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?

First up was Jason Klefisch's thriller, "Cringe", directed by Todd Schaefer and starring Nick Kelly, Ben Watts and Matt Pentecost. Watts is at Tully's Tavern waiting on a date when a very drunk Kelly comes in, barely able to walk, but very entertaining.
Pentecost, the owner of the establishment, amiably tells jokes and serves the two drinks. After awhile, Kelly insists that Watts, still dateless, join him at a table, and it turns out that Kelly's not drunk at all -- he's very sober, and royally pissed. He's the father of the girl Watts was waiting for. See, Watts met her online, and she's just 16 years old, and Kelly, who's already suffered the loss of a son, is in no way gonna let this predator off the hook. The owner of the bar is actually Kelly's brother, and after he locks the door to the bar, he raises a snow shovel in Watts's direction as the lights go out, and you can only imagine that Watts was in for a major beat-down. Kelly was a standout, going from sloppy drunk to stone-cold sober on a dime.

"Trinity Park", a drama written by Wendy Renee Greenwood, directed by Rachel Tibbetts and starring Rachel Hanks, Mollie Amburgey and Larissa White, finds two squabbling sisters meeting in a park at the request of their mother. Their arguing is interrupted by a homeless woman (Hanks) who's been eavesdropping on their conversation. Hanks turns out to be the third sister who ran away from home some time earlier. She banished herself to the park because she felt responsible for the death of her nephew while he was in her care. Hello, awkward reunion. All three turned in great performances, with Amburgey's potty-mouth grabbing much laughter.

Carl Wickman's comedy, "What You Need", was directed by Chris Chi and starred Brian Claussen and Michelle Catherine. Claussen shows up on Catherine's doorstep at 3 o'clock in the morning, claiming to seek shelter from questionable types outside, and once Catherine lets him in, he confesses that he's really a knife salesman. He shows off his wares on a banana and a little Christmas tree. Catherine's character is obviously taken aback with this odd late night encounter, and his conspicuous consumption of her bananas, but hey, at least she got some nice cutlery out of it. Maybe it was a dream…? Definitely the most bizarre offering of the group, open to various interpretation.

Writer Greg Fenner uses the acronym "R.O.M.E.R.O.S." for his dark comedy, directed by Em Piro and starring Jason Klefisch and Blaire Hamilton. In it, a green-faced zombie dad (Klefisch) meets up in a restaurant with his daughter (Hamilton) to announce his engagement to a human, and his "mixed" daughter is none too pleased. The title is taken from "Night of the Living Dead" creator, George A. Romero's name and stands for Regular Ordinary Mortals Eating Rations Of Skin. Ha! Get it? R.O.M.E.R.O.S is the support group Hamilton's character has joined to help her deal with the challenges that come with being half-zombie, half-human. Good stuff. Klefisch's shuffling, growling zombie was hilarious.

"Fun and Games In The Bedroom", written by Zak Allen Farmer, directed by Ellie Schwetye and starring Margeau Baue Steinau, Reginald Pierre, Troy Turnipseed and Carl Overly Jr. feature a group of friends getting stoned in a bedroom. They have no idea how they ended up there, but that's of little consequence once they realize the kids are on their way home with a pot-smoke filled bedroom and one of the four friends unconscious on the floor, the victim of a game of football with a mini Christmas tree gone awry. Good times.

Evan Kuhn and Amy Kelly.
"Line" was a melodramatic Victorian era romp written by Spencer Green, directed by Ryan Foizey and starring Kimi Short, Amy Kelly and Evan Kuhn. Kuhn and Kelly are in line to buy a turkey for their respective holiday dinners, but there's only one left. I mean like one turkey left in the whole town. After pouring out sob stories about why they deserve the bird, Kuhn and Kelly realize that they knew each other as children and end the night with the promise of rekindling their relationship. Awww.

