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Thursday, December 18, 2014

24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 3! • Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company

Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company were back a couple Saturdays ago for the third installment of their 24 Hour Play Festival at Webster Groves High School, and like last year, it was a blast. The rules remained the same -- six writers (up from five last year) were given a setting, a genre, a number of characters, and one week to come up with a script of around 15 minutes. This year, the writers also had to work in a holiday prop. The scripts were randomly assigned to directors, who were randomly assigned actors by pulling names out of a hat. The ensembles then had 24 hours to memorize, stage, costume and rehearse it before unleashing the plays on the public. Crazy, right? The evening was affably hosted by Pat Niday of The Improv Shop, and there were raffles held between the plays, and yummy sandwiches courtesy of Snarfs. I mean, what more could you ask for, really?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

BECOMING DR. RUTH • New Jewish Theatre

Before Ruth Westheimer became "Dr. Ruth", she was Karola Ruth Siegel, born in Wiesenfeld, Germany to Orthodox Jews in 1928. Her petite stature, spright, thickly accented voice and honest talk about human sexuality led her to fame as a sex therapist and media personality, but the little known facts about her astonishing life make up the bulk of Mark St. Germain's one-woman play, portrayed strongly by Susie Wall.

Scenic designer Cristie Johnston's impressively cozy space welcomes us into the cluttered Washington Heights apartment of Dr. Ruth Westheimer as she packs up for a move a few months after the death of her third husband, Manfred Westheimer. She's surprised to see all of us in her living room, and invites us to keep her company while she struggles to continue packing up boxes.

Monday, December 8, 2014

REALITY • HotCity Theatre

The drama-filled, cheap to produce genre of reality television has, for better or worse, multiplied over the last several years, and if anything, it's proven that there will always be people willing to lose their innocence on national television, and others with no shame willing to put their dignity on the back burner for a shot at fleeting celebrity at the risk of public humiliation. Lia Romeo's comedy, HotCity's chosen script from its 2013 GreenHouse New Play Festival, takes a perverse and very funny look at what happens to the lives of those involved in a dating reality show once the cameras are off.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

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

"All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914", was originally presented as a radio show on Minnesota Public Radio by the vocal ensemble, Cantus and Theatre Latte Da, until Mustard Seed Theatre gave this a cappella musical a fully staged production last year. The musical's text is comprised of letters and historic documents associated with a brief truce that occurred during World War I on Christmas Eve, with songs ranging from folk tunes and traditional carols to patriotic hymns and ballads. It remains, like last season's production, an aural feast.

Everyone from last season's award winning ensemble cast (and practically all of the crew) is back for this season's revival, and along with an additional number ("Good-By-Ee"), there are also several subtle changes in the staging that enhance the presentation.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

THE RESIDENTS OF CRAIGSLIST • ERA

Experimental theatre company, Equally Represented Arts, is currently staging an original piece created entirely from Craigslist ads. Yep, you heard me. Artistic director Lucy Cashion and associate artistic director Will Bonfiglio have sifted through local Craigslist posts and adapted a variety of entries into a unique one-act play.

Performed at the AlphaBetaClub on a no-frills set with chili pepper lights, a couple stacks of phonebooks, a few lawn chairs, and a drawn outline of a house, six actors (Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Ellie Schwetye, Natasha Toro and Ryan Wiechmann) give life to a wide array of advertisements -- people trying to get rid of stuff, people looking for stuff, people looking to escape their past, or create their futures, and of course, the "casual encounters". There's no plot to speak of, but the passages range from spurned lovers and heartbreaking loners, to groups who gather to gossip, ponder the supernatural, hook up, or rant. Taken as a whole, these stories, no matter how wacky some of them are, are relatable because they all center on the shared common denominator of people trying to connect. Directed by Cashion, the members of the ensemble work wonderfully together in their moments as a choreographed chorus, and shine in their individual representations, painting vibrant portraits of the Craigslist denizens.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A KID LIKE JAKE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

The Rep's Studio season kicks off with Daniel Pearle's skillfully crafted one-act drama, "A Kid Like Jake", and begins with Alex (Leigh Williams) frantically brooding over a table full of applications for her son. The rat race of getting your kid accepted into a good private school is fraught with pressure, you understand -- even if the schools you're applying to are pre-schools. But Pearle's play is about much more than this.

Alex, an ex-lawyer who is now a stay-at-home mom, and her husband Greg (Alex Hanna), a clinical psychologist, are trying to place their gifted 4-year-old son Jake, never seen onstage, into one of Manhattan's prestigious kindergartens. Jake has excelled in all of the tests these schools require, but he loves Disney movies and favors dressing up as Cinderella or Snow White as opposed to your run of the mill pirate costumes for Halloween, and his penchant for Disney princesses over GI Joe has been getting him into a couple of scuffles with the other kids at school.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

CHANCERS • Max & Louie Productions

After a debut in Ireland last year, Max & Louie Productions gives Robert Massey's "Chancers" its US premiere. In it, a married couple are having a rough time making ends meet, and this comedy proves that good jobs go to the young, the rich get richer, and nice guys finish last.

