Wednesday, December 18, 2013

THE BUTTERFINGERS ANGEL... • Stray Dog Theatre

William Gibson wrote this play with music in 1975 for his church, to be performed in their annual Christmas pageant.  The full title, "The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, & the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree", is Gibson's wacky take on the Nativity story -- perfect for this season of holiday offerings.

Beginning with the cast entering and singing the lyrics, "Fill the stage with bits of folly…" to the tune of "Deck the Halls", you get an idea of what the evening will hold.  The Annunciating Angel (Joseph Corey Henke) has been sent to earth, loaded down with a horn that he's not very good at playing and a script he's desperately trying to follow, with orders to give news of a very special birth that's about to take place.  Our butterfingers angel is a little on the clumsy side, but he's determined to see his task through to the end even though he's got his fair share of challenges, starting with immediate tension with a belligerent tree (Alyssa Ward), who winds up filling an important role in the story.
(l to r) Sarajane Alverson (Woman 2), Ashley D. Alcamo (Woman 1),
Alyssa Ward (The Tree), Colleen M. Backer (Mary),
and Stephen Peirick (Joseph).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Not only is there the tree to contend with, but Mary (Colleen M. Backer), practical and indifferent, wants nothing to do at all with the older carpenter Joseph (Stephen Peirick), who is quite smitten with her.  Mary freaks out when the angel tells her that she's gonna have a baby, and after calming down a bit, she warns him about her brutish family of 17 that will most likely try to cause problems.  Then we've got Herod the Nut (John Reidy) who's willing to go to any lengths he can to stop the birth of this Savior he's been hearing about.  The animals, all played by really cute kids, play their parts in the story, and throughout the play we're treated to twelve Christmas tunes.  The well-known journey, of course, ends inside a modest manger with wise men, sheep and an unusually bright star.

Alyssa Ward (The Tree), Joseph Corey Henke (Butterfingers Angel),
Stephen Peirick (Joseph), Kevin Connelly (Donkey)
and Colleen M. Backer (Mary).
Photo credit: John Lamb
You can see how this play was a hit when it was presented at Gibson's church.  As a play, it comes off as more than a little offbeat, and a couple of Gibson's bits go on a tad too long, but by giving a voice to the trees and the animals, this play, under the skillful direction of Gary F. Bell, humanizes all living things, and hey!  That's ideally what the holidays should be about, right?!  The kids all did a fantastic job, with a little shout out to Kevin Connelly as the literally put-upon donkey.  Backer gives Mary a natural, candid off-handedness that makes this every-day-gal soon to be the mother of the Christ child engaging and very funny.  Peirick also gives Joseph a relatable touch, constantly wondering who the real father of Mary's baby is, even suspecting this angel who seems to be always by her side.  Henke is goofily endearing as the butterfingers angel, and the supporting cast all did a fine job.  John Reidy, in addition to playing The Man in Grey, had a tall order to fill as the completely insane King Herod, and does a wonderful job in a scene that threatens to go overlong.  Mitch Eagles, Jan Niehoff and Andrew S. Kuhlman also did good work in weird roles as Mary's caveman brothers, and later as the not so wise Wise Men that head off following a star in the East.  Sarajane Alverson and Ashley D. Alcamo beautifully lend their vocal talents throughout, along with Adam Rugo on the guitar (working in the carols from the title), and while Bell's set is simple, it provides a large playing space for the cast, with nice touches from Alexandra Scibetta Quigley's vibrant costume design and Tyler Duenow's lighting design.

Mitch Eagles, Jan Niehoff
and Andrew S. Kuhlman.
Photo credit: John Lamb

In the midst of so many holiday shows happening right now, for a silly take on the Christmas story with a touching and compassionate center, head down to Tower Grove Abbey this weekend to check it out.


