this music, who cares?!

This strong-voiced ensemble delivers each number with inexhaustible energy and style.  The range of music will entertain you, make you laugh, make you think, and maybe bring a lump to your throat.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

HIGH FIDELITY • New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre has revived High Fidelity after giving this musical its first regional premiere in 2008.  Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, High Fidelity suffered a short life on Broadway, but New Line's artistic director, Scott Miller, has a thing about reviving Broadway flops.  Seeing the potential and the heart at the center of this rock musical, he and his trusty crew at New Line gave it a new life then, and it's even better this time around.

Rob (Jeffrey M. Wright) is a rock music aficionado and owner of a record store, Championship Vinyl.  He values few things more than his treasured collection of records, and Rob has his favorite music categorized biographically, from his first school-boy crush to his more recent heartbreaks.  He, along with his pals who work with him at the store, have a definite musical preference.  Sex Pistols = Yes.  John Tesh = No.  In the winning opening number, "The Last Real Record Store on Earth", we learn that he's just been dumped by his live-in girlfriend Laura (Kimi Short).  This latest breakup has moved Rob to examine his dating history, and Liz, (Talichia Noah), a mutual friend of Rob and Laura's, checks in on him from time to time to try to help him get his priorities in line, although he does end up stalking Laura's new hippie boyfriend, Ian (Aaron Allen) and has a hilarious rap-style revenge fantasy.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

9 CIRCLES • R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics has settled nicely into its new home at the Black Cat Theatre in Maplewood with a searing production of Bill Cain's 9 Circles.  The title is a reference to Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem, "Divine Comedy".  It chronicles Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and begins with "Inferno", where Hell is depicted as nine descending circles of suffering located within the earth.  In Cain's play, scenes are introduced as "circle one, circle two", and so on as the audience follows Private Reeves’ descent into his own psychological hell of the Iraqi war.  This play also seems to point an accusatory finger at the war, posing questions about whether or not it, or previous unwelcome wars for that matter, were worth it, and considers the moral complications of war, and the very thin line between military action, and plain old violence.

Reeves is an army "grunt" who has just been informed that he's been honorably discharged from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He signed up when he was 19 years old under a “moral waiver” that allowed him in, despite his past arrests, lack of an employment history, and personality disorder.  When his sergeant informs him that he is being discharged for his horrifying crimes, Reeves asserts that “we are here to kill people”, and cannot understand why his actions warrant being booted out of the army -- the one place Reeves has felt at home.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SWEENEY TODD • Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's musical thriller has been captivating audiences since 1979, and has enjoyed not only theatre, but opera house productions from companies all over the world.  I read part of an article from a guy named Michael Dale that said, “Sweeney Todd is a musical when you wonder why Mrs. Lovett takes her bow after Sweeney.  Sweeney Todd is an opera when you wonder why the mezzo takes her bow after the soprano.”  Ha!  Regardless of whether you consider Sweeney Todd an opera or a musical, Opera Theatre's production of this darkly comic classic is marvelous.  Sweeney Todd also happens to be one of my favorites, and I love me some Sondheim, so please bear with me while I ramble for a minute…

Sunday, May 27, 2012

INSIDIOUS • The Black Rep

Ibn Shabazz's Insidious had its 2010 premiere at Road Less Traveled Productions in Buffalo, New York, and the Black Rep's production of this St. Louis premiere, the play's second mounting, is fearless.  Insidious takes an unblinking look at addiction, promiscuity and men on the "down low" -- men who engage in unprotected sex with other men, while maintaining relationships with girlfriends and wives.  Because of its adult language and themes, I would leave the kids at home for this one.

Monday, May 14, 2012

THE NEW CENTURY • Max & Louie Productions

Paul Rudnick's 2007 play is made up of vignettes, primarily featuring monologues by its main characters who all have one thing in common -- they are, or have been affected by, someone gay.  This set-up could potentially present as a virtual pride parade of stereotypical characters.  Well, it kinda does.  In between the ready-made laughs, and there are many, you can spot moments of introspection from certain characters, but those delicate strokes are often layered over with the script's heavier-handed brush strokes of over-the-top clichés.