Aiden (Nathan Bush) and Dee (Pamela Reckamp) own Farrell's Quickstop, a convenience store in Kildare, Ireland, but economic times have forced them to rent out their house to make a little money and live out of two back storerooms of the shop. In the opening scene, Dee gets ready for her first job interview in years, and Aiden busies himself setting up the store for customers who won't come. About the only customer they do have is Gertie (Donna Weinsting), the neighborhood nag, who made a ton of money off of a shrewd property deal, and now she visits the Quickstop for her sausage sandwich, to throw her (hilarious) foul-mouthed criticism around, and remind the couple how much their lives suck. When Aiden discovers that Gertie has her hands on a winning lottery ticket, his buddy JP (Jared Sanz-Agero), also suffering from Ireland's economic downturn, advises him that they should get a hold of that ticket by any means necessary. Aiden has serious reservations about JP's ballsy plan, but once Dee signs off on it, after her job prospects dwindle and a bombshell she drops in the second act, an urgency is cleverly added that propels the threesome to consider the boldest of moves.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

THE K OF D: AN URBAN LEGEND • Blue Rose Stage Collective

Along Cherokee Street's Antique Row, through an alleyway of rusty remnants and wrought iron running alongside Revisionist Inn, there's a crackling fire pit, hot cider, s'mores, and a makeshift stage on the back of a broken-down facade -- the perfect setting for playwright Laura Schellhardt's "The K of D", presented by director Tom Martin’s Blue Rose Stage Collective and featuring the dexterous Em Piro, the founder and creative fireball behind St. Lou Fringe. She inhabits over a dozen characters to present a legend that was generated by an odd series of events that followed the tragic death of a young boy.

After a few shared ghost stories, a girl from the audience says she’s got one – more urban legend than ghost story. She tells us about the rural town of St. Marys, Ohio, her group of rowdy childhood friends who spend their summers hanging out on a pier by a man-made lake, and Charlotte McGraw. It was Charlotte’s twin brother, Jamie, who was hit by a blue Dodge while he was skateboarding to school.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

BONNIE & CLYDE • New Line Theatre

"Bonnie & Clyde" made a brief appearance on Broadway in 2011 after a world premiere in California two years earlier. This musical isn't a remake of Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn's well known 1967 film starring Beatty and Faye Dunaway. It's another take on this infamous young pair of West Texas bandits, and despite a couple of Tony Award nominations, it only lasted for 36 performances on Broadway. So, what better local company to snatch it up and give it a fresh perspective, as it's done many times in the past ("Hands on a Hardbody", "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson", "High Fidelity"), than New Line Theatre?

The opening numbers introduce us to Bonnie Parker (Larissa White), who longs to be a star of the silver screen, and Clyde Barrow (Matt Pentecost), who longs for easy money and celebrity as an outlaw, like Al Capone and Billy the Kid -- his heroes. These two are trying to break away from the poverty of the Great Depression with a craving for wealth and fame.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ASSASSINS • The November Theater Company

There's a new theatre company on the scene folks, and the November Theater Company has chosen for its inaugural production, "Assassins", with a book by John Weidman and score by my hero, Stephen Sondheim. This bold musical that debuted off-Broadway in 1990, jumps historical timelines to parade before us a powerless group on the fringes, who have found the "American Dream" out of reach, so they claim what that dream has, for them, disclaimed, through successful and unsuccessful attempts on the life of a US President. And yes, it's a comedy, but it's a dark one.

Directed by Suki Peters, the opening number kicks off in a carnival setting with a gathered variety of malcontents, urged on by the carnival's ominous Proprietor (Jon Hey) to step right up to the shooting gallery and grab a prize, with the help of an assortment of guns he's more than happy to sell you. Whether it's Leon Czolgosz (Nick Kelly), a rage-filled steel worker with anarchist leanings who killed President McKinley, or would-be assassins like John Hinckley (Nate Cummings), who tried to take the life of President Ronald Reagan to garner the attention of Jodie Foster, these sad historical footnotes are presented as vignettes over the course of the play. Charlie Barron, wonderful as the Balladeer, serves as our narrator, introducing us to certain characters and questioning the motives of others from an affably smug distance, turning in a strong performance as a "special guest" near the end. John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln to avenge the South, wanders throughout the crowd like an "OG", or "OA" in this case, played with cocky charm by Michael Amoroso.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ALL IN THE TIMING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Playwright David Ives plays fast and loose with the concepts of time and language in his zesty collection of six one-act comedies. You have an idea of what you're getting into when you see Patrick Huber’s set adorned with scenic artist, Cristie Johnston's Salvador Dalí-like melting clock on the floor of the Gaslight's stage, backed by a blue sky with clouds. Fasten your seat belts, please.

The first play, "Sure Thing", opens with strangers meeting in a cafe. As Bill (Ben Ritchie) tries an opening line on Betty (Emily Baker), to no avail, the ringing of an offstage bell reboots their conversation over and over.  "Is this chair taken?" -- "Yes" turns into "Is this chair taken?" -- "No, but I'm expecting somebody in a minute" -- and they make their way through blunders, pretension and disinterest, posing questions and answers in different ways, until a romantic spark is finally ignited, with Ritchie and Baker's performances turning on a dime.

Friday, September 19, 2014

PURLIE • The Black Rep

Ossie Davis’s Tony Award winning musical debuted in 1970, and is based on the play, “Purlie Victorious", that he wrote in 1961. The Black Rep gives this uplifting show about freedom and tenacity a rousing production.

