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.

Peter Mayer (Leo Greshen) and Bobby Miller (Benny Silverman).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The play itself is okay -- just seems to scratch the surface, but it's kept afloat by the performances, primarily Bobby Miller's perfect timing and comedic charm as the irascible Benny along with Peter Mayer's Leo -- cocky, but seeking forgiveness.  Elana Kepner as Benny's daughter Norma nicely holds her own with these two, and steps aside occasionally to narrate the action.  Dunsi Dai's typically perfect set design contributes greatly to Benny's beachfront patio, and is reinforced with Maureen Berry's lighting and Teresa Doggett's costume design.

It's got some great performances, and it's only going on till this weekend.
Bobby Miller (Benny Silverman) and
Elana Kepner (Norma Silverman).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Written by Jeffrey Sweet
Directed by Alec Wild
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through April 1 | tickets: $35.50 - $39.50
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm

Bobby Miller* (Benny Silverman), Elana Kepner* (Norma Silverman) and Peter Mayer* (Leo Greshen).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Dunsi Dai; lighting design by Maureen Berry; costume design by Teresa Doggett; sound design by Steve Neale; stage manager, Lee Anne Mathews.

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.

Patrese D. McClain stars in the
one-woman show NO CHILD
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
The characters include the janitor who has been at the school since the 50's.  He serves as our narrator.  Then we've got our teachers like Ms. Sun, our enthusiastic, hopeful teaching artist, and timid Ms. Tam, often cruelly jeered by the students for her Asian descent, and Mrs. Kennedy, the upright, uptight principal of the school.  Then there are the students -- the sass-mouthed Shondrika, a testosterone-filled rebel rouser named Jerome, the overactive Brian, the incredibly shy and soft-spoken Phillip, and then some.  Oh, did I mention this is a one-woman show?  An impressive Patrese D. McClain plays all 16 roles with distinct characterizations of a multitude of multi-cultural roles.  Quite a task.  But under Joe Hanrahan's direction, McClain is up to it.  She changes roles with lightning speed from the teachers to the students to our elderly janitor and a Jamaican security guard with a quick adjustment in posture, expression and dialect.

The unruly and resistant students are skeptical of Ms. Sun and the idea of putting on a play, but as the story unfolds (predictably, but still pretty cool to watch), you get the feeling that the arts may be a more enriching undertaking than math or science.

Brian Purlee's set features three textured walls with projections by Sean Savoie that inform the different locations.  Savoie also designed the lighting, Robin Weatherall designed the sound, and Linda Kennedy provides McClain with a simple outfit for her various representations.  The array of characters can be a lot to digest, but I have to admit, this play grew on me once I left the theatre and thought about it, and the overall portrait is one that is compelling.


Written by Nilaja Sun
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
through April 1 | tickets: $35 - $47
Performances Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm

Patrese D. McClain* (Janitor Baron, Ms. Sun, Ms. Tam, Coca, Jerome, Brian, Shondrika, Xiomara, Jose, Chris, Mrs. Kennedy, Security Guard, Phillip, Mrs. Projensky, Mr. Johnson, Dona Guzman). 
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Brian Purlee; lighting/projection design by Sean Savoie; costume design by Linda Kennedy; sound design by Robin Weatherall; stage manager, Tracy D. Holliway-Wiggins.

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).

Kirsten Wylder (Agnes White), Justin Ivan Brown (Peter Evans)
and Jenn Bock (R.C.).
Photo credit: John Lamb
In between tension-filled visits from Agnes' menacing ex who has discovered where she's staying, we, along with Agnes, learn more about this dude Peter as his quiet nature gives way to a more uninhibited comfort with his current company.  He presents as a thoughtful, intellectual, slightly odd type.  He's a Gulf War vet with strong theories about government sanctioned medical experiments and parasites.  Then we've got our Agnes, full of longing and solitude, without the will to believe in anything else, so they strike a responsive chord with each other.  As their cautious romance becomes less cautious, and their liquor swigging, conspiracy theory inflamed journey down the rabbit hole gets deeper, you're taken right with them as the lines between reality and delusion become blurred.  With commanding performances, sharp direction and perfect creative contributions, it's an absorbing trip.