While the judges for this year's festival -- Max on Movies’ own Max Foizey, theatre blogger, Steve Allen and actor, Alan Knoll, turned in their ballots, we were treated to some entertainment from Pat Niday and members of the Zero Hour Playfest Troupe who took suggestions from the audience to improvise a wacky murder mystery involving a bathtub and dreidels. What?! The winners were then announced (listed below), but everyone involved did a great job, especially when you consider the challenges involved, and this festival remains something to look forward to every year. I seriously have no idea how they do it. This kind of ballsy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants theatre is among the most fun kind of theatre to see, so keep an eye out for another installment next year.


The fearless creative talents behind this year's
24 Hour Play Festival.
24 Hour Play Festival - ROUND 3!

Writers: Greg Fenner, Wendy Greenwood, Zak Allen Farmer, Carl Wickman, Spencer Green and Jason Klefisch.

Directors: Ryan Foizey, Todd Schaefer, Chris Chi, Em Piro, Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye.

Actors: Evan Kuhn, Matt Pentecost, Carl Overly Jr., Reginald Pierre, Ben Watts, Troy Turnipseed, Nick Kelly and Brian Claussen.

Actresses: Rachel Hanks, Mollie Amburgey, Blyre Cpanx, Jordan Bitticks, Amy Kelly, Larissa White, Michelle Catherine, Margeau Baue Steinau, and Kimi Short.

Creative:
Lighting operator, Jacob Noce; sound operator, Hannah Leatherbarrow; running crew, Todd Schaefer and Maggie Pool.

Awards:
Best actor - Nick Kelly
Best actress - Amy Kelly
Best director - Em Piro
Best script - Jason Klefisch (For "Cringe")
Best Ensemble - "Line" by Spencer Green (Hal Phillip Walker)

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. Just about every trinket or photograph she picks up to wrap in newspaper reminds her of her past. Wall engagingly relates Westheimer's childhood in an orphanage in Switzerland, sent there by her mother and grandmother through kindertransport after her father was taken to a labor camp when the Nazis rose to power. There's also anecdotes about her time in Palestine where she lived on a kibbutz, her joining the Haganah where she was trained as a scout and sniper, her studies in France, and her three marriages and two children. The indomitable spirit of Dr. Ruth can't be denied, but the translation of that vivacity tends to get bogged down in the plodding rhythms of St. Germain's script, with an occasional change of pace when she's interrupted by phone calls from the movers, her children, or advice seekers. The play perks up when it builds to Dr. Ruth's 1980’s radio program, “Sexually Speaking", a call-in show where she frankly and warm-heartedly answered questions from listeners about sex, and the popularity it gained, eventually making her a household name. 

Susie Wall (Dr. Ruth).
Photo credits: John Lamb
Wall, under the direction of Jerry McAdams, gives an appealing performance and breathes life into the play where it allows, and Michael B. Perkins provides the projection design that illustrates some of Westhimer's memories with images projected onto a curtained window, with Kimberly Klearman providing the lighting design and Teresa Doggett providing the costumes.

The road that led to Dr. Ruth's fame is certainly an interesting one, but ultimately, the pace becomes mechanical, zapping the zest out of too many of the stories. It's playing until the 21st.


Susie Wall (Dr. Ruth).
Photo credits: John Lamb
BECOMING DR. RUTH

Written by Mark St. Germain
Directed by Jerry McAdams
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through December 21 | tickets: $36 - $40
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday the 7th at 2pm & 7:30pm

Cast:
Susie Wall* (Dr. Ruth)
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Cristie Johnston; lighting design by Kimberly Klearman; costume design by Teresa Doggett; sound and projection design by Michael B. Perkins; stage manager, Emily Clinger.

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.

Annie (Maggie Conroy), a small-town girl from Iowa, thought she had gotten everything she wanted when she became engaged to Matt (Tyler Vickers), a wealthy hunk, on a reality show called "Looking for Love". One of the show's producers, Josh (Ben Nordstrom), oversees the taping of the engagement on a video monitor, making sure to squeeze every drop of carefully choreographed emotion from the scene. Once the taping for the show's finale is finished, Annie, Matt and Josh are sequestered in the production's "safe house", securely out of the public eye. While Josh finishes up the series, Annie's whirlwind love affair with Matt doesn't look as dreamy in the harsh light of day once the show's in the can. The show's runner-up, the pinot grigio toting Krissandra (Julie Layton), whose only real motive for being a contestant was to use her brief fame as a springboard for an aspiring acting career, drops in to visit Annie from time to time. She and Annie formed a bit of a friendship during taping, and now she offers an ear to Annie, whose eyes are being forced open to the snares of reality television, with a wicked turn of events at the end as the facade of happiness comes crashing down.

