Monday, March 25, 2013

THE WHIPPING MAN • The Black Rep

Matthew Lopez's intriguing play about a Jewish family of sorts premiered in 2011 off-Broadway and garnered Lucille Lortel, Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards, and it's getting a powerful production in its St. Louis premiere at the Black Rep.

Ron Himes (Simon), Justin Ivan Brown (Caleb DeLeon),
Ronald L. Conner (John)
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
The play takes place in Virginia just after the Civil War.  Confederate soldier Caleb DeLeon (Justin Ivan Brown), has made his way back home, limping into his family mansion that has been all but destroyed by fire and artillery.  He's confronted by a black man with a shotgun.  They soon realize they know each other.  The man with the gun is Simon (Ron Himes), a newly freed slave of the DeLeon's who is staying behind to protect the family home.  From the looks of it though, there's not much of the family home left to protect.  Simon is also anxiously awaiting news of where his wife Elizabeth, and his daughter Sarah might be -- they were scattered along with the rest of the family in their attempts to find safer post-war locations.

Ron Himes (Simon), Justin Ivan Brown (Caleb DeLeon)
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
Simon notices that his former master has neglected a nasty gunshot wound to his leg, and tries to persuade him to go to the hospital before gangrene completely takes over, but Caleb refuses to go.  Caleb's infected leg is going to have to be amputated old school style, and Simon warns him that while it won't be pretty, Caleb's life might be spared.  While Simon gets busy gathering his tools and getting Caleb liquored up for the procedure, they're joined by a third man, John (Ronald L. Conner), another former slave and best childhood friend of Caleb's.  John has been making ends meet by "finding" items like clothes, whiskey, food and furniture from neighboring homes.  He and Simon are also staying close to the DeLeon house for the money that Caleb's father has promised them once they are freed.  While John is suspicious of Caleb's determination to steer clear of the hospital, he agrees to help Simon take care of Caleb's leg.

Ron Himes (Simon).
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
There's not much food, save for some celery that Simon has been growing and Caleb's horse that gave up the ghost just outside the house.  While reexamining their new relationships with each other in light of the Confederacy's defeat, John realizes that Passover is approaching, so Simon scrounges for what they will need for their Passover seder (commemorating the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt).  So yeah.  You've got 2 black men, former slaves, and one white man, the young master and Confederate soldier, all Jewish, since Simon and John worship in the faith of their owners.

Now, Jewish African American slaves in the 1860's South isn't something that typically registers in the mind, but while Simon sings a few verses of "Go Down Moses", during the seder, the similarities between the Jewish and African American emancipations from slavery become apparent.

Their meal is meager -- celery and a bit of hardtack, a biscuit-like cracker from Caleb's military rations, and some uncooked collard greens for the bitter herbs.  With secrets to hide and sharp resentments harbored, Matthew Lopez judiciously doles out his exposition bit by bit over the course of the play, keeping the audience engaged up until its unexpected revelations at the end.

Justin Ivan Brown (Caleb DeLeon) in foreground.
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
Under Edward Smith's keen direction, the cast displays a tremendous chemistry.  Justin Ivan Brown turns in an impressive performance as Caleb, changed by the war, and still getting used to the new landscape of the world he lives in.  Ronald L. Conner gives John the crafty slyness and confidence of someone who always seems to land on his feet, but with a bitterness about his treatment by Caleb's father when he describes, in haunting detail, being dragged by the master of the house to "the whipping man" when he needed to be punished.  Ron Himes as Simon completely inhabits his role as a father figure to these two young men, and delivers an excellent performance filled with many layers throughout.  Tim Case's scenic design, complete with a chandelier hanging from a portion of ceiling with fallen plaster, makes a striking impression the minute you walk into the theatre.  Mark Wilson's lighting design is low at the start with flickering candlelights, and when coupled with Robin Weatherall's stormy sound design, they prove very effective, along with Lou Bird's complementary costume design.

Ronald L. Conner (John).
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
This thought provoking play should not be missed.  Check it out!  I'm not kidding.  It's playing until the 13th of April.