THE BUTTERFINGERS ANGEL, MARY & JOSEPH, HEROD THE NUT, & THE SLAUGHTER OF 12 HIT CAROLS IN A PEAR TREE

Written by William Gibson
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through December 21 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday, December 21 at 2pm

Cast:
Joseph Corey Henke (Butterfingers Angel), Colleen M. Backer (Mary), Stephen Peirick (Joseph), John Reidy (The Man in Grey/King Herod/Courier), Alyssa Ward (The Tree), Mitch Eagles (King 1/Lout 1/Soldier 1), Jan Niehoff (King 2/Lout 2/Soldier 2), Andrew S. Kuhlman (King 3/ Lout 3), Ashley D. Alcamo (Woman 1), Sarajane Alverson (Woman 2), Grace Clark (Girl), Olivia Light (Cow/First Child), Kevin Connelly (Donkey/Second Child - Act 1) and Ellie Lore (Sheep/Second Child - Act 2).

Creative:
Costume design by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley; scenic design by Gary F. Bell; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; musical direction by Adam Rugo; stage manager, Justin Been.

Musicians:
Adam Rugo (troubadour).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

THE MOUSETRAP • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The season's first snowfall this past week in St. Louis provided the perfect setting for the Rep's current production, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”.  A month ago I mentioned that "The Woman in Black" was the second longest-running non-musical play in the history of London's West End.  Well, "The Mousetrap", at over 25,000 performances, is numero uno.  Originally a radio broadcast written in 1947 for Queen Elizabeth, it premiered onstage in 1952, and has been running ever since.  The plot is pretty simple -- guests at an English manor house are snowed in while there's a murderer on the loose, yet the production at the Rep elicits the play's snug, straightforward charm that displays why, after 60 years, this lesser play of Christie's is her most popular.

Sean Mellott (Christopher Wren) and William Connell (Giles).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Beginning with the whistled refrain of the nursery rhyme, "Three Blind Mice", the lights come up on a frigid afternoon of heavy snowfall, where young married couple, Giles and Mollie Ralston, are preparing for their first day as the proprietors of the newly renovated Monkswell Manor.  Giles (William Connell), hardworking and businesslike, tries to calm Mollie (Ellen Adair), who is anxious about everything being in order by the time their first of four booked guests arrive.  First to check-in is the flamboyantly odd architect, Christopher Wren (Sean Mellott), who is delighted with the respectability of the house.  Their second guest, snooty and unpleasant Mrs. Boyle (Darrie Lawrence), is not impressed at all, and bemoans the lack of proper service.  The other expected guests include the agreeable Major Metcalf (Michael James Reed), and ex-army man whom we know little about, and the manly, trouser-wearing Miss Casewell (Tarah Flanagan), in town to take care of some vague business.  Mr. Paravicini (Larry Paulsen), a sneering and mysterious European arrives unexpectedly -- stranded after his car runs into a snowdrift.

Darrie Lawrence (Mrs. Boyle).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The radio broadcasts speak of a murder that's taken place on Culver Street in London, about 30 miles away from the manor, and once a description of the suspect's attire is given, including a dark coat, a felt hat and scarf -- something everyone wore back then, the speculation begins.  Soon after Mollie receives a phone call from the police, Detective Sergeant Trotter (Christian Pedersen) arrives on skis and informs the guests that there may be a connection between the murder in London and Monkswell Manor, and they all might be in danger.  Before long it becomes apparent that the murderer is staying at the manor, and Trotter's investigation casts suspicion on just about everyone, along with laying out a fair number of false leads, keeping the audience guessing until the end.

Cast of THE MOUSETRAP
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Under the thoughtful direction of Paul Mason Barnes, the cast provide strong performances, giving their respective characters enough depth beyond their first introduction to make you believe any one of them could have done it.  John Ezell's scenic design includes stained glass windows, towering walls and the heavy elegance of a grand and well-worn manor house.  The production is also elevated by Dorothy Marshall Englis's costumes that sit snuggly within the play's design, Peter E. Sargent's evocative lighting design, and Rusty Wandall's slick sound design.  

Two last things:  1 -- There's a long held tradition of secrecy about the ending of this comedic murder mystery, and the audience is asked not to give the identity of the murderer away.  2 -- The Rep's production of this classic theatre nugget is well worth seeing to find out for yourself.