Ben Nordstrom (Josh),
Maggie Conroy (Annie) and Tyler Vickers (Matt).
Romeo's script allows for some insight among the hilarity, and the ensemble of four are perfectly cast. Conroy as Annie, the ingenue, is authentically sweet and very funny, and Vickers is perfect as Matt, the hunky lunkhead whom producers pick for his money and good looks, though he's not quite ready for a commitment. Nordstrom nails the role of Josh, the cynical producer willing to do anything for ratings, and Layton's Krissandra is a gas, striking you as the type of reality tv girl most likely to get a little too drunk at a party. Under Annamaria Pileggi's smart, fast-paced direction, they all bring charm to their roles and perform with a natural ease.

There were also some neat things that the creative team came up with as part of the production concept -- along with the small tv monitor mounted above the stage, scene changes are done with the houselights up instead of down, offstage areas are instead over to stage-left, where actors receive props and wait for their entrances in plain view -- all succeeding in breaking normal theatre conventions in a way unique to the subject matter.

Julie Layton (Krissandra) and Maggie Conroy (Annie).
The curtain will close for HotCity Theatre after this world premiere run, and the company's decade-long offerings of challenging, modern plays will be greatly missed. The house was completely sold out on opening night, and though HotCity's absence will leave quite a gap on the St. Louis theatre landscape, it will also leave memories of some of the boldest theatre St. Louis had to offer. ("Equus", "Whammy" and "The Normal Heart" are among my favorites.) You've got until December 20 to check out this wildly funny play from one of the city's best.


Maggie Conroy (Annie) and Tyler Vickers (Matt).

REALITY

Written by Lia Romeo
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through December 20 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
Maggie Conroy (Annie), Julie Layton (Krissandra), Tyler Vickers (Matt) and Ben Nordstrom* (Josh).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; sound design by Patrick Burks; assistant director, Rachel Blumer; assistant stage manager, Sarah Palay; stage manager, Kate Koch.

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. The show is broken down into sections -- "The Optimistic Departure", "The Grim Reality ", "Christmas", "The Truce", "The Return to Battle", and an Epilogue. Within these sections, the audience is taken through the soldiers' nervous excitement heading out on the open sea to battle the Germans (a battle that many thought would be over with by Christmas), the bleak gloom of war at the front -- from rat infested trenches and sniper fire to the loss of comrades, the short truce on Christmas Eve where cigarettes, rum and gifts were exchanged, along with a lively game of football, and the sobering joint burial of the dead. Once superior officers find out about the fraternization of the troops, they put an end to it, bringing the saddening return to battle.

Luke Steingruby, Gary Glasgow, Shawn Bowers,
Christopher Hickey, Charlie Barron, Jason Meyers,
Tim Schall, J. Samuel Davis,
(front row) Jeffrey Wright and Antonio Rodriguez.
Photo credit: John Jamb
Under Joe Schoen's musical direction, the voices of this cast of 10, including Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis, Gary Glasgow, Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright, are exceptional. They marvelously handle songs with gentle, solemn harmonies like, "The Old Barbed Wire" and "I Want to Go Home". Then there are songs that begin in unison and blossom into these full, thick chords several notes deep with refreshing harmony turns and chill-inducing dynamic changes like the haunting prologue,"Will Ye Go to Flanders?", "Wassail" (my fave), "Auld Lang Syne" and "Silent Night", that fluidly dissolves during the last quarter of the number into the titular "All Is Calm". The monologues work into the music so easily, it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Love. There's also much mirth to be had in songs and passages in last half of "Christmas in the Camp" and "Good King Wenceslas", and a special shout out to Antonio Rodriguez for his solo, "Minuit chr├ętiens (O Holy Night)". I said this last year and I'll say it again -- if the hair on the back of your neck doesn't stand on end, it's very likely that there's something wrong with you.

Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Shawn Bowers,
Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall, Charlie Barron,
Jeffrey Wright, Luke Steingruby and Antonio Rodriguez.
Photo credit: John Jamb
Deanna Jent's direction spreads the spoken text aptly among the cast who handle the many dialects required, with the help of dialect coach Richard Lewis, quite well for the most part, with standouts that include Barron, Glasgow, Hickey and Meyers. Jane Sullivan outfits the cast in authentic attire, and Kyra Bishop's effective scenic design of barbed wire, barricades and crates, along with "no man's land" in the middle, is evocatively lit by Michael Sullivan, highlighting the solos, and depicting stars and the illumination of mortar fire against a backdrop. All of these creative elements, with a seamless integration of songs and dialogue, make for an affecting night of theater -- perfect for the Holiday season.

If you saw it last year, it's worth seeing again. If you haven't, it's not to be missed. Aural feast, I'm tellin' ya! It's playing until December 21st.

Christopher Hickey, Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall,
Jason Meyers, J. Samuel Davis, Luke Steingruby,
Shawn Bowers, Jeffrey Wright, Antonio Rodriguez
and Charlie Barron.
Photo credit: John Lamb
ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

By Peter Rothstein
Musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach 
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through December 21 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 5pm

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

Creative:
Musical direction by Joe Schoen; scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; dialect coach, Richard Lewis; props manager, Meg Brinkley; stage manager, Jessica Haley.

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.

Ryan Wiechmann, Natasha Toro,
Will Bonfiglio, Ellie Schwetye, Cara Barresi and Mitch Eagles.
Photo credit: Katrin Hackenberg
The play threatens to overstay its welcome near the end, and the accompanying music drowns out the performers on occasion, but this quirky play, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad and sometimes raunchy, is worth checking out for something different. It's a short run, so you've only got one more chance to check it out!


THE RESIDENTS OF CRAIGSLIST

Written by Lucy Cashion and Will Bonfiglio
Directed by Lucy Cashion
AlphaBetaClub, 2618 N 14th Street
through November 16 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Wednesday to Sunday at 8pm

Cast:
Cara Barresi, Will Bonfiglio, Mitch Eagles, Ellie Schwetye, Natasha Toro and Ryan Wiechmann.

Creative:
Lighting design by Erik Kuhn.

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.
Leigh Williams (Alexandra) and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Judy (Susan Pellegrino), a friend of the family and administrator at Jake's current pre-school, suggests that his "gender-variant play" might help him stand out and offer a bit of the diversity these esteemed pre-schools are looking for, but Alex and Greg's reaction to their son's tendencies take increasingly diverse paths during the course of the play. Alex is convinced that her son is just going through a phase, and Greg, willing to accept that Jake's inclinations may be more than just a phase, favors therapy to help Jake work through the taunts he's been getting from other kids, and the stress the family is going through from Alex's new pregnancy.

Susan Pellegrino (Judy), Leigh Williams (Alexandra)
and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Pearle, endowed with a great ear for dialogue that rings true, strikes a full round of emotional notes in his play. Seth Gordon's nimble direction keeps the play running at an engaging clip, and Hanna and Williams display a palpable chemistry that draws you to these parents, so that later when the tensions that rise between them reach an emotional apex, you're completely invested. Pellegrino gives a wonderfully shaded performance as a well-intentioned Judy, and Jacqueline Thompson completes the cast as a warmhearted nurse who consoles Alex during her difficult pregnancy. Gianni Downs makes great use of the Rep's studio stage providing backdrops and set inserts that stand in as the couple's house, Judy's office and a waiting room. Lou Bird's modern costume design, John Wylie's agile lighting design and Rusty Wandall's sound design and original music round out the production's sharp creative contributions.

Leigh Williams (Alexandra) and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
"A Kid Like Jake" may play out against a backdrop of privilege, but the topic at the center is a challenging one, and here, executed with polish. You've only got this weekend to check it out at the Rep Studio.