We start at the funeral of Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee (Jim Anthony), the late, cocky, bull-whip wielding owner of a cotton plantation in rural Georgia. Purlie Victorious (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) is conducting the service, and though everyone's convinced the Cap'n is probably frying in hell right about now, Purlie and the congregation that toiled under his service, are giving him a fine send-off in the gospel-flavored opening number, "Walk Him Up the Stairs". From here, we're taken back to Purlie's quest to buy back the local church his father started, Big Bethel, from the hands of Cotchipee. There's a $500 inheritance that's due to Purlie's deceased Cousin Bea, so he plans to fool Ol' Cap'n into handing over the money to an impersonator, Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins (Alicia Revé). Lutiebelle is straight out of Alabama and as country as a chicken coop, but willing to do anything to help out Purlie, whom she becomes very fond of. Purlie also enlists the help of his brother Gitlow (J. Samuel Davis) and Gitlow's wife Missy (Kimmie Kidd) to pull off the scheme, with Cotchipee's own son Charlie (Greg Matzker) playing his part in the plot.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

THE NORMAL HEART • HotCityTheatre

It's been nearly thirty years since Larry Kramer's autobiographical play about the early brutal days of the HIV-AIDS crisis debuted off-Broadway, but this smoldering indictment of the failure of bureaucrats to acknowledge the epidemic, the silence of the press, and the apathy of the gay community has lost none of its muscle in HotCity's potent current production.

The play hinges on Ned Weeks (John Flack), an outspoken writer and activist at heart who serves as the proxy for Kramer, who co-founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis in 1982. Ned wrangles a group of his friends together to form a support organization to get out as much information as they can about this savage disease that was claiming the lives of gay men at a staggering rate. While Ned's confrontational approach frustrates his friends, Dr. Emma Brookner (Lavonne Byers) is one of the first in his corner. She's the victim of another virus -- polio, and is among the first doctors to try to treat men in NYC showing early symptoms of a disease with no name. Ned's brother Ben (Greg Johnston), a rich lawyer, helps him get the organization off the ground, but the long-held tensions between these two start to show once Ned asks his brother for public backing from his firm. While Ned struggles with his brother and the members of his group, and the New York Times continues to bury the story at the back of the paper, and the public officials continue to vilify those who have lost their lives to the disease, Ned meets and falls for Felix (Eric Dean White), a closeted New York Times fashion and style reporter, who eventually notices a purple lesion on his foot.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

FIRST LADY SUITE • R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics has never been a company to shy away from unconventional material, and its current St. Louis premiere production is no exception. Composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa dismantles four iconic First Ladies of the United States, along with their friends and associates, in four imaginative, if not bizarre vignettes. LaChiusa, a self-professed "first lady-ologist", riffs off of nuggets of truth and rumor found in each of the first ladies featured (Jacqueline Kennedy, Mamie Eisenhower, Bess Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt), and adds a rhythmically tricky and melodically atypical score that the cast can sink their teeth into, in an off-the-wall chamber musical that's anything but standard musical theatre fare. Love.

After a prologue with past first ladies flanking the current one, "Over Texas" starts with Mary Gallagher (Katie Donnelly) aboard Air Force One, missing her cat and bemoaning the demands of being personal secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy (Christina Rios) to a politely listening Evelyn Lincoln (Kay Love), the secretary to JFK. While exhausted and trapped in her service to Kennedy, Mary is giddy about having tea on the president's plane, and hopeful at the prospect of one day getting to ride in the motorcade.

Monday, September 1, 2014

HUMAN TERRAIN • Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed kicks off its season with a world-premiere by Jennifer Blackmer that focuses on an anthropologist embedded with a military unit in Iraq. The story is fictional, but the program is real. Established in 2006, a United States Army program called The Human Terrain System employs social sciences personnel to provide the military with some understanding of the local culture.

Mabry (Melissa Gerth) is the anthropologist -- a new PhD and skilled linguist, who spent her time in the army under the command of hard-nosed Captain Alford (B. Weller) -- sometimes at odds with her purpose, but well-intentioned. Along with ordering her to wear a sidearm for her own protection, he assigns a young soldier named Detty (Taylor Campbell) to accompany her as an armed escort. Both of these mandates make her job of winning the hearts and minds of the locals more challenging, but Mabry manages to do some good, and meets and forms a tentative friendship with Adiliah (Wendy Greenwood), an Iraqi woman. All of this is played out in flashback. When the play opens, Mabry finds herself in a small room, worn out and confused, and back in the States being questioned by a DA named Kate (Dawn Campbell) about a bombing in Fallujah, and her allegiance is questioned.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

THE SPITFIRE GRILL • Insight Theatre Company

Insight continues its season with a musical based on the 1996 film of the same name -- a folksy, simple little tale of hope, set in rural Wisconsin.

Newly released from prison, Percy (full name, Perchance and played by Sam Auch) is drawn to the small fictional town of Gilead after seeing a photo of their Autumn colors in a magazine. The local Sheriff is Percy's parole officer, a bachelor named Joe Sutter (Pete Winfrey), and he wonders why anyone would want to come to this depressed, broke little town. Gilead may be picturesque in photos, but it's pretty dreary when you live there. The Sheriff helps her get a job at the one restaurant in town, the Spitfire Grill, where Percy meets its surly owner, widow Hannah Ferguson (Janet Wells) who, getting on in years, reluctantly agrees to take Percy on to help out at the diner. Hannah's been trying to sell the grill for years, but there haven't been any takers. Percy and her new buddy Shelby (Jenni Ryan) come up with an idea about raffling off the grill to the person who can write the best essay on why they'd like to own it, which annoys the local busybody, Effy the postmistress, (Amy Loui) and Shelby's asshole husband, Caleb (Troy Turnipseed), once the hundreds of letters start to roll in. A few secrets of the residents come to light over the course of the show, and the musical ends sweetly, though predictably, as the content of these letters, full of hope and heartbreak, spur the townsfolk to reexamine their own outlooks on life.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

MARY SHELLEY MONSTER SHOW • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Mother Nature's thunderstorms contributed nicely to the mood of Slightly Askew's opening night of "Mary Shelley Monster Show", an original play conceived by SATE's artistic director Rachel Tibbetts, managing director Ellie Schwetye, and written by local playwright Nick Otten.