The festivities begin with Helene Nadler (Stellie Siteman), self-proclaimed "most loving mother of all time".  Why?  Well, she's got a lesbian daughter, actually two, except one is transgender.  Then there's her son David, also gay, with fetishes for leather and scatology <-- don't ask.  That's why I made it a link.  In a presentation she's giving to the “Parents of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, the Transgendered, the Questioning, the Curious, the Creatively Concerned and Others” group, she fiercely defends her love for her children, but you can tell that despite her claims of being the most accepting mother in the world, she's really trying to convince herself that her children are truly okay.  Stellie Siteman plays up Helene's enthusiasm, but the over-long narrative loses steam near the end.  It also gets a little bizarre as she trots out her son, fully clad in leather, to show how submissive and obedient he is.  Whaa?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

JACOB AND JACK • New Jewish Theatre

In the final production of NJT's 15th season, actors play double roles and time-travel from the present day to the 1930's in a nifty little backstage romp.  It's always fun watching actors play actors, right?

Jack Shore (Bobby Miller) is an actor who's mostly known for his television commercials.  He's agreed to appear in a staged reading at a benefit for his mother's Ladies Club, that pays tribute to his grandfather Jacob Shemerinsky, a star of the Yiddish theatre.  In addition to not believing in rehearsing, Jack also has an eye for the ladies, and his latest target is a talented young actor named Robin (Julie Layton), also taking part in the reading.  She's so talented that Jack finds himself reconsidering his stance on not memorizing lines.  His flirting ends up pissing off his wife Lisa (Kari Ely), also an actor, also involved in the reading.  Jack, his insecurities, and his ego are placated and tolerated by his manager Ted (Terry Meddows) and they are both checked in on by the show's "gay as a picnic" stage manager Don (Justin Ivan Brown), and occasionally Jack's enthusiastic mom, Esther (Donna Weinsting).  That's the present day situation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

ANGELS IN AMERICA PART TWO: PERESTROIKA • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog's repertory cycle of Angels in America culminates with Part Two: Perestroika, and it continues to impress.  The themes introduced in Part One: Millennium Approaches (you can read about that here) are plumbed even more deeply as the paths of Tony Kushner's cast of characters continue to cross, in the most remarkable ways, providing the connective tissue that makes this play a challenging but incredibly rewarding journey -- for the actors (whom I have the highest respect for), as well as the audience.

When we left off, Prior Walter (again, an amazing Ben Watts), suffering from AIDS and abandoned by his boyfriend Louis Ironson (Aaron Gotzon), is visited by the vision of his fever dreams -- the powerful and splendid Angel of America (a compelling Sarajane Alverson), who tells him that he must "prepare the way", for soon, "the great work begins".  This is where we pick up.

This Angel doesn't come with good tidings.  She comes with a prophecy for Prior, whether he wants it or not, and a plea for humanity to "stop moving".  In an arresting scene spiked with humor, The Angel explains how the migratory tendency of human beings drove God from heaven (on April 18, 1906 -- the date of the devastating San Francisco earthquake), leaving the Council (of Angels) powerless and alone.  Angels can't create -- they can only observe, and The Angel of America's mission is to get Prior, and everyone else on her part of the planet, to be still.  To halt progress.  So hopefully for heaven's sake at least, God will return.  Prior tries to make the argument that humans aren't rocks, so for us, migration and change are innate.  <-- Major theme going on right there.  Movement and progression are inevitable for the earthbound.  How we steer it though, is a decision heftily laid on us alone, cause it seems that God has left the building.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ANGELS IN AMERICA PART ONE: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES • Stray Dog Theatre

"Prepare the way…" -- a supernatural admonition given to a young man in 1985, new to his first lesions of Kaposi's sarcoma, a devastating indication of the AIDS virus.  Meanwhile, a valium-addicted housewife calls on "Mr. Lies", her hallucinogen-induced travel agent, ready to take her wherever she needs to go, for an escape from her phobias and suspicions about her husband, Joe.  Across town, Ethel Rosenberg, a woman executed for being a Communist spy in 1953, appears as a ghost to Roy Cohn, a right-wing closeted lawyer, chiefly responsible for putting the Rosenbergs in the chair.  He counts this among his major accomplishments.  He's also infected with AIDS.