THE WHIPPING MAN

Written by Matthew Lopez
Directed by Edward Smith
Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
through April 13 | tickets: $20 - $47
Performances selected Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Saturday April 13 at 2pm

Cast:
Justin Ivan Brown (Caleb DeLeon), Ronald L. Conner* (John) and Ron Himes* (Simon).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Tim Case; lighting design/projection by Mark Wilson; sound design by Robin Weatherall; costume design by Lou Bird; stage manager, Jim Anthony.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Inaugural St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Here they are folks, the nominees and award winners for the inaugural St. Louis Theater Circle Awards!  (Another organization in town owns the rights to the name "Louie's", so yeah.  We had to change that!)

Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients!

COMEDY

Outstanding Acting Ensemble
Jacob and Jack, New Jewish Theatre
The Comedy of Errors, The Rep
The Divine Sister, HotCity Theatre
The Foreigner, The Rep
The Violet Hour, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Supporting Actress (tie)
Sarajane Alverson, Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs, West End Players Guild
Lavonne Byers, The Divine Sister, HotCity Theatre
Teresa Doggett, Season’s Greetings, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Shanara Gabrielle, The Comedy of Errors, The Rep
Kirsten Wylder, The Divine Sister, HotCity Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Matthew Galbreath, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Black Rep
Chopper Leifheit, The Divine Sister, HotCity Theatre
Casey Predovic, The Foreigner, The Rep
Antonio Rodriguez, The Violet Hour, Max & Louie Productions
Lenny Wolpe, The Comedy of Errors, The Rep


Meghan Maguire
Photo credit: Sid Hastings
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Outstanding Actress
Emily Baker, Season’s Greetings, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Sarah Cannon, Dinner with Friends, Dramatic License Productions
Tarah Flanagan, The Comedy of Errors, The Rep
Meghan McGuire, Talley’s Folly, New Jewish Theatre
Carol Schultz, The Foreigner, The Rep

Outstanding Actor
Ryan DeLuca, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Rep
Greg Fenner, Fully Committed, Stray Dog Theatre
John Flack, The Divine Sister, HotCity Theatre
Bobby Miller, Jacob and Jack, New Jewish Theatre
John Scherer, The Foreigner, The Rep

Outstanding Director
Paul Mason Barnes, The Comedy of Errors, The Rep
Edward Coffield, Jacob and Jack, New Jewish Theatre
Suki Peters, The Compleat Wks of Wm Shkspr (Abridged), St. Louis Shakespeare
Marty Stanberry, The Divine Sister, HotCity Theatre
Edward Stern, The Foreigner, The Rep

Outstanding Production
Jacob and Jack, New Jewish Theatre
The Comedy of Errors, The Rep
The Divine Sister, HotCity Theatre
The Foreigner, The Rep
The Violet Hour, Max & Louie Productions

DRAMA

Outstanding Acting Ensemble
Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Clybourne Park, The Rep
Going to See the Elephant, Mustard Seed Theatre
Good, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
The Hairy Ape, Upstream Theater

Outstanding Supporting Actress
Teresa Doggett, Good, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Rachel Fenton, Killer Joe, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Laura Kyro, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Elizabeth Ann Townsend, The Maids, Upstream Theater
Kelley Weber, Lost in Yonkers, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Larry Dell, Killer Joe, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Greg Fenner, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Terry Meddows, Way to Heaven, New Jewish Theatre
Joshua Thomas, Othello, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
David Wassilak, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre

Kirsten Wylder
Photo credit: Sid Hastings
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Outstanding Actress (tie)
Nancy Bell, Clybourne Park, The Rep
Rachel Fenton, Oleanna, HotCity Theatre
Rachel Hanks, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Patrese McClain, No Child, The Black Rep
Kirsten Wylder, Bug, Muddy Waters Theatre

Outstanding Actor
John Hickok, The Invisible Hand, The Rep
Michael Scott Rash, 9 Circles, R-S Theatrics
Michael James Reed, A Steady Rain, The Rep
Ben Watts, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
B Weller, Good, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Outstanding Director
Gary Bell, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Deanna Jent, Going to See the Elephant, Mustard Seed Theatre
Timothy Near, Clybourne Park, The Rep
Ed Smith, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Black Rep
Milton Zoth, Good, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Outstanding Production
Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Clybourne Park, The Rep
Good, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Black Rep
The Hairy Ape, Upstream Theater