In 2011, Schwetye and Tibbetts hatched an idea to create a two-woman piece around Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his monster after watching the National Theatre of London’s production of “Frankenstein” that was being screened at the Tivoli. Driven by a mutual interest in the story, they had a meeting with Otten, associate director for Clayton High School’s theater program, resulting in a narrowing of the focus to the true creator of Frankenstein’s monster -- the novel’s author, Mary Shelley.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

FOUR SUGARS • Stray Dog Theatre New Works Laboratory

A quick shout out to a strong production playing at Tower Grove Abbey. Stray Dog's annual New Works Laboratory is presenting local playwright and actor, Stephen Peirick's latest full-length play, "Four Sugars". Two things -- one, it's only got one more performance, and two, it's free with an opportunity to donate what you'd like. With Peirick's works having been produced in several states from Oregon to Massachusetts, the chance to see a new play in the workshop stage is a treat, and the opportunity to offer feedback after the show with Peirick and the cast is an added bonus.

The play centers around roommates Alyse (Sarajane Alverson) and her gay buddy Travis (Jonathan Elkins), who have been married for three years so Alyse can become a U.S. citizen. The parallels of their evolving relationships outside of their marriage of convenience couldn't be more different. Travis has just met Shawn (Mitch Eagles), a hook-up with potential, while Alyse's three year relationship with Ryan (Aaron Dodd) is producing more commotion than anything else. These altercations are an annoyance to their apartment neighbor, Phil (Jason Meyers).

Monday, August 4, 2014

QUILLS • Max & Louie Productions

Playwright Doug Wright, whose works include "I Am My Own Wife", "Grey Gardens" and "Hands on a Hardbody", offered audiences a fictionalized depiction of the Marquis de Sade's last years in Charenton, an asylum for the insane outside of Paris, in his 1995 debut of "Quills". It's true that Sade -- his name coining the term "sadism", spent over 2 dozen years of his life in prison for literary works deemed too carnal, violent, blasphemous and politically subversive. Wright's play takes Sade's unrelenting creative spirit as inspiration to look deeper into morality and censorship -- all framed inside a salaciously insightful comedy with sharp dialogue, masterfully directed here by Brooke Edwards -- with robust performances and stylish creative contributions.

Friday, August 1, 2014

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL II • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Part two of the LaBute New Theater Festival, featuring the remaining three finalists, kicked off this past Friday, with Neil LaBute in town for the festivities. This week's crop of plays seemed more polished that last week's, but all of the plays lay out a variety of styles that make this festival a bracing one. You can read about the first group here.

John Doble's "Coffee House, Greenwich Village" takes the awkward first moments of a blind date towards an increasingly menacing trajectory between a couple who met through a magazine ad. Nathan Bush is convincing as a nervously compliant Jack with Ellie Schwetye's Pamela remaining clearly and effectively in charge. Paul Cereghino is deadpan funny as the obnoxious waiter who serves up plenty of snark. Director John Pierson maintains the tone of this dangerous game of "I see that, and raise you this..." perfectly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

FUNNY GIRL • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog closes its season with Bob Merrill and Jule Styne's "Funny Girl", very loosely based on the life of turn-of-the-century actress, singer and radio star, Fanny Brice. This story of a young Jewish girl from the Lower East Side and her rise to stardom is heavily associated with Barbra Streisand, who originated the role onstage in 1964 and starred in the 1968 film adaptation, but Lindsey Jones puts her own stamp on the score with a reliably strong voice, anchoring the show. Isobel Lennart's book (perhaps the weakest part of the musical) narrows the focus of Brice's life to her career in the Ziegfeld Follies and her marriage to charismatic gambler, Nick Arnstein, played here by Jeffrey M. Wright.

We start at the dressing table of Fanny, who's waiting for her husband's return after his release from prison. From there the story unfolds as a flashback with her mother, Mrs Brice, (Laura Kyro) and her friends playing a game of poker. Mrs. Strakosh (Lynda Levy Clark) and Mrs. Brice try to discourage a teenaged Fanny, who by that time had already worked in vaudeville, from aiming for higher show business dreams because of her plain looks. With the encouragement of her friend, a dancer with a crush named Eddie Ryan (Zach Wachter), and her own determination and talent, Fanny wins over Florenz Ziegfeld (Michael Monsey) and lands a job in the Follies. She first meets Nick before that at Keeney's Music Hall when he visits her backstage. This handsome gambler is willing to bet on Fanny and her career, and Fanny is immediately taken with him. As Fanny's star rises, her relationship and eventual marriage to Nick becomes complicated.

Friday, July 18, 2014

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL I • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio's LaBute New Theater Festival, featuring premiere one-act plays, began its second appearance last Friday after a successful debut last year. Over 250 world-wide submissions were whittled down to seven finalists and three high school finalist that will be presented over the next month. The first set of four finalists will be presented from July 11th through the 20th and the second set of three begin on the 25th and run through August 3rd, with the high school finalists presented as free stage readings on the 26th. The festival's namesake, playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute, has also once again written a world premiere one-act for the festival, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, that will be presented nightly.

We kick off the night with Steve Karp's comedy, "Rubbas", directed by Milton Zoth. And it's rubbers -- as in prophylactics.