A KID LIKE JAKE

Written by Daniel Pearle
Directed by Seth Gordon
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 16 | tickets: $50 - $65
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Cast:
Alex Hanna* (Greg), Susan Pellegrino* (Judy), Jacqueline Thompson (the nurse), Leigh Williams* (Alexandra)
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Gianni Downs; costume design by Lou Bird; lighting design by John Wylie; original music and sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

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.

Nathan Bush (Aiden), Pamela Reckamp (Dee),
Donna Weinsting (Gertie) and Jared Sanz-Agero (JP).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Under Sydnie Grosberg Ronga's direction, there are fine performances from this tight cast of four, starting with Bush as Aiden, a good husband and father who reacts to JP's suggestions with wide-eyed resistance. Reckamp is convincing as Dee, as is her chemistry with Bush, and their fear of how they will make it. Sanz-Agero provides a lot of humor as the conniving JP, who coincidentally was once engage to Dee, and Weinsting is reliably uproarious as Gertie, the town harpy. Margery & Peter Spack's scenic design presents a fully realized convenience store, from the tatty "save", "half-price" and "deal" signs to the colorful stringer pennants. Also, there's nothing like a well executed Irish brogue (love), and these four handle it with ease. The hardships and moral dilemmas the characters face in Massey's play are real, and the comic spin, for the most part, works well. It's a fun play that shows how far good people will go to get their due, playing until the 16th at the Kranzberg.


Nathan Bush (Aiden) and Jared Sanz-Agero (JP).
Photo credit: John Lamb
CHANCERS

Written by Robert Massey
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through November 16 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Nathan Bush (Aiden), Pamela Reckamp* (Dee), Donna Weinsting (Gertie) and Jared Sanz-Agero (JP).
Nathan Bush (Aiden), Jared Sanz-Agero (JP)
and Pamela Reckamp (Dee).
Photo credit: John Lamb
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Margery & Peter Spack; lighting design by John Cameron Carter; sound design by John Clark; props by Rai Feltmann; dialect coach, Katy Keating; stage manager, Kristin Rion.

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.
Em Piro
Photo credit: Todd Heilman
The death of her twin leaves her devastated beyond speech, and a dying kiss from him seems to impart Charlotte with a lethal knack that the group of friends try to figure out during the course of the play, along with a possible connection to the appearance of an eerie gray heron spotted on the lake. In addition to our narrator, the kids in the group include the muscle-head, a pair of brothers, the jaded leader beyond her years and the monied valley-girl. The adults include Johnny Whistler, the reckless redneck driver of the car that killed Jamie who moves next door to the McGraws, his flock of girlfriends, Charlotte's father, who's got a dark streak of his own, and her slightly deranged mother, obsessed with her accolades as a teacher. Then of course there's Charlotte herself, who stopped talking after her brother was killed.

Em Piro
Photo credit: Todd Heilman
After a professional premiere at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in 2008, this play is picking up steam, being performed in more and more places, but Martin and Piro's choice to stage it outdoors is a brilliant first. Piro, slight in stature and huge on physical energy, deftly guides us through the tale, embodying the wide range of kids and adults with a quick change in voice and carriage. Atmospheric sound design by Michael Perkins helps color in the tone wonderfully, and Mark Wilson adds a bit of nifty stagecraft with shadow puppets and the use of a fan, as well as providing the scenic and lighting design, and Billy Croghan's original music effectively punctuates the story. Playwright Schellhardt, who spent her summers at St. Marys as a child, has an intriguing script, and though it's slender on payoff, the terrific creative elements of this production, along with Martin's well-paced direction and Piro's tireless performance, elevate the material to a unique night of memorable theater. It's playing until the 25th. Did I mention there's yummy cobbler for after the show? There's cobbler after the show.


Photo credit: Todd Heilman
THE K OF D: AN URBAN LEGEND

Written by Laura Schellhardt 
Directed by Tom Martin
Revisionist Inn, 1950 Cherokee St.
through October 25 | tickets: suggested donation $10 - $20
Performances October 17 at 11pm, doors open at 10:30, October 24 and 25 at 10pm, doors open at 9:30

Cast:
Em Piro

Creative:
Shadow puppets, scenic and lighting design by Mark Wilson;  sound design by Michael Perkins; original music by Billy Croghan.