Larry Paulsen (Mr. Paravicini) and Ellen Adair (Mollie).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
THE MOUSETRAP

Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Paul Mason Barnes
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through December 29 | tickets: $20.00 - $81.00
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

Cast:
Ellen Adair* (Mollie Ralston), William Connell* (Giles Ralston), Sean Mellott* (Christopher Wren), Darrie Lawrence* (Mrs. Boyle), Michael James Reed* (Major Metcalf), Tarah Flanagan* (Miss Casewell), Larry Paulsen* (Mr. Paravicini) and Christian Pedersen* (Detective Sergeant Trotter).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Christian Pedersen (Detective Sergeant Trotter)
and Tarah Flanagan (Miss Casewell).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Creative:
Scenic design by John Ezell; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by Peter E. Sargent; sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Glenn Dunn; assistant stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

PTERODACTYLS • St. Louis Actors' Studio

This 1993 comedy mines the depths of a popular trope -- the dysfunctional family.  But the bite in playwright Nicky Silver's black comedy plunges it into the darkest of places, and it's getting a smart production at St. Louis Actors' Studio.  It starts with a history lesson of sorts presented by Todd Duncan (Nathan Bush).  After laying out an assortment of general misinformation, he talks about the dinosaurs and their extinction.  Then, we get introduced to a new variety of antiques headed for annihilation -- his family.

He has returned to his well-to-do Philadelphia home after five years to inform them that he's contracted AIDS and needs a place to stay.  Todd's sister Emma (Betsy Bowman), plagued with psychosomatic illnesses, is engaged to "Salad City" employee and film geek Tommy (James Slover), after a three week courtship.  When we meet Todd's mother Grace (Penny Kols), she breezes home after shopping in what seems like a whirlwind tour of her own living room.  She maintains the facade of being the matriarch of a relevant family by drinking and planning events.  Her husband Arthur (Whit Reichert), a bank president, appears to have good intentions in his attempt at being a good father, but tends to confuse the memories of his own childhood with that of his childrens'.

Betsy Bowman (Emma Duncan),
James Slover (Tommy McKorckle) and Penny Kols (Grace Duncan).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This completely disconnected family is bound together by the fact that everyone is buried under a mountain of denial.  From Todd's uninhibited promiscuity and refusal to believe he's going to die, and the parents' denial of alcoholism, adultery and the disturbingly excessive affection they inflict on their favorite child, to Emma's repression of her abuse.  Even Tommy, folded into the Duncan family mix, denies the fact that though he's engaged to Emma, he's more interested in her brother.  To complete Silver's metaphor with an exclamation point, once Todd comes home he discovers some dinosaur bones buried in the backyard that he decides to reconstruct in the living room.  You wonder what state of decay this slowly vanishing family will be in by the time Todd's dinosaur art project is complete.

Nathan Bush (Todd Duncan) and Whit Reichert (Arthur Duncan).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Director Milton Zoth strikes a delicate balance, never losing the play's comedic cadence, even while the material grows bleak.  The cast, strong across the board, is able to elicit laughter with sharp dialogue, whether it's a big belly laugh or an uncomfortable chuckle.  Bush serves as an even-keeled center of the family as Todd.  Though not easy to like, he can appear to be perhaps the most well-adjusted, though he's far from it.  Kols ingrains big-haired, shoulder-pad equipped Grace with a frenetic busyness, trying to lose herself in any project she can find to keep from looking at her life too closely, despite a fondness for her compact mirror.  She gives a highly entertaining performance as a woman on the edge of hysteria.  Reichert's Arthur walks in a constant state of oblivion, floating through his days, insisting that his son likes to be called "Buzz".  At times he seems to almost simmer with desperation, especially near the end.

James Slover (Tommy McKorckle), Penny Kols (Grace Duncan)
and Nathan Bush (Todd Duncan).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Bowman portrays the neurotic and forgetful Emma with comic buoyancy.  Even as she becomes deaf when there are things she can't bear to hear, her comedic moments are underpinned by a deep vein of tragedy.  Slover shines as Tommy, Emma's ticket out of the house, who fits right in with the Duncan clan.  His comic timing is heightened by the sincerity that grounds his character, even though he spends most of the time dressed as the family maid -- dainty uniform and all.  Slover and Bowman play well against each other.  Teresa Doggett is responsible for costuming everyone in 1980's  apparel, with Grace's dated dresses and big hair being a standout, with Patrick Huber  providing scenic and lighting design for the family home, with sound design by Robin Weatherall and props design by Wendy Renée Greenwood.