The scope Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award winning two-part epic, subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes", is broad.  Incorporating the topics of AIDS, religion, death, politics, corruption, and then some, with a few supernatural visits thrown in, could seem over-whelming, if not for Kushner's ability to bring all of these subjects down to a common denominator.  A responsive chord that brings Reagan-Era philosophies and the hopeless devastation of the AIDS virus together under the ageless umbrella of an undeniable humanity.

Monday, April 9, 2012

KILLER JOE • St. Louis Actors' Studio

This first play from Tracy Letts takes a look at the Smiths -- a brood that gives the phrase "trailer trash" a whole new meaning.  Killer Joe is the third play I've seen from Letts and so far, they all have this flavor of damage mixed with dark comedy.  Like sour candy or bitter chocolate…  …  You know what I'm sayin'.  At any rate, under Milton Zoth's direction, it's a hearty blend going on right now at Actors' Studio.

The swastika tattooed son of the Smith family, Chris (James E. Slover), is in debt to some tough guys for thousands of bucks he doesn't have.  His wounded, naive little sister Dottie (Rachel Fenton) walks and talks in her sleep, and his dad Ansel (Larry Dell), whom Chris shares joints and Stag beer with, doesn't care about much outside of old detective shows on television.  In addition, they all look like they kinda don't shower very often.  Sharla (Missy Miller) is Ansel's new but maybe not so improved wife.  When her stepson asks why she answered the door half-naked, she replies, "Well, it's the middle of the night!  I didn't know who you were!".  Yep.  A nice bunch.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Seventh Annual Kevin Kline Awards • Loretto-Hilton Center

I love this night.  I get to dress up (thanks, K9) and stare at the St. Louis actors I've admired all year.  Yes, I'm a geek, but I managed to gawk and point way less than last year.  And what do you know -- it's my 100th blog!!  Yay!  And if you can get a seat in front of Troy Turnipseed, do it.  He's a blast!

Here are the winners (in red) from this year's Seventh Annual Kevin Kline Awards.  Congrats to all!


Lifetime Achievement Award • Joe Schulte, veteran drama teacher and resident stage manager at the Muny

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THE VALUE OF NAMES • New Jewish Theatre

Some wounds are harder to heal than others, and the latest offering from New Jewish, written by Jeffrey Sweet and directed by Alec Wild, deals with injuries sustained from the fallout of McCarthyism.  The associated hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) reached their height in the 50's, and many lost their careers and reputations in the aftermath.
Benny Silverman (Bobby Miller), once a successful comedic actor, went for years without work because he ended up on the Hollywood blacklist.  He eventually landed a hit sitcom that affords him a comfortable life with a home in the hills of Malibu.  His daughter Norma (Elana Kepner) is also an actor, and she's just landed a promising role, but has opted to change her last name to her mother's maiden name.  She doesn't want to be constantly associated with her famous dad, but the conversation sets Benny's teeth on edge.  To add insult to injury, Benny finds out that the newly appointed director for Norma's show is Leo Greshen (Peter Mayer), a successful Hollywood director who was Benny's theatre buddy from the old days -- until Leo called him out as a communist sympathizer about thirty years prior.  Yep.  When Leo shows up on Benny's patio, it hits the fan and old wounds are opened.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

NO CHILD • The Black Rep

There's a lot packed into Nilaja Sun's play that garnered Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle, Theatre World and Obie Awards when it opened off-Broadway in 2006.

The title of the play is a reference to the No Child Left Behind Act that ended up putting school test scores ahead of curriculums that often included the arts.  Sun draws on her own experience as a teaching artist in the New York City school system and delivers a play about the failures, struggles, successes and expectations of the students within the fictional Malcolm X High School in the Bronx.  These kids have been, for the most part, written off, and this lively one-act shares the perspective of a teacher taking on one of the "worst classes in school" in an attempt to get these 10th graders to learn, rehearse, and perform a play -- Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

BUG • Muddy Waters Theatre

The featured playwright of Muddy Waters Theatre this season is Tracy Letts.  Yay!  Buckle up, right?  Okay, let me just get this out of the way -- I remember the numerous walk-outs during the August: Osage County run at the Fox a few years ago -- another Letts play.  I effing loved it -- so visceral and funny.  Some didn't find it to their taste.  Aiight.  That's cool, I completely get that, but their loss, I think.  Buy the ticket, take the ride, I say!!  Anyway, like August: OC, Bug drops you in the middle of a realistically gritty look at the unsteady, paranoid lives of its characters, and while it offers laughs (perhaps uncomfortable, and at a safe distance), it also comes with moments that will, with Bug in particular, contagiously make you itch.