Outstanding New Play
Ayad Akhtar, “The Invisible Hand,” The Rep
Nancy Bell, “The New World,” Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Jaysen Cryer, “Stupefy! The 90-Minute Harry Potter Live,” Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
Deanna Jent, “Imaginary Jesus,” Mustard Seed
Stephen Peirick, “Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs,” West End Players Guild

DESIGN - PLAYS

Outstanding Set Design
Jason Coale, The Maids, Upstream Theater
Dunsi Dai, Imaginary Jesus, Mustard Seed Theatre
Scott Neale, Clybourne Park, The Rep
Eric Paulson, The Comedy of Errors, The Rep
John Stark, Way to Heaven, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Costume Design
Felia Davenport, Good, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Sarita Fellows, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Black Rep
Daryl Harris, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Black Rep
Alexandra Scibetta Quigley, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Margaret E. Weedon, The Comedy of Errors, The Rep

Outstanding Lighting Design (3-way tie)
Steve Carmichael, The Hairy Ape, Upstream Theater
Tyler Duenow, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Phil Monat, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Rep
Nathan Schroeder, Talley’s Folly, New Jewish Theatre
Michael Sullivan, Way to Heaven, New Jewish Theatre

Greg Fenner
Photo credit: Sid Hastings
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Outstanding Sound Design
Justin Been, Angels in America, Stray Dog Theatre
Zoe Sullivan, Going to See the Elephant, Mustard Seed
Rusty Wandall, A Steady Rain, The Rep
Robin Weatherall, Good, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Robin Weatherall, Way to Heaven, New Jewish Theatre

DESIGN - MUSICALS

Outstanding Set Design
Adrian Jones, Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep
Michelle Sauer, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Stray Dog Theatre
Scott Schoonover, High Fidelity, New Line Theatre
Michael Schweikardt, The King and I, The Muny
James Wolk, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stages St. Louis

Antonio Rodriguez
Photo credit: Sid Hastings
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Outstanding Costume Design
Lou Bird, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stages St. Louis
Brad Musgrove, My One and Only, Stages St. Louis
Alexandra Scibetta Quigley, Spring Awakening, Stray Dog Theatre
Alejo Vietti, Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep

Outstanding Lighting Design
Tyler Duenow, Spring Awakening, Stray Dog Theatre
Steven Gilliam, Chicago, The Muny
John Lassiter, Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep
Matthew McCarthy, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Musical Direction (tie)
Stephen Lord, Sweeney Todd, Opera Theatre
Adaron “Pops” Jackson, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stages St. Louis
Chris Peterson, Spring Awakening, Stray Dog Theatre
Justin Smolik, High Fidelity, New Line Theatre
F. Wade Russo, Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep

Outstanding Choreography
Robin Michelle Berger, Cry-Baby, New Line Theatre
Dennis Jones, Chicago, The Muny
Dana Lewis, My One and Only, Stages St. Louis
Lara Teeter, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Muny
Chris Bailey, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Muny

Steve Woolf
Photo credit: Sid Hastings
St. Louis Post Dispatch
MUSICALS

Outstanding Acting Ensemble
Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stages St. Louis
Chicago, The Muny
High Fidelity, New Line Theatre
Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep
Urinetown: The Musical, Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actress
Terrie Carolan, Cry-Baby, New Line Theatre
Beth Leavel, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Muny
Suzanne Menzer, Sweeney Todd, Opera Theatre
Deborah Sharn, Urinetown: The Musical, Stray Dog Theatre
Anna Skidis, Spring Awakening, Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Dean Christopher, Chicago, The Muny
Mike Dowdy, Cry-Baby, New Line Theatre
Zachary Farmer, High Fidelity, New Line Theatre
Ryan Foizey, Spring Awakening, Stray Dog Theatre
Steve Isom, My One and Only, Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Actress
Erin Davie, Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep
Natascia Diaz, Chicago, The Muny
Tara Kelly, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Muny
Jennifer Theby, Urinetown: The Musical, Stray Dog Theatre
Karen Ziemba, Sweeney Todd, Opera Theatre

Teresa Doggett
Photo credit: Sid Hastings
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Outstanding Actor (tie)
Ron Bohmer, Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep
Ryan Foizey, Cry-Baby, New Line Theatre
Rod Gilfry, Sweeney Todd, Opera Theatre
Antonio Rodriguez, Urinetown: The Musical, Stray Dog Theatre
John Sparger, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, New Line Theatre