Pterodactyls is a funny, absurd, unflinching look at an unsustainable American relic that's well worth seeing.  Check it out while you can.


Nathan Bush (Todd Duncan).
Photo credit: John Lamb
PTERODACTYLS

Written by Nicky Silver
Directed by Milton Zoth
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through November 24 | tickets: $30.25 - $35.25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Cast:
Whit Reichert* (Arthur Duncan), Nathan Bush (Todd Duncan), James Slover (Tommy McKorckle), Penny Kols (Grace Duncan and Betsy Bowman (Emma Duncan).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Costume design by Teresa Doggett; props design by Wendy Renée Greenwood; scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; sound design by Robin Weatherall; fight choreography by Cameron Ulrich; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

Monday, November 11, 2013

ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 • Mustard Seed Theatre

This a capella musical documents a true and all too brief period of time during the First World War on Christmas Eve.  At dawn, only months into the war, after hearing and trading carols across the trenches, a German soldier crossed the lines of the Western front into no-man's-land wishing a "Merry Christmas" in native tongues.  Seeing that he was unarmed, British and French soldiers eventually did the same.  They ended up meeting in the middle where they exchanged gifts of puddings and cigarettes, sang songs, played a little soccer, and together buried their dead.

Charlie Barron, Gary Glasgow, Shawn Bowers,
Jason Meyers, Tim Schall, Antonio Rodriguez,
Jeffrey Wright, J. Samuel Davis, Luke Steingruby
and Christopher Hickey.
Photo credit: John Lamb
"All is Calm", originally produced by Cantus vocal ensemble and Theater Latté Da and its artistic director Peter Rothstein, seems more of a musical retelling of history than anything else.  The script is based on the actual letters of men from various regiments, brigades and infantries who lived it.  Along with commentary on the incredible events of that Christmas Eve in 1914, the letters also describe, in vivid detail, the enthusiasm of the young soldiers as they leave for the war, evocative descriptions of their surroundings, the thrill of receiving parcels from home, the devastating loss of friends, and the making of new ones across enemy lines -- if only for a short time.

The songs that range from ballads, traditional folk songs, patriotic songs and Christmas carols include, "Will Ye Go to Flanders?", a Scottish folk song, "Pack up you Troubles", "The Old Barbed Wire", an English traditional song, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", a 12th century chant, "Wassail", and over a dozen more.  Twenty-three songs in all are beautifully presented in an intermissionless 60 minutes that fly by.  

Christopher Hickey, Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall,
Jason Meyers, J. Samuel Davis, Luke Steingruby,
Shawn Bowers, Jeffrey Wright, Antonio Rodriguez
and Charlie Barron.
Photo credit: John Lamb
I try not to gush so pointedly over things too much (what?), but with Joe Schoen's musical direction, the pitch-perfect harmonies and meticulously placed ranges of this clarion-voiced group made me have to close my eyes and breathe in deeply after several numbers.  You know what I mean when that happens, right?  Nothing like it.  The ensemble, including Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis, Gary Glasgow, Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright, delivers these songs in a manner that is just plain stunning.  It's hard to pick anyone out since these guys make for such a tight ensemble, but Rodriguez deserves a special mention (and the trumpet!  Who knew?) along with Tim Schall.  But again, they were all splendid.

Tim Schall, Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers,
Luke Steingruby, Jeffrey Wright and Charlie Barron.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Each member gets an assortment of lines, taking on the role of different soldiers from the letters during the play, and the range of dialects they exhibit were also impressive, with Richard Lewis serving as the dialect coach.  Kyra Bishop's scenic design includes strands of barbed-wire across the stage, boxes, barrels and crates, with the no-man's-land in the middle, and the backdrop view of a muddled, smoky landscape.  Michael Sullivan's lighting design illuminates this background beautifully, providing low suggestive lights, and Jane Sullivan perfectly costumes the men in military garb that unifies them while still differentiating the various ranks.  Deanna Jent's insightful direction is simple enough to let the vocals and stories shine, while drawing clear lines of definition onstage.  Along with the direction, Jent, also the artistic director, made the decision to bring this show to Mustard Seed -- a decision you'll be grateful for.