Musicians:
Billy Croghan and Gavin Duffy.

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. When they meet after Bonnie's car breaks down, there are immediate sparks. Clyde has just broken out of prison with his brother Buck (Brendan Ochs), and his bad-boy appeal and winning smile is a combination that Bonnie, antsy for a change of pace, can't resist. Buck, meanwhile, has to face the music of his God-fearin' wife Blanche (Sarah Porter), who wants him to turn himself in, finish his time in jail, and get right with Jesus. Bonnie and Clyde's reckless quest for notoriety, through robbing banks, grocery stores, and eventually shedding blood, leads them down a path that brings them closer to the goal, but ultimately to their ends.

Matt Pentecost (Clyde)
and Larissa White (Bonnie).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Pentecost and White's chemistry propels the piece, and both turn in solid performances. Pentecost is half badass and half spoiled brat as Clyde, and White is impressive in her first professional appearance. Once Bonnie gets a whiff of thrill from smuggling a gun into the jail for Clyde, she's all in, later gleefully signing an autograph during a bank robbery. While these two crazy kids may not have a lot in the way of introspection, they both have loads of charm, even as their crime spree, along with Bonnie's poems, lands them on the front pages of the paper. Their ballads to each other, "How 'Bout a Dance?" and "Bonnie" are standouts. Ochs turns in a great performance as Clyde's brother Buck, tempted to follow his brother but pushed to do the right thing. He and Pentecost sound great in "When I Drive". Porter adds a nice dose of humor as Buck's high-strung religious wife Blanche. She may be brassy, but she's sweet in her satisfaction with what she has in "Now That's What You Call a Dream". Strong performances also include Zachary Allen Farmer who lends his soulful voice to the Preacher, Christopher “Zany” Clark as the unflappable Sheriff Schmid, Reynaldo Arceno as Ted Hinton, a lawman who's carrying a torch for Bonnie, and swears to bring Clyde down, Mara Bollini in a brief but memorable appearance as Governor Ferguson and Alison Helmer as Bonnie's distraught mother, Emma.

Cast of New Line Theatre's "Bonnie & Clyde"
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Under Jeffrey Richard Carter's musical direction, the New Line Band is tight, handling Wildhorn's score of depression-era blues, folk, gospel and rockabilly superbly. Rob Lippert's meticulous set features an old gas station, a jail, office and an old Ford center stage that plays into the violent opening and closing of the show. Lippert is also responsible for the lighting design, with costume design by Porter and Marcy Wiegert, who nail the attire, especially the leads, whose duds become swankier as their crimes accelerate. These details, along with Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy's precise direction, work together seamlessly.

Zachary Allen Farmer (Preacher)
and Kimi Short (Cumie Barrow)
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Seeing this production makes it hard to understand why it didn't last longer in NYC. But in the hands of Miller and Dowdy, this tale of ill-fated kids who became nationally known outlaws presents them as they were -- products of their time, which was certainly enough to bring them the fame they both wanted, and definitely worth seeing. Check it out. It's playing until the 25th.


BONNIE & CLYDE

Music by Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics by Don Black
Book by Ivan Menchell
Directed by Scott Miller & Mike Dowdy
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through October 25 | tickets: $15 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Cast:
Matt Pentecost (Clyde Barrow), Larissa White (Bonnie Parker), Brendan Ochs (Marvin "Buck" Barrow), Sarah Porter (Blanche Barrow), Reynaldo Arceno (Ted Hinton), Mara Bollini (Governor Miriam Ferguson), Christopher “Zany” Clark (Sheriff Schmid), Kent Coffel (Guard/Capt. Hamer), Zachary Allen Farmer (Preacher), Joel Hackbarth (Henry Barrow), Alison Helmer (Emma Parker), Ann Hier (Eleanore), Marshall Jennings (Judge/ Shopkeeper/Bank Teller), Nellie Mitchell (Stella), Kimi Short (Cumie Barrow/Trish) and Christopher Strawhun (Deputy Bud).