Monday, June 16, 2014

THIRD ANNUAL ST. LOU FRINGE • HEADS UP!

Here's a quick reminder about St. Lou Fringe's third annual arts festival coming up this week -- June 18th through June 22nd. This'll be gone before you know it, and this performing arts extravaganza is too awesome to let slip by.

The Lou's very own three year-old performing arts festival was recently recognized by CNN as one among nine "intriguing" fringe festivals worth checking out. Click here to read it. St. Lou Fringe works the way it has for the past couple of years, with thirty-five productions (up from thirty last year) and over 100 performances happening in six venues (Kranzberg Black Box, Kranzberg Studio, Duet, The Stage at KDHX, FUBAR, and Satori) around the midtown corridor. A festival badge, required for admission, can be purchased for 5 bucks online and at Fringe Central Station in Strauss Park. Individual performances range from 5 to around 12 bucks, which is seriously a good deal. You can check out the individual shows by clicking here. In addition to the shows, "Street Fringe" takes place daily with food trucks and buskers and live music at the stage at Fringe Central.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

HANDS ON A HARDBODY • New Line Theatre

New Line closes its 23rd season with "Hands on a Hardbody", a regional premiere. The musical is based on a 1997 documentary that follows several contestants vying to win a brand-new Nissan Hardbody truck. The challenger who can keep one hand on the truck for the longest time (no leaning, no squatting) wins it. In an economy that's kicked that crap out of everyone in the small town of Longview, Texas (boasting three Walmart Supercenters), the shiny red truck taking center stage represents a brass ring of sorts for everyone, but only one walks away with the keys.

Playing out over five days on the hot asphalt lot of Floyd King Nissan, this battle of endurance introduces us to ten hopefuls, starting with a cocky Benny Perkins (Jeffrey M. Wright), who won the competition two years earlier, has just enough knowledge of Asian philosophy to make him dangerous, and advises his competitors, "If you can't hunt with the big dogs, stay on the porch with the pups".

Thursday, May 29, 2014

THE HOMECOMING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Playwright Harold Pinter's works have fallen into a category called, "Comedy of Menace". STLAS's current production, "The Homecoming", exemplifies this definition, proving that nearly fifty years after the play's London premiere, this family struggle for dominance and sexual power still has the capacity to jar, amuse and disquiet. Love…

The patriarch of this noxious clan is Max (Peter Mayer), a widower, retired butcher and withering pillar of strength in suspenders trying to maintain supremacy in his bleak North London home. He rules with constant jabs from his armchair throne, and the threat for the top-dog spot comes from his icy son Lenny (Charlie Barron), a violent pimp who wears a perpetual smirk of contempt. Max's youngest son Joey (Nathan Bush), a dimwitted aspiring boxer, and his brother Sam (Larry Dell), a docile chauffeur, also live in the house and pose no threat, but are subjected to Max's tyranny nonetheless. The wrangling for the upper-hand shifts when Max's eldest son Teddy (Ben Ritchie) brings his wife of six years, Ruth (Missy Heinemann), back to his home in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

PRAYER FOR THE GUN BUG • OnSite Theatre Company

OnSite Theatre's current offering, "Prayer for the Gun Bug" will satisfy the minds and bellies of theatre adventurers. In keeping with the company's tradition of presenting site-specific theatre, this one takes place at Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant on South Grand. This world premiere collection of short plays written by Carter Lewis, playwright-in-residence at Washington University, includes dashes of the surreal in each play, making for a savory production that's easy to sit back, take in, and enjoy. With some tasty Ethiopian food!

"No-Preying" finds Heddie (Peggy Billo) and her friend Agatha (Jacqueline Thompson) nibbling and gossiping about the latest happenings at Meskerem's, recently the source of a controversy about whether or not prayer should be allowed in the restaurant. With a "No Praying" sign above the door, Heddie and Agatha, an atheist and agnostic respectively, spar about spiritual beliefs and behavioral instincts, when a giant mantis (Pete Winfrey) in black leather with huge eyes, folded fore-limbs and all, enters the room. Yep -- one of these guys, only way better dressed. The arrival of this huge bug drives the conversation about spirituality to a whole different and unexpected level.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

BACHELORETTE • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

The display of alcohol fueled bitchiness among women is nothing new, but the vicious appetites of the three women featured in Leslye Headland's play firmly places the dark in dark comedy. When four high school friends get together for a bachelorette party night of self-indulgence, the sting of life's letdowns are veiled behind booze, pot, cocaine, random sex and a meanness that makes The Real Housewives look like choir girls.

Regan (Ellie Schwetye), Gena (Cara Barresi) and Katie (Wendy Renée Greenwood) were the popular girls back in the day, and now these post-collegiate friends meet up to celebrate the pre-wedding festivities of their "friend", the bride-to-be, Becky (Jamie Fritz). Gena and Katie had a falling out with Becky years earlier and are crashing the party, invited by Regan, the maid of honor. These three are already half-past plastered by the time they reach their posh Manhattan hotel room, provided by Becky, and once they realize that there is enough chilled champagne for at least 2 bottles each, it. is. on.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 2! • Theatre Lab & The Players Project Theater Company

This past weekend, Theatre Lab & Players Project Theatre Company teamed up for the second installment of the 24 Hour Play Festival, held at Webster Groves High School. This is one of those cool, one-night-only theatre things that I'm always telling my friends about.