All of the action takes place in a mangy motel room just outside Oklahoma City.  Agnes (Kirsten Wylder) is a resident of said motel, trying to avoid her nasty ex-husband Jerry Goss (Jared Sanz-Agero), who has recently been released from prison.  To keep her harsh realities (past and present) at bay, her buddy, a plainspoken lesbian named R.C. (Jenn Bock), brings over some cocaine and an unassuming but intriguing guy called Peter Evans (Justin Ivan Brown).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

THE GLASS MENAGERIE • Dramatic License Productions

The first show of DLP's third season is one that I'd never seen before.  Yes, I know -- I'm always late to the party.  According to the posted director's notes, when Tennessee Williams wrote this memory play in 1944, he wanted to make use of "expressionistic" and "unconventional" techniques like "magic lantern slides bearing images".  We call them projections, but still, pretty uncustomary for its day.  Again -- this was my first time seeing this, but Bill Whitaker's sensitive direction seems to take cues from the playwright's intentions with accompanying projections along with musical punctuations throughout.

When the lights come up on the fragile world of the Wingfield family, set in late 1930's St. Louis, Tom (Antonio Rodriguez) sets the stage as our narrator for the play.  We learn that the patriarch of the family abandoned them years ago, and though he never makes an appearance, his portrait hangs over the proceedings and he is often referred to.  Because of his absence, Tom tries to support his mother and sister with a warehouse job at Continental Shoes.  He aspires to be a poet, and his current job is mind-numbing for him, so he spends a lot of his free time at the movies to break out from under the thumb of his own boring life.  His smothering and controlling mother Amanda (Kim Furlow), relies on Tom to keep the family afloat, but the pressure of Tom's confinement is evident from the beginning.  Amanda has a tendency to drift off into these reveries about her fine upbringing, fine prospects, and her "that time I had seventeen gentleman callers" days, and she tries, as best she can, to infuse her kids with that same desire and motivation for a respectable, fulfilling life.  This includes her desperation to find a suitable match for her daughter Laura.  Laura has a bad foot resulting from a bout with pleurosis when she was younger, and a terrible insecurity about herself and an anxious fear of the outside world.  Everyone in this play has a means of breaking away -- Tom goes to the movies, Amanda recollects past glories, and Laura finds her solace in the victrola and her collection of tiny glass animals -- her favorite being her glass unicorn.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

CRY-BABY • New Line Theatre

Premiering on Broadway in 2008, Cry-Baby was nominated for 4 Tonys including choreography, book and score.  Still, it was not as critically acclaimed as its 2002 predecessor Hairspray, another John Waters film adaptation.  Similar to Hairspray, Cry-Baby features a 1950's Baltimore clash of the classes, with "good girl" Allison Vernon-Williams (Taylor Pietz) falling for the slick rock ’n’ roll "bad boy" Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Ryan Foizey).  

The show begins with the New Line Band's rockabilly admonition to "Take your seat, turn your phone off and unwrap you lozenges".  Then it's a headlong plunge into "The Anti-Polio Picnic", a ridiculous, goofy vaccination extravaganza put on by the "Whiffles", the "square" faction of Baltimore.  The party is soon crashed by the "Drapes", the "bad kids", with a great number, "Watch Your Ass".

Thursday, March 1, 2012

WAKE UP, CAMERON DOBBS • West End Players Guild

The West End Players Guild continues its season with Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs, a world premiere penned by St. Louis actor and playwright, Stephen Peirick.  Written in 2006, this comedy is getting a splendid treatment with thoughtful, nimble performances and direction.