The soldiers were eventually forced back down into the trenches to re-arm themselves after their actions received strong criticism from high ranking officers.  Nothing like it ever happened again, and WWI ended up claiming the lives of millions. Maybe the weight of those facts is a part of why "All is Calm" is so impactful, along with the humanity that seems inherent during the Holiday season.  And man, those voices…  If the hair on the back of your neck doesn't stand on end, there's something wrong with you.  Ha!  Nah, I'm just kidding.

Kind of...

Go see it.  It's playing until the 24th. 


ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

By Peter Rothstein
Musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach 
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through November 24 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis*, Gary Glasgow*, Christopher Hickey*, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall*, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright.
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; music director, Joe Schoen; props manager, Meg Brinkley; dialect coach, Richard Lewis; stage manager, Katie Donnelly.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

FREUD'S LAST SESSION • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

Mark St. Germain's 2009 play, inspired by Dr. Armand Nicholi Jr.'s book, The Question of Goddepicts a fictional meeting between Sigmund Freud, an atheist, and C. S. Lewis, a former atheist and now devout Christian.  As you can imagine, the play offers a good dose of intellectual banter along with a little humor, including conversations about the concept of God, myth, suffering, sadomasochism and music.  Among other things.

Freud (Barry Mulholland) has invited Lewis (Jim Butz) to his London home to meet him.  Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, is curious about how Lewis, a writer and scholar, could compromise his intellect by embracing Christianity.

Barry Mulholland (Sigmund Freud) and Jim Butz (C.S. Lewis).
©Photo by Eric Woolsey.
This core question unravels an examination of many topics during the course of their meeting, and though their beliefs are diametrically opposed, they manage to discover common ground and similarities in their formative years as the play unfolds.  It's 1939, and Freud periodically checks the radio as both men listen in to the latest news of the Nazi's invasion of Poland.  Their lively debate is broken up by the occasional air raid sirens that split the air and throw Lewis into a frenzy in search of a gas mask.  The play is also set about three weeks before Freud's death, and though he remains staunch in his arguments, he becomes pitifully debilitated by the increasing pain caused by his oral cancer and the false palate he's forced to wear.

Barry Mulholland (Sigmund Freud).
©Photo by Eric Woolsey.
While the dialogue is intriguing, the nature of the play's back-and-forth renders it a low-stakes game with little tension or conflict.  Arguments like this always seem to end at an impasse.  Still, this flaw is overcome by the play's relatively short duration of around 80 minutes, Michael Evan Haney's insightful direction, and the strong performances of Mulholland and Butz, who both wear their characters as comfortably as a tweed blazer.  Freud was pretty obstinate where his opinions were concerned, but Mulholland reveals a fragility in him with not only his failing health, but also when discussing the loss of his family members with brief flares of lightly veiled anger.  Butz gives Lewis an amiable quality, yet still passionately defensive of his beliefs.  While both men hold true to their ideas, they enjoy the verbal sparring, and clearly convey the admiration and respect they have for each other.

Jim Butz (C.S. Lewis)
and Barry Mulholland (Sigmund Freud).
©Photo by Eric Woolsey.
Scenic designers Peter and Margery Spack are responsible for the well appointed study of Freud's, adorned with statuettes, masks, and books against dark wood, along with details that hint at the escalating war.  Elizabeth Eisloeffel's costume design gives Lewis a pop of color while keeping Freud more traditional, and James Sale evenly lights the set, inside and out beyond the walls of Freud's study.  Benjamin Marcum's sound design adds nice touches along the way, with the sound of the sirens and the voices on the radio.

This battle of intellectual heavy hitters may not yield a clear "winner", but being able to be a fly on the wall and listen to the contest is a treat.  It's playing at the Rep's Studio Theatre until the 24th.


FREUD'S LAST SESSION

Written by Mark St. Germain
suggested by The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.
Directed by Michael Evan Haney
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 24 | tickets: $49 - $63
Performances Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Barry Mulholland (Sigmund Freud) and Jim Butz (C.S. Lewis).
©Photo by Eric Woolsey.
Cast:
Jim Butz (C.S. Lewis) and Barry Mulholland (Sigmund Freud).