The deal is, 5 writers are given a genre, setting and a line that has to be incorporated into the script. (The audience doesn't know what the line is until the performance.) The writers have 7 days to complete a 10 or so minute play, and the randomly selected directors and actors have 24 hours to memorize, stage and rehearse it before performing the plays for the public the next day. Love, right? Not only does the festival result in five new works, it's also a special night of fresh theatre for the audience, and a blast for the artists who come together to work on their pieces.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

WINDMILL BABY • Upstream Theater

Upstream Theater continues its "Down Under" season with Australian playwright David Milroy's "Windmill Baby". Upstream once again ushers in a US premiere that was first presented in 2005 in Perth, Australia. This one-woman show revolves around Maymay Starr (Linda Kennedy), an Aboriginal woman who has returned to the cattle station where she spent her youth to put some unfinished business to rest.

After her daughter drops her off and she has a good look around the dusty and broken down homestead, the business she starts with is hanging up some very old, long-dry laundry she finds in a washtub. Hanging up the washing for the Missus is something Maymay's all too familiar with, and the busy work gives her a chance to recall 50 years of bottled up memories about the relationships she formed during the service to her ill-tempered boss on this now deserted patch of western Australia.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SHAKE 38 • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis honored the Bard's 450th birthday with Shake 38 last week, a five day festival with various companies staging all of Shakespeare's plays. The plays were performed in a variety of locations around the city -- everywhere from coffee shops to backyards -- all free. The festivities began with a wreath laying at the Shakespeare statue in Tower Grove Park on Wednesday morning.

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble had a couple of plays on offer, starting with "The Merry Wives of Windsor" playing out at the ruins in Tower Grove Park. This presentation, directed by Mollie Amburgey, featured Carl Overly as a smooth, pimp Falstaff, deciding to court two rich women in town -- Mistress Ford (Rachel Tibbetts) and Mistress Page (Ellie Schwetye), hoping to gain some financial footing. This feisty, condensed version streamlined the focus to Falstaff and the Mistresses and their husbands, Master Page and the disguised Master Ford (Stephanie Amoroso and Jared Sanz-Agero).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ONCE • The Fox

After an off-Broadway run in 2011, “Once” opened on Broadway the next year, snagging eight Tony awards. Based on the 2006 film bearing the same title, the song "Falling Slowly" also won an Oscar for Best Original Song.

 Right off the bat, as the audience files into the Fox, there's already an Irish-flavored party happening onstage, where you are welcomed to go up to the onstage bar and get a drink before the show starts. The house lights are up during this pre-show jam session, and they stay up well into the prologue. Every member of the ensemble here is a musician -- really talented ones at that, functioning as the show’s orchestra as well as its cast of characters.

Monday, April 7, 2014

CABARET • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog kicks off the last half of its season with Kander and Ebb's classic, "Cabaret", turning the space at Tower Grove Abbey into Berlin's Kit Kat Klub. This darkly ironic musical about the collision between the fun-loving hedonism of 1930's Berlin and the impending Nazi upheaval has been staged twice in town during the past year, but Justin Been's excellent direction and fresh interpretation, some wonderful performances, and smart use of the intimate space give this production an edge.

After a bit of pre-show activity that has the Kit Kat boys and girls sauntering throughout the audience, the Emcee (Lavonne Byers) struts her way into the first number, "Willkomen", welcoming us to the club, introducing us to the girls and the band, and telling us that here, "life is beautiful."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE PRICE • New Jewish Theatre

"The Price", one of Arthur Miller's last critically successful plays, burrows into the complicated family dynamics between two estranged brothers. Choices made long ago become the source of long-held hidden resentments and hard feelings. Hello, "Family Drama", right? This New Jewish Theatre production was the first time I'd seen it, and while it's nice to scratch an Arthur Miller play off of the list in my head, this presentation is a pretty fine example of why it was on the list in the first place.

Playing out in the attic of a Manhattan apartment, the first several moments are spent as Victor Franz, (Michael James Reed), a police sergeant who's been on the force for 28 years, nostalgically goes through the remnants of his family's past in the house that he and his brother grew up in. An old gramophone, a radio he built, his fencing foil and mask, his mother's harp, and stacks of old but quality furniture have been collecting 16 years worth of dust since his father passed away. The building is slated to be torn down, so the furniture's gotta go. Victor is soon joined by his wife Esther (Kelley Weber), and she's not shy about the fact that she wants to get the most money possible from the sale of the furniture -- hoping that Victor, three years past retirement, will finally be able to stop working.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays • La Perla

Helmed by That Uppity Theatre Company, in partnership with The Vital VOICE, "Briefs" is back for its third year, and this festival of short LGBT plays, with almost 100 submissions from across the country, seems to get better and better every year. While LGBT-centric themes have pulsed as the heart of "Briefs", the universal nature of the human condition is an overall motif, with a nice balance of live acts and eight 10-minute vignettes that range from the humorous to the thought-provoking.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Second Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Well, another celebration of St. Louis theatre is in the books, a wonderful time was had by all, and I had quite a headache Tuesday morning. :) Seriously though, the talent in this town is stunning, and it's a privilege to be able to be a small part of it. Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients! Here's the list of the 2014 St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominees with the award recipients in red.

COMEDY
Outstanding Ensemble:
“Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” HotCity Theatre
“The Good Doctor,” New Jewish Theatre
“Psycho Beach Party,” Stray Dog Theatre
“Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
“Waiting for Godot,” St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE AWAKENING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

St. Louisan Kate Chopin's novel, "The Awakening", was published in 1899, and is notable for being recognized as one of the earliest literary works of feminism. The story, scandalous in its time, centers on Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother, anxious to get out from under the thumb of the repressive societal norms in late nineteenth century New Orleans. Chopin's novel was initially criticized and detrimental to her reputation, but has since become a critically acclaimed classic. Washington University's Henry I. Schvey gave this story its original adaptation for the stage in 2004, and St. Louis Actors' Studio gives the piece its first professional premiere -- a challenging adaptation with admirable results.