Outstanding Director
Justin Been, Spring Awakening, Stray Dog Theatre
Michael Hamilton, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stages St. Louis
Dennis Jones, Chicago, The Muny
Scott Miller, High Fidelity, New Line Theatre
Rob Ruggiero, Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep

Outstanding Production
Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stages St. Louis
Chicago, The Muny
Spring Awakening, Stray Dog Theatre
Sunday in the Park with George, The Rep
Sweeney Todd, Opera Theatre Saint Louis

Sunday, March 17, 2013

VENUS IN FUR • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

Venus in Fur, under Seth Gordon's flawless direction, is currently searing the Rep's Studio stage.  Taking a look at sexual power dynamics with sharp wit, humor and a slightly surreal tone, this Tony nominated play will keep you wrapped around its finger from the start to its satisfying conclusion, and leave you wanting more.

Vanda (Sarah Nedwek) is coming in late for an audition for the play, "Venus in Fur".  Thomas (Jay Stratton), the arrogant director/playwright, is frustrated at not having found the right woman for the part, and after ranting about the "bubble heads" he's had to audition, he's finally preparing to head home when Vanda bursts in, drenched and frazzled from the storm outside.  She immediately plunges into an indelicate barrage of excuses for her tardiness, thinking she's blown it.

Sarah Nedwek (Vanda) and Jay Stratton (Thomas).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Thomas, whose nerves are also frayed, is quite sure she's nowhere near right for the part, but Vanda tries to coax him to hear her audition, all the while looking for a costume she's brought along.  She slips it on, but not before stripping down to some sexy black leather lingerie and thigh high boots.  After producing a copy of the script that she's somehow gotten her hands on, she launches into the audition, delivering the lines with a grace that takes Thomas by surprise.  Slipping out of character, Vanda suggests that the story is about S&M, but Thomas insists that it's really a love story.  The 1870's novel that Thomas has adapted his story from concerns a man who dreams of speaking to Venus about love while she wears furs and ends up reading a story about Severin von Kusiemski, a man who yearns to be subjugated by a woman named Wanda.  The novel was written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, after whom the term “masochism” was coined.  Hmmm...

Sarah Nedwek (Vanda) and Jay Stratton (Thomas).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
As the sounds of thunder and flashes of lightning continue outside, Thomas reads with Vanda, who oddly seems to know the script inside and out.  As they slip in and out of the text, the dynamics shift, and lines become blurred.  Vanda probes Thomas for information about his personal life, but seems to mysteriously know more about it than she should.

Nedwek smoothly goes from a coarse, ditzy actress to the regal Wanda von Dunajew of the play, seductively and comically commanding the stage.  Stratton holds his own opposite Nedwek, finding it harder and harder to resist her.  David Kay Mickelsen's costumes, including Vanda's assortment of jackets she's brought for Thomas to wear, are spot-on, and the sound and lights, courtesy of Rusty Wandall and Seth Jackson respectively, add an eerie vibe to the proceedings.

Also, I love a black box theatre space, and with the audience on both sides of the stage, it's all the more engaging.  Venus in Fur is a great piece of theatre and a fascinating examination of sex and power that will stick with you.  Check it out -- it's playing until the 24th.


Jay Stratton (Thomas) and Sarah Nedwek (Vanda).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
VENUS IN FUR

Written by David Ives
Directed by Seth Gordon
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through March 24 | tickets: $47 - $60
Performances Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, Selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Cast:
Jay Stratton* (Thomas) and Sarah Nedwek* (Vanda).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Jason Coale; costume design by David Kay Mickelsen; lighting design by Seth Jackson; sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Emilee Buchheit.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

BOEING-BOEING • Dramatic License Productions

You know it's a farce when you notice that the set has 6 doors, am I right?  This one, written by French playwright Marc Camoletti debuted in 1960's Paris and the translated version came to the states in 1965.