Creative:
Scenic design by Peter and Margery Spack; costume design by Elizabeth Eisloeffel; lighting design by James Sale; sound design by Benjamin Marcum; stage manager, Champe Leary.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

THE WOMAN IN BLACK • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Stephen Mallatratt's 1987 play was adapted from Susan Hill's book bearing the same name, and it continues Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble's "Season of the Monster."  In London where "The Woman in Black" debuted, it still holds the record as the second longest-running non-musical play in the history of the West End, after Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap."  The Chapel's architectural features and intimate theatre space make it a fitting spot for this Victorian-era ghost story that's set in an empty theatre in London.

We begin with Mr. Arthur Kipps (B. Weller) rushing through a passage he's reading from a manuscript.  After being criticized for his horrible delivery, the Actor (Jared Sanz-Agero), steps onto the stage and tries to give Kipps some tips for a better, more emotional performance.  He tells him that if he wishes to perform this piece and keep the attention of the audience, it's going to have to be trimmed down considerably as well.

Jared Sanz-Agero (Actor) and B. Weller (Mr. Kipps).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of RumZoo Photography
Mr. Kipps has enlisted the help of the actor to assist him with a tale he needs to tell.  His experience during a business trip to an isolated house some 25 years earlier, is one that he hopes to put to rest by reliving it in the retelling, and being rid of it for good.  In an effort to improve Mr. Kipps' performance, they decide to run through the piece.  The actor assures Kipps that the magic of theatre can fill in for the tedious descriptions of this and that, and after being impressed with the effect of pre-recorded sound, Kipps agrees to give it a go.  In the play-within-the-play, the actor portrays the younger Kipps, and Kipps, drawing from his memories, re-enacts a number of characters along the way.

Jared Sanz-Agero (Actor).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of
RumZoo Photography
Kipps travels to the town of Crythin Gifford to represent the firm he works for at the funeral of a recently deceased client, Mrs. Drablow, and sort through her papers to settle up old business.  She lived alone in a mansion known as the Eel Marsh House that's surrounded by a bog and unreachable when high tide comes in, submerging the one causeway that leads to the house.  Despite suspicious looks from the townsfolk and an unwillingness of just about anyone to take him there, Kipps is determined to finish what he came to do, but his discovery of a child's nursery, the sounds of a phantom pony and trap out in the fog covered marsh, and his encounters with a mysterious apparition of a gaunt woman dressed in black (Shelby Partridge), plus the secrets he learns from old letters of correspondence, fill him, and us, with growing terror.

Weller deftly navigates various roles, blossoming as the mildly boring Mr. Kipps comes to inhabit a variety of local townspeople.  Weller individualizes his characterizations with his posture, the way he sets his face and an assortment of distinctly different dialects.  Sanz-Agero also turns in a fine performance as the confident actor and the younger Mr. Kipps, his expressions filling us with an infectious dread.  They both shoulder the weight of the play wonderfully.  Though Partridge doesn't have any lines, she will spook you out with her random appearances.  She scared me.  Get an aisle seat.  ;)

B. Weller (Mr. Kipps).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of
RumZoo Photography
Director Rachel Tibbetts keeps the action moving at an engaging clip, makes good use of the space, and turns a few pieces of furniture from Bess Moynihan's scenic design into a pony and trap, a work-desk, or the inside of a train.  Moynihan's set also features creepy sheet covered furniture and her lighting design offers long shadows and spooky silhouettes.  Ellie Schwetye provides the sound design that helps carry much of the story with street noises, horses, and an altogether eerie atmospheric soundscape.  Elizabeth Henning's costume design provides a nice touch and kudos also to dialect coach, Pamela Reckamp.

As the weather gets chillier, this well-executed old-fashioned ghost story, also equipped with a great twist at the end, couldn't come at a better time.  Go see it -- it's playing until the 9th.


THE WOMAN IN BLACK

Written by Susan Hill
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt
Directed by Rachel Tibbetts
through November 9 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm

Cast:
Jared Sanz-Agero (Actor), B. Weller (Mr. Kipps) and Shelby Partridge (Jennet Humfrye).

Creative:
Scenic and lighting design by Bess Moynihan; sound design by Ellie Schwetye; costume design by Elizabeth Henning; dialect coach, Pamela Reckamp; stage manager, Mollie Amburgey.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

THE TRIVIA JOB • OnSite Theatre Company

Ready for a little trivia night action?  "The Trivia Job", written specifically for OnSite by Dan Rubin, makes its debut in Soulard.  In keeping with OnSite's tradition of producing plays in site-specific locations, this one takes place at the Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St. Louis, and includes three rounds of trivia -- "The Good", "The Bad", and "The French."