Edna (Emily Baker) and her family are vacationing at a resort on Grand Isle, not too far from their New Orleans home. With her husband Leonce (Terry Meddows) spending time away on business or at his club during the trip, Edna passes the time with her friend Adele Ratignolle (Maggie Murphy), and Robert Lebrun (Antonio Rodriguez), an amiable, flirtatious young man who helps manage the resort that his mother owns. Edna's also been been overcoming her fear of the water by getting swimming lessons from Robert, with whom she forms a connection. While still on vacation they all attend a concert featuring skilled pianist, the unconventional Mademoiselle Reisz (Christie Mitchell), and Edna is greatly moved by the music.

Monday, March 10, 2014

RENT • New Line Theatre

New Line continues its 23rd season with Jonathan Larson's hugely popular, Pulitzer Prize, Tony-Award winning "Rent." Largely based on Henri Murger's collected stories, Scenes de la Vie de Bohème, that also gave life to the opera, La Bohème, "Rent" switches the location from Paris to New York City, examining the lives of "those on the margin" -- a group of young bohemians living in Manhattan's Alphabet City. Death, drug addiction, being broke and HIV-positive status are pervasive throughout, but "Rent" doesn't wallow in its own sorrow. Instead, this collective coming-of-age rock opera revels in joyous rebellion, with a score full of varied styles, strong melodies and rich harmonies.

I was admittedly one of those folks who didn't get all the hype around Rent after I saw it for the first time several years ago. Well, now I get it. The characters this time around, though dealing with major issues that would be tough for anyone, have an affable quality that was lacking the last time I saw it. Could it be because seeing a show like this in New Line's intimate space makes the theatre experience not just something you see, but something you feel? Yes. But it's also New Line's artistic director, Scott Miller's knack for gaining a deep understanding of whatever he puts his hands on, and translating that to his cast, who in turn translate that to us, reaching out to the audience, in this case literally, with invigorating connection. WAY better than the touring production. There. I said it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

SHIRLEY VALENTINE • Dramatic License Productions

Willy Russell's 1986 comedy introduces us to Shirley Valentine, a 42 year old Liverpool housewife who has found herself entrenched in a well-worn rut. At one point she asks, “I used to be Shirley Valentine, who turned me into this?” Over the course of the next couple hours, we become her confidants as she treats us to her story and her efforts to come into her own -- a journey that Shirley, superbly portrayed by Teresa Doggett, compels you to eagerly follow.

While she's making egg n'chips for her husband Joe, Shirley weighs her life as Shirley "Bradshaw", her married name, and wonders how so many of her days have managed to slip by. Her children are grown and out on their own, and with a marriage that can be described as lukewarm at best, she has learned to endure by indulging in generous sips of Riesling and talking to the kitchen wall. She does have her little rebellions though -- Joe is expecting steak that night, but Shirley has decided that a neighboring dog whose owners are vegans would be more appreciative of a nice cut of beef than her dismissive husband. Among stories of the characters she's met in her life, described in vivid detail, we also learn about Jane, her feminist friend who caught her husband in bed with the milkman. Jane invites Shirley for a holiday in Greece, and though Shirley has to work herself up to it, she decides to go, and by this time, we're willing to gleefully help her pack her bags.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

LOVERS • West End Players Guild

Brian Friel's 1967 play takes a look at the prospects of love with two different couples. There's one young couple anticipating their future, and one older couple, navigating the realities of theirs.

After being greeted by jaunty Irish tunes courtesy of Jessie Evans on the accordion and Sean Belt on the guitar, things kick off with the first act, titled "Winners", featuring two teenagers preparing for their final exams. Mag (Betsy Bowman) and her boyfriend, Joe (John Lampe), aren't able to return to their school because of Mag's unplanned pregnancy. Joe has just secured their new home, overlooking the neighborhood slaughterhouse, so while Mag chatters on about her passionately fancied future with Joe, (and about a million other things), the bookish, academic Joe tries to settle into his studies so he can better his chances of providing a reasonable living for his new family.

Monday, February 10, 2014

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog's production of Douglas Carter Beane's Tony-award winning, sharp-tongued comedy about the closeted foibles of the showbiz industry, is the perfect thing to knock off the chill of this frosty St. Louis winter.

Diane (Sarajane Alverson), is a Hollywood agent whose ambition is only matched possibly by her problem solving abilities. As she reels us in immediately with a monologue that acclimates us to a Hollywood headspace and introduces us to her most promising client, we learn that rising star, Mitchell Green (Bradley J. Behrmann), is on the brink of cash cow potential. Diane's eyes are firmly fixed on purchasing the film rights of a hot new play -- the perfect star vehicle for Mitchell. The one thing that threatens to derail Diane's plans is Mitchell's "recurring case of homosexuality". Even though she's a lesbian herself, when she finds him and a young hustler he initially ordered in a drunken stupor named Alex (Paul Cereghino) together, she is determined to keep this as far from the press as possible, lest Mitchell lose his potential matinee idol status, and her upward mobility vanishes in a poof of smoke. Mitchell enjoys his time with Alex, though he's not ready to come to grips with his sexuality, and neither is Alex for that matter. Alex has a "sometimes" girlfriend named Ellen (Paige Hackworth) whose chatter when we first meet her makes it clear that she truly deserves her own Bravo reality show.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

FORGET ME NOT • Upstream Theater

Artistic director Philip Boehm has carved out a unique niche for Upstream Theater, finding and producing moving and thought-provoking plays from all over the world. This eloquently potent U.S. debut is no exception, and was greeted with a sold-out house on opening night.