Bernard (Chad Morris) is a successful American architect living in Paris.  The play opens with Bernard seeing off his fiancée Gloria (Deanna Mazdra), an airline hostess from Texas.  Or trying to see her off.  She's not in a big rush to leave her husband-to-be, but Bernard seems anxious.  See, Bernard has 3 fiancées, all of them airline hostesses, and naturally, they have no idea about the other women.  In addition to Gloria, there's the lusty Italian, Gabriella (Natasha Toro), and the aggressive German, Gretchen (Emily Baker).  He keeps everything straight by flight timetables.  (Silly Bernard…)  He's convinced that keeping up with the flight schedules, he'll be able to juggle his "international harem".  Helping him keep everything running smoothly is his poor maid Berthe (Kim Furlow).  Her value is wrapped up in her ability to remember what the different women like to eat, and to change the pictures in the bedroom whenever they're in town.

Natasha Toro (Gabriella), Chad Morris (Bernard)
and John Reidy (Robert).
Photo Credit: John Lamb
When an old friend of his, Robert (John Reidy), newly transplanted from the states drops by, he's amazed that Bernard is able to pull this off.  Well, you KNOW that's gonna change.  Sure enough, once flights start to get cancelled, Robert tries to assist his buddy in a desperate attempt to keep the women from finding out about each other, even as their paths inside the apartment nearly cross.  It frazzles the men, and drives Berthe completely nuts.  

The play itself seems to get a little bogged down in the second act.  You know that at some point everything is gonna hit the fan, but it takes a long time to develop -- a tad too long considering it's a farce.  Nevertheless, it's thankfully bolstered by a great cast under Brad Schwartz's direction, and a lot of very entertaining physical comedy.  Watching Morris go from a smooth Bernard to practically having a nervous breakdown is fun to watch, along with an incredibly expressive Reidy as his pal Robert.  Baker is hilarious as the exuberant Gretchen, adding loads of humor into all of her scenes.  Toro as the pouty Italian Gabriella who truly loves Bernard, along with Mazdra as Gloria provide many laughs as well while they're being shuttled from room to room so they won't know the other one is there.  Furlow as Bernard's French maid Berthe is also very funny as his reluctant accomplice.

Emily Baker (Gretchen) and John Reidy (Robert).
Photo Credit: John Lamb
Scott Schoonover's set had a mod 60's vibe, nicely lit by Tony Anselmo, and Cherol Thibaut's costumes were distinct and complemented the proceedings perfectly.  Kudos also to dialect coach Nancy Bell.

Check it out for some silly fun -- it's playing until the 17th.


BOEING-BOEING

Written by Marc Camoletti
Translated by Beverley Cross
Directed by Brad Schwartz
Dramatic License Productions, Chesterfield Mall (upper level entrance, next to Houlihans)
through March 17 | tickets: $22 - $25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Chad Morris (Bernard), Emily Baker (Gretchen), Deanna Mazdra (Gloria), Natasha Toro (Gabriella), Kim Furlow (Berthe) and John Reidy (Robert).

John Reidy (Robert), Kim Furlow (Berthe), Chad Morris (Bernard)
and Deanna Mazdra (Gloria).
Photo Credit: John Lamb
Creative:
Scenic design by Scott Schoonover; lighting design by Tony Anselmo; costume design by Cherol Thibaut; sound design by Joseph T. Pini; dialect coach, Nancy Bell; stage manager, Johanna Beck.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

NEXT TO NORMAL • New Line Theatre

Next to Normal had its Broadway debut in 2009 and won three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  While it's not exactly your standard musical theatre fare, this hard driving rock musical (the second act, in particular, is practically a rock-opera) focuses on the mental illness of a suburban mom and her family -- coming apart at the seams as a result.  The national tour came through St. Louis in 2011, and New Line Theatre presents it in its St. Louis regional premiere with scorching intensity, dotted with dark humor.

The mother at the center of the story, Diana Goodman (Kimi Short), was diagnosed with manic depression sixteen years ago, and has withstood a battery of treatments administered by her doctors, Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine (Zachary Allen Farmer).  Everything from different pharmaceutical cocktails to electroconvulsive therapy to hypnosis, and none of them seem to do much good.  Her husband Dan (Jeffrey M. Wright), as tortured as he is, is also supportive -- desperately trying to hold the family together.