Some members of the fictional St. Francis Parish are putting on the trivia night to raise money for the expensive repairs needed to restore their tornado-damaged church.  That's their story, anyway.  What they're really planning is a bank heist.  After being welcomed by Allison (Ann Marie Mohr), a rather high-strung member of the parish, she stumps for donations and stalls while we wait for the master of ceremonies.  Listening in to her table, we learn that the trivia night is just a cover for a planned robbery of the Anheuser-Busch Credit Union -- which happens to be just down the street.  Along with Allison, there's her daughter Patricia (Julia Zasso), willing but soft-spoken participant Betsy (Michelle Hand), and the orchestrator of it all, Maxine (Donna Weinsting) -- all playing together on a team called, the "Knitting Ministry".  They were thrown off slightly when the original mc had to bow out after coming down with the shingles, but they called in the unsuspecting Father Calvin Truss (Ben Nordstrom) as a replacement, who finally arrives, gasping and out of breath.  As the night goes on, not only do we get to play trivia, we also get to see how their plan goes down.  Will they be successful?

Julia Zasso (Patricia Cross), Ann Marie Mohr (Allison Cross),
Michelle Hand (Betsy White),
Ben Nordstrom (Father Calvin Truss)
and Donna Weinsting (Maxine Peters).
Photo credit: Opal Andrews
Rubin's simple, straightforward plot is enhanced by the surroundings, though with everyone getting so wrapped up in the trivia, it becomes easy to forget you're watching a play -- maybe a little too easy.  Cause you know I'm all about, "The show has started.  STFU."  Still, Anna Pileggi's direction and the performances do a pretty good job directing attention at the right times to the right things, and it's fun to watch for the humorously conspicuous goings-on in the meantime.

At points during the trivia, members of the Knitting Ministry are called upon to fill for time, allowing everyone a moment to share some insight into their characters.  Some of these are funny, even poignant, but sometimes go on just a tad too long.  Allison has a typically strained relationship with her daughter, who's harboring a crush on Father Calvin.  Betsy's stream-of-consciousness rambling to fill time lets us in on more of what's behind that placid expression of her's.  Maxine, the plain-spoken, wallet-on-a-chain, plaid wearing mastermind, who intends to use ferrets as a crucial part of the plan, insists that she has taught the ladies everything they need to pull it off, and has a revelation or two of her own.  So does Father Calvin, who grows suspicious while trying to fend off a hangover.

So, get a group together, name your team, get your tickets, bring your snacks, and play some trivia at MCC!  It's a fun night of entertainment.

Our team came in second.  :)


Donna Weinsting (Maxine Peters), Michelle Hand (Betsy White),
Ben Nordstrom (Father Calvin Truss),
Julia Zasso (Patricia Cross) and Ann Marie Mohr (Allison Cross).
Photo credit: Opal Andrews
THE TRIVIA JOB

Written by Dan Rubin
Directed by Anna Pileggi
Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St Louis,
1919 S. Broadway Ave.
through November 9 | tickets: $25
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm

Cast:
Michelle Hand (Betsy White), Ann Marie Mohr (Allison Cross), Ben Nordstrom* (Father Calvin Truss), Donna Weinsting (Maxine Peters), and Julia Zasso (Patricia Cross).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Assistant director, Louisa Kornblatt; stage manager, Linda Menard.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD • New Line Theatre

George A. Romero's classic horror film may not seem that scary to audiences today, but when "Night of the Living Dead" was released in 1968, it scared the crap out of people, and is believed to have provided the prototype for countless zombie films that followed.  New Line Theatre begins its 23rd season with the musical based on this film, but it's no tongue-in-cheek affair.  What powers this musical isn't fast-paced action, madcap choreography or shambling flesh-eaters.  It's the tension generated by watching six terrified people who find themselves together, trapped in a farmhouse, struggling to survive the night.