Justin Ivan Brown (Peter Evans)
and Kirsten Wylder (Agnes White).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Kirsten Wylder does a remarkable job as a crushing, vulnerable Agnes, delivering a fearlessly committed performance from the opening moments to the last shreds.  Justin Ivan Brown's Peter Evans builds and reveals slowly and quite tantalizingly, and once he becomes unhinged, you find yourself not able to resist.  Jared Sanz-Agero as the intimidating ex-con Jerry Goss, does a wonderful job repelling you with an equally brave performance, and Jenn Bock gives us a successful R.C.  There's also Andrew Kuhlman as Dr. Sweet -- a less fully realized, and mysterious second act character who is "concerned" for Peter's well-being.

Mark Wilson's seedy and disheveled set, combined with Ellen Minch's costumes, David Hahn's low, beautiful lighting, and Milton Zoth's subtle sound design, everything from a smoke detector beep to ominous helicopters, are in unison with the mood that perfectly frames Cameron Ulrich's direction.

Because of the nature and content of this show, no one under the age of 18 will be admitted.  Yes, people get naked.  But if you're up for that, with some violence and a little carnage thrown in, and you don't mind some very well executed "in your face" theatre, this one is not to be missed.  For real.  Go see it.

Jared Sanz-Agero (Jerry Goss), Kirsten Wylder (Agnes White)
and Justin Ivan Brown (Peter Evans).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by Cameron Ulrich
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through March 25 | tickets: $25
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Kirsten Wylder (Agnes White), Jenn Bock (R.C.), Justin Ivan Brown (Peter Evans), Jared Sanz-Agero (Jerry Goss) and Andrew Kuhlman (Dr. Sweet).

Scenic design by Mark Wilson; costume design by Ellen Minch; lighting design by David Hahn; sound design by Milton Zoth; stage manager, Eleanore Rank.

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.

Kim Furlow (Amanda Wingfield).
Photo credit: John Lamb
When Amanda finds out that Tom, partly for her sake, has invited a co-worker over, "just for dinner", Amanda clenches the opportunity for a fix-up between Laura and this seemingly respectable young man.  This gentleman caller (Tom Lehmann) was captain of the football team, an impressive baritone in his school's production of The Pirates of Penzance, and went to high school with the Wingfield kids.  Laura, having had a huge crush on him, is terrified at the prospect of seeing him.  Powder-keg evening anyone?  Yeah.  Some crucial moments of the second act play out on, or involve the apartment's fire escape -- interesting because of the symbolic representations of the fire escape, where the sounds of the nightclub across the alley can be heard, where you go to smoke cigarettes, and where you can make a wish on the moon.  Though Tom is the only one able to escape, his mind remains haunted by his family that he, like his father, left behind.

Macia Noorman (Laura Wingfield) and
Tom Lehmann (The Gentleman Caller, Jim O'Connor).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This play is considered the closest thing to an autobiography Tennessee Williams had ever written.  Our storyteller Tom would be Williams (whose real name was Thomas), and Laura would be his real-life sister Rose ("Blue Roses" -- a nickname given to Laura in the play).

Antonio Rodriguez, serving as master of ceremonies for the night, delivers the lyrical narratives beautifully.  It's also easy to sense his frustration and increasing longing to be rid of his family.  Kim Furlow's Amanda is stern, imposing and a little sad.  A scene that involves her goings on about jonquils, her favorite flower, presumably a representation of her lost youth, is a little unsettling because it's a chilling display of her tenuous grasp of reality.  Macia Noorman as Laura exhibits a subtly turned in foot, and an uncertain nervous quality that makes you feel for her and her alienated comfort within the walls of her home.  Tom Lehmann's Jim O'Connor  shows the swagger of a high school popular guy, but he carries his own need for escape, and genuinely connects with Laura.