Ryan Foizey (Gabe) and Jeffrey M. Wright (Dan).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Their teenage son Gabe (Ryan Foizey), an ever present source of pleasure and pain to Diana, seems mostly unaffected by her illness, but the teenage daughter Natalie (Mary Beth Black), resents her mother for keeping a constant cloud over the Goodman home, and lives in fear of becoming like her.  Natalie does get a bit of a respite from the family drama with Henry (Joseph McAnulty) her amiable stoner boyfriend.

The cause of Diana's condition are doled out bit by bit, and spoilers would be a travesty, but trust me when I say, this production shows that musicals need not be tied up with a shiny bow at the end to be a wonderfully satisfying experience.

Joseph McAnulty (Henry), Jeffrey M. Wright (Dan),
Ryan Foizey (Gabe) and Mary Beth Black (Natalie).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Kimi Short and Jeffrey M. Wright as Diana and Dan respectively, have portrayed couples in past New Line productions, and under Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy's fluid direction, they have great chemistry together and good voices, as well as being able to capably pull off the acting demands of the roles.  Short, whose role carries much of the weight of the show, does an exceptional job.  Ryan Foizey as Gabe is a powerful presence, bringing loads of passion and charisma to his scenes.  Joseph McAnulty does a fine job as Henry and is very likable as Natalie's beau.  And Mary Beth Black -- geez, who is this kid?!?  She brings a beautifully solid voice to Natalie and both of the youngsters do great work.  Great work also from New Line's "go-to-guy" Zachary Allen Farmer as Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine.

Zachary Allen Farmer (Dr. Madden), Ryan Foizey (Gabe)
and Kimi Short (Diana).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
It's nice to hear Farmer in a role like this, just like it's nice to hear and see Wright in such a heavy role.  Both do them very well.  The New Line band (yay, strings!), under the direction of Justin Smolik, does a fine job, although they over-power the singing on occasion.  Many of the big numbers like "Just Another Day", "Who's Crazy" / "My Psychopharmacologist and I" and "Make Up Your Mind" / "Catch Me I'm Falling" completely soar.  Scott L. Schoonover's set is adorned with pill bottles and off-kilter elements, like side-ways doors and light fixtures, intact and broken glass mirrors, all nicely lit by Sean Savoie along with nice costumes by Amy Kelly.

This is a show that I was enamored with on Broadway, along with a couple of times at the Fox.  The opportunity to see this emotionally packed, captivating production in such an intimate space in our own backyard should not be missed.  It's playing until the 23rd.


Jeffrey M. Wright (Dan)
and Kimi Short (Diana).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
NEXT TO NORMAL

Book/lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through March 23 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Cast:
Kimi Short (Diana), Jeffrey M. Wright (Dan), Mary Beth Black (Natalie), Ryan Foizey (Gabe), Joseph McAnulty (Henry), and Zachary Allen Farmer (Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine).

Creative:
Costume design by Amy Kelly; lighting design by Sean Savoie; scenic design by Scott L. Schoonover; sound design by Kevin Miko; music direction by Justin Smolik; stage manager, Gabe Taylor.

Kimi Short (Diana) and Mary Beth Black (Natalie).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Justin Smolik; guitar, D. Mike Bauer; cello, Ethan Edwards, violin, Nikki Glenn; bass, Dave Hall; percussion, Clancy Newell.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays • La Perla

That Uppity Theatre Company, along with the folks at The Vital VOICE are back with the 2nd Annual installment of Briefs: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays.  The plays featured this year (and in the interest of full-disclosure, I was on the reading committee) are better than last years', covering a range of LGBT-related topics that nicely integrate these issues within the backdrop of everyday life, as opposed to beating you over the head with it "public service announcement" style.  There are comedies, dramas, and something for everyone -- gay or straight.

Black Eye
Jenn Bock (Ms. Marshall) and Hannah Ryan (Amanda).
Black Eye begins with Amanda (Hannah Ryan), a young school girl who finds herself in her school principal's office for fighting.  Her gym teacher (Jenn Bock) and principal (Joshua Thomas) suspect why the kids always pick on her, but they end up talking about their own lives growing up gay, and the consequences of fighting back.

My Jesus Year features a brother and sister, Jerry (Charlie Barron) and Trish (Laura Singleton).  Jerry's gay, and he's in the hospital about to have a colonoscopy.  An old acquaintance of Jerry's happens to be down the hall from him, unfortunately not doing well, and during the course of the play, we find out how Jerry knew him.

