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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.

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