Child migration, the appalling practice of rounding up children and shipping them off to different regions, was undertaken by several countries for varying bureaucratic motivations for decades. These kids where often told that they were orphans when they were not, and led to believe that they were going to start promising new lives with loving families, but in reality faced harsh conditions in brutal work camps.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

THE WHIPPING MAN • New Jewish Theatre

Matthew Lopez's "The Whipping Man" is currently playing at the New Jewish Theatre, and after a solid production at the Black Rep last year, we're lucky enough to have another opportunity to see this engrossing play in an equally strong showing.

It's 1865 in Richmond, Virginia, and in the midst of a thunderstorm, Confederate soldier Caleb DeLeon (Austin Pierce) hobbles into his family home. The mansion has been picked almost clean and suffered heavy damage from the war, and after Caleb collapses on the floor, suffering from a wound to his leg, he finds himself facing the business end of a shotgun. The man on the other end is Simon (J. Samuel Davis), a former slave of Caleb's family, but now a free man, and they are happy to see each other. Simon has stayed behind to wait for his wife and daughter to return. They, along with Caleb's father, have gone to safer locations to wait out the post Civil War chaos, and once they are reunited Simon plans to build a house with the money his former master has promised him. A closer inspection of Caleb's week-old gunshot wound makes it clear to Simon that Caleb's leg will have to be amputated before the gangrene that has set in becomes too advanced.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

THE OTHER PLACE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

After a world-premiere off-Broadway in 2011 and a well-received Broadway run a couple of years later, playwright Sharr White's smartly constructed drama settles into the Rep's studio space -- an engrossing production that straps the audience in for a gripping tour of a free-fall.  My fave...

Juliana Smithton (Kate Levy) is a medical research scientist who now spends her time representing a neurological drug she helped develop. We join her as she is pitching this drug at a convention in St. Thomas. She is poised and a little cocky, but during her presentation, she is distracted by a young girl in a yellow bikini among the audience. Juliana is thrown off. Thrown off to the point where her self-possessed, assured demeanor dissolves into confusion.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS • COCA

"Swallows and Amazons" is being presented as part of a new "COCA Presents" series that focuses on producing more of the Center of Creative Arts' own family-friendly theatre in St. Louis with local talent.  Based on a series of books first published in 1930 by Arthur Ransome and adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson, "Swallows" is getting its American premiere right here in town.

When an older Ms. Walker (Taylor Pietz) picks up a feather duster, her memories take her, and us, back to her childhood with her siblings where their playtime adventures on a boat called the Swallow were only limited by their own imaginations.

Monday, January 20, 2014

THE RIDE DOWN MOUNT MORGAN • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Arthur Miller is considered one of America's greatest playwrights, giving us "All My Sons", "Death of a Salesman", "An Enemy of the People", "The Crucible", "A View from the Bridge" and "The Price", among many others.  He wrote this play when he was in his seventies, and while the central character of his 1991 comedic drama, Lyman Felt, is a charming, sexually robust, wealthy insurance executive in his fifties, he's also a racist, selfish, arrogant douchebag.  After waking up in a hospital bed, nearly dead from crashing his car on an icy mountain road, Lyman is terrified to hear the news that a "Mrs. Felt" is in the waiting room.  Oh, did I mention? -- he's also a bigamist with currently two possible Mrs. Felts.  That's the premise that kicks off this strong production from St. Louis Actors' Studio that fits nicely within its "Sins of the Father" season.

Lyman (John Pierson) has been living the high-life for quite some time, but his bigamy is laid bare when Theodora (Amy Loui), his conventional, steadfast wife of over thirty years (ahem, long fur coat) meets Leah (Julie Layton), his younger, racier, trophy wife of nine years (ahem, slightly shorter "less expensive" looking fur coat), in the waiting room of Clearhaven Memorial Hospital in Elmira, New York.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

OPUS • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

While members of a string quartet may enjoy more autonomy than members of an orchestra, the strong opinions of an intimate group of talented musicians is a ready mixture for conflict.  Michael Hollinger, a violist-turned-playwright, takes a look at the inner-workings of the fictional "Lazara Quartet" in his 2006 play, "Opus", currently receiving a slick production at the Rep.

During a brief introduction to the original members of the quartet -- violinists, Elliot (Joseph O'Neil) and Alan (Greg Jackson), violist Dorian (Matthew Boston) and cellist Carl (Chris Hietikko), the love for the music and their instruments rings true, and their predicament of losing Dorian who has recently disappeared, becomes apparent.  We begin as Grace (Rachael Jenison), an incredibly talented young violist, auditions for Dorian's spot and impresses the group with her sight-reading.  She is offered the job on the spot, but is also considering a job as principal viola at the Pittsburgh Symphony.  She ends up taking the job in the quartet, opting not to be a "slave to the baton",  and though she's excited for the unique opportunity, she's also a little anxious about joining this group -- aware of the notoriously contentious dynamics within quartets in general, and this one in particular.  With a televised appearance at the White House coming up in less than a week, rehearsals begin immediately and it's crucial that Grace learn the music, and gain her footing within the Lazara Quartet quickly.

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