Waiting for the Skell
Robert Lee Davis III (Jimmy) and Wendy Renée Greenwood (Dale).
Waiting for the Skell involves a pair of cops on a stakeout.  While Jimmy (Robert Lee Davis III) passes the time eating tacos, his long-time partner Dale (Wendy Renée Greenwood) surveys the house through her binoculars, and eventually breaks the news that she and her partner are going to have a baby, and she will be the one who carries it.  Jimmy is initially not crazy about the idea because he doesn't want to be paired up with another officer, but he comes around when Dale's situation is put in the proper perspective.

The Lady and the Tramp:  A Love Story was a surprising addition to the night featuring Lola van Ella and Sammy Tramp in a sweet little "boy meets girl" story.


Are You Married?
Cammie Middleton-Helmsing (Nurse)
and Theresa Masters (Sharon).
Are You Married? finds Sharon (Theresa Masters) in a doctors office, facing the possibility of breast cancer.  In the all too familiar process of plodding through the forms and answering questions asked by her nurse (Cammie Middleton-Helmsing) the question Sharon had dreaded comes up -- "Are you married?".  This play spotlights the inequalities often faced by gay and lesbian couples anytime they walk into a hospital, but it also addresses the healthcare professionals on the other side.  In asides to the audience, the nurse tells us that she knows Sharon is gay, but just wants to do her job and do right by Sharon, the same way she wants to do right by anyone who walks into her office.

Surprise is about a couple, David and Jonathan (Ken Haller and Daniel John Kelly), trying to put their relationship back together after an affair.  It's pretty straightforward, but shows that infidelity in any relationship poses the same issues -- gay or straight.

Zoo Story 2.0
Phil C. Leveling (Bob)
and Justin Ivan Brown (Buttercup).
Zoo Story 2.0 takes a clever look at the "reparative therapy for gays" craze, but through the eyes of a couple of gay penguins, Bob and Buttercup (Phil C. Leveling and Justin Ivan Brown) who live in Central Park.  Penguins (and other animal species), have been documented to engage in homosexual behavior as early as 1911, and in this last play of the night, we see shocked zoogoers who are appalled at the idea of gay penguins, and the ensuing hilarity as Buttercup undergoes reparative therapy as a variety of female penguins are thrown at him in an attempt to stifle his sexuality.

The performances in these plays are strong across the board and while they're short, the relationships they portray are sincere, and they do wonders with the modest space at La Perla.  The plays teach as well as entertain, but Briefs only runs for three days, so get your tickets quickly, and keep an eye out for next year when hopefully, this successful festival will return!


BRIEFS

through March 3 | tickets : $15 advance - $20 at the door
Performances February 28th, 8pm, March 1st at 8pm. March 2nd at 3pm and 8pm, March 3rd at 3pm

Black Eye; written by Carolyn Gage, directed by Christopher Limber
Cast:
Hannah Ryan (Amanda), Joshua Thomas (Mr. Kent) and Jenn Bock (Ms. Marshall).

My Jesus Year; written by Tony Foster, directed by Lee Anne Mathews
Cast:
Charlie Barron (Jerry), Robert Thibaut (Nurse) and Laura Singleton (Trish).

Waiting for the Skell; written by EM Lewis, directed by Bonnie Taylor
Cast:
Wendy Renée Greenwood (Dale) and Robert Lee Davis III (Jimmy).

The Lady and the Tramp: A Love Story; performed by Lola van Ella and Sammy Tramp, featuring Chris Barnhart.

Are You Married? written and directed by Joan Lipkin
Cast:
Theresa Masters (Sharon) and Cammie Middleton-Helmsing (Nurse).

Surprise; written by Ken Haller, directed by Michael B. Perkins
Cast:
Ken Haller (David) and Daniel John Kelly (Jonathan).

Zoo Story 2.0; written by Rich Espey, directed by Marty Stanberry.
Cast:
Phil C. Leveling (Bob), Justin Ivan Brown (Buttercup), Troy Turnipseed (Reporter/Zoo Psychiatrist), Anna Skidis (Zoogoer 1/Carmen), Maggie Conroy (Zoogoer 2/Kate) and Nicole Angeli (Zoogoer 3/Pookie).

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