Antonio Rodriguez (Tom Wingfield) and
Kim Furlow (Amanda Wingfield).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The set is bathed in soft lights, (Max Parrilla), and sometimes renders the characters in silhouette -- a nice touch.  Courtney Sanazaro-Sloey's scenic design gives us a nice deep set with the dining room in the background, the parlor and all important glass menagerie in the foreground.  The costumes (Jane Sullivan) and sound design (Joseph T. Pini), along with Michael Perkins's projection design make wonderful contributions to the play's feel.

I admit, there's so much analysis out there on the web about The Glass Menagerie, I kinda geeked out reading about some of it, and it was exciting to finally see it in person.  Check it out -- it's playing until the 18th.


Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Bill Whitaker
Dramatic License Productions, Chesterfield Mall (upper level entrance, next to Houlihans)
through March 18 | tickets: $22 - $25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Macia Noorman (Laura Wingfield).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Kim Furlow (Amanda Wingfield), Macia Noorman (Laura Wingfield),  Antonio Rodriguez (Tom Wingfield) and Tom Lehmann (The Gentleman Caller, Jim O'Connor).

Scenic design by Courtney Sanazaro-Sloey; lighting design by Max Parrilla; costume design by Jane Sullivan; sound design by Joseph T. Pini; projections design by Michael Perkins; stage manager, Katie Faltus.

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".

Taylor Pietz (Allison Vernon-Williams)
and Ryan Foizey (Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Allison, squeakiest clean of the Whiffles, finds herself drawn to Cry-Baby -- a tall, handsome musician who's really not as bad as the Whiffles think.  Allison's grandmother (Cindy Duggan) is not happy with her interest in Cry-Baby, and Allison's would-be boyfriend Baldwin desperately tries to convince her that he's the guy she should want, but Allison wants Cry-Baby nonetheless.  At his invitation, Allison shows up at Turkey Point, a Drapes hangout.  When a fire breaks out in the club, the arson is pinned on Cry-Baby, and he and his gang of ne'er-do-wells are locked up.  The story unfolds with your typical cross-cultural shenanigans and not so surprising outcome, but as familiar as the story might be, there's a very self-aware mockery under the surface that makes it all that much more fun to see play out, with some wonderful performances and wacky characters along the way.

Terrie Carolan (Lenora Frigid).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Under Scott Miller's bull's-eye direction, Cry-Baby is bolstered by New Line's consistently energetic cast, including newcomer Ryan Foizey in the title role.  His charismatic Elvis Presley inspired Cry-Baby has just enough volatility to make him seem dangerous, but all the heart to make him genuine.  Doesn't hurt that he has a great voice, too.  He does an impressive job with "Nobody Gets Me".  The rest of the Drapes, Marcy Wiegert, Chrissy Young and Sarah Porter also do fabulous work.  New Line regular Taylor Pietz brings her solid vocals and charm to Allison, and Mike Dowdy is perfectly scheming as Baldwin, the leader of the Whiffles and Allison's jealous boyfriend.  Cindy Duggan also does a nice job as Allison's grandmother, a woman who has a secret of her own that is revealed later in the show.  Another couple of regulars to mention must include Terrie Carolan and her hilarious portrayal of the delusional Lenora Frigid, who's crazy in love with Cry-Baby.  She manages to stay in constant motion all night, and her number, "Screw Loose" is a show stealer.  Ari Scott's Dupree sounds great infusing the evening with some Little Richard-esque flavor, and Zachary Allen Farmer pulls off multiple roles with his usual aplomb.

The Drapes -- Ryan Foizey (Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker), 
Taylor Pietz (Allison Vernon-Williams), Sarah Porter (Hatchet Face),
Marcy Wiegert (Pepper), Chrissy Young (Wanda), and Ari D. Scott (Dupree).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Robin Michelle Berger's choreography fits perfectly into the groove of the rest of the show, and really stands out particularly in "A Little Upset".  Amy Kelly's costumes clearly define each character, and the crafty scenic design by Scott L. Schoonover and lighting by Sean M. Savoie contribute much to the success of this production.

