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.

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