Rob Lippert's scenic design makes an immediate impression when you walk in -- the most realistic I think I've ever seen at New Line's current space.  Once the lights go down, it's hard to distinguish where the set ends and where the house begins, making the audience feel as confined as the characters.  In the opening number, "Perfect", the people who have all sought shelter in the farmhouse recall the earlier moments of their day, before everything went wrong.

Zachary Allen Farmer (Ben), Sarah Porter (Helen),
Mike Dowdy (Harry), Marcy Wiegert (Barbra),
Joseph McAnulty (Tom) and Mary Beth Black (Judy).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Harry and Helen (Mike Dowdy and Sarah Porter), a not quite happily married couple, were on a drive with their daughter Karen (Phoebe Desilets).  Tom and Judy (Joseph McAnulty and Mary Beth Black) are a young couple on their way to the lake, and Barbra (Marcy Wiegert) and her brother Johnny were visiting a cemetery.  Ben (Zachary Allen Farmer) drove to the house after seeing a truck at a local diner crash and explode after being overrun with ghouls.  The backstories of these people are revealed through the course of the play, all tied together by the sporadic broadcasts they become glued with continued efforts to secure the house and plan their next move, while paranoia lurks in every corner.

(l-r) Zachary Allen Farmer (Ben), Joseph McAnulty (Tom)
and Mike Dowdy (Harry).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Many of the lyrics sound more like an incoherent stream of consciousness kind of thing -- Barbra's "Music Box" and "Johnny and Me" in particular.  Wiegert, who plays Barbra, spends most of the evening in a state of shock, staring into space or mindlessly shifting her weight back-and-forth, recounting the last moments with her brother with confused babbling -- to successfully, unsettling effect.  Farmer's Ben heads up the efforts to fortify the farmhouse and grounds the group with his clear thinking, and the numbers with a rich voice.  McAnulty and Black, last seen together in New Line's production of "Next to Normal", gave convincing performances as the young couple, with McAnulty's Tom having periodic freak-outs and Black's Judy remaining more distanced -- both delivering a beautiful, "We'll Be Alright".  Black's "This House, This Place" is also quite beautiful.  Dowdy's hot-tempered Harry butts heads with just about everyone, including Porter as his curt and cutting wife.  Their number, "Drive" was a highlight, along with "Ten Minutes Till Three" with Barbra, Ben, Helen and Harry.  Kudos also to Desilets as Karen, the young daughter who spends most of the time recuperating under a blanket in the cellar until near the end.


Mike Dowdy (Harry), Zachary Allen Farmer (Ben)
and Sarah Porter (Helen).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Director Scott Miller pulls no punches in this production.  Its pace is deliberate -- slow and suspenseful, with the creative design complementing the strong voices and engaging performances.  Lippert's detailed set has areas for the cellar, the main floor, a small kitchen nook and an upper level attic, with a scrim wall hinting at the band behind, who handle the score wonderfully.  Lippert is also responsible for the lighting design that casts creepy shadows in different areas, and includes cool effects for the molotov cocktails that are at one point thrown out of the upstairs window.  Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert's costume design informs each character nicely and Kerrie Mondy's sound design helps set the mood.

Like those old black-and-white horror films, "Night of the Living Dead" does more than scare -- it will give you a chill.  Bolstered by a score full of tight harmonies, surprising melodies, (particularly the "Broadcast" reprises) and a solid cast and crew, this regional premiere makes for another "must see" for the area's bountiful Halloween season of theatre.


The set for New Line Theatre's "Night of the Living Dead,"
designed by Rob Lippert.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

Book by Stephen Gregory Smith
Lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith & Matt Conner
Music by Matt Conner
Directed by Scott Miller
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through November 2 | tickets: $10 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Cast:
Zachary Allen Farmer (Ben), Marcy Wiegert (Barbra), Mike Dowdy (Harry), Sarah Porter (Helen), Joseph McAnulty (Tom), Mary Beth Black (Judy) and Phoebe Desilets (Karen).

Creative:
Scenic & lighting design by Rob Lippert; costume design by Sarah Porter & Marcy Wiegert; sound design by Kerrie Mondy; props, Alison Helmer; stage manager, Gabe Taylor. 

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Sue Goldford; bass, Vince Clark; cello, Daniel Dickson; violin, Nikki Glenn; second keyboard, Joel Hackbarth; percussion, Clancy Newell.

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