The lights come up on Owen (Eric Dean White) and his wife Abby's (Colleen Backer) New York City apartment.  They're preparing to host a little birthday dinner party for Owen's brother, Cameron (John Foughty).  The natural, conversational tone of the evening is delightfully set as Owen considers the wine for the night and Abby considers her wardrobe -- their back-and-forth is very funny.  Cameron shows up with a bloody nose and a bruised up face from falling into the gutter after being tripped just outside his brother's apartment.  Happy 30th birthday, right?!  After an explanation about his appearance and the discovery that the meal prepared for him features something he's deathly allergic to, Cameron admits that he'd lost his job months ago and could use a little financial boost from big bro.  Cameron suffers a considerable amount of ribbing from his brother concerning the specific circumstances of his job loss (an ill-timed company bathroom situation -- I'll just leave it at that, shall I?), and then Owen tells Cameron that he has invited their mother (Jan Meyer) to the party -- an invitation Abby wasn't expecting.  When Mom arrives, she flies into the details of her latest drama, is convinced that Cameron really got mugged instead of falling down, and manages to set everyone on edge.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

AUTOBAHN • Soundstage Productions/R-S Theatrics

A girl on her way home from rehab, an inappropriate trip to a cabin in the woods, and a series of pre-interpretations that turn "make-out" point into "break-up" point and then back again -- these are some of the situations explored in Neil LaBute's 2003 collection of seven brief one-act, two-characters plays, and it's getting a fittingly intimate production by Soundstage Productions/R-S Theatrics.  (<-- Sorry.  Longest sentence ever.)

While these vignettes are unrelated, they all take a look at relationship dynamics, and take place in the front seat of a car.  The additional common denominator is the fact that they are also language-oriented.  David Mamet is one of LaBute's favorite playwrights, and in like fashion, connotations and perceptions of meaning are examined and the "here's the dark underbelly" of things are uncovered.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL • Stray Dog Theatre

First of all, get a ticket.  This hilarious show, superbly co-directed by Justin Been and Gary F. Bell, lampoons everything from political corruption, the legal system and bureaucracy, to the musical form itself, while constantly obliterating the fourth wall.  Speaking of the fourth wall, there's this thing called "Brechtian theatre".  It's a term that used to intimidate the hell out of me, but not anymore.  Thanks to a conversation with a buddy of mine, I learned that, in a nutshell, Bertolt Brecht, a poet and playwright who played a huge part in developing what's called "epic theatre", didn't want the audience to get too caught up in the story by constantly reminding us that we were watching a piece of theatre.  He "intended to provoke rational thought rather than to create illusion."  Little did I realize that this works brilliantly in comedic satire.  Hello, Urinetown: The Musical!  
Thanks to a devastating 20 year drought, a town has had to suffer no private toilets in an effort to conserve water.  Public amenities are controlled by the corporation UGC, or "Urine Good Company".  These toilets are scattered throughout the city, and there is a fee to pee.  The big guy kicking the shit… no pun intended… out of the little guy.  Sound familiar?  Sure it does!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

WAY TO HEAVEN • New Jewish Theatre

"Himmelweg", translated from German, means "Way to Heaven".  In the context of this absorbing play by Juan Mayorga, it means the sound of the train, and the way to the gas chambers.  The third show of The New Jewish Theatre's 15th season is based on real occurrences, and it is arresting.

In the 1940's, there was a concentration camp at Theresienstadt, where scenes from everyday life were orchestrated by the Nazis for the appearance of normalcy for a group of Red Cross inspectors.  It's within this settlement that our Red Cross representative (Jerry Vogel) found himself years ago.  During a good bit of the first act, he talks about the time when he went to visit that community in the woods, and how something about the place seemed oddly fabricated, although there was a school, a synagogue, a theatre -- all of the trappings of relative comfort.  He also talks about his regrets about what he couldn't, or refused to see back then.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Seventh Annual Kevin Kline Awards Nominations

It's that time again!  The Kevin Kline Awards honor excellence in St. Louis professional theater, and are presented by the Professional Theatre Awards Council, and the nominees for the Seventh Annual Kevin Kline Awards are out!

The Award winners will be announced in a ceremony on Monday, April 2nd at the Loretto-Hilton Theater, and it's open to the public.  Congratulations to all of the nominees!  Yay, theatre!!!!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

OLEANNA • HotCity Theatre

HotCity is kicking off their 2012 season with this tense, explosive play written by David Mamet, that will surely leave an impression as you head to your car after the show.