It's a lot of fun and it's playing until the 24th.  Check it out!

The Squares -- Devon Norris, Jenifer Sabbert, Evan Fornachon,
Alexandra Taylor, Christopher D. Strawhun, Mike Dowdy and Cindy Duggan.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music by Adam Schlesinger
Lyrics by David Javerbaum
Directed by Scott Miller
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through March 24 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Ryan Foizey (Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker), Taylor Pietz (Allison Vernon-Williams), Cindy Duggan (Mrs. Vernon-Williams), Mike Dowdy (Baldwin), Marcy Wiegert (Pepper Walker), Chrissy Young (Wanda Woodward), Sarah Porter (Mona "Hatchet-Face" Malnorowski), Ari Scott (Dupree), Terrie Carolan (Lenora Frigid), Evan Fornachon, Devon A.A. Norris, Christopher Strawhun (The Whiffles), Zachary Allen Farmer (Judge Stone and Everyone Else), Jenifer Sabbert and Alexandra Taylor (Square Girls/Drape Girls).

Choreography by Robin Michelle Berger; costume deign by Amy Kelly; lighting design by Sean M. Savoie; scenic design by Scott L. Schoonover; sound design by Donald Smith; stage manager, Trisha Bakula.

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Justin Smolik; lead guitar, D. Mike Bauer; rhythm guitar, Joe Isaacs; reeds, Robert Vinson; bass, Dave Hall; percussion, Clancy Newell.

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.

John Foughty (Cameron), Jan Meyer (Mother),
Eric Dean White (Owen) and Colleen Backer (Abby).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Nobody was expecting that Abby would take it upon herself to invite Natalie (Sarajane Alverson), a co-worker, to the festivities in hopes of a match with Cameron, but she did, and Cam's b-day party continues its downward spiral.  Although it's obvious that his would-be date has ZERO interest in Cameron, Natalie, always up for a good time, takes him out on the town in an inspired effort to get Cameron to "wake up", grow a pair, and push back against the antagonism he's put up with from his family.

Part of the great thing about this play in addition to Peirick's skillful writing, is that under Robert Ashton's wonderful direction, each actor presents fully realized characters, and they all work together like a well-oiled machine.  John Foughty as the hapless Cameron brings a lovable quality to the guy described by his own family as "okay looking" and not a complete screw-up.  Eric Dean White as his self-involved older brother Owen was fantastic, wearing his role like a comfy sweater.  Colleen Backer as Owen's equally self-involved wife Abby delivers her lines with an excellent, deadpan, subtle hilarity.  These two are perfect for each other.  Jan Meyer's Mother is big fun from the minute she comes into the action, and Sarajane Alverson's Natalie also puts in a strong performance with perfect timing.
John Foughty (Cameron), Eric Dean White (Owen)
and Sarajane Alverson (Natalie).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Great work also by Ken Clark's scenic design, Anthony Anselmo's lighting design, Chuck Lavazzi's sound design, and Colleen Heneghan's costumes, that thoughtfully inform each player.

Not much longer to see this one -- it's playing until March 4th.  Go see it -- you won't be sorry.


Written by Stephen Peirick
Directed by Robert Ashton
Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
through March 4 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

John Foughty (Cameron), Eric Dean White (Owen), Colleen Backer (Abby), Sarajane Alverson (Natalie) and Jan Meyer (Mother).

John Foughty (Cameron) and Sarajane Alverson (Natalie).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Scenic design by Ken Clark; lighting design by Anthony Anselmo; sound design by Chuck Lavazzi; costume design by Colleen Heneghan; special makeup effects designed by Anna Blair; asst. director/stage manager, Renee Sevier-Monsey. 


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