Creative:
Scenic & lighting design by Rob Lippert; sound design by Tim Ceradsky; costume design by Sarah Porter & Marcy Wiegert; props by Kimi Short; stage manager, Gabe Taylor.

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Jeffrey Richard Carter; guitar, D. Mike Bauer; violin, Nikki Glenn; second keyboard, Sue Goldford; bass, Andrew Gurney; percussion, Clancy Newell; reeds, Robert Vinson.

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.

Nick Kelly (Leon Czolgosz), Patrick Kelly (Charles Guiteau),
Mitch Eagles (Guiseppe Zangara), Patrick Blindauer (Sam Byck),
Michael Amoroso (John Wilkes Booth), Jon Hey (Proprietor),
Nate Cummings (John Hinckley)
and Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme).
Photo credit: Katie Puglisi
Strong performances also include the reliable Jennifer Theby-Quinn as hippy love-child Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a member of the infamous "Manson family" who tried to kill President Gerald Ford, teaming up with a very funny, pantsuit wearing Jessica Townes as Sara Jane Moore. There's also Mitch Eagles as Italian immigrant, Guiseppe Zangara who attempted to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt, Patrick Blindauer as the ranting, Santa Claus suit wearing Sam Byck who planned to fly a plane into the White House when Nixon was in office, and Patrick Kelly as pompous zealot, Charles Guiteau, who shot President James Garfield, with Nancy Nigh making a terrific appearance as a subtly staunch Emma Goldman.

Sondheim and Weidman don't display these successful and unsuccessful assassins before us to glorify or condemn them. They're presented as enemies of society, but undeniably products of it as well.

Charlie Barron (The Balladeer), Jon Hey (Proprietor)
and Patrick Kelly (Charles Guiteau).
Photo credit: Katie Puglisi
This is an ambitious choice for the new company, but not without its hiccups. The show contains a lot of humor, but it's also got a dark side, and while the comedy landed, the menacing undertones that give this show its edge didn't always come through. The cast sounds quite strong in several numbers like "The Gun Song", "Ballad of Guiteau" and the closing "Everybody's Got the Right", under Charlie Mueller's musical direction, but canned music is tricky. I imagine it's like hopping on a treadmill that's already running -- while you've got to get on at the right pace, you've also got to keep up, and some of the performances seemed hindered, not being allowed the flexibility to breathe or quicken their gaits, and the music didn't quite encompass the full scope of Sondheim's marvelous score. This, in a show where the music plays a huge part in the shaping of these historic characters, is unfortunate. Scenic designer Jason Townes provides a great two-tier set, well worn and dotted with faded red white and blue accents, including a nifty, underused set piece with past President's heads mounted on a wheel of fortune. Meredith LaBounty's costumes inform a wide range of characters from different time periods nicely, with lighting design by Russell Warning, sound design by Emily Hatcher, and projections by Bob Singleton.

Cast of November Theater Company's "Assassins"
Photo credit: Katie Puglisi
While this production fell a little short of its aim, it's still worth checking out if you've never seen it, and it'll be exciting to see what November Theater Company does next. It's playing until October 5th.


ASSASSINS

Book by John Weidman
Music/lyrics by Stephen Sondheim 
Directed by Suki Peters
Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave.
through October 5 | tickets: $25
Performances Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Michael Amoroso (John Wilkes Booth), Charlie Barron (The Balladeer), Patrick Blindauer (Sam Byck), Will Bonfiglio (Ensemble), Nate Cummings (John Hinckley), Mitch Eagles (Guiseppe Zangara), Brittany Kohl Hester (Ensemble), Jon Hey (Proprietor), Nick Kelly (Leon Czolgosz), Patrick Kelly (Charles Guiteau), Dorothy Hendrick LaBounty (Ensemble), Nancy Nigh (Emma Goldman/Ensemble), Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme), Jessica Townes (Sara Jane Moore), Kelvin Urday (Ensemble) and Mike Wells (Ensemble).

Creative:
Scenic design by Jason Townes; costume design by Meredith LaBounty; sound design by Emily Hatcher; lighting deign by Russell Warning; projection design by Bob Singleton; musical direction by Charlie Mueller; stage manager, Emily Hatcher.

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