The play begins in the office of John (John Pierson), a college professor, who is meeting with one of his students, Carol (Rachel Fenton).  Carol, meek and self-effacing, has received a failing grade on a paper, and is seeking the help of her rather condescending, smug and verbose professor.  Carol admits that she is having a difficult time understanding John's class, his book, and just about everything he's saying most of the time.  She quotes from her extensive notes and frantically jots down everything he says to her, but she remains overwhelmed by the material, is offended by his assertion that higher education is like "systematic hazing", and thinks she's stupid.  John tries to console Carol by opening up and telling her that he wasn't the best student himself back in the day, but key points during this conversation are interrupted by phone calls from John's wife.  John, who's an inch away from being granted tenure along with a sizable raise, is also getting ready to close on a new high dollar house.  His wife keeps calling about last minute details and wants him to come out to the property.  After numerous interruptions, one coming just as Carol was going to reveal something about herself, John eventually offers to give her an "A" in the course if she would agree to come back to his office for talks about the coursework.  After an innocent hand on the shoulder is quickly shrugged off by Carol, the first act ends.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

AVENUE Q • [insert name here] Theatre Company

[insert name here] Theatre Company, recently a project under the wing of Stray Dog Theatre, took a hiatus in 2011, but now they're back with this dynamic furry-faced coming-of-age musical that still maintains its edge.  Debuting on Broadway in 2003, this Tony Award winning musical may have puppets in it, but as lovable as they are, they're often naughty and foul-mouthed, so leave the kids at home.  For the rest of you, sit back and enjoy this energetic cast of humans, and their fuzzy counter-parts as they all endeavor to find their way in a fictitious neighborhood in New York City -- winking, dirty and Sesame Street style.  Yay!!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Often when I'm writing blog posts, I try to remind myself not to use too many adjectives.  And then there's this post…  I'm not even sure where to start it's so good.

The Rep. is currently presenting Stephen Sondheim (my hero) and James Lapine’s achingly beautiful Sunday in the Park with George, and this production, exceptionally directed by Rob Ruggiero, is impressive.  The "George" of the title is French painter, Georges Seurat.  Seurat developed a technique of painting called pointillism in the 1880's, in which small dots of basic color are juxtaposed to form different hues when viewed from a distance.  This Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award winning musical uses Seurat's masterpiece (a two-year effort), "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", as a jumping off point, but this show is about way more than just a painting.  It's about one of Sondheim's favorite themes -- human connection (and/or the lack of being able to obtain it).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

THE SEAFARER • West End Players Guild

This 2006 play from Irish playwright, Conor McPherson, is currently onstage presented by the West End Players Guild, and if you're into Irish plays, this one's for you.  This show also shares the same name of an old English poem that deals with the hardships of life, God, the devil and the afterlife.  Cool, right?!

Sharky (Matt Hanify) is returning to his coastal hometown near Dublin after being let go from his chauffeuring job.  Good thing too, cause his older brother Richard (Robert Ashton) needs some looking after -- another reason Sharky is heading home.  Richard is blind, after hitting his head in a spill into a dumpster.  Richard is also cantankerous and likes his drink, which sucks for Sharky because he's trying to give up the bottle. On Christmas Eve, no less.  Richard has invited a couple of blokes over for a little poker -- Ivan (Charles Heuvelman), who's practically a constant houseguest, avoiding his own home life, and Nicky (John Reidy), who is dating Sharky's ex (awkward).  Nicky shows up with a bottle of booze, and a mysterious Mr. Lockhart (Barry Hyatt).  Sharky has some dark secrets from his past, and during a few moments alone between the two of them, it appears that this Lockhart guy seems to know everything about them.  Turns out, the devil spends his time on Christmas Eve collecting overdue souls, and Lockhart is intent on collecting Sharky's.  Really interesting premise -- a bunch of moonshine soaked Irish guys getting together for some Pre-Christmas cheer, and the Prince of Darkness shows up in a snazzy suit trying to get Sharky to "come through the old hole in the wall" with him.  Spooky…

Monday, January 9, 2012

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES • The Fox

Wow.  It's been a long time since I've been to a show.  Hello again, theatre.  I've missed you…

Next in the Fox's Broadway series is a show based on Jean Poiret's 1973 play that was later adapted into a musical in 1983.  That production won a bunch of Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Book, Original Score and Actor.  Its 2004 revival won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, as did this current revival from 2010.  Many of us may be most familiar with the 1996 film version with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, "The Birdcage".  Similar to "The Addams Family", "La Cage" involves an "I'm bringing a fiancée home whom the folks may not be too crazy about" scenario, packaged in rainbow colored sequins -- and it